March 12, 2011

With iPad 2, Apple one-ups itself

SAN FRANCISCO - With the original iPad, Apple brought an attractive, easy-to-use tablet computer to the masses at a reasonable price - a feat numerous companies are trying to top.

With today's release of the iPad 2, Apple is pulling further ahead, with improvements that make an already excellent tablet even more enticing. It goes to show that when it comes to tablets, Apple refuses to be bested.

The new iPad is skinnier, faster and slightly lighter. It comes with cameras for video chatting and snapping photos, while keeping the same prices, ranging from $499 to $829 depending on the configuration.

The iPad 2 looks much like the first iPad, though it has a sleeker, lighter body with a curved back. All this helps the tablet fit more naturally in my hands, and the modified shape makes it easier to hold for extended e-reading sessions, for example.

Among the most noticeable changes is the inclusion of cameras, one on the front and one on the back.

This is something I've been hankering for, as the iPad's crisp display, measuring 9.7 inches diagonally, seemed like the ideal canvas for video chat. The subsequent arrival of several tablets with front and rear cameras made it practically a necessity for iPad 2.

Fortunately, Apple thought so, too. Both cameras on the iPad 2 work with the company's FaceTime video chat application and the back camera shoots high-definition videos.

A friend I chatted with over FaceTime moved pretty smoothly on the iPad's screen, though the image could have been much sharper. With the front camera, my friend could see me. If I switched to the back camera, I could show him my surroundings.

You can take still photos, too, though I found this awkward given the tablet's size.

The new iPad has Apple's new dual-core A5 chip, which helped applications open more quickly than on the older iPad. The original never felt slow, but the faster I can start a new game of "Plants vs. Zombies," the better.

Add to that a new version of Apple's iOS software. The new processor and the new iOS combined to improve Web surfing, as I could load up pages noticeably faster over my home Wi-Fi network. As expected, videos loaded quickly and generally streamed flawlessly.

The new software allows you to share music and videos from your iTunes library on multiple Apple devices on the same Wi-Fi network. And it now lets you set the iPad's mute switch to function as a screen lock.

The updated iOS comes with iPad 2 and is available as a free download for the original iPad and the two most recent models of the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Today, Apple is also rolling out iPad versions of its iMovie video-editing software and GarageBand software for recording and editing music. I tried GarageBand ($5) and was wowed by how simple it was and how well it took advantage of the iPad's touch screen.

If you're musically inclined, you can pick up your guitar and adjust its sound through GarageBand's bevy of amplifiers and effects pedals. If you don't play an instrument (or feel lazy), you can swipe through a list of "smart" virtual instruments. A guitar with preset chords lets you strum by swiping the screen. You can arrange drums on a grid based on how noisy and complicated you want the beat to sound.

The coolest part is how sensitive the virtual instruments are. Start beating your fingers on a virtual drum kit, and you can hit the drums and cymbals harder or softer. You'll get different sounds if you hit the ride cymbal in different places, and you can even tap the rim of the snare instead of just hitting the drum itself.

Should you feel the urge to have the latest and greatest, go for it. Chances are, it will be the best tablet in town - at least until the arrival of the iPad 3.

by Rachel Metz Associated Press Mar. 11, 2011 12:00 AM

With iPad 2, Apple one-ups itself

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