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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  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Touchscreens are the very antithesis of good ergonomics. Unless haptic feedback can defy physics or we get some deformable/flexible screens, devices with actual buttons will always be superior.

    The human brain simply reacts better to physically pushing a button. Touchscreens have horrible ergonomics--a tiny bit of vibration is not really much haptic feedback. It feels like a lot to us (and it certainly helps me on my phone) but it only feels like that beccause a touchscreen is so far away from any semblance of "natural use."

    Touchscreens should be used when they are REQUIRED--such as on smartphones, where the number of controls, commands and options far outstrip the physical size of the device and the physical space to place buttons.

    I don't think tablets will ever stop being a toy.
    Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Page 2, final picture. The iPad 2 is on the BOTTOM not the top there. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Fixed! Thanks :) Reply
  • Omid.M - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    "There's also the idea of synergy among devices. Even if you play within the Apple universe and own a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad, there's no magical way of sharing data and applications between them. I should be able to work on my Mac, step away and have my apps/data come with me. Your best bet is something like Dropbox but that's no where near the type of cohesive solution I'm talking about. Think HP's webOS touch-to-share but on steroids and you're on the right track."

    Anand/Brian/Vivek:

    I'm sure that's what Apple is planning with NFC-enabled iOS devices, but then wouldn't that require a saved state to be stored in the cloud and then re-downloaded on demand on the next device used? I would imagine that "lag" in the UX would be a problem. How long would you feasibly have to wait for stuff to download the first time you sit down with a new device (new as in rotation) ?

    Also, would this be limited to stock-Apple stuff only? It would be a bear for Apple to save the state of arbitrary 3rd party software from one device to the next (assuming both devices have the client installed). Right?

    Next...

    "So if you're actually torn between the iPad 2 and the Xoom my best advice is to wait. Apple needs to update iOS in a major way and Honeycomb needs a hardware update. Whichever gets it right first should get your money."

    This is really the money statement of the review. I think Android tab makers need to NOT simply look at the iPad 2 to figure out their next move, but to pave their own path, not for the path to be a RESPONSE to the competition. The Xoom should have higher quality display for sure, and Honeycomb needs faster incremental updates. I really liked it but it just lacks so much in terms of functionality and compatibility, at least if we're considering it for productivity.

    None of the tabs on the market right now are really meant for editing/creating content--even if you're able to with a handful of apps--but simply consuming existing content (iTunes music streaming, sharing videos, social networking--and I think that's the biggest issue with tablet to replace netbooks or become devices taken seriously.

    Please, please cover the WebOS tablet when it comes out.

    Thanks for the review, guys. Great work. The technical section on glass, for instance, is one reason with AT does the best reviews.

    Worth the read. Will tweet for others to check it out!

    -Omid
    Reply
  • clb - Monday, April 4, 2011 - link

    I agree on both, but the point on #1 is missed. It is not the need for the cloud on NFC, but the fact that you cannot actually sync the device:

    >I should be able to work on my Mac, step away and have my apps/data come with me.

    Even if you are going from a Mac to the iPad (1 or 2), there is no sync feature that covers everything. A note created on the iPad has to be emailed to your Mac; Apple will not let you read a note created on the iPad on a Mac unless you email it to yourself! And there is no way to get a note into the Likewise, using DropBox is great, but now files have to be loaded up, then you must reconnect, then load down. You cannot simply have the Mac send to the iPad or vice versa.

    This is because unlike the early iPods, the iPhones and iPads do not allow the user to move files. Early iPods could be treated as FireWire drives. Not the iOs devices. Everything must go through iTunes or via the cloud (i.e., third-party sites). If I'm at a beach house with no cloud connection, and want to move content from my PC/Mac to my iPad, I'm SOL in many cases.

    This is bad.
    Reply
  • Adam Chew - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Judging from your review of the iPad, its competitors will stand no chance of ever gaining traction in everyday use.

    So get a Macbook Air.....LOL

    The problem is the everyday user is not a tech blog blogger, the iPad is ideal for consumption of everything of the net and not like some tech blogger who needs to blog unnecessarily with a laptop when an iPad is at hand.
    Reply
  • nickdoc - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Loved your contribution! The geek talk was getting really boring and repetitive. Hello! Normal people have needs, too. This is what the reviewers often forget. Not everyone needs to create content to be consumed by other creators of mostly the same content. Lol! Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    OK, why where you joining *two iPads* together with magnets and buying a "smart vase" from Apple? :D

    "The iPad aligns and attaches to the body of the iPad 2 using six magnets along its side that line up with a similar set of magnets on the device. When I acquired the smart vase at launch, I [...]"
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Fixed again :) Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    How the f does it work? Reply

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