Apple iPad 2 review: Love and hate 2.0

GSMArena team, 23 March 2011.
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Tags: Apple, iOS, Touch UI

Thereís not a huge difference between the multimedia capabilities of the first iPad and those on the iPad 2. Sure the new thing is faster in just about any task from browsing images and panning to forwarding videos, but the functionality is basically identical.

Image gallery

The image gallery of the iPad 2 is the same as on the first-gen iPad. It differs from the one in the iPhone in two key aspects. First its eye-candy - you can pinch-zoom your way back to gallery view here and into single photo view. There is also a small thumbnail bar at the bottom for quick picture scrolling.

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The Photos app

The gallery itself displays full-res images (no downsizing), which combined with the big display, makes the iPad a powerful tool for browsing your photo collection and showing pics to friends.

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Viewing a single image

In case you are seriously considering using the iPad as a picture browsing tool you should get the iPadís camera connection kit that allows photos to be downloaded straight from a memory card. It is annoying to have to pay for such functionality, but itís the Apple way.

If youíve got yourself a desk stand, you can easily use the iPad as a digital picture frame when youíre not using it. Unlike the iPhone, it has that functionality straight from the lockscreen. Just press a button and your photos start scrolling on the big screen.

iPod music player

The iPod player on the iPad resembles the desktop iTunes using the split-screen interface to make best use of the large resolution screen.

Organizing your music library is easy and there is the option to apply equalizers. Combined with the excellent audio quality (more on that later), that makes the iPad a promising music tool.

The iPod application also has its own search in addition to the general Spotlight search.

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The iPod music player

As usual you are stuck with iTunes for uploading the music content to your iPad. We hate to be forced to use a specific kind of software for uploading music tracks, but we already knew what we were signing for. There is no chance Apple revises its policy so if you hate the iTunes thing, then you already know to stay away from iGadgets.

Perfect audio output

The Apple iPad 2 audio quality is perfect and that will hardly surprise anyone. Apple has so far given us flawless results in way more compact shells (think the iPhone 4) so achieving the same with so much more space available was probably a walk in the park for the Apple engineers.

And yes, the iPad 2 is as good as the iPhone 4, but its output is also notably louder, which is a pretty important update. The difference isn't quite pronounced when the two are connected to an active external amplifier, but when headphones come into play it's pretty noticeable.

One of the best parts is the iPad 2 audio output hardly suffers from any degradation when you plug in the headphones. In fact, the stereo crosstalk is the only reading that takes a hit, so it's a rarely good result.

TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
Apple iPad 2+0.02, -0.12-91.091.00.0130.015-93.0
Apple iPad 2 (headphones attached)+0.03, -0.11-90.990.80.00310.042-59.1
Apple iPhone 4+0.01, -0.07-90.590.60.00410.011-92.0
Apple iPhone 4 (headphones attached)+0.01, -0.07-90.490.40.00360.092-68.4
Samsung P1000 Galaxy Tab+0.02, -0.17-90.790.00.1000.065-87.0
Samsung P1000 Galaxy Tab (headphones attached)+0.72, -0.14-90.489.90.0180.360-53.4
Dell Streak+0.07, -0.47-84.784.60.0130.070-82.5
Dell Streak (headphones attached)+0.07, -0.40-84.684.60.0380.121-57.4
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S (headphones attached)+0.40 -0.12-90.790.60.018 0.329-43.3
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S+0.03 -0.04-90.790.60.014 0.019-90.6

Apple iPad 2 frequency response
Apple iPad 2 frequency response

We also ran our traditional loudspeaker test on the iPad 2. The big guy scored Average, which should satisfy most of the users.

Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOverall score
Apple iPhone 465.160.366.2Below Average
Apple iPhone 2G67.260.266.6Below Average
Samsung P1000 Galaxy Tab66.7 64.668.6Below average
Apple iPad66.565.869.7Average
Apple iPad 265.965.675.0Average
Apple iPhone 3GS69.569.571.7Good
HTC Desire76.675.784.6Excellent

More info on our loudspeaker test as well as other results can be found here.

Video playback

Generally the iPad 2 situation is almost the same as before Ė you need iTunes to upload content, the screen is the awkward 4:3 aspect ratio, the device cannot stand on its own and itís too heavy to hand-hold for an entire movie and the supported video formats are quite limited.

There is no DivX or XviD support (out of the box) and the 16GB version doesnít offer enough storage for you video collection so you will need to dig even deeper in your pockets for that.

Still if you are really motivated to use the iPad as a video player and video storage and money is no object, you should definitely opt for at least the Apple Smart cover, and probably for the 64GB version (200 US dollars premium).

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The Video app

iPad 2 supports playback of MOV files of up to 720p resolution out of the box, but has some specific requirements for bitrate. We threw a few 720p trailers in iTunes and only half of them made it through the sync into the iPad 2. Fortunately, we already knew about Filer. It uses the iTunes File Sharing and you can upload virtually anything in it. It has integrated doc reader, image viewer but most important Ė it makes use of the iPadís integrated video player. There are no restrictions here so you can upload any video file. It turned out that you can play all MOV/MP4 files up to 1080p (incl.) resolution, even the 1080p videos shot with Canon 5D Mark II. Nice!

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Filer playing a 1080p video

By the way if you are checking out the videos you captured with the iPad 2 camera through the Photos app the slate lets you zoom in on them. You can do that during playback or when the video is paused. Itís not that useful, but itís rather cool.

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Zooming in on a video

There are a few video players into the AppStore that can save the day for DivX/XviD movies. The CineXPlayer handled more than 80% of the DivX/XviD videos we threw at it up to and including 720p resolution. The OPlayer is even more capable of playing almost anything up to 720p including MKV files. It also has better subtitle support with numerous encoding settings.

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OPlayer playing an Xvid file with external Cyrillic subtitles

Plus you can enjoy streaming video from various popular online sources such as YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, etc.

Another possible way around the video limitations is the paid AirVideo app that lets you watch videos straight from your desktop computer streamed over your personal Wi-Fi network. Streaming over internet is in its early experimental phase as well, so the prospects are quite good. Since it uses your computer to do the transcoding heavy lifting, it also takes care of the limited number of supported codecs too.

Generally, 4:3 displays such as the one on the iPad 2 arenít much good for watching videos and thereís a good reason widescreen displays are dominating the market currently. The iPad 2 unfortunately is off trend in that respect. On the other hand, itís really good at reading, web browsing and gaming.

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