Image: iPad 2 with Smart Cover
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The iPad 2 can be propped up by its optional "brilliant" Smart Cover, which comes in both polyeurethane ($39) and leather ($69), and protects the screen from damage.
updated 3/9/2011 9:06:24 PM ET 2011-03-10T02:06:24

Now that Android 3.0 tablets are finally hitting shelves and the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad are getting ready for battle, the tablet war is finally heating up. But here comes the iPad 2, which is not only thinner and lighter than its predecessor but also adds a dual-core processor and dual cameras. So is Apple still one step ahead of the competition?

Laptop Magazine tested the $829 64GB Verizon 3G model, and gave it four out of five stars.

What we like
Ultra-thin design: The iPad 2 is the MacBook Air of tablets. Weighing 1.34 pounds and measuring 0.34 inches thick, the iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner and about 15 percent lighter than the iPad. It's also significantly lighter than the Motorola Xoom (1.6 pounds). The biggest additions to the design are the cameras on the front above the screen (VGA) and the back (720p). You also get your choice of white and black color options.

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More TV friendly: Apple hasn't changed the software much, but with the new iOS 4.3 software on the iPad 2 you can stream videos you shoot with this tablet's camera right to an Apple TV ($99). Not an Apple TV fan? A new Digital AV Adapter ($39) adds HDMI output, which lets you mirror whatever's on your iPad on a big-screen TV.

Dual-core power: How much speed does Apple's new dual-core A5 processor really add? The Pad 2 loaded certain apps faster, such as "Angry Birds HD" (10.7 vs. 13 seconds), as well as popular websites. We also saw up to 5 times faster graphics performance in benchmark testing, and less lag when playing the fast-paced "Infinity Blade" game.

Smart Covers: Available in polyurethane ($39) and more luxurious leather ($69) in multiple colors, Smart Covers have integrated magnets that automatically attach to the iPad 2 when you bring them close to the left edge. Folding the Smart Case up into a triangle allows you to prop up your iPad 2 for easier typing, and then you can flip it up to create a more stand-like position, ideal for playing a slideshow or reading a recipe in the kitchen. Brilliant.

Epic battery life: Apple promised that its slimmer iPad 2 would last for 10 hours on a charge, but it did even better in our test. The tablet lasted a whopping 11 hours and 11 minutes on our Web surfing test, which involves loading 50 of the most popular sites over Wi-Fi with the device set to 40-percent brightness. Our original iPad lasted 9:29 on the same test. Over 3G, the iPad 2 lasted an impressive 8:59, versus 8:21 for the original version of the AT&T iPad.

iMovie and GarageBand: Editing video on a tablet is no small task, but Apple did a brilliant job with iMovie, built from the ground up for touch. It's a cinch to trim footage, as well as add titles and music. You can then share your creations on YouTube or even CNN. GarageBand is the ultimate all-in-one music app, which cobbles together multiple digital instruments (piano, drums, guitar) and lets you record your next hit.

Apps, apps, apps: With more than 65,000 tablet apps in the App Store, Apple has a huge lead over Android (with about 100) and other platforms. We had a blast battling sword-wielding enemies in "Infinity Blade." Meanwhile, our kids enjoyed educational apps such as PBS Kids' "Super Why." Then you have gorgeous news apps such as Flipboard. It's easy to see why the iPad 2 rocks the competition.

What we don't like
No 4G or hotspot feature: Over Verizon's 3G network, we saw download speeds ranging from 460 to 980 Kbps and upload speeds from 192 to 210 Kbps. That's decent, but those who desire faster 4G speeds will want to consider the LTE-upgradeable Motorola Xoom or the upcoming LG G-Slate from T-Mobile. Unfortunately, you can't use the iPad 2 as a mobile hotspot, either.

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Cameras aren't great: FaceTime for the iPad 2 makes it easy to set up full-screen video calls with others who own an iPad 2, iPhone 4, a Mac, or the latest iPod touch. However, our picture looked somewhat fuzzy to other callers. The 720p camera on the back captured sharp footage outdoors but grainy video indoors, and the still shots are limited to a mere 0.7 megapixels.

Those darn pop-ups: iOS 4.3 on the iPad 2 continues to present notifications (whether it's an instant message or a Game Center invitation) as obtrusive pop-ups. Android 3.0 handles notifications more elegantly with its System Bar, as does webOS 3.0 for the upcoming HP TouchPad. They don't get in your face.

Apple didn't need to do a lot to stay in the tablet lead, but it has certainly done enough to create more distance between itself and the rest of the field. The thinner, lighter iPad 2 raises the bar for design. And while the new dual-core processor didn't blow us away, it provides a noticeable performance boost while making resource-hungry apps such as iMovie feel buttery smooth. The camera quality isn't great, there's no 4G data, and iOS could do a better job with notifications.

But the $499 starting price still can't be beat, at least by tablets you might want to buy. When you look at the whole package — hardware, software, apps, battery life, accessories, and yes, that price — the iPad 2 is the king of tablets.

More on iPad 2 and its alternatives from Laptop Magazine:

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Video: Skinny iPad 2 has 2 cameras, records in HD


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