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iPad 2 is thinner, faster, but not much better

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By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / March 12, 2011

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After a few hours with the new iPad, I’m inclined to suggest that you rush right out and buy an old iPad. They’re still around, you know, and selling for $100 off. It’s a nice deal on an excellent machine.

As for the iPad 2, my feelings are mixed. Is it thinner that the old iPad? Yes. Lighter? A bit. Faster? Absolutely. Still, it’s nowhere near the global game changer the first iPad proved to be. I wonder how many of the people who stood in line with me at the local Best Buy already owned a first-generation iPad. They’d have been better off at home playing Angry Birds.

To be sure, my attitude is soured by my lousy experience with one of the iPad 2’s built-in cameras. These vaunted cameras, one on the front and one on the back, were missing from the original iPad and so they’re one of the new model’s most coveted features. The front camera is just the thing for using Apple’s marvelous FaceTime video chat.

But my iPad’s rear camera produces images that look absolutely awful. It’s especially galling since this camera is supposed to deliver 720p high-definition video. The video clips I shot were blurry and pixilated, not nearly as good as some I’ve taken with high-end smartphones. And the still photos were worse — intolerably grainy. I can’t quite believe they’re supposed to look like this, and I’ll be heading back to the store for a long chat with the Geek Squad.

The other major enhancement, a new dual-core processor chip, did not disappoint. To be sure, most iPad apps are lightweight pieces of software that don’t require massive computing power. But a dual-core chip is still fun to have around. Whatever you want to do on the new iPad happens really fast. The new Xfinity TV app put George Lopez on my screen so quickly that I barely had time to remember that I don’t like George Lopez. And the Angry Birds seemed even angrier than usual.

I’m less awed than others by the new iPad’s dimensions. Its slimmer form will bulk up a bit when it’s sheathed in a protective case. And I could only notice the reduction in weight by balancing one in either hand. Even then, the difference seemed marginal.

In all, my first hours with the iPad 2 didn’t evoke the awe and delight that the original tablet inspired less than a year ago. It’s partly the defective camera, of course, but also the familiarity of a fine product improved, but not transformed.

Still, we can’t expect Apple to change the world every month, especially when there’s no need. The new iPad’s upgraded features put it on par with the mighty new Xoom tablet from Motorola Mobility Inc. And with over 80 percent of the tablet market, merely keeping pace with its rivals’ innovations will ensure that Apple stays well in front.

If you’ve already got an iPad, hang on. If you don’t, you might consider last year’s model — a little plumper, but also a little cheaper and just about as much fun.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

iPad 2 hits stores

iPad 2 hits stores

Take a look at what Apple's new tablet does, doesn't do.
Guide to tablets

Guide to tablets

See the tablets on the market, and new ones that are coming.

iPad 2
Price: $499 to $829
Storage: 16GB to 64GB
Battery charge: Up to 10 hours
Features include: Front and rear cameras; more powerful dual-core processor; choice of black or white shell; thinner, lighter design