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While the final numbers are not yet in, we know Apple sold more or less an ass load of iPad 2s on its product launch day. Scouting reports from our friends at sister publication Mac|Life told of lines blocks long outside of Apple stores by Friday afternoon, so we decided to hit up a low-profile AT&T store. We called ahead to confirm that they would have iPad 2s at 5pm, only to show up and be told that no, they were only taking orders that would take 5-7 days to fill. (Oh AT&T, is there no rock bottom for you?) So it was off to an entirely unglamorous Best Buy, where we slid comfortably into the #4 spot in line.
Fast forward a few hours, and we've got a shiny new black 16GB Wi-Fi iPad 2 with which to muck about. A full-fledged, beyond mucking review will come next week, but here are our initial impressions of the iPad 2 compared to the original.
Despite being a third thinner and two ounces lighter than the original, the iPad 2 feels solid and sturdy in the hands. While holding it with two hands in portrait, it's quite comfortable to type, swipe, and otherwise gesture with the two thumbs.
Although it's the same resolution display as the original, the iPad 2's screen is noticeably brighter with both tablets at the same brightness setting.
Apple claimed that the iPad 2's dual-core A5 processor would be twice as fast in general and nine times as fast with handling graphics. After our initial tests, we cannot dispel those claims. Scrolling down lengthy websites or launching apps proved to be zippier on the new version. For example, Angry Birds Seasons HD launched about 2 seconds faster on the iPad 2. But there are huge discrepancies when it comes to graphics-heavy tasks. When launching the YouTube app with it's many thumbnails on the home screen, the iPad 2 loaded up everything almost instantly, while the original version took a good 20 seconds to fully load. We saw similar results with the thumbnail-dependent Twitter and Friendly apps.
We'd need to be some real benchmarking to back up Apple's exact speed claims, but so far in this area, the iPad 2 does not disappoint.
On another speed-related note, ifixit.com has performed its teardown of an iPad 2 and reports that it holds 512MB of LPDDR2 RAM -- up from the 256MB of the first iPad, but less than the 1GB of the Motorola Xoom.
We have yet to fully drain the iPad 2's battery, but in two solid hours of web browsing, watching videos, shooting videos and photos, and playing with iMovie and GarageBand, the battery charge dropped 22%, from 99% to 77%. You can roughly extrapolate that out to 9 hours of heavy use, which we'll take. The reported 10 continuous hours of battery life seems likely achievable with slightly less strenuous use.
The mere addition of front and rear cameras on the iPad 2 will have to be enough for iPad devotees, because we can't feign excitement for their image quality. "Adequate" will be the word for now. Graininess abounds from the rear-facing camera, so any fantasies of dirt-cheap feature filmmaking from this tablet may be premature.
iMovie & GarageBand
Apple's marquee additions to the app store for the iPad 2, iMovie and GarageBand cost $4.99 each. GarageBand can brag of many more features than iMovie at least for this iteration, but both apps easily justify the meager cost. With iMovie you can arrange and edit clips, add transitions and drop in audio from your music libary, the included music and sound effects or record it directly from the built-in mic. Too bad a just finished GarageBand project doesn't show up in the iMovie audio library until you sync it to a Mac first. When finished, you can export your videos to your iTunes Library, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, or even CNNiReport.
GarageBand gives you 8 tracks of audio recording and editing. You can record your own tracks and samples from the mic, drop in Apple Loops from the hundreds of megabytes of included audio content, or record performances from the many onscreen instruments GarageBand provides. These include "Smart" guitars and basses where you can strum or pick individual notes onscreen, many types of keyboards, and drums. The keyboards are the standouts. You get acoustic and electric pianos, organs and a bunch of different synthesizers, many of which sound quite amazing. With the keyboards and guitars, you can slide and bend notes using gestures, or add effects to any the tracks.
Unfortunately the touchscreen drums perform a little wonkily. It's cool that the iPad 2 tries to interpret how hard you want each drum hit to be, but the results do not always sound accurate, and frequently touches aren't recorded at all.
Your songs can be saved to a computer as a .band files to open them in the full version of GarageBand, or as AAC audio.