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

March 13, 2011 02:19 PM ET

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.

If data speed is important, AT&T seems to be the winner, but Verizon seems to be the most reliable and consistent, especially in congested cities. If you travel often, though, stick with AT&T's GSM network, as GSM is the standard across the Europe, South America, Russia and Asia.

Smart Cover
The new Smart Cover (left) only covers the iPad 2 screen, unlike the bulkier cover (right) on the original iPad.

One thing Apple does very well compared to other electronics makers is to pay attention to the details, even with accessories like the new Smart Cover for the iPad 2. Good design, of course, involves how something works as well as how it looks. Unlike last year's iPad cover, which added bulk and weight to the iPad, the new version (available in leather for $69 or colorful polyurethane for $39) comes with an auto-adjusting, self-aligning hinge that snaps into place via hidden magnets. When the flap is opened to reveal the iPad screen, the iPad automatically wakes up; when the flap is pulled back up over the screen, the iPad automatically locks and shuts down. It's clever in its simplicity and execution.

But let's be honest, protection it is not. While it may cover the screen, we all know which side buttered toast lands on when dropped. Without a screen cover, a dropped iPad that lands screen-side down is likely to be damaged; with the Smart Cover, the screen would have some protection, but the back and corners could be damaged. If you're a techno klutz, invest in a full case.

Pros and cons

Despite the arrival of other tablets, the iPad 2 remains the best available, perhaps for the foreseeable future. This is because the whole is easily more than the sum of its parts; in addition to what's new and what's changed, there are 65,000 high-quality applications available on the App Store, tight integration with the iTunes store, and the silky smooth experience made possible by iOS 4.3. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. The implementation of app notifications could be better and even in its second revision, the iPad 2 is still not a standalone device. It has to be plugged into iTunes on a computer before it can be even used.

It, like other iOS devices, still doesn't do Flash, and it's safe to assume that that isn't going to happen. For mobile users, I'd chalk this up as a feature, not a flaw, because Flash is a known battery hog. I'd argue that Flash is as important to the success of iPad 2 as the inclusion of a floppy drive. Still, others are working on ways to bring some variation of Flash to the device.



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