First things first: I consider myself relatively unbiased on Apple products. I received the original iPad as a gift (which I was able to return once I saw the iPad 2 announcement) and I have an old iPod 4th gen with color display which is still going strong after a few years, but aside from that I typically use Windows PCs and my phone is Android.
If you don't have an iPad, and you're trying to decide whether you want one or not, ask yourself: What will I use this for?
This is meant to be an overview for the uninitiated, since according to initial news reports, 70% of people who have bought the iPad 2 so far didn't own an original iPad.
If you want it for web surfing, a portable Netflix or other video screen, gaming, or FaceTime/Skype video chat, it's definitely adept at all of those things. I used to read books and magazines in my bed before going to sleep, and I still occasionally do, but now I've found that surfing with the iPad is just as convenient and relaxing.
The iPad is all about the apps, many of which greatly expand the native capability of the iPad. You can get Microsoft Office clones, remote desktop, second screen, calculators, alarm clocks, remote apps for cable boxes and disc players, and more. Some are free, many are not. I'll get into some of those a bit later, but keep in mind this isn't intended to be a review of apps. If you want to see what's out there, you can search the App store on the web or in iTunes. If you expect the iPad to be able to do something not in its specs, check the app store first.
The only difference I've seen with the iPad 2 is that now there are a few games out there that are optimized for iPad 2, or have improved iPad 2 modes. Lots of games are free and those that aren't occasionally go on sale. The only two I've bought are Scrabble HD and Dungeon Hunter 2 HD, both when they were $1 each. (I've played many more free ones.) I recommend both. Dungeon Hunter 2 HD is a great 3D game that tries really hard to be Diablo 2, with character classes, customization, and online play. It looks great and has never crashed or had a framerate stutter. The iPad 1 had problems with crashing and low framerates with games occasionally, and this version seems to be a much better gaming system. That's the only big difference I noticed between the iPad 1 and iPad 2 so far though.
For me, having a huge array of apps to play with, many of which are free if you don't mind ads here and there, and the convenience of being able to web surf without having to drag out my laptop makes this worth having. Plus the battery gets 8-10 hours on a charge, which is a far cry better than any laptop I know of. It's a great e-reader for airplane travel, even really long flights, though you can't use it on take-off and landing of course.
Wi-Fi performance is flawless and the range is excellent. More than once I've pulled up in the driveway and before I'm even in the house, I've heard my iPad's ESPN ScoreCenter app go off to inform me of a score. I can't speak to the 3G quality, though, as I don't have that model. Frankly, I don't think most people need it. If I'm out of the middle of nowhere and need the web for something, I'd much rather pull out my phone than the iPad. If you just have to use the iPad, tons of public places have Wi-Fi these days.
If you want to be able to print things, you might think at first that you need an AirPrint compatible printer. Fear not! A simple Google search for "AirPrint any printer" will show you how to configure your PC or Mac to broadcast its printers with AirPrint. I have Brother and Canon printers and they both worked with it. It took some time to download and install the AirPrint service and then configure printer sharing options on my network, but that was a far cry better than buying a new printer or an expensive printing app! Still, I've found that my printers occasionally disappear from the list, and the only way to get them back is to shut the iPad down completely and power it back on. Annoying.
The iPad 2 still doesn't support Adobe Flash. Some websites are adapting to this and adding HTML 5 video. Many aren't. Keep that in mind if you're a heavy web video user. I love to watch web shows like the Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd, and most web show hosting sites are still in Flash. Also, some sites have flash menus, making them completely unusable to you if they don't have a mobile version. It's this that prevents the iPad from being a true laptop replacement, regardless of how much you spend on apps. I still end up having to fire up the laptop to use several websites I enjoy.
The screen is supposedly oleophobic but gets fingerprints all over the place in mere minutes of use. I find that extremely irritating. If you feel the same way, get a screen protector like the ZAGG InvisibleShield (though if you get that particular one, be VERY careful when you install it, it's extremely difficult to get it on there with no air bubbles). You will thank yourself when all it takes to clear fingerprints is one wipe, plus it protects from scratches to boot. To get fingerprints off the screen itself took vigorous scrubbing and left streaks, which needed isopropyl alcohol to remove. Also, in direct sunlight, the glare off the screen makes it hard to see. Add fingerprints to that and it's practically impossible.
Although the iPad 2 has two cameras, one on the front and one on the back, I haven't found much reason to use them other than for video chat. The cameras are terrible quality and the iPad 2 just isn't portable enough to drag around everywhere for camera usage. You can get an excellent digital camera for $150 or less, and most smartphones have much better cameras than the iPad has. Use one of those instead.
If you don't own a laptop, don't expect the iPad 2 to do everything a laptop will, especially if you plan on doing any work-related things. Office applications are not included. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, which are like Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint respectively, are available for $10 each. I don't own them, but apparently they work reasonably well. However they are not 100% compatible with Microsoft Office documents, especially if you have more complicated formatting, macros, or animations that don't translate directly. Plus, the virtual keyboard is a bit more tiring to type on and definitely hinders typing speed. I average about 45-50 WPM on it, where I can get 80-100 WPM on a normal keyboard. You can be a little lazy with it to increase your effective typing speed, though; you can leave out apostrophes or required capitalization and the iPad will nearly always fix it. That also mostly takes care of my fingers occasionally hitting the wrong keys due to the lack of tactile feedback, but I still end up having to go back and fix words sometimes. Also, sometimes it fixes things that don't need to be fixed. It always seems to correct "its" to "it's", but what if I mean "its"? I know the difference!
A lot of other features that you would expect a laptop to have are not here, though, or cost more. For example...
- You can give slideshow presentations or display video on external monitors, projectors, or TVs with it, but that will cost you $29 for a VGA adapter plus the price of a cable and DVI to VGA adapter (monitors or projectors), or $39 for an HDMI adapter plus the price of an HDMI cable (newer TVs), or $39 for a composite or component video cable (older TVs)
- You can transfer photos from a camera directly without having to use iTunes, but that will cost $29 for a camera adapter kit
- The iPad is terrible at file storage for things other than music, videos, photos and apps, and with no USB or SD card slot, can't easily use external storage. If you want to store documents or need external storage for anything you'll need a file management app to keep track of them, and an online cloud file storage service like MobileMe (expensive) or Dropbox (free but limited to 2 GB, or pay for more)
- Where you can just close a laptop to protect its screen, you'll need a case to protect the iPad. I highly recommend getting one. To save some money, try a cover/case intended for iPad 1, assuming you don't care that the rear camera will be covered up. A lot of them still fit and work great, such as the Griffin Elan Passport for iPad - Black
, and since they're for an old model they'll be discounted
- You can watch videos/TV episodes/movies on it, but unless you bought them in iTunes, it's a big fat pain to find a converter for them and transfer them to iTunes. This is especially annoying for DVDs/Blu-Rays that have digital copy. You've already paid for the movie and have a digital file but you can't transfer it to your iPad without having to jump through a ton of hoops or buying expensive programs or apps! Not all media companies have this problem, though. When you redeem a digital copy from Disney, you can choose to get an iTunes version, which is perfectly compatible with the iPad. I have Up, Toy Story 3 and Wall-E, and getting them on the iPad was hassle-free. Conversely, Warner Brothers only offers Windows Media versions of the Harry Potter series for digital copy. Transferring to iPad is possible but you need to find programs that remove the DRM, resize to iPad resolution, and convert to Quicktime format. Good luck with that.
Despite all that, the iPad 2 is worth getting if you can spare the cash, and more importantly, if you anticipate actually using it. I don't think it's worth getting for games alone, but if you're a gamer, there are lots of great, cheap games out there. Many of them are even multiplayer, though I haven't tried it, since most of my friends don't have iPads and interoperability between iPad and iPhone versions of games is slim to none (board games like Scrabble and Carcassonne tend to support iPad/iPhone interoperability though).
The thing is, though, I got this as a gift. Would I have gotten it if I actually had to plunk down the $500+? Honestly, probably not. The lack of many features without having to buy expensive apps and accessories is a real deal-breaker for me (and subtracts a star from my rating). Plus, though I understand why Apple doesn't like Adobe Flash, they really need to get over it since there are large parts of the web that don't work without it. It may be bad for battery life, but why not just have the option to turn it on and off as needed, then? Still, if money is no object for you, it's a slick, entertaining device, and you'll enjoy it quite a bit. Just don't expect it to replace anything you already have; the iPad is in a niche market that the iPad itself created.