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Apple's iPad 2 is the 'Holy Grail' of computing

Michael deAgonia | March 14, 2011
Eleven months ago, Apple released the first iPad, a touchscreen handheld computer that redefined tablets, disrupting the laptop/desktop market just as the iPod did to music players and the iPhone did to smartphones. On Friday, 15 million iPads later, Apple released its successor, the iPad 2. Many people -- myself included -- predicted long lines and sell-outs, just like last year. So did Apple deliver?

However, as photographers would acknowledge, the best camera is the one with you when you need it. In other words, having cameras on the iPad is better than not having cameras. Still, I don't think taking pictures is what Apple engineers had in mind with this design; their focus, more than anything else, was on Apple's no-configuration video conference technology, FaceTime, and in that sense, the cameras work exactly as designed. The front-facing camera allows for easy video conferencing, and, with the press of a software button, the rear camera allows you to effortlessly share your point of view.

There is one notable way that the Camera app is better on the iPad 2 than in any other iOS device: the Camera Roll, where photos and movies taken by the built-in camera are stored, can be shared easily using AirPlay. There's an AirPlay button right at the top of the screen that allows you to instantly stream movies or photos taken on the iPad directly to your TV by way of AppleTV. It's a small thing, and while I dinged Apple on the lack of this capability in iOS 4.3 on first-generation iPad and iPhone 4, its inclusion here makes a big difference when sharing photos or movies shot with the iPad 2.

Battery life, connectivity, Smart Covers

Surprisingly, despite the new iPad's sleeker/lighter build and higher performance architecture, battery life doesn't suffer. I pulled the iPad out of its box, restored software and apps from a previous iPad backup, and -- save for the five hours I spent sleeping Friday night -- it was still going strong after nearly 20 hours of heavy intermittent use. By 1 a.m. today, I still had 11% battery life left. I've done everything from FaceTime calls to streaming movies from my iTunes library hosted on a computer across the house, playing games, surfing the Web, checking social sites, watching news videos about the earthquake in Japan, and transmitting video and audio to an AppleTV. Note: When I pulled the iPad out of its box, it was 80% charged.

Other iPad 2 users have confirmed that Apple seems to be accurate in saying the tablet should get at least 10 hours of consistent battery life, if not more.

Like last year's model, iPad 2 comes in two variations, one with Wi-Fi only and one with Wi-Fi plus 3G (for an extra $130). Pricing is the same as before: $499, $599 and $699. The Wi-Fi-only models lack the true GPS found in the 3G models, but can still pick up your location using information gathered from wireless networks. If you really want to cut the cord, you can get one of the 3G models (with optional data plans that can be subscribed to and canceled from within Settings: Cellular Data), or you can tether your iPad to an iPhone with Personal Hotspot options available from AT&T and Verizon. If you go with a 3G model, you must pick the one specifically designed to work with either AT&T or Verizon. Check out the data plans to decide which one is more cost-effective for you.


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