My Weekend with the iPad 2

I have an iPad 2 in my hands: a 64GB AT&T Wi-FI + 3G Black. It’s adorned with a silver-colored Smart Cover. I’ve been playing with the tablet all weekend (at this point, my time with the new iPad has to be considered all play and no work).

Moving along at the Apple Store

My weekend adventure began on Friday, with a scramble to make sure I had an iPad 2 in my possession by the end of the day. Hoping to save some time and hassle from the lines at the Apple Stores, I first checked out my nearby AT&T and Target stores. AT&T told me they didn’t expect any iPad delivery that day. Target claimed they would have, at most, 10 units. Not at all encouraging. So I abandoned these options and headed to the Apple Store at Corte Madera. I arrived around 2:00 and was 47th in line.

Yes, I had to spend 3 hours waiting for the doors to open. But the weather was great, the surroundings pleasant, the people in line were friendly, Apple kept coming around with free water, and I could pass the time playing Angry Birds on my original iPad. It was all fine. I did have to ignore the occasional passers-by who would shake their heads and say: “You’re waiting in line for a new iPad when you already have one? I don’t get it.” These people were mistakenly assuming rational thought.

My biggest surprise was how fast the line moved once the doors opened. Apple has the procedure down to a science. If there is a better way to handle this, I can’t imagine what it is. An Apple employee had a set of cards, each one representing the specs for an iPad in stock. While waiting in line, you told her what model you wanted and she handed you the appropriate card. When you at last entered the Store, you confronted a line of Apple employees. You were immediately paired with the employee at the front of the line, who then led you to the back of the Store to get the iPad model on your card. If you wanted any accessories, he’d assist you with that as well. When you were done, he’d pull out an iPhone with a credit card reader attached (it looks slightly bulkier than one of those iPhone cases with a built-in battery pack). You paid on the spot — and were on your way. I was out of the Store by 5:20.

There was only one potential snag. If, by the time you got to the front of the line, the Store was out of the specific iPad you wanted, you either had to pick another model or go home empty-handed. AT&T iPads were going especially fast; they were sold out of all AT&T variations by the time I was leaving the Store. I was fortunate; I got the last 64GB Black model in stock.

Out of the box

After taking my new iPad home, I unpacked it and attached the Smart Cover. The first thing I noticed was how much thinner the iPad 2 looked and how much lighter it felt. I know it’s only a .2 pound ounce difference from the original. But it felt lighter than that. I suspect my perception was affected by the fact that my original iPad has the extra weight and bulk of Apple’s original case.

The Smart Case worked exactly as advertised. It’s especially cool the way it turns the iPad off and back on when you close and lift the cover.

The only negative of the new thinner design is that the power button sits so low on the curved side that it is almost impossible to access it when the iPad is flat on a table. I kept having to lift the iPad to press the button. This makes the automatic shut-off of the Smart Cover even more useful.

Taking a test drive

I don’t intend this article to be a formal review of the iPad 2. But I do want to offer a few personal favorites from my discoveries of the past few days:

Speed. The iPad 2’s speed improvements were immediately apparent — especially when opening Web pages. In side-by-side comparisons with my original iPad, every Web page I tried loaded faster on the iPad 2 — often by several seconds.

Mirroring. Because I give talks about iOS devices, I was especially pleased to see that the iPad 2 added support for mirroring output to a television or large screen display. By mirroring the display, I mean everything — not just the “video out” of movies, presentations, and photo slide shows (as supported by other iOS devices).

You can perform this mirror magic using the new HDMI Digital AV Adapter. I hooked this all up to my HD television and it worked; no problem. There was almost no lag between what I saw on the iPad 2 and its television mirror.

Less well known is that Apple says you can accomplish this same mirroring with an iPad 2 and Apple’s existing VGA Adapter! I also tried this out and — guess what? It too worked perfectly.

Bravo Apple!

My only question is: What took Apple so long? I was already mirroring jailbroken iOS devices two years ago. Even now, I wonder if it was really necessary for Apple limit this feature to the iPad 2. Regardless, I’m thrilled that Apple has finally put its official support behind this important option. At least iPad 2 owners will no longer have to contend with the sort of jailbreak hack described by Chris Breen at Macworld.

Glitches? So far, every feature I have tried on the iPad has worked without the slightest glitch. The iPad 2 is still less than a year old and it already feels like a mature product that has been around forever. This is even more impressive when you consider that most iPad competitors aren’t even shipping yet. 

The only potential bug I spotted is that the iPad occasionally spontaneously restarts. I believe this has something to do with the Smart Cover, as I’ve only seen it happen immediately after folding the Cover back.

GarageBand rocks GarageBand doesn’t come with the iPad 2. You’ll have to spend $4.99 to purchase it from the App Store. Happily, GarageBand also works with the original iPad. Whatever iPad you own, you definitely should get this app — even if you don’t know anything about playing music. It’s the most amazing piece of software I’ve seen in many a year. It doesn’t offer every feature found in the Mac version but — with its Smart Instruments and Touch Instruments — it offers capabilities far beyond what you can do on a Mac. It truly feels as if the iPad transforms itself into whatever musical instrument you select.

The software also sets new standards for what iPad apps can do. I was especially impressed by GarageBand’s extensive Help. Just tap the ? icon and yellow notes appear, briefly describing the various objects on the screen. If a note includes an arrow icon, tap it — a more extensive help window pops up, without requiring that you exit the current GarageBand screen. Very slick.

My favorite feature was one that Apple doesn’t even mention. I first learned about it after reading Chris Breen’s review of GarageBand for iPad. With Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, you can connect a variety of (although not all) USB external instruments to the iPad. I hooked up my M-Audio KeyStation 88 keyboard and selected the Keyboard instrument in GarageBand. I began to play the M-Audio device. It just worked! The M-Audio’s sound played through the iPad. I could even record the output and combine the recording with other tracks in GarageBand. Unlike connecting my keyboard to an iMac, or even a MacBook, this setup doesn’t feel as if I’m working with a computer. It feels more like the iPad is an extension of the M-Audio itself — one that you can easily take with you wherever you and your instrument travel. Fantastic.

Fantastic! That’s as good a word as any to describe my entire iPad 2 experience.