Video Quality

The rear facing camera is native 1280x720 and unsurprisngly captures 720P video. It's essentially the same quality as the iPod Touch, which doesn't come as a surprise at all. There's been considerable discussion about whether this back sensor is optimized (or intended) for video. Given that 1280x720 size, it seems obvious this is likely the case. As we'll show, video on the iPad 2 is actually very good, it's still capture that suffers. 

In all honesty, 720P video capture on the iPad 2 is almost as good as the iPhone 4. In addition, there's no apparent change in magnification when switching into video mode on the iPad 2 like there is on the iPhone 4. This is again because 160 pixels are tossed away on the left and right sides in still mode. Unfortunately there's no way to capture a 1280x720 still from the iPad 2 unless you shoot video and manually grab frames. Video on the rear facing camera is captured at 1280x720 at 29.970 fps H.264 Baseline (1 reference frame) at 10.6 Mbps. Audio is 1 channel AAC at 64 Kbps. 

Like other iDevices, you can view the actual aspect correct capture frame by double tapping on the preview. 

 

I took two video samples with the iPad 2, one at our usual bench location in afternoon lighting, another outside the local cafe at night to show low light performance. As usual we've uploaded both to YouTube as well as hosted originals in a big 7-zip (186 MB). 

The iPad 2's 720P rear facing video capture sample in daylight is actually pretty impressive and on par with all the other iDevices. Apple still has class leading quality at 720P even when competitors are doing encodes at 1080P, and at this point it looks like their ISP and encoder is roughly the same as the A4's. 

I also took one more video at another location at night. I start outdoors and then go indoors into a cafe to give a feel for low-light performance.

Front facing video isn't super impressive on its own, but again on par with other iDevices. It's 640x480 (VGA) at 29.970 fps H.264 Baseline (1 reference frame) at 3.5 Mbps. Audio is 1 channel AAC at 64 Kbps. 

In spite of being just VGA the front facing video quality is quite decent. No doubt Apple is making a concious effort to go with lower resolution sensors (but with bigger pixels) instead of pushing for more megapixels on the front camera. It's a tradeoff that makes the front facing cameras on iDevices better in low light. Until FaceTime gets HD on mobile devices (and we get more mobile upstream bandwidth), VGA seems good enough.

Still Quality

It's still quality on the rear facing camera that's really disappointing. Still images are again cropped to 960x720 (4:3). The images are simply noisy and underwhelming all around. The competition is shipping higher resolution front facing cameras than what's in the iPad 2's rear facing camera, and the result is that the thing feels like it's saddled with two sub-par cameras. 

We've done the usual thing and taken photos with the front and rear facing cameras in our smartphone lightbox and at the bench locations. In addition I shot photos with the iPad around town and everywhere I carried it with me. 

The front facing camera seems to have some odd white balance issues, as it shows a reddish cast in our lightbox. Out in the wild, I never ran into any serious performance issues with the front facing camera, and honestly VGA seems fine for the time being until mobile devices get the bandwidth to juggle 720P videoconferencing.  

I guess the issue I have with the iPad 2's cameras is that the back one already seems woefully insufficient. Apple has already demonstrated that it's possible to both have a thin device and awesome cameras with the iPhone 4. Coupled with onboard HDR, the iPhone 4 still delivers images that rival all but Nokia's best. It's just puzzling why a device that costs substantially more out the door than the iPhone 4 delivers such subpar still capture quality. In reality, thickness is probably the most important constraint here, as the iPhone 4 is thicker than the iPad 2 and thus Apple couldn't simply toss the iPhone 4 cameras inside the iPad 2. I won't speculate about Apple's motivations for going with these cameras, but the end result is a rear camera that honestly doesn't impress.  

Compared to the Xoom


The Motorola Xoom's 5MP Rear Facing Camera

The Motorola Xoom's rear camera captures at 2592 x 1944 (5MP) and is assisted by an LED flash. This gives the Xoom's rear camera a 7.29x higher pixel count than what Apple offers with the iPad 2. But do more pixels mean a better looking picture? Well in this case, yes.


Mouse over to see the Motorola Xoom's camera quality


Mouse over to see the Motorola Xoom's camera quality

The iPad 2's rear camera predictably produces very saturated colors like the iPhone 4. The rear sensor is very noisy in low light situations and it's not very sharp on top of that. You'll also notice that Apple's funny white balance algorithm acts up in the shot with two external lights vs. one external light. 

The Xoom by comparison is pretty consistent in terms of white balance. Motorola also produces a sharper image, although the colors are far too hazy. If Apple over compensates for color saturation, Motorola tones it down a little too much. The LED flash keeps the shot with no external lights from becoming too noisy but it also royally screws up the white balance, making the image a bit too green.

As we mentioned in our review, the Xoom is surprisingly potent when it comes to taking pictures. It's by no means great, but it's way better than the iPad 2.

The Cameras: UI and Placement Apple's foray into iPad cases - Smart Covers
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  • vol7ron - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Smoking the magic of realism, that's the point this device needs to hit. You can take that back to your IPS gods.

    I didn't say it was feasible to happen right away, but that's where it needs to be for the low-end devices. The upper-end of the spectrum should land in around $450.

    BTW, you misunderstand R&D and cost procurement. Just because these devices have a hefty starting price does not mean the cost of materials is even 1/1000 of that price. Whether the service providers are eating the price, or not, it all comes down to the fact that these devices do have a large mark-up. I think you need to consider the cost of an iPod Touch to the iPhone if you need a simpler way to compare - the 3G modem doesn't cost $300 lol and the Touch still had a high mark-up.

    "when the competition with a 2 decade head start still hasn’t been able to compete on price" ... no one has had a 2-decade head start. Technology (manufacturing and supply chain) and costs have both shifted over the last 20 years to make things more affordable. You come at this with an emotional response of "that can't happen", when I say it can and it will. Be care about being shortsighted it will come back to bite you one way or another.
    Reply
  • name99 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Look, if you want a crappy cheap computer, go out and buy one. They make $50 computers (none of that extravagant $100 OLPC nonsense) for India powered by 6502s.

    But at the end of the day you are being disingenuous. You don't ACTUALLY want a $250 PC --- you can get something like that today if you buy a second hand Eee on eBay. What you want is an actual iPad, not something with a tenth of the functionality, but at $250.
    Good luck with that.

    And spare us this "eventually". If you're not content with a $250 eBay Eee now, buy the time the $250 iPad equivalent comes around, the real iPad 5 will be quadcore, 2GiB of RAM and a retina display screen, and you STILL won't find the cheap equivalent an acceptable choice, not when there's a real device at $600 that is so much better.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    "Competition" has such devices for as low as about 100$, go google. They don't come with IPS panel or good battery, but how much do those parts cost?

    Competitors like Samsung do not have any reason to lower prices, as they are competing for different customers anyway. Not to mention, people perceive cheaper devices to be inferior.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    PS
    There are NETBOOKS (from Acer, Lenovo or pretty much anyone) with multi-touch screens for below 300$.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    They also weigh 2 to 3 times as much and have half or less the battery life. Reply
  • sean.crees - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    I still am amazed when people complain about the iPad being too expensive. I remember a little over a year ago everyone expected it to have a starting price of $999. It debuted at half that, and people still complain it's too much.

    It's now a year later, and even Apple's competitors cannot make a device that is competitive with a $499 starting price point or less.

    Here is where i see the iPad fitting in. The console and notebook have effectively replaced my PC. Everything i used to do on a PC i now do on either my notebook or my PS3. You're always going to have a cellphone. The tablet then does what you used to use a notebook for 10 years ago.

    You end up with a cell phone, a tablet, a notebook and if you want to game, a console.

    I don't know if a tablet will ever replace a notebook, maybe for some who can't afford all 3 and have to choose between a tablet and a notebook and don't need the productivity and power you gain with a notebook. Like how a TV is just for media consumption, a tablet is the same but you carry it around with you.
    Reply
  • Mishera - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - link

    People complain about the device being too expensive because for what it is capable of doing, and compared to other devices it is overpriced. For Apple the price makes perfect sense for what they portray as a luxury device. It starts with enough room to drop the price (which they did sort of) and to be able to introduce another smaller ipad at some point in the future without cutting into their sails of macs. That's probably why they went with their keyboard choice.

    I thought about buying one but came to the conclusion that it simply was far to expensive to justify, especially since all I needed was an ereader, and later a new laptop. But I ended up getting on for Christmas so I wasn't complaining. Turns out the iPad is for EXACTLY what Steve said it was for. This is essentially a couch companion. This takes care of all my computer need when I'm at home and don't have to do work. But that's about all it's good for since it's too big to feasible carry around and doesn't replace your laptop.

    I still stand by my belief that the ipad is overpriced though much more attractive at $400. I think tablets will be very important in the future, it's just that they are far away and apple right now is only interested in making consumer devices while everyone else follows them. But right now everyone seems happy with just a new toy..
    Reply
  • george1924 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    DSC_2328.jpg and DSC_2364.jpg Reply
  • george1924 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Great in-depth review though! Still can't get excited about tablets very much yet. I've had fun playing around with them, but don't think I could justify it along with a laptop, desktop, etc... Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Yeah, and the problem with playing with them at the store is that they always look really gross. I was messing with a tablet at a store today, and immediately washed my hands afterwards. I'm not a huge germ-a-phobe, but when I guy blows his nose, then approaches the electronics, I just start getting uneasy. I guess the screen just shows what's on all the mice and keyboards there, too. :p Reply

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