It is barely a year since Apple unleashed its original iPad, a game changing device in the world of mobile computing. Now the tablet is firmly established as a niche product: smaller than a laptop or netbook but larger than a smartphone. The Apple iPad might not have been the first tablet device but it was the one that renewed the format for the mobile internet age.Now, twelve months later, with the original iPad a runaway success, but with other manufacturers getting in on the act in greater numbers, Apple has released the iPad 2. The excitement and anticipation concerning this new model has been remarkable, so in this article we’ll have a look at what the new iPad brings to the table, and whether it makes sense for owners of the old model to go for an upgrade straight away.Whenever Apple launches a new, upgraded version of one of its products, you can be sure that the new model will strive for something noticeably different in design compared to its predecessor. This is how Apple uses design to stimulate desire for its products. While there is always technical advancement, at the same time appearance and style are used by Apple to distance the new product from the old and make what was ‘new’ a few months ago seem ‘old hat’.Bearing this in mind, the new iPad 2 is surprisingly recognizable from the old model. To be fair, when it comes to the tablet it would be hard to reinvent the wheel; having said that, the new model is noticeably thinner and sleeker than the original. There is also a curve to the edge of the new unit that gives it a different feel in the hand. As well as being thinner than the first iPad, the new model is also lighter, by 80 grams.Moving on to the technical specifications, if we compare the old iPad with the iPad 2 we can see that there have been some big improvements made. The new unit is powered by an A5 dual core 1 GHz processor chip, which is effectively twice as fast as the single core A4 chip in the old iPad. The iPad 2 has 512 MB of RAM, again twice that of the first generation iPad. Also on the plus side, the iPad 2 features an upgraded graphics engine that is claimed to be nine times faster than the previous version. On the other hand, the iPad 2 screen is the same (1024×768 pixels) as that on the old iPad, so there is no improvement there.A significant step forward with the iPad 2 is in its provision of two cameras: a rear-facing cam for video and still capture, and a front-facing VGA cam for video chats. In contrast the original iPad had no camera of any kind. Another improvement with the iPad 2 is its inbuilt gyroscope that detects whether the unit is being held horizontally or vertically. This feature aims to counteract an annoying tendency of the old iPad to display images or pages at the wrong orientation if the unit was moved suddenly.As you might expect, the enhanced hardware of the iPad 2 makes for faster processing and smoother display of some kinds of material. Simple web browsing, using the supplied Safari browser, doesn’t seem that different but video playback is definitely somewhat smoother. However, one disappointment is the camera quality. The resolution is not that great, either for capture of video and stills, or for the quality of video chats. This is a little surprising given the superior specifications of the cameras on the iPhone 4. On the other hand, a tablet like the iPad is not really an ideal size or shape to use as a camera. Perhaps the company’s research shows that buyers use the iPad chiefly to browse the net and as an e-reader, and so there was no point in over-specifying the device.One other thing we have to mention is the issue of Adobe Flash support. In common with the various iPhones and previous iPad, the iPad 2 does not support Flash, so any websites dependent on this technology (and there are lots of them) will not display on the iPad. Some websites, for example Google’s various sites, offer HTML5 versions as a substitute for Flash, but many other websites do not so these will not be viewable at all on the iPad 2.In conclusion, we shall try to answer the twin questions of whether you should choose the iPad 2 over another tablet, and also whether existing iPad users should replace their machines. With regard to other tablets out there at the moment, the chief contender seems to be the Motorola Xoom. If you put the iPad 2 up against the Xoom, in our opinion the Xoom comes out slightly on top. The display is crisper and brighter, and the Motorola is better specified all round. On the other hand, the iPad is smaller and lighter, which is an advantage, even when performance is not quite as good. Of course, the other major difference is the interface. The Xoom is an Android device, and Android has increasing numbers of fans. The adaptability and flexibility of the Android OS is definitely greater than that of the Apple iOS, but to this day many people, especially those already used to Apple devices, prefer the smoothness of the Apple interface.If you already own an iPad, you may be wondering whether or not to upgrade. If you are the kind of person who has to get the latest and greatest, and for whom the cost is not a concern, then yes, you should go for it. The iPad 2 has an improved, sleeker case and a noticeably zippier performance. You will certainly see a speed difference compared to the old model. On the other hand, if you have only recently purchased the iPad, you could take comfort in knowing you have an excellent product and enjoy it for what it is. Unless you are desperate to be up to date, you should perhaps wait for the iPad 3, or for a discount on the iPad 2, which will probably come at some point when this brand new product has been on the market for a while.
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