The iPad 2. I waited 6.5 hours in line to get it. That should tell you how excited I was about Apple’s latest device. When I finally got my hands on it though, the excitement went down instantly. I already owned an iPad and I didn’t think the 2 new cameras and a slightly slimmed down casing would make a huge difference. Boy was I wrong.

Since I bought it a few days ago, I can’t seem to be able to let go of it. I want to touch it all the time, I want it to replace my laptop and my desktop computer. I want to use it for everything I do. In short, I fell in love all over again with the iPad.

If I had to make an analogy about going from the iPad 1 to the iPad 2, I’d have to say that it feels like I’m an older man ditching my wife of 45 years for a 20 something hottie. Not only the iPad 2 is lighter, it is also thinner, and snappier, making it this close to be a laptop replacement.

This being said, it kinda sets the tone for this review, which you guessed it, is going to be mostly positive.

The Design

First things first, let’s talk about the design of the iPad 2. Esthetically speaking, the iPad 2 is a beauty, just like any other Apple product. While it’s not a dramatic design change from the previous model, you can definitely tell it’s newer because it simply looks better.

As I mentioned above, and as you probably read in many other reviews, the iPad 2 is definitely thinner and lighter.

While it’s still too heavy to hold in one hand for more than a few minutes without developing a tendinitis, the iPad 2 is significantly lighter than its predecessor, which to me felt a little bulky and bloated. Holding the iPad 2 in your hand feels like you’re holding a Kindle, or even better, an actual paper magazine. It feels good and it fits good.

I believe the iPad being thinner and lighter is what actually makes me like it even more than the older model. To me, it feels more natural. Again, I don’t feel like I’m holding a piece of electronics in my hands, I feel like I’m holding a magazine.

The Speed

iPad 2 could have been named iPad S, in reference to the 3GS, which didn’t bring anything new but speed to the older iPhone 3G. While the iPad 2 is not impressively faster than the first model it definitely feels snappier.

Apple didn’t bother giving us the details of the new A5 processor, and that’s fine by me because I couldn’t care less. “512MB” doesn’t mean anything to me. “Loads a web page twice as fast as the iPad 1” does speak to me though, and I assume it speaks to most people out there too (ie. my Mom, or your Mom, who don’t even know what MB stands for).

Where I can tell the iPad 2 is faster is when using Safari. It loads websites much faster than the iPad 1. In a few informal tests I conducted, it seems iPad 2 was loading 50% faster than iPad 1. Because I use my iPad mostly for web browsing, this is a huge improvement to me.

I could also notice a speed difference when using Reeder for iPad, my favorite RSS reader. It seems to download news and display images much quicker than the old iPad did. Again, the speed improvement isn’t amazing by any means, but faster is always better, no matter what.

I can really appreciate the speed improvement when using the app switcher. On my old iPad, the app switcher worked fine but was sometimes lagging when switching from one app to another. Forget that on the iPad 2. It’s just blazing fast. Add this to the fact that the iPad 2 can cache more web pages without having to reload them if you get away from them for a few minutes, and you have an experience that gets a lot closer to true multitasking.

The Cameras

If you follow me on Twitter, you might remember me ranting about the cameras’ quality a few days ago. Turns out it’s not as bad as I thought. When I first tried the cameras, I was in our bedroom with very low light, which created terrible images.

For the purpose of this review though, I tried the camera during the day where there was much more light coming in the room. The results were different from my first attempt at reviewing the cameras, which got me to go from bashing them, to actually think they’re not doing a bad job.

Although Apple doesn’t give us the stats of the iPad 2 cameras on the spec page of the device, the camera module is supposed to take 0.7 MP photos, which obviously is well below any industry standards.

Apple fanboys like Gruber will tell you that it doesn’t matter whether the camera is good or not because the iPad 2 wasn’t made to be used as a camera. Of course the iPad wasn’t made to be used as a camera. My car wasn’t made to listen to music but I’m glad the manufacturer put a decent CD player in there, and I’d be glad if Apple had done the same with the iPad cameras.

Here are a few pictures I took with the iPad.

Front facing camera:

Back camera:

Another back camera picture (click on image for full size):

This camera was actually designed for video more than it was for still photos. I recorded a short video that will give you a quick idea of the quality. At some point in the video, I am accidentally covering the microphone with my hand, which explains why the sound gets partly muted.

So all in all the cameras on the iPad 2 aren’t as bad as I thought and are definitely doing an ok job. As I read in a review of the iPad 2 last week (can’t remember which one), the iPad 2 cameras are not good, they are at the bottom of acceptable, which of course gives plenty of room to Apple to upgrade the hardware next year.

The Battery

The battery on my first gen iPad is amazing. I’ve never actually ran out of batteries when I really needed my iPad (ie. on a flight, or while traveling). I expected a similar battery life on the iPad 2 but unfortunately it isn’t.

Now I’m not going to go too much into details here because I think my battery problem comes from the fact that I set up this new iPad from my previous iPad’s backup, which usually is a recipe for battery problems (and sometimes even worse issues).

I haven’t had the courage to restore and set it up as a new iPad yet, which I assume will fix this issue.

But even with the battery problems I am experiencing, battery life on the iPad 2 is still more than acceptable. I’ve spent hours surfing the web, tweeting, reading news, and playing guitar (yes, playing guitar) on it before I had to recharge the battery, which I’ve done only once since last Friday. So, battery problem or not, we’re still doing great on that side.

The Smart Cover

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Smart Cover since day 1.

While the concept of the Smart Cover is brilliant, it is not very practical for intensive usage of the iPad. It does a great job at protecting the front of your iPad but it will not do anything for the back, which led me to rename it the Dumb Cover.

When I complained about it on Twitter, someone sent me a quote from the Smart Cover description on Apple’s website: “The slim, yet sturdy Smart Cover protects your iPad screen without covering up its durable aluminum back“. Ok, I understand that the Smart Cover was designed to protect the screen only, but after a year of using the first iPad, I can tell that I’m actually more worried about the back of my iPad than the front.

By putting my first iPad on our coffee table or kitchen countertops many times before, it actually made hundreds of micro scratches (and some bigger ones) on the back of the iPad. I quickly bought a case for my first iPad but it was too late.

I suspect that without any kind of protection for the back, this iPad will get the same treatment. So far, I make sure to put my iPad on our coffee table screen first (protected by the Smart Cover), but it’s just not practical or even logical.

I actually find myself taking off the Smart Cover more often than not while using it.

However, the cover becomes convenient when you need to type something. Simply roll up the cover in a triangle shape and start typing. This is probably the one reason why I haven’t returned the Smart Cover to Apple yet.

I can’t wait to see what other manufacturers come up with.

Should You Buy an iPad 2?

This is the question you might have on your lips if you haven’t purchased an iPad 2 yet. Should you buy an iPad 2?

The answer is pretty simple. If you don’t have an iPad yet, go for it. There is no reason why you should wait for the next iPad which is going to come out at the same period next year, even though rumors have it that Apple might release an iPad 3 in September (nonsense).

If you already have an iPad and you’re satisfied with it, then save your money for the iPhone 5. If you already have an iPad but really want to do FaceTime, record videos, shoot photos, and enjoy a lighter device to hold in your hands, then go for it.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. I don’t think the iPad 2 justifies spending another $500+ for a new device if you already own one, but Apple lovers like me can’t help it.

At the end of the day, the iPad 2 is an amazing device. As we said before though, the iPad 2 is evolutionary, not revolutionary. It is right in the middle between your laptop and your iPhone. To me, it is still not enough to do any kind of productive work on it, but it is much better than your iPhone (or even your laptop) for browsing the web or Facebooking from the couch, which really is what the iPad was designed for. I know my Mom won’t disagree with that when I offer her her very first iPad next week.