Notwithstanding all the chatter surrounding the health of Steve Jobs, the launch of Apple's iPad 2 was already going to be a keenly watched event. In less than a year since launch, this sell-out tablet from Apple was getting a makeover. Will it surpass the predecessor? Vidya Ram grabbed one at the launch in UK and here is her first experience report for an Indian audience.

Facing a wish-list a mile long from its users, Apple was never going to be able to satisfy everyone with the launch of the iPad 2 last week. A front-facing camera and a slimmer design were obvious expectations, though demands for USB ports to a clearer screen to better connectivity were among the numerous ‘What-we'd-like-to-see-in-the-new-iPad' options that wended their way online.

When I tried out the iPad 2 at the unveiling, it offered few surprises when it came to radical changes and as it turned out this isn't the “entirely new device,” that CEO Steve Jobs cooed about at the launch. Not that this can entirely be a negative point.

The iPad 2 goes on sale in the U.S. on the 11th of March, and 26 other countries (India not included) on the 25th in both the black and white versions.

Sleeker 2

Visually, the iPad 2 does look and feel somewhat different than its predecessor. Apple has knocked a third off its width and 90 grams off its weight, and given it slightly sleeker edges – it makes the previous version feel and look distinctly clunkier.

What might come as a disappointment to some is the fact that the company still hasn't bothered to add any extra slots.

The mute button on the iPad 2 has a twist that will be particularly appealing to eBooks fans. The switch doubles up as a screen rotation lock – you can tweak this feature in the tablet's settings menu. Should you want a ready way to use both options, once you set the mute button to your preferred choice, the option to do the other will automatically appear in the currently-open-apps panel, a feature introduced in the iOS 4.2 update last year.

2 Fast 2 Fastidious

And of course there are the much-trumpeted cameras – front and rear facing – which finally (the slot was already there in the first-gen iPad) bring Apple's video conferencing FaceTime technology – and Photobooth – to the iPad. Dialling up, I found the sound and image quality to be excellent, and there is a nice little feature where you can switch between the two cameras while you are talking. Apple has changed the position of the speaker – it's now larger and on the back of the iPad rather than at the bottom edge – though there isn't a noticeable difference in quality. However, it continues to be only a single speaker mono output.

One of the biggest changes to the new iPad is the introduction of the new 1GHz A5 dual core processor, which Apple says makes data process twice as fast and graphics nine times as quicker.

To test the new iPad's faster performance I tried the game ‘Infinity Blade' and it gave me a good feel of the change in graphic speeds, with monsters travelling seamlessly through battle scenes and chapters loading up quicker.

The tablet also comes with the new iOS 4.3 operating system, which settles some of the other complaints its predecessor had faced.

Moving between websites on the Safari browser through the local Wi-Fi connection certainly feels faster. It's also brought in changes to AirPlay which means home videos and other apps can be shared.

Apps and smart covers too

However, it is in some of the new apps that have been introduced that the device's full capabilities become apparent. They've introduced iMovies for the iPad where you can shoot, edit and share movies. For a movie-editing novice the app is relatively straightforward and a simple timeline means you can easily ‘cut' and move around bits of clips with your finger, and add a couple of layers of sound, including your voice, to give it a real documentary-ish feel. Equally impressive is the new GarageBand app, which allows you to while away time on a range of virtual instruments from guitars to drums, varying the intensity of the note with your touch.

Apple has made another big overhaul for the covers that will go with the new range of iPads. They only cover the screen and are therefore a lot less bulky, and clamp on magnetically. It is divided into four panels, which you can snap back individually or together off the screen, and roll into a triangle to use as a prop for the tablet. Spreading the whole cover on the iPad 2 automatically puts it to sleep, while lifting just one panel can awaken it. I think it's great for saving battery life. (On that count, the device has the same ten-hour battery life as the original). There are a range of ten colours available for the covers – split between polyurethane and leather – the latter being definitely more elegant.

Overall, the new iPad 2 strikes a clever enough balance: pitched at the same prices as the original, it offers enough to entice those on the verge of being convinced by its predecessor, while withholding enough to keep up the excitement for an iPad 3, altogether probably enough to keep its rivals at bay for a while longer.

Price : US $ 499 to 829

India launch date and prices yet to be announced.

vidya.ram@thehindu.co.in

Keywords: Apple iPad 2