by Tim Van Damme

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iPad 2: First impressions

“I’m not gonna do it, not this year,” I told myself days in advance. But the moment I played with Brian Warren’s iPad 2 that morning at Juan Pelota Cafe, I knew I was gonna queue for one, no matter how many hours of SXSW it’d make me miss. (turns out the line was only 30 minutes, way better than expected) Good thing I did, as a day later they’d be sold out US-wide, both online and in the brick-and-mortar Apple Stores. I’m guessing the SXSW popup store probably had the biggest inventory nation-wide, as I saw a lot of them all week long and in the airport on our way back to Belgium. (our latest trip back, but that’s a different story)

I bought 3 of them, one for my brother, my dad, and a white 64gb for myself, all wifi models. Looks like the white 16gb wifi’s were the first to sell out.

Up until this point, I’m still not sure buying the white model was a good idea. Yes, everyone around you immediately sees you’ve got one of the new iPads, not the previous clunky outdated version. And I gotta admit, it looks pretty damn nice. But it also creates a lot of visual noise when you’re using it. Black rounded corners, a thin black line between the screen and the frame, it all adds up. This isn’t an issue at night, but during the day a black iPad 2 makes more sense.

I felt a bit like an idiot, actually, putting down so much money for a product that’s barely different from the less then a year old previous generation. On paper it might look only marginally better than the iPad 1, but it’s definitely worth the money. It’s a lot faster than it’s predecessor. This is important for a device with a large interface that uses a lot of animations. Everything feels smooth, where the previous one sometimes had issues keeping up. You know what else feels smooth? The outside. Holding it is completely different from holding the 2010 iPad. Rounded soft corners, not a single sharp edge to be found. It’s slightly lighter, but still heavy enough to not feel like a plastic toy-tablet.

I think it was during the presentation of the original iPad that Steve Jobs used the word “magic” for the first time ever to describe an Apple product. I thought that was a bit over the top. Magic? really? What do you think we Apple geeks are? Kids? I mean, the iPad Uno was a great product, but magic wasn’t how I’d describe it. Revolutionary, yes. Magic, no.

Fast forward to today. I’ve used the word “magic” a couple of times to describe 2 features of the iPad 2: FaceTime, and that brilliant Smart Cover everyone keeps raging about. (not mentioning AirPlay which I only got to play with this week, and completely blew my mind)

FaceTime was made for a screen this size. I always felt awkward using it on the iPhone. Why can’t I just call, it’d be easier understanding what the other side was saying, and why do I need to hold my iPhone in such a strange way? But man, on the iPad 2, FaceTime rocks. It’s much more comfortable to hold for long conversations, and the big screen makes you wanna turn the device around and see where the people are you were just talking about. It’s kitty-behind-the-mirror-magic.

I’d be surprised seeing people using the built-in camera for something else than FaceTime or some quick fun in Photo Booth. That is, unless you’re the douchebag taking photos of the Foo Fighters performing at the SXSWi 2011 closing party with his iPad. Or the idiots complaining about the quality of the camera. What are you gonna use it for? Landscape photography?

And finally, we arrive at the one thing that makes this new iPad so much worth buying: The Smart Covers. It works as advertised, and then some. Open, closed, open, closed, open, closed, standup, typing position, open, closed, open, closed. This is like crack. It’s the reason Apple is currently building the best phones, computers and now also tablets. It’s all about the details, and nailing them.

What competition?