Camera

Probably the only major disappointment about the iPad 2 is the cameras, oh the cameras. They're identical to the two cameras in the latest generation iPod touch, and are overall something of a disappointment.

The rear facing camera is a native 1280x720 when shooting video, which crops down to 960x720 (4:3) when taking stills. All the camera app does is toss away 160 pixels on the left and right side when taking still images. There's no autofocus at all, it's just fixed focus, meaning taps on the display simply change exposure. Change to video and you'll see magnification preserved entirely. It's obvious this back sensor was chosen with the intention of shooting video given its apparent native 1280x720 resolution.

 
Left: Still mode, Right: Video capture mode

The iPad 2 camera reminds me of the iPhone 3G camera. It's less impressive than the iPhone 3GS camera which had autofocus and relatively decent image quality, and positively destroyed compared to the iPhone 4 camera system.

iPad 2 front facing camera - Above it is the ambient light sensor

The front camera is actually similar to what we've seen before out of all the iDevice front facing cameras - it's VGA with equally ok performance. White balance seems off inside the light box we use for smartphone testing, as the test images have a distracting reddish cast.

Stills on the rear camera aren't impressive at all, and what makes it worse is that the images are noticeably blurry and noisy when upscaled to the iPad's native XGA resolution. I was shocked to see that the camera preview scales both the front and back camera images all the way up. It looks downright hilarious in person and shows off everything bad about those two cameras.

Video quality is almost exactly the same as the iPod Touch (latest gen with cameras). It's actually pretty good, though I want to do more testing before passing judgement. It's still 720P H.264 Baseline L3.1 at 29.97 FPS. Our demo video is 10.8 Mbps. 

The microphone location for the iPad 2 is (at least on the 3G version) right in the middle of the plastic RF window. It's a super small little port with mesh grating. I found out the hard way that it's also right where you want to hold the iPad naturally, and covered it with my hand in the video above. Apologies about the noise.

iPad 2 microphone in the middle of RF window

What I like about Apple is that usually their UI is some of the most carefully thought out around. Nine times out of ten, it's almost shockingly intuitive, and clearly carefully thought-out. Look no further than how the original iPad's mail app layout has become the most emulated landscape UI design ever.

That said, it's that one time out of ten when things go awfully, terribly, shockingly wrong - sadly, that's precisely what happened in the camera app. The problem is that the camera control bar moves when the iPad is rotated. Yes, it moves. Contrast that to the iPhone and iPod Touch where the bar never moves, and the capture button is always on the bottom near the home button - icons rotate, but the whole bar doesn't move. On the iPad 2, icons rotate, and the whole bar moves.

 
Left: Portrait, Right: Landscape - Note how the capture button is always at the bottom

In both landscape and portrait view, the capture button goes to the bottom of the screen, dead center. In portrait, it's not too hard to just stretch the thumb and tap capture. It isn't comfortable, but it's doable. In landscape however, you either need to either hold the iPad 2 with one hand and tap the capture button with a free hand (which is a great way to accidentally drop the thing or introduce biblical amounts of camera shake), or stretch your thumb to the max and hope to goodness it's long enough to reach the button. In both portrait and landscape, putting the capture button at the bottom is undeniably awkward. This could've been the perfect opportunity to introduce a transparent capture button mid-screen on the sides where the thumbs could naturally tap. Instead, we're left with the most awkward position possible.

To Be Continued...

We couldn't help but share some of our initial thoughts/impressions with you guys but there's still much more to do. Battery life is next on the to-do list along with our continued hunt for a greater understanding of Apple's iPad 2. Check back next week for our full review!

 

 

WiFi + AT&T 3G
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  • Destiny - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    If Apple iPAD 2, NVIDIA's Tegra 2, TI's OMAP 4 and Samsung's Exynos all use the same Dual Core ARM Cortex A9... why are there performance differences shown in your testing and benchmarks of these products? Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    iPad uses iOS the others use variations of Android with who knows whats loaded in the background.

    But the simple reason is different OS's provide different performance characteristics as they handle processes and memory loads differently.
    Reply
  • Destiny - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Thank-you for the reply... now my knowledge and processor IQ just went up a notch... : ) Reply
  • solgae1784 - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Yep. All that hardware specs means nothing if your software can't utilize it. That much is clear even way back in the days. Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    It's not just due to the OS, it is also due to the other hardware coupled with the A9. For instance, more RAM means application data can be loaded quicker, rather than from the HD. The GPU and screen size/resolution also effect benchmarks - the amount of effect depends on the type of test.

    Also the different hardware vendors may have modified some of the firmware instruction sets to make it more efficient.

    But that's a big reason why these benchmarks are used, to have some sort of common ground that more accurately compares the different hardware/software combinations.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    We also don't know the clocks of the A5. Maybe it's not safe to assume it's running at 1.0ghz? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Er you're very right about that. Geekbench reports 900MHz :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    http://www.apple.com/ca/ipad/specs/

    Its 1GHz. Geekbench reports the instantaneous speed, so you'll hear different numbers from that depending on what it ramps its speed down to to save power.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    It's all about the OS at that point, just like how iOS 4.3 gives 2.5x increase in Javascript performance compared to iOS 4.0 even using the same original iPad. Reply
  • vol7ron - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    That isn't the OS, that's the JS engine. Both software, both different roles. Reply

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