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Being a tablet user for years, I have always been looking for the combination of software and hardware in a tablet configuration that would give me the technical edge over my peers. I wanted a device that would allow me to be able to handle my duties (Sr Network Admin, Project Manager, Exchange Admin, MS Engineer, Technical Analyst, and ‘The IT Go to Guy’), quickly and efficiently. I have had everything from a Thinkpad Tablet (T40) to Toshiba laptops/convertibles, Panasonic, and several others, always wanting more power to run the next set of applications that would make my job easier. Applications with functionality similar to Visio, OneNote were what I was targeting for my desires in a tablet. Most systems suffered from lack of battery life or network connection, holding back overall functionality and usability. When Apple introduced the first iPad, I took a look and tried it, it was ok, but the applications were not there to be a series contender for me at the time, I still checked it out and found that the slate of applications for the IOS were not mature enough for my needs. With the release the iPad 2, Apple is intending to change the playing field, expanding the user base and keeping the lead at 90% share in the tablet market. There are several changes/upgrades to the iPad 2, faster processor and dual cameras, better speaker, slimmer case and less overall system weight. These changes along with some maturity in the apps start to make this more appealing choice to many people, if they can find one.
With all the hype and media coverage, you would have thought the iPad 2 is the ultimate device, and that not having one is just lacking in understand of what the iPad 2 can do for you. They claim it is the next great thing next to sliced bread, with no limits, at least that is what the kids at the apple store were telling everyone.
The pricing structure is similar to the original iPad, by $100 on the base price to the previous. The base models available are 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB. The 3G option adds about $130 to the cost, and there is 2 different AT&T 3G services or Verizon 3G service for the iPad 2 models. The AT&T GSM is unlocked, allowing different providers for data, but honestly after using 3G, GSM speeds of 100 kbps down and 25 kbps up are not even close to the 1-5mbps down and .3-.9 mbps up. The iPad 2 starts off a little lighter and thinner, with a solid feeling. The unit feels better in the hand, easier to use and carry around. It actual feels stiffer than the iPad 1, yet is 33% thinner. According to Apple, the iPad 2 is lighter, and the glass is thinner, but overall is stronger than original one. It shows some of the classic Apple design, looking slim and modern. (Pictures similar to http://mobilenews.blog.com/new-pictures-of-iPad-2-leaked/) .
One major difference with the iPad 2 is the new 1 GHz dual core processor and video processor subsystem. This change is highly noticeable not only in the basic operations of the unit, but many of the applications. Applications that were sluggish now preform at very usable speeds. Multi-tasking and message queuing no longer seems to bring the iPad to its knees. In the first generation of the iPad, it was not hard to lock the unit up with several message notifications from different applications at the same time. The system would return, at some point, but it could take two plus minutes on the original iPad. With the new iPad 2, it is not that easy to replicate this system freeze. Watching video, even HD video is clearer and it looks really good without any noticeable choppiness or pixilating. I ripped several Blue Ray movies and TV shows at the highest quality, MP4, and was not disappointed watching them on the unit. Option 1080p out cable connector is available for the iPad 2 for external display.
The IOS is starting to show signs of maturity, with IOS 4.3. Many of functions and features are similar to IPhone and other devices, just missing a few things that are needed on the iPad 2. Notable changes are the improved IPOD functions, where the interface is actual pleasing and easy to use. Another change is the interface for mail, the features and functions are much cleaner and easier to use over the iPhone. One small thing that needs to be improved to bring this in a business class device is the icons. Too many of them honestly are cartoonish and I believe the main reason for Apple to add the folder feature to the IOS, to allow the users to hide the icons that they don’t want their friends to know they have installed. IOS 4.3.1 addresses some of the issues, related to battery and networking, or at least that is the current claim is. Networking fix is not complete at this point. Many times when switching between the 3G or various Wi-Fi connections, the iPad 2 will return a network error, and will do this for 2-3 minutes. The only work around that I have found is to disable the wireless services when I don’t need them, and re-enable them when I do and wait 2-3 minutes. Another major bug that has only gotten worst is the picture sync bug. Photos are normally synced via ITunes, but there is not guarantee that this will always work. I experience several combinations, some pictures sync, some random folders, but never everything selected. The sync will show the pictures being copied, but they are not viewable on the iPad. This bug appeared when IOS v4 was released, and the one possible fix is to move the pictures to a fat32 partition, and that may solve the issue, but it doesn’t always work, and in many cases doesn’t do anything but waste time. Another is to wipe the iPad photo cache or wipe the iPad, and start over again, not always guaranteeing results. This is hard one to bypass as an issue, as the iPad 2 offers the Photo album feature including from the lock screen. It would be nice to have a photo collection that is displayable and useable by the owner. Apple is attributing the bug to Windows 7-64bit, on NTFS partitions, and potentially related to USB ports (power and implementation of standards), my system is a Macbook Pro 17” i7 unit. After completely wiping out my ITunes configuration and rebuilding the library, I was able to get the photos to sync over. Lot of work to get things working.
The addition of the cameras to the iPad 2 definitely adds to the value of the system. The rear camera does a good job with pictures and videos with good quality, it is claimed to be 720p quality, 30 fps, and 5x digital zoom, where the front camera is VGA quality and 30 fps, both with audio and geotagging. The photo app is lacking a bit, but this is where 3rd party apps shine. Gorillacam is a good replacement for the default application, but the free version is missing a few parts, but overall has a lot of benefits over the built in app, but is not a native iPad app. The front facing camera is good for video conferencing and self-pictures, and even better for the cheesy horror self-shooting camera shot. The video shooting was straight forward and easy. Use of the rear camera to copy documents is a nice little side bonus the quality is better than fax, and very usable. The iPad 2 will not replace digital cameras nor the iPhone for quality or ease of use, and there is no jitter control either. The lack of a flash on either camera is another issue, and honestly the picture quality overall is good, but it could and should be better.
Check out the sample iPad 2 video we took on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbzWCpSxEgA
The display has not really changed. Many were asking for the Retina display, which would have pushed the cost of the system over $1000 for the base model. The adjustments on the brightness are very handy and from my experience, the range is much better than the original iPad. In a few tests, the iPad 1’s display was not bright enough outdoors or just could not handle the amount of ambient lighting. The iPad 2 did not have the same problem. The display looks great in the bright light and dim never disappointing me with the quality of the display.
This is where it shines. The Lithium-Polymer battery makes the difference. The packaging included wall to USB charger which is a 10 watt unit USB port. Charging the unit connected to a computer takes a lot longer and the screen on the iPad must be off, and it is a trickle charge only. Several tests preformed of just video with networking disabled, gave about 10 hours of video with 18% of the battery left, (tests were performed watching the complete season 1 of Modern Family (ripped from the Blue Ray in 1080p) and three episodes of Keen Eddie).
This is the part that maturity is lacking. There are hundreds of thousands of apps, proving the old saying wrong ‘A million monkeys at a million keyboards in a million years would create War and Peace’. The current app market proves that completely wrong. The iPad has a nice large screen compared to the iPhone 4, with plenty of display area, but the majority of applications waste the space. Why give me a 2x button, I mean honestly, iPhone apps and iPad apps that make the device feel cheap, and make it look more like a joke remote or over-sized iPhone rather than a useful and powerful tablet pc. The 2x button at the bottom right in some cases even makes the application almost unusable, as the text is hard to read. Even some iPad apps like Chase for iPad is nothing more than a glorified iPhone app that uses the larger display.
When it comes to apps, I am a little cheap, a’ lot cheap’. I have only purchased one app, MobileNoter sync tool so that I can use my OneNote files on my iPhone, and now on my iPad. I have been tempted to purchase other apps, but honestly don’t mind the ads in ones that I use or just don’t see the value in wasting 99 cents on an app when there are some free ones that do the job. (I don’t have an issue paying for them; just have not seen anything worth it yet. I did purchase plenty of apps (about 10-15 of them) for my windows mobile phone, but they can be used, so I have restarted from the beginning.) It would be nice if the apple store apps would take a hint from the jailbreak apps and allow you to try before you buy.
Applications that make the iPad 2 a better tool for me are; iBrainstorm, MobileNoter, iBooks, TeamViewer, Doodle Buddy, WebEx, VmWare View, Netflix, Kayak, Mypad Friendly, Topo Maps, Sleep, PocketCloud, Dropbox, USAToday, TWC Max+, Photo Booth, TWCable TV, The Sun, Mobile RSS, DrudgeReport, . All these are the iPad versions of course. They all serve a purpose, and are major improvements over the iPhone version. Applications that store the data locally are handy and to me provide more value. One application that I really wanted but is a major disappointment is OneNote by Microsoft for IOS. I love OneNote, and use it to almost everything on my PC, but the crappy IOS version is a joke, MobileNoter (iPhone and iPad versions) blow it away, they allow the notebooks to be stored locally, and the notebooks look better than they do in OneNote. (Maybe someday they will do it right, but until then, I’ll pass, as many others have decided to do) Some people add iMovie, but I have not tried it yet (but it is tempting, just want to test it out first, which might mean a trip to the Apple Store). Further maturity has come at some expense of Apple, where hacks have been now adopted by Apple, leading the way to credit card processing, EKG and blood pressure monitoring and several other medical uses that all can plus into the headphone jack and save thousands of dollars or real machines.
Apple has done a fine job with the iPad 2, sure it doesn’t have removable storage, or 1080p video cameras in the front and back that do 24p in 16x9 or 22x9 format, or 4G or Wi-MAX, etc but it does a great job for what it is. The screen resolution is a short coming, being stuck at 1024x768, with many other tablets having a higher resolution, giving more area for application to use. The trade off with the iPad and iPad 2 is the stability of the IOS, (or in English single source for the OS and hardware) eliminate a lot of the common issues that many experience with other platforms. Android suffers from the issue with the OS being controlled by the hardware vendor, and not what the manufacturer has released to eliminate security or system issues.
I do like this device with the functionality making it well worth the money for me. I went for the 64 GB unit, and have purchased a replacement to get the AT&T 3g service, getting the 5 GB enterprise account. A minor issue with both AT&T and Verizon is data classification; if you use active sync mailboxes you must have enterprise data plans, and comments from AT&T that the use of HTTPS should be limited unless you have an enterprise data account. AT&T is offering a free month of data service for 2 GB or greater service. AT&T service does allow me to start and stop the data services without paying additional fees, where Verizon stated there was a charge (about $35) each time.
My overall impression is that the iPad2 is very usable, and very nicely build. It is handy and has saved me from carrying my laptop everywhere, but doesn’t give me everything I really need, just enough. My wife uses it to read ebooks and some of the other features and programs, but she is still on the fence if it is the right tool for her.
The lack of flash is a blessing and a curse. With all the security issues related to flash, it is nice not to have to worry about it, but with the number of sites running flash, and it usefulness, you are stuck until the pissing contest is over between Adobe and Apple.
IOS devices support up to 27 Exchange/ActiveSync mailboxes, there is no other mobile OS that will support more than one without issues. Androids ‘can support several, but it is not recommended for all devices and depends if the hardware vendor has enabled it. Windows mobile has never supported multi active sync mailboxes, and no information is available on if or when they will be supports it.
The browser: Safari. I have used Safari on my Mac session, and played with the standalone version for windows, but on IOS it is lacking. It incorrectly identifies it’s self as mobile browser (with a 1024x768 video area), and many sites just do not render correctly. There are other ‘pay for browsers’ like Mercury, but after testing it, I found no major differences between the two, except tabs versus separate pages. It would be nice to see Chrome for IOS or another full feature browser to enhance the experience of the iPad.
The applications lack of true exit or close function. If you ‘close’ the app, it most likely just sends it to the background. I am regularly hitting the home button twice and closing the programs out by touching and holding over the app, then clicking on the delete (little negative sign in the upper right corner). I have had the issue where to many apps were open and the system was really slow. Honestly you would figure Apple would have made this easier.
The inconsistency of ITunes and system management of the library. I found several episodes that were ripped will not properly play on the iPad, or that either the sound or video would not function. By deleting the videos and re-adding them back, the issues seem to go away. iTunes is not as mature of a product as one would expect. Maintaining a library, keeping files organized, are basic functions, but adding new media to the library is not as easy to manage as it should be. If you store the files on a network share, the use of 3rd party tools to update the library can be a concern and cause issues, if the software is not aware of changes that ITunes you are using. On several occasions my library has lost configuration data, linking the MP3 files to artwork; which leaves me with no artwork, having to use 3rd party tools to update the ITunes database, and fixing some of the files. My library is not anything special, about 23 GB of music, with over 200 GB of movies and TV shows and over 20 GB of digital books and additional documentation in PDF formation.
Managing the library should not be this hard, except Apple seems to want it that way. Apple did add the ability to have network based library, (Home Share), but only for items actual purchased from Apple iTune stores.