The Cameras

If there’s one thing that people were waiting for with the iPad 2, it’s the inclusion of cameras. CPU and GPU performance improvements with the iPad 2 are dramatic, but it’s the cameras that will drive both existing and new iPad customers to the device. For being probably the single most notable difference between the iPad 2 and its predecessor, the camera execution and experience on the iPad 2 is actually surprisingly bad. 

I could pretty much sum up the iPad 2 cameras with one word: mediocre. The interface, the physical placement of the rear camera, and finally actual quality all leave room for considerable improvement. If you want a video overview of the entire iPad 2 camera situation, check out our video review

The front facing camera is actually about where it should be, in fact. VGA is standard fare for iOS devices because right now FaceTime is just 320x240 from iDevices. My issue isn’t with the front facing camera, it’s the back camera that really under-delivers, and for that reason the iPad 2 feels like it’s a device saddled with two front-facing cameras. The fact that they’re better than nothing (e.g. iPad 1) is small consolation for how seriously underwhelming the rear camera is. 

Both cameras are identical to what comes in the iPod Touch 4th generation, a device that starts at $229. At $499, it doesn’t seem like a completely unreasonable thing to expect cameras that are at least somewhat better. 

Let’s start with the camera user interface. At first glance, it’s the exact same as the camera interface on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Capture button in the center, a link to the photo application with thumbnail of the last captured photo in the bottom left, a digital zoom slider after a tap, and a switch between video and still at right. Up in the top right is the switch-front-back camera button as well. The iPad has no HDR options, and obviously no LED flash options either. Tapping on the preview exposes for the tapped region, but since the rear camera is fixed focus, focus doesn’t change. 

What’s really annoying about this interface is that it rotates.

I’ve spent every second since first picking up the iPad 2 wondering what possessed Apple’s UI designers to make this decision, asking myself what possible benefits this choice could have. The only possible one is that this is an equalizer for left-handed users, but then why not simply make an option in settings to change the location of the bar from the left to the right side? 

The problem with keeping the capture/switch bar at the bottom of each orientation is that it puts the capture button in the absolute worst possible place.

At each orientation, the capture button is dead center at the bottom. The result is that to tap capture, you need to either stretch your thumb all the way to reach it, or remove your hand and tap with the index finger.

 

Both of those result in a much less stable grip position and add to shake. Moreover, it’s a downright fatiguing position to have to hold the iPad in for any length of time. It’s somewhat annoying in portrait, but downright frustrating in landscape.

Putting the capture button here is painful. Were it left closest to the home button like it is on smaller iDevices, the capture button would be right near where the thumb naturally rests. Tap it with your thumb, and boom, no problem. Maybe a transparent button would also make sense.

The other problem with the capture interface is that if you have relatively large palms or tightly grip the iPad 2 to brace it and reduce shake, you run the risk of causing an unintended touch on the lower right or left corners. Numerous times, I went to hit capture and found that nothing happened. When that occurred, generally it was because I was touching the bottom left or right with my palm inadvertently. Touch filtering or heck, maybe some of that multitouch wizardry would go a long way here, Apple. 

The final problem is with placement of the actual camera. Because of its position in the extreme top left (viewed from the back), the only viable way to hold the iPad 2 for landscape capture is with the home button on the right side. Hold it naturally with the button on the left side, and you'll end up blocking the camera with your hand like this:

The image preview in still mode is cropped to 4:3 and upscaled to XGA. The native resolution of the rear camera is 1280x720 (16:9). To get to 960x720 (4:3) Apple simply cuts off 160 pixels on the left and right. The fact that the image preview in still capture mode is upscaled to the full size of the iPad 2 display accentuates its underwhelming and noisy quality dramatically. It doesn’t look awesome. The front facing VGA camera blown up to XGA is even less impressive. 

The only positive side effect of all this is that image capture is insanely quick. You can literally mash the capture button on both the front and rear cameras and capture essentially as fast as you can tap. No doubt some of that is the A5's impressive speed gains, but the other part of it is just the low resolution of those two cameras.

 

 

HDMI Mirroring & Charging Video and Still Quality Analysis
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  • jalexoid - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    The movie editing app on Honeycomb is there. And it's similar to iMovie.
    The Office look alike apps on iPad are still not good.

    Honeycomb struggles on the apps side, because the developer hardware was not there, when it was needed.
    But saying "So far only iOS has the most real apps" is a bit incorrect.
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    “The movie editing app on Honeycomb is … similar to iMovie.”

    Yes, except for one thing: the YouTube of it shows it unable to show thumbnails properly and balky, rough animations. This wouldn't even get bronze at a beer-fueled coding contest.

    The two are exactly as similar as night and day: they live on the same planet.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    >>Also, when you take it out in front of a client during a lunch meeting, it tends to impress them.

    That's probably why most buy it.
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I bought my iPad to turn my daily NY Times habit at Starbucks paperless. So Wi-Fi only and one year = it paid for itself.

    Acting as an awesome controller for my home stereo setup is a total bonus. Same with reading books again via iBooks and Kindle.

    Yes, the underlying thing is I use it to consume and not to create. Unless you find an application that uses its strength in that regard it will just frustrate you as you try to do your pad-inappropriate netbook / laptop / PC / mini / mainframe or whatever apps on it.

    For me its a perfect way to avoid the netbooks / laptops which I have always loathed but get a little mobility. But then I only create on a desktop with 2560 x 1600 resolution so laptops will never cut it anyway.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    It's pretty refreshing to see someone who has actually found a usable niche for these things.

    It's just not too useful to a lot of folks. I carry my laptop to class already--yeah, this big, heavy MSI gaming laptop--because I need it. If I could carry something as light as the iPad and have it do what I need... I'd be sold.

    But it can't. And LCDs suck for long reading sessions. I'd rather have an ereader.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    what is it you can't do on an ipad? Reply
  • LaughingTarget - Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - link

    Quite a bit, really. It's a lousy drafting platform. Don't try doing anything remotely related to engineering on it. Want to create a proprietary program to tie into your own business systems at work? Don't bother, you're not putting that thing on your iPad without Apple's permission. Don't bother trying to type anything lengthy up on the thing, you'll be operating, at best, on about 1/4 speed as a keyboard. It's a useless tool for accountants, field technicians needing to keep track of customer data, worthless for engineers trying to troubleshoot a power plant turbine on-site. Hell, it's even a horrible method of ringing up orders at a fast food joint.

    Go down the list of what people do for a living, the meat of the modern global economy, and you pretty much found everything the iPad can't do.
    Reply
  • kevith - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Use it as an E-reader?

    Well, only for books, that the the censors at Macintosh find good, clean and familyfriendly enough, that is.

    "When You start burning books, You will eventually end up burning people."

    That fact does not change over time...
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Let's be a bit more honest here: Heine was talking about government-sanctioned political violence, not commercial decisions. In fact, the considerations are almost exactly opposite.

    Commercial decisions have dozens of considerations, including authors' willingness to grant rights (e.g., Nabokov's Pale Butterfly not in any e-form), format (the wonderful Visualizing Information, also MIA) and a host of others. Freedom of speech implies the speaker's right to choose when and how he speaks; that means Apple's right to make commercial decisions about what it offers and what it does not.

    E.g., Apple no longer sells a camera, but they don't in any way restrict your ability to buy them or use them. Re books: if you like Kindle, for example, read them on the iPad. (As long as Amazon chooses to carry the work.) This is just like say, the B&N store across from my office: they don't carry titles they don't want, whether for expected lousy sales, or to keep the local Bigots United chapter from waving pitchforks at them. This freedom of Apple, which is NOT an arm of the US Government, to have its own voice, is just as important as preventing governments from banning speech.

    Maybe there is somebody at Apple who wants to treat you like a child. But about a hundred times more likely is that they simply want to do the stuff they think they do best, and some people act (childlishly!) as if Apple should run by different principles.

    PS: “Macintosh” is not the company you're talking about.
    Reply
  • vision33r - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    The last thing you want is bring that $899 device in front of people and have app crashes and App drawer that doesn't work when you press it like a zillion times.

    People at work will just say you blow $899 on a netbook.

    Yes, the LCD on the Xoom is the typical 10.1" you found on Acer Netbook parts bin.

    How dare Motorola try to pass off a netbook for $899. How about the ASUS EEE Slate for $999 instead.
    Reply

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