The Apple iPad 2 isn't incredibly different from its predecessor, according to a number of March 10 reviews, arriving a day before the device itself. But the changes Apple has made, they suggest, are enough to ensure that Apple will remain the flush winner in a game it created and has now upped the ante in.
"On paper, Apple didn't do much. It just made the iPad one-third thinner, 15 percent lighter and twice as fast. There are no new features except two cameras and a gyroscope," David Pogue wrote in The New York Times. "And then you start playing with it."
Just that much improvement, he continued, "transforms the experience."
Tech writer John Gruber, on his blog Daring Fireball, described the iPad 2 as an impressive "refinement."
"The fact is, Apple got it right with the iPad 1 in almost every way, and the iPad 2 reflects that," Gruber wrote. "If you didn't like the original iPad, you're not going to like the iPad 2. If you liked the original iPad, you're going to like the iPad 2 even better."
The cameras on the front and back are welcome additions, but given that Apple designed them for video and not still photography, their resolution is wanting.
"For a company known for quality, which bundles a new still-photo application with the device," wrote Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal, "the cameras are disappointing."
Mossberg also wasn't into the iPad 2's new rounded edges (which Pogue found to be part of its "overall delight"). According to Mossberg, "The new, more tapered design makes it harder to plug cables and accessories-including the charging cable-into the main port on the bottom of the device, because it is now angled."
The iPad 2's new dual-core processor, Mossberg added, makes for a "noticeable" speed increase, but not a "dramatic" one. He also half-complained about its battery. Which didn't not meet Apple's claims, but didn't exceed them by as much as the iPad did. (Tough crowd!)
Two last gripes: CEO Steve Jobs hasn't gotten over his issues with Adobe Flash, and so the iPad 2 doesn't support it, as likely every Android-running tablet will. Also, while the iPad 2 can connect via WiFi or 3G, it can't be upgraded to the 4G speeds now being offered by every major network.
"Apple says this is because the chips needed to do this are too immature, draining battery life," wrote Mossberg. "But the [Motorola] Xoom promises to be upgradeable to 4G later this year, though I have no idea how that upgrade might affect its battery life or monthly fees."
It's in the positives column that Xoom figures again. Sitting beside the svelte iPad 2, Mossberg describes the Motorola tablet as looking "bloated," while Pogue goes for "obese."
More positives: The iPad 2 can connect to an HDTV, with the help of a $40 adapter. There's Apple's burst-at-the-seams App Store, which includes more than 65,000 applications specifically for the iPad, and the more expensive models can access 3G connectivity on the Verizon or AT&T networks without committing to a two-year contract. Pogue suggested that choosing the right pricing plan-AT&T, for example, offers a $15 a month, 250MB plan, or 2GB for $25-"requires a graduate degree in forensic accounting." But it's pretty convenient that users can sign up for the service right when they need it, from the iPad 2. "You can turn on service only when you'll be traveling, for example," Pogue wrote.
And then there's the sold-separately Smart Cover, available for $40 in one of five colors in polyurethane or $70 for one of five colors in leather. While a cover isn't something generally entitled to column inches in the old gray lady, "Apple's new cover is a perfect symbol of its fondness for high-tech magic tricks," wrote Pogue. More than a screen protector, it cleans, it's fashionable and it's darn handy for propping the tablet to make watching videos or typing on the on-screen keyboard more pleasurable.
The perfectly named Smart Cover, wrote Gruber, was the star of a recent hands-on demo.
"You don't really have to try to line it up when attaching it. Just get the hinge vaguely in the vicinity of the left edge of the iPad, and it acts like a robot that knows how to (and wants to) connect itself," he continued. " It jumps into place, and the near-perfection of its automatic alignment is uncanny. There are no indentations, notches or visible marks along the side of the iPad 2. It just works. And note: An iPad 2 wearing a Smart Cover is considerably thinner than a naked original iPad."
To buy or not to buy?
The Associated Press' Rachel Metz suggested that "should you feel the urge to have the latest and greatest ... go for it. Chances are, it will be the best tablet in town-at least until the iPad 3 arrives."
Mossberg, while expecting that Apple will soon give up some of the market share it has been hogging, nonetheless wrote that, with the iPad 2, Apple "moves the goal posts" and that he can "comfortably recommend it as the best tablet for average consumers."
In the Times, Pogue reminded readers that, at a price that beats many of the iPad 2's competitors-the same pricing as the original iPad-it's easy to let your heart, instead of your head, control your wallet, and to purchase a device that no one really needs but that most, once their hands are on one, will find hard to resist.