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iPad 2 Rolling Review: First Impressions

InformationWeek will be reviewing the iPad 2 feature by feature over the coming days. Stay tuned as we give each aspect of Apple's newest tablet a rigorous workout.

Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown

I've spent the last two days setting up the iPad 2 and putting it through its paces. Here are my earliest thoughts on the hardware. More to come on the software.

First, it's thin. I don't know how Apple packed so much capability into a form factor that's only 8.8 mm, but it did. The slimmer profile in addition to the flattened-out shape and tapered edges truly make the iPad 2 more comfortable to hold (not that the original iPad was uncomfortable, mind you). The edges that join the display to the back plate have been rounded off a bit, so they dig into your flesh less.

The iPad didn't shed much weight -- it's down from 1.5 pounds to 1.33 pounds (the 3G models weigh slightly more). The difference may not seem significant, but combined with the new shape it drastically improves long-term use of the iPad (say, to watch a movie). My hands were less tired after using the iPad 2 for several hours.

If comfort is a factor in daily use, the iPad 2 puts the Motorola Xoom to shame. It's thinner, weighs less, and isn't nearly as awkward to hold.

With the flat back surface, the iPad 2 will rest on a desk or tablet without wobbling. This is significant, because typing on the original iPad at rest on a flat surface was a frustrating experience. No wobbling means faster and more accurate typing.

The home button has been revised a bit. The original button had a lot of travel to it, meaning you really had to press it down to get the home screen to appear. The button on the iPad 2 has been shallowed out a bit, so it doesn't require as much effort to use. This is good news for multitaskers, who press the Home button a lot to jump between apps.

One aspect about the iPad 2's hardware that I don't like is the button placement along the side surfaces. On the original, the sides of the iPad were flat, and that design made the buttons easy to reach and use. On the iPad 2, the sides are curved toward the back. This means the buttons are angled away from the front screen and take a bit more effort to find and use. This difficulty is doubly true of the 30-pin connector slot, which is now at a slight angle. It requires a little more jiggling to get your cord tucked into the port accurately. It still works with most of the third-party accessories I have on hand, though.

Though the changes in the hardware are, in effect, minor revisions to the original, they make a big difference in how easy it is to hold and use the iPad 2 for an extended period of time. Add in the overall build quality, and what you have is a highly appealing piece of technology that easily outshines the competition in terms of physical design and appearance.

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