Some of you will know that on launch weekend I decided to splurge and buy an Apple iPad 2. Yes, I did indeed say buy – rather than get hold of a review unit.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve had advance access to the iPad 2 in the form of units from the initial launch in the US, so have been able to review test the unit already. Secondly, off the back of that review testing, it quickly became clear that this was a piece of equipment I both wanted and needed to add to my computing kit.
I considered buying the original iPad on several occasions after its launch, but each time (including one time when I arrived in an Apple Store with money to spend on one), I decided against it. Usually, it came down to the fact that the original had no camera at all, let alone a front-facing camera for video conferencing – a ‘killer application’ for a device like the iPad.
Fortunately, with the iPad 2 Apple rectified this and added both a high resolution rear camera and a low-resolution front camera, bringing the iPad 2 into line with the iPhone and 4th generation iPod Touch.
But why buy one so early? Well, I have always been an early adopter (despite the early birthing pains that have to be endured when you buy anything from the first production run), but mostly, it comes down to the camera and integrated microphone. For me, the ability to use the iPad 2 for Skype calls and video conferencing is a massive help. Even though Skype has not released an iPad-native client, the iPhone/iPod Touch client makes full use of the iPad 2’s camera and mic, enabling both voice and video comms without the need for extra equipment or a headset. The results have been very good and I’m now regularly using it for Skype calls with colleagues in the US and with work clients.
I also opted for the 3G version of the iPad 2, which I have paired with a mobile broadband subscription from Three. Unlike other networks, Three provides a generous data cap, the network has been reliable and they don’t care what you use your allocation for, so VoIP calls, video streaming etc are all acceptable. Of course, when you use up your monthly 15Gb bandwidth allocation, you then start paying. Fortunately, I haven’t maxed it – yet!
Facetime is also very impressive, but there has been limited opportunity to use it, as even most of my iPhone 4-owning friends show little interest in Facetime as a communications option, preferring voice calls or SMS instead. It’s a pity as the audio and video quality that can be achieved with Facetime and a decent Wifi connection is remarkable given the basic front facing camera on the iPad 2, iPhone 4 and 4th generation iPod touch.
Beyond this, the device fits my needs and my lifestyle. There’s plenty of processing power under the bonnet, and it handles tasks such as email and web browsing very well (if you can live without Flash support). The lack of text messaging support on the 3G-enabled units (it was the same with the original iPad) is a big oversight, and hopefully Apple will rethink this and address in a forthcoming firmware update, but otherwise it excels as a communications tool (the official Twitter app for the iPad is a particular success).
However, for all the positive aspects of the device, there are some negatives.
For starters, I find the portrait/landscape automatic switching to be far too sensitive. Often it will switch orientation after the slightest angled movement, and then won’t switch back as easily. Automatic orientation switching is a good thing, but it needs to be less sensitive or at least be user adjustable.
Then there’s the backlight bleed. This is a defect that affects many, but not all, early iPad 2 units. I’ve already had mine replaced once (a week after the UK launch) and I’m going back to the Apple Store this weekend with a view to having the replacement replaced as well, as it’s worse than the original.
Backlight leaks around the edge of the screen creating a glowing flare effect around the edges. This is only visible on black backgrounds, so is unlikely to have any impact on everyday use, but is very noticeable when watching YouTube, BBC iPlayer or any other form of video that is not full-screen. My unit is afflicted by this all along the bottom edge and at both the left and right top corners. Tech news site Engadget has an excellent article and video illustrating the backlight leakage problem.
My view is that the bleed is a result of some sloppy assembly, no doubt prompted by the need to rush production and build up a stock of units for the initial launch phases. Unlike the original iPad, the iPad 2 display and glass front are glued in place, rather than clipped. I think that the backlight is leaking through the glue seal, either where the glue is thin or where there are gaps in the glue application. This is merely an assumption, but it would explain it. If correct, it is also something that can easily be fixed on the production line without requiring a major change to the design or assembly process.
Despite this small quality control glitch, the iPad 2 is still a must-have. Even if it does turn out to be a stopgap release (still not convinced it’s going to be replaced this year as some are claiming), it still represents a major step forward from the original iPad, and will still be a viable device for several years to come.