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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  • FrederickL - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link


    I have to say that I largely agree even though I perhaps would not use PrinceGaz' somewhat "undiplomatic" description of the iPad's current customer profile! However, I am obliged to agree that tablets of this size are of little interest (IMO) until they are functional enough that they can _replace_ ones laptop. The case for buying an iPad (fine piece of content consumption kit as it is) falls down at that first fence as far as I am concerned. In general terms my mobile device needs are met by my Desire Z. A third or fourth generation10 - 11 inch tab with a full slide out qwerty (either Honeycomb or Win 8 ARM, the iOS is not to my taste) with more connection/plug options than you can shake stick at, with a docking station+large screen at home - now THAT would open my wallet!
    Reply
  • dhuhtala - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I tend to agree - I've always carried a Blackberry phone instead of an iPhone just because it has a slide-out keyboard...I will not compromise on that! This makes the device really practical and I use it a lot.

    That's why I'm closely watching the ASUS eee Slider - a tablet with a slide out keyboard - that sounds like it will be much cheaper than the Xoom (rumour has it at $500.

    The Tegra 2 probably won't meet my requirements for playing MKV video files though, from what I've gathered...

    http://www.reghardware.com/2011/03/15/preview_tabl...
    Reply
  • solipsism - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    You’re the minority. The majority of buyers just want something that works, which is why the techtarded people of the world are jumping into simpler devices for email and browsing, not building their own PCs and running a home-brew version of Linux. Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    A netbook can check email and browse the internet for significantly less money. Most people I know, even the techtarded as you so colorfully put it, realize this and do not buy an iPad.

    The people I know who buy iPads are college students who get Mommy and Daddy to pay for it, and hipsters.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I couldn't disagree more.

    I would say that technically savvy people are the ones who are MORE likely to buy an iPad.

    I say this as a technically savvy person who has not yet bought an iPad, but can see the appeal:

    Firstly - the iPad is lighter, thinner, and has better battery life than most netbooks.

    Secondly - it's more capable, in that u wont have to wait around for Windows or whatever OS you're using to load, the apps are designed for the platform and the device's capabilities so it's actually quicker. Games, for example, are much nicer to play and to control on an iPad when compared to a netbook.

    Thirdly - it's more convenient in certain situations - u dont need to find a table to set it on or put it on ur lap - you can just hold it, such as when standing up or walking along, or where ur sitting at a table with food all over it.

    Fourthly - it's touch screen, extremely advantageous in certain situations. For example, the iPad makes a much better presentation device than any netbook can.

    It's such blind ignorance of a lot of people on here to assume that it's non-techy people who buy iPads. It's the non-haters, who buy iPads. The people who want to embrace the latest technology and actually see what it's about before dismissing it with some pathetic stereotype.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - link

    It's a "for fun" device, so if you buy it for some thing else, I doubt your "tech savyiness".

    And for some, not being able to read stuff you've written to your own device, is a show-stopper. Calling this "hate" is silly.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    It pretty much is a toy, but I really think smartphones are better toys. They're smaller, and you carry your phone anyway, so why not game on it to kill some time between appointments? Reply
  • Rick83 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    I still stick to my 5" tablet (though something slightly larger might work also...but 7" is already too much).
    That I can carry around all day (when I want to, and keep a separate non-smart phone that does telephone well enough) and yet it is much more useful than the 4" and 3.5" smart phones. I can comfortably hold it with one hand, buttons are nice and big in landscape mode, the dock gives me USB host, there's BT for keyboards as well, dock with hdmi-out, analog video-out...basically it does anything I would ever need, in the ideal portable form factor.

    It could do with a marginally better touch screen and build quality, and performance and stability aren't that great, but considering it predated the first iPad by about 6 months, I'm willing to accept the odd quirk. Also, it still works after quite some use over the last 18 months, with no visible battery life issues.

    I hope that the mini-tablet form factor will be explored some more in the future, I would be willing to replace my current device with something similar once the warranty has expired...

    Oh did I mention that it cost me less than a third of an iPad? (But, no, no flash either ;))
    Reply
  • tzhu07 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    I've been trying to figure out a use for the iPad, and the only thing I can think of is that it's good for doing really simple things and taking notes. Also, when you take it out in front of a client during a lunch meeting, it tends to impress them.

    But, yeah, I find that there isn't really a need for a device that bridges the gap between a laptop and a smartphone....yet.
    Reply
  • vision33r - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    It's all about the Apps, regardless which OS they are useless without apps.

    The iPad has tons of productivity and enterprise ready apps. Would like to see an iMovie clone on Android or some quality productivity apps. So far only iOS has the most real apps.
    Reply

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