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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  • VivekGowri - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    I think it's $799, but I agree, it's too high. The equivalent iPad, at $729, is also way up there - really the only iPad that makes much sense as far as value goes is the base 16GB WiFi. I think the Xoom is probably going to have it's price cut by at least $100, if not $200, before it actually gets anywhere - ASUS took the right tack by putting it's lowest end Honeycomb tablet at $399. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Where the iPad really works for me is as a travel device and in the living room. The iPad is just much nicer to use with in-flight wifi. Small, no cable management, and the battery will outlast a LAX-JFK roundtrip. My laptop lives in the overhead storage bin.

    You mentioned that the iPad has replaced the ThinkPad in airports, and I think that is spot-on. It is just so much more convenient and manageable to use compared to a laptop. I've left the laptop at home twice and I didn't miss it much, aside from not being able to play Starcraft 2 when I'm on the road. :)

    The "sharing" aspect of the device has great advantages in a work environment, especially when you want to go over PDFs with a group of people. No need to crowd around or turn a laptop, just pass around the iPad.

    As for the living room and bedroom, self explanatory. Not being tethered to the home office in order to fire off email is nice. Ditto using it as a universal remote in the living room.

    It is a luxury device and a supplement, absolutely, but a damn good one.
    Reply
  • nickdoc - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Finally a sensible person. We are definitely on the same page. Reply
  • kevith - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    "You're absolutely right" almost always really means: "I totally agree..." :-) Reply
  • relentlessfocus - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    As always a real insight into the hardware. I'd like to make an observation about generalising from your own inability to find something that tablets add to your PC./smartphone mix to the larger sphere of buyers. Indeed most are not crazy and overly rich.

    My friends have a 2 year old child. I have no doubt that eventually she'll be reacting with laptops and desktops but my oh my how much my friends talk about the 3 of them with the iPad. Not an Anandtech thing... fine. A real life use. I think so.

    Jake Humphrys is the lead for BBC's Formula 1 coverage here in the UK. While talking live in the pits with his co-commentators he now holds an iPad cupped in his hand that he gracefully reads from and then puts to his side as he gets live update info from his directors as the show is broadcast. OK, its not an Anandtech thing but its a real life use for a tablet that you wouldn't do with a netbook or notebook.

    It's being used by coaching staff in sports and by doctors making their rounds in hospitals. It's used by major corporations for field workers running in house bespoke apps for catalogues and inventory and real time pricing etc. It's used by estate agents in the field with their clients and its used in trendy clothing shops like All Saints to display the entire store catalog for customers to browse. I could without a doubt put together 100 real life uses that "did figure out a use for it" distinctive from what you might do with a netbook or laptop or even desktop.

    Your reviews set the gold standard in so many ways but in this one way its a shame you brought such a limited perspective to the usefulness of touch tablets in the world at large. I understand that people who do certain kinds of work really do find that a touch tablet device may not be useful, indeed you may not own a pickup truck or headphone amplifier. But the slant of your article and some of the comments above implies a great generality than I think can be justified.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    First of all, thank you for your kind words - I really do appreciate them.

    I don't doubt that there are specific uses for a tablet that a notebook cannot do as well. I mentioned one of these in the review - simply passing around the iPad for others to look at, information sharing, it's a lot easier to do this than with a clunky notebook.

    My point about the usefulness is that it's currently not powerful enough, flexible enough and ergonomic enough to completely replace a notebook. I'm not saying it won't get there, but I don't believe it's there today. The iPad 2 is a great device, but it's an augment to existing computing devices - and for some users that's tough to integrate into their existing workflow.

    If you can find a fit that makes sense however, it's a great device.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Good article. However I do not think the point of tablets and smartphones are to replace netbooks. I think their point is to compete on apps. If they can do something critical to someone better than another form factor then they win a sale. I think it will turn out there are more apps that are tablet appropriate than netbook appropriate.

    Unless there are more interface revolutions I just do not think there can be a 100% intersection between netbook and tablet utility. So while netbooks will remain better at the things a lot of people complain about not being able to do on a tablet, tablets will eat their lunch market share wise because of the many more things they do good enough or perfectly.
    Reply
  • Fontanka - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    "Workflow ", "Use", "Users","Usefulness".........

    That's not what most of the 15 million purchasers (and counting) are thinking about....they want to communicate, be entertained and diverted when NOT WORKING. The iPad delivers.

    Fontanka
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    @Anand, let me second the kind words of @relentlessfocus.

    And also his point: a tablet and a notebook are largely incommensurable.

    Lightweight, sub $1000 notebooks with 11-hour battery life, compressed learning times and near-instant app startup don't exist.

    Likewise, notebooks don't have anywhere near the touchscreen's I/O capabilities, which you call out as great in iMovie and GarageBand. (I'd add the iOS app I use for writing Chinese as part of my studies, and the painting app used by high profile artists to create New Yorker covers.) Then, there's a new mix of software appropriate to mobile life, including the many “specialized” apps @relentlessfocus offered.

    I get that, by definition, our current workflows can't be optimized on a tablet. (Mine, with multiple screens on the desktop, and a bigscreen laptop, would be horrible. Why would I even think to try?) These things are "technical disruptors," "creative destructors," "inventor's dilemmas," however you want to characterize them. They enable new usage modes at the same time that they're not as good, or downright awful, for the old ones. They serve new customers better than the old; this is all old hat ever since Shiva got incorporated into the pantheon.

    But thanks for such a complete review, for those of us who happen to be dabbling in devices that enable new functions, new activities.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I believe we're actually in agreement here. The tablet is a disruptive form factor and a disruptive device. In the article I state that I believe there's a glorious future for tablets, however I believe we're still at an early point in the evolution. Since we're operating on a faster-than-moore'slaw-curve here, you're looking at a 12 month product cycle with these things. As such I believe a cautious approach to investment is better, especially given the price points we're talking about.

    By all means, if you have the money to spend and have a genuine use for it - the iPad 2 is a great device. I'm genuinely giving the iPad 2 another chance, I really wanted to use the iPad 1 I just found myself carrying it and a notebook wherever I went.

    For example, I'm traveling now for CTIA but I brought the MacBook Air. I'd much prefer reading comments on the iPad 2, but I like responding to them on the Air. I don't really know what the right solution is to that problem. It can't be to have one device for reading web pages and another device for contributing to web sites? I believe there's still a lot of work to be done here, that's all I'm saying - not that the iPad or the tablet are doomed.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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