iPad 2 £399
17th Jul 2011 | 10:55
Apple's new tablet is the best of its kind, but is it really good enough?
Update: Check out our new iPad 3 review
The Apple iPad 2 might be getting a little longer in the tooth, but it's still a viable option in the tablet market. Can iOS 5.1 - soon to be iOS 6 - give it a decent refresh?
Long the most coveted device on the tablet scene, the Apple iPad 2 has been pushed from the top spot by its direct replacement, the new iPad.
Despite its expected, and even eagerly awaited, annual dethroning, the second-generation Apple tablet remains arguably the second best tablet device on the market with a new, lower price tag and a software update helping transform it into the first true new iPad challenger.
We've now updated our review with a longer test, based on more time with the iPad 2 and the new iOS 5.1 software.
Having set the benchmark for a generation of tablet devices, the iPad 2 is now almost uninspiring in terms of core specs on-paper, with its A5 dual-core CPU outstripped by the dual and quad-core offerings that feature in a number of the tablet's rivals such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime and the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition.
Despite this paper value disadvantage, the overall package offered by the sleekly designed, angled backed tablet is paralleled only by its replacement with the iPad playing host to a user experience, high-end finish and cult-like popularity that is the envy of all other manufacturers.
While a number of devices such as the Amazon Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 continue to pioneer the 7-inch tablet form factor, the 9.7-inch aspect ratio laid out by the original iPad has remained largely the most popular and user-friendly tablet form on the market with the iPad 2 retaining the same 1024 x 768p resolution display with 132 PPI offering as its predecessor.
Although now bettered by the new iPad, this visual offering remains one of the best on the tablet scene and one that can hold its own against the flurry of emerging Android challengers.
Widely regarded as Apple's most reasonably priced product, and one that boasts the best value for money, the iPad 2 has undergone a considerable price cut since the arrival of the new iPad, with the now year-old tablet available for as little as £329/$399.
As well as being £70/$100 cheaper than its respectively specced replacement, the new cut price value sees consumers given the chance to join the Apple branded tablet revolution for around the same outlay as a selection of the less notable and commercially successful Android offerings.
Keeping the iPad 2 from drifting into the realms of obscurity, Apple has brought its now older generation tablet to the fore of possibility with the latest iOS 5.1 operating system software now coming pre-installed on the reduced iPad 2 range which includes only 16GB storage capacities for the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G connectivity packing options.
Once again ensuring the resurgent iPad 2 fits the needs of as wide an audience as possible, the Bluetooth 2.1-capable 3G packing tablet can be tethered to the majority of major UK networks with Vodafone, Orange, O2 and Three all still offering data plans for the device.
Despite being more than a year old, on the hardware front the iPad 2 plays host to an impressive, albeit far from ground-breaking array of specs for its newly attributed mid-range price point with a strong dual-core CPU and dual camera combination keeping the Galaxy Tab rival in line or ahead of a majority of its similarly priced Android based rivals.
In terms of design the iPad 2 is still the most coveted device on the tablet scene with its minimalist 8.8mm thick form factor and brushed aluminium design keeping it as the industry leader landing 0.6mm slimmer than Apple's follow-on tablet offering.
Further bolstering the iPad 2's impressive aesthetic, the lustrous, highly desirable device lands lighter than its replacement, with the Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 3G models lining up at 601g and 613g respectively compared with the 652g and 662g weights of the respective new iPad models.
Although offering little in terms of grip thanks to its brushed aluminium finish, the iPad is comfortable in the hand with its weight distributed well across the full surface area of the tablet to produce a device that is as comfortable and manageable to use in the standard portrait mode as it is in a landscape replicating stance.
Adding further credibility to the iPad 2's market inspiring design, unlike a number of the devices it inspired such as the Motorola Xoom 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or indeed the uninspiring ViewSonicViewPad 10e, the Apple tablet boasts impeccable build quality with zero bend, flex or unnerving warping when put under excessive amounts of pressure.
More than a simple, aesthetically pleasing pretty package, the iPad 2 remains a seriously competitive piece of kit with an array of specs and user friendly features that have kept the tablet at the business end of its market for more than a year.
Now available only with 16GB of internal storage, the iPad 2 lines up as a slower, less graphically impressive rendition of the new iPad with an undefined dual-core A5 processor providing a considerable and ample amount of grunt.
It is further enhanced by the touted 10 hour battery life, 720p HD video recording capabilities and inbuilt speakers which cover all the required bases for a device fully attuned to entertainment, business and personal purposes.
Bolstering its crown as the most desirable and user friendly tablet to date, the iPad 2, no matter how you hold it, is designed in such a manner that its small selection of physical controls are kept safely out of reach of straying fingers ensuring pesky accidental presses of the sleep button, volume controls or even the home button are a downfall kept locked to the iPad's rivals.
Screen and camera
By far the biggest and most notable difference between the iPad 2 and its new iPad replacement can be found when comparing the two devices' screens. Although far from a poor visual offering, the iPad 2 has been truly toppled by the Retina Display found on the third-generation tablet.
Although the new iPad's iPhone 4S-esque 2048 x 1536p resolution, 264 pixels per inch Retina Display is in a league of its own when it comes to tablet screens, the 1024 x 768p 132 PPI multi-touch offering that lines up on the iPad 2 is of a more than acceptable standard that has been overshadowed by the unparalleled image quality available through its replacement.
Vibrant and fluid when indulging in video playback, the iPad 2's 9.7-inch screen falls noticeably below the new iPad's Retina-busting abilities when it comes to reading text during web browsing and through apps such as iBooks, Notes and within the iTunes-enabled Newsstand.
Although comfortable on the eye and more than capable of living up to the standards laid out by the AMOLED offerings found on the iPad's closest Android competitors, text on the second-generation Apple tablet appears slightly pixelated when heavily zoomed in compared to the company's third-gen offering.
While the iPad's claimed fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating might seem a thing of myth when the tablet is smeared with grubby digit marks just minutes after being removed from the box, the tablet encourages the use of many fingers with a vast array of multi-touch features brilliantly detailing the extensive capabilities of the device's display.
Adding to the standard array of pinch-to-zoom and swivel to rotate multi-touch features, the iPad 2's display combined with the tablet's iOS 5.1 operating system sees users able to switch seamlessly through open applications in a multitasking manner through the use of a four finger sideways swipe motion, one handy multi-touch function from a hefty an extensive arsenal.
The first Apple tablet to be handed its own inbuilt imaging options, the Apple iPad 2 cameras are in reality a pitiful affair, arguably unnecessary and hardly worth their prime billing considering the improving quality of portable cameras that reside in the latest and greatest smartphones.
While Apple has updated the unspecified rear-mounted camera found on the iPad 2 for its third-generation tablet offering, those looking to plump for the cut priced aging device will be left severely disappointed by its imaging abilities with snaps appearing heavily pixilated, grainy and lacking in any discernible definition, crisp edges or colour management.
Included for FaceTime video calling abilities, the tablet's second, forward-facing VGA snapper fares no better than its rear-mounted counterpart flattening out images and offering muted colours and grainy snaps despite playing host to 30 frames per second video recording abilities.
Despite capable of shooting 720p HD video content, the rear-mounted camera's video recording credentials are still a severe disappointment, with fast moving objects reduced to a blur and still images appearing to have been digital zoomed to further reduce the imaging quality.
Take a look at our sample video footage below and you will see the poor quality for yourself.
Interface, performance and battery life
One of Apple's standout features that bridges its full catalogue of products, the iPad 2's interface is a joyously simple, intuitive and easy to follow system which, thanks to the recent iOS 5.1 update is identical to that found upon the newer and more expensive third-generation iPad.
- See the full iOS 5.1 interface breakdown in our new iPad 3 review
Arguably the most intuitive user interface found on any tablet device, Apple's iOS software makes the iPad a device that can be picked up by any tablet novice of technophobe alike and be transformed into an app filled, internet browsing, video playing, photograph capturing powerhouse in a matter of hours.
The iPhone replicating operating system is largely responsible for pioneering the app-based interfaces that now dominate the portable device scene.
Utilising its simplistic app-based OS, the iPad 2 features an easy to adopt point and shoot style user interface with consumers required to make use of the expansive 9.7-inch highly reactive touchscreen in order to navigate their way through menus, desired programmes and dedicated tasks.
With fast reaction times, little fuss when opening and navigating through applications and barely any fanfare when connecting the device to Wi-Fi and 3G networks, the iPad 2 is almost faultless in its performance with hardware and software combining seamlessly on a number of fronts to produce a device that is a match to the needs and requirements thrown at it by all manner of users.
For those wannabe iPad 2 owners who demand strong internet connections wherever they are, the tablet's optional 3G network connectivity features are simple to set up with self-assigning network tethering ensuring strong signal wherever available that helps transform the iPad into a truly portable device despite a form factor that cast a number of shadows when first introduced in 2010.
Thanks to the inbuilt 25 watt-hour rechargeable lithium polymer battery, the new iPad predecessor plays host to a touted 10 hour battery life that rings true when doing little more than browsing web pages through Wi-Fi means, listening to music and creating the odd note or document.
Throw more power-hungry tasks at the device such as app use or downloading and the working day encompassing battery life quickly diminishes with gaming a metaphorical plug to the battery's power reserves.
Internet browser, apps and games
Once again featuring the standard iOS device offering that is indistinguishable from the new iPad, the Apple iPad 2's internet browser is the mobile rendition of the company's popular Safari offering with a friendly user experience further enhanced by tabbed browsing options that enables up to nine web pages open at once and a simple and intuitive bookmarking system.
Living up to the age old controversial Apple omission the tablet's web browser lines up one considerable step behind its higher end Android rivals with a lack of Flash abilities resulting in a vast array of interactive content and digital media being unavailable to all users.
While a number of companies have buckled to the power of the iPhone and iPad user base and made their sites and apps HTML 5 compatible, this does not detract from the number of times iPad users will come across desired content they will be infuriatingly unable to view without switching to another device.
By far one of the most enticing aspects of the whole iPad infrastructure is Apple's impeccable App Store offering that has once again laid the foundations for competitors to follow.
While Android might now be beginning to push iOS in terms of sheer number of available applications, the iPad servicing system is uniformed and intricately tailored to the single device's screen size helping to ensure that all content that is made available works perfectly with user's desired tablet and removes the potential for undersized or over stretched apps.
On the gaming front the extensive, and easy to locate and navigate sections of the Apple iTunes App Store provide users with a broad array of gaming based entertainment options from the quick hit app based sensations such as Angry Birds Space and Draw Something to the more graphically impressive and console-esque offerings such as Real Racing 2.
Thanks to the inbuilt accelerometer and gyroscope the iPad 2, like its preceding and replacement counterparts, offers gaming-centric users a wide array of input methods to further enhance their tablet based gaming experiences and help combat the otherwise infuriating restriction of onscreen digital button controls that feature in a number of downloads.
Helping Apple further dominate a controlling stake of the tablet market, the continued availability of the iPad 2 at a reduced price will see the Cupertino-based company compete with the lower priced mid-level tablet scene, as well as continuing to lead from the front with the new iPad.
New iPad 3
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Asus Transformer Prime
Google Nexus 7
Limited to the 16GB storage capacity options, the cut priced, software-improved tablet could well step slightly on the toes of its follow-on, with those impatient to get their mitts around an Apple-branded tablet opting to splash out for the aging iPad 2 as opposed to waiting until they have enough cash saved up to plump for the latest iteration model that, like the iPad 2, will no doubt likely be replaced come March 2013.
Still the slimmest (well almost, apart from the Toshiba AT200), sexiest, most desirable tablet on the market, the iPad 2 is a well-balanced combination of sleek, inspiring design and a high-end collection of premium specs that are tied together through an unrivalled user interface and ease of use that ensures the product is open up to tablet novices and gadget aficionados alike.
Fast and responsive to use, the update to iOS 5.1 has brought a new lease of life to the second-generation Apple tablet with users away from the overhauled display facing a difficult task in distinguishing the genre defining iPad 2 from its newer, fancier, more advanced sibling.
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While consumer demand and requirement has seen inbuilt cameras on tablets become a slightly overzealous necessity, those found attached to the iPad 2 do little to inspire the doubters who say tablet cameras are an over-the-top and little used addition to an oversized device that due in large to its none pocketable size make it an unlikely and unusable choice for an on-the-move camera.
Although still highly impressive, when compared with its new iPad replacement, the iPad 2's display is more than a little disappointing with less sharp and detailed images leaving the device as arguably sloppy seconds to the best quality tablet and portable screen on the market.
16GB might be seen as too little storage for a tablet that lacks any possibility of expansion too - although it's obvious Apple is encouraging buyers to upgrade to a new iPad 3 if they want more space.
And while it's not in the smaller category, the price is still wildly high compared to the £199 / $249 for the Google Nexus 7 - has a new bar been set for tablet prices?
Far from the awkward middle child in a family of popular kids, the iPad 2 is Apple's most successful tablet to date with its continued availability at a reduced price providing an easy and hugely promising entry into the tablet market for a wide range of potential users.
While the tech industry as a whole has always fallen under the purchasing motto of 'always buy the best device that you can afford in order to future proof as best as possible and counteract the rapidly product cycles', for those looking to enter the tablet market and save a little bit of cash while doing so, the iPad 2 is now by far the easiest choice to make.