iPad 2 Buyer's Guide: Sight Unseen

With the imminent release of the iPad 2, Steve Job's reality distortion field seems to be having more affect on the tech press than usual. I'm here to show you the forest and help you make your iPad buying decision and I haven't even touched the iPad 2! This normally would be a bad thing, but given the hype around the iPad, I think it gives me a more down-to-earth perspective.

Since this is my first main post to my new blog, I should give you some context to this post. I just recently had my 15th Anniversary of being an Apple fan. My first Apple product was not an iPod. While I am their biggest fan, I am also their biggest legitimate critic. You'll have to keep reading this blog to see why. I use my Apple gadgets in very geeky ways, but I also introduce them to friends and family who regularly need advice on what path to take to improve their digital world.

I shall format this buying guide as an FAQ.

All The Questions You Really Want Answered

I don't have an iPad, should I buy one?
  • Do you want a tablet computer? Remember, although you can create on the device, the primary value of the iPad at the moment is as a consumption device. Whether it be surfing, reading, watching, gaming or sharing photos.
  • The best value of the iPad is as a secondary device, unless you are retired and you just need something to stay in touch with family via email and skype, it can only really replace your laptop if you already have a desktop at home and/or work.
  • If you do want a tablet, than yes, the iPad 2 is the only one worth buying.

Why aren't the other options worth buying?
  • At the moment there are only two other legitimate options. The Motorola Xoom and the iPad 1. The Motorola Xoom is more expspensive than an iPad, has less apps that support it and will likely not be supported beyond the end of this financial year once a rash of newer Android tablets appear on the market. Motorola do have a better record of supporting their old products than other Android manufacturers and they have already promised to upgrade the built in 3g modem of the Xoom with a 4g modem when they are available but after that, I predict support for future android updates will plummet before the year is out.
  • Android tablets need at least another year of maturing before spending a lot of money on them. The HP Touchpad looks super cool, but it's not out yet and developers may not support it, you wouldn't want to gamble $600 plus on it unless you were super curious.
  • The iPad is not a gamble, it's now a mature platform, but...

What about the iPad 1? Or if I already have an iPad 1, should I upgrade?
  • No. The iPad 1 is a great tablet and although it is now really cheap, you're better off spending the extra $100 and future-proofing yourself by getting the duel core iPad 2.
  • If you already have an iPad 1, there is no need to upgrade. Post-PC devices are all about the software, the hardware should disappear. Apple is keeping the iPad 1 well supported and I just upgraded my iPad 1 to iOS 4.3, the exact same software to what the iPad 2 is running, so apart from the built in cameras, the iPad 1 pretty much gets all the new features as the iPad 2.
Yeah, but what about the dual core chip in the iPad 2... is it worth upgrading for that?
  • After reading some of the early reviews of the iPad 2 it is clear that the dual core chip helps make things snappier however the iPad 1 is no slouch.
  • iOS 4.3 doesn't seem to have added any specific features to support the dual core chip. Multi-tasking doesn't seem to have been upgraded to take advantage of the extra core and due to iOS's extremely poor implementation of notifications, your iPad will still completely lock up and stop what it's doing whenever you get a push notification.
  • When iOS5 comes out, it is possible that it will be designed around a dual core chip and have much better multi-tasking support. Wait and see.
  • The graphics support is a lot better as well, but iPad developers will be writing for the lowest common denominator, and that is the iPad 1. All 15 million of them already in the wild.
  • So, if you don't have an iPad yet, get the iPad 2 to future-proof yourself but until iOS proves it is capable of taking proper advantage of a dual core chip, keep your iPad 1 if you already have one.
I'm an App/Tech reviewer, won't the HDMI-out help me do demos?
  • No! iOS is all about how we interact with software via touch. The HDMI-out does not help you get footage of the user using touch to interact. Please continue capturing footage with a camera as normal.
What about those cameras though?
  • This is where so many media outlets have got it oh so wrong! The two cameras added to the iPad 2 are there to be video cameras. NOT STILL CAMERAS. Even then, they're designed to display video, not record video. Yes, there is software included to take still photos but trust me (and Apple knows this), if you walk around trying to take photos or record video with your iPad, you are going to look like a total tool. This is not what tablets are for. Instead, please use a regular camera or use the camera on your iPhone (or crappy other phone) which you take with you everywhere, then import it!

So what are the cameras there for then?
  1. Video conferencing. Facetime or Skype.
  2. AR: Alternative Reality. Games or regular apps. Don't know what I'm talking about? If you have an iPhone, check out Plane Finder AR, Falcon Gunner or Word Lens.
Is the iPad good for video conferencing?
  • Not really. Do you really want to hold up a 10" tablet in front of your face while you chat? Or let it balance on your lap so that they can see up your nose?
  • I personally would rather hold up my phone to video chat, even then, I'd rather use my computer or laptop because the camera is already mounted perfectly in front of your face. Hands free!
  • At the moment, nobody uses Facetime. Millions of people use Skype but it is not currently a native iPad app so the experience is poor. They will likely update it soon though, now that the iPad has cameras.
Are there any new hardware features in the iPad 2 worth having?
  • Yes, there is one new feature that will be the most useful. The biggest limitation of the iPad 1 was not the lack of a dual core processor, but the lack of RAM. Having to reload web pages and videos having problems caching (likely a software flaw in all iOS devices but the extra memory in the iPhone 4 improved things) was a real big bottle neck when using the iPad 1. The RAM in the iPad 2 is at least doubled to match the iPhone 4 so surfing and watching videos on the net will be a lot better.
  • However, I have heard reports that memory management in iOS 4.3 is a lot better and using multiple tabs in Safari on the iPad 1 is greatly improved. I shall test this myself.
But the iPad doesn't have Flash... won't other tablets support this one day?
  • This is one of the iPad's best features.
  • Flash slows down your device, makes it more prone to crashes and security exploits as well as draining your battery faster.
  • Flash is not the internet, it is a plug-in. A plug-in that is controlled by one company and they decide which devices they will write it for and when they will release it. Famously the Motorola Xoom can't even display it's own website while it waits for the flash plug-in. It seems the whole non-Apple world is being held back waiting for Adobe to update or write Flash support for their devices when they should be spending their time investing in the open standards the internet is built on. Every device that does not support flash is helping to save the internet and make it a better place for everyone.

Should I get a Smart cover?
  • No, they are not a case.
  • Yes, they snap on awesomely but ask yourself this... If you dropped your iPad, would these covers protect it? No!
  • The reason the iPad uses a glass screen is because its highly scratch resistant. Otherwise they would use a plastic screen to make the iPad a lot lighter. I don't recommend trying to scratch it, but the main weakness of iPad durability does not come from scratching the screen. It's when you drop your iPad on its exposed edges, even from a small height, and the glass shatters. These covers do not protect or absorb impacts on the edges, therefore they are useless. Get a case that protects primarily the edges, secondarily reduces scratches on the screen.
  • So what is the point of using them at all? The only benefits I can see is the instant-on feature, so you just open the cover and the iPad screen switches on without needing to do an unlock swipe. You can also fold the cover into a stand but most third party cases will include both of these features sooner than you think.
  • Most reviews comment about how its difficult to fold the cover away to hold the ipad in one hand, depending on how you hold it. I could be going crazy but even though the products are getting sleeker, in the real world, Apple seems to be getting worse at design. Don't believe the hype! Perhaps it's the lack of good competition in the premium market?
Should I get a Wi-fi or 3G/GPS model?
  • It all depends on your use case...
  • If you need GPS in your iPad, then it's a no brainer, get the 3G model.
  • If you don't have Wi-Fi at home and you have no interest in getting it, then yes, 3G should be something to consider but...
  • If your carrier does not support having two separate devices on one data account, it's better saving the money and getting the Wi-Fi model. Use your data-connection on your smart phone and share it over wifi to the iPad via the personal hotspot feature. This may cost money to activate elsewhere but in Australia it is free for most plans so far. Why do you want to have two different data plans for two devices? Remember, you always have your phone with you.
  • For me, the iPad is used mainly at home or (if I had a real job) at work. I almost exclusively leave mine on the coffee table during the day and by my bed at night, both locations have Wi-Fi. I use mine while on the couch watching media, even controlling my HTPC or showing friends stuff when they come over. At night I read, or stream media from my Media Server. In the morning I read the news and check twitter. When I leave the house, I just take my spartphone. I imagine hardly anyone would ever take their iPad with them when they leave their house unless they use it for work. When I do, I use the personal hotspot.
  • Even when you travel, you can't use 3G on planes and data roaming is stupidly exspensive. You're always going to be using Wi-Fi.

16gb or 64gb?
  • I recommend the 16gb. I don't see why you would want to store more than 16gb on your iPad. 16gb is enough to store more than 10 hours of video for a plane ride (Your battery will run out before you run out of video).
  • The world is moving to the cloud, especially video, which takes up the most room on your iPad. Stream everything! Watch Netflix, ABC iView or use Air Video to watch videos from your Media Server /Desktop /Laptop over Wi-Fi or 3G.
  • Even if you aren't nerdy enough to have a Media Server or run Air Video. Check out some of the new iTunes features. iOS4.3 now supports Home Sharing streaming. Just open iTunes and connect to your iTunes library from your iPad and watch your content from anywhere in your house!
I primarily want to read e-books, is the iPad good for that?
  • I would personally recommend getting a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle. Even if you don't mind reading off an illuminated screen, the iPad does so much more than an e-reader that it is very easy to get so distracted by everything else you can do on it, that you never actually read any books.

So that's about it. Hopefully that helps you make up your mind. If there are any other questions you would like to ask, leave them in the comments.


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