March 2, 2011 at 3:32 PM ET
There was no big surprise today at Apple's iPad 2 unveiling. Instead, the feeling was more mellow satisfaction than thrill of the unexpected. The iPad 2 answers most of the criticisms of its predecessor, and propels Apple's tablet agenda forward. The iPad 2 is ready to compete against anything Google and its partners can throw at it, and it costs less. I got a closer hands-on look, and liked what I saw.
There were really only two notable issues I noted right off the bat. The iPad 2 will, for now, run on the slower 3G wireless networks, as some competitors jump on the faster 4G networks.
For those of you concerned about the wireless connectivity, there's one other issue to keep in mind: The AT&T and Verizon iPad 2 models are different. This is not the same chip that runs on both, so if you buy a Verizon one hoping for some kind of software upgrade that allows roaming or something, you'd be mistaken. Best bet is to buy a Wi-Fi version for $499, and get connectivity with a portable hotspot, or your phone.
The other issue that might irk some concerns the cameras. I shot some photos with the front and the rear, and I can tell you, don't expect award-winning photography from either. The rear camera is "720p" which means it's good for video but you don't want to take memorable stills with it. This means Apple understands what we already know: Nobody is going to take pictures with their tablets, but they might want to show something to a person they're videoconferencing with. That's the real point, and beauty, of the second camera.
Outweighing that network and camera nitpickery is a lovely slender frame, effortless 3-D graphics and what seems like a combination of lighter weight, better balance and a more thought-out cover that combine to make it easier to hold.
When you compare it to an earlier iPad, it's slimmer but squared off, so it sits better on a flat surface.
Even next to an iPhone 4, it's a hair slimmer, though let's face it, it's not noticeable. What is noticeable is that you're finally holding a tablet that feels the same thickness as the iPhone and iPod Touch, without some kind of flimsiness you'd expect with such an enlargement.
Games looked really good on it (though Winda and Todd, our resident gamers, will still contend that not all great gaming can be achieved with a touchscreen). To me, the great gaming graphics just indicate the groundwork for awesome development of all kinds to come. Apple has placed the iPad 2 in league with Motorola Xoom and the other upcoming tablets, and the company has a better relationship with developers to boot.
I also checked out the iLife apps and Photo Booth from the live launch, and it all looks good. I want to spend more time with GarageBand and iMovie, but they appear to be competent re-imaginings of their Mac counterparts.
We're going to drop in a video here in a bit, so check back, but for the most thorough details on the iPad 2, please read our earlier story.