Apple iPad 2: To Upgrade or Not?

So you might not be able to eat an iPad, as someone pointed out last week to the president of the New York Federal Reserve, but there is enough to salivate over in the new iteration of the market-defining tablet computer.

The Fed official got a lot of flak last week for saying that even though food prices were rising, at least the cost of the new iPad was the same.

The general design of the device has not changed much either, although it has begun to look more like earlier versions of the iPhone, with gentle curves, as opposed to the boxier iPhone 4.

There are some notable tweaks: a new dual-core A5 chip, a gyroscope, a couple of cameras and the option of Verizon for 3G service in addition to AT&T. Oh, and there is a new color ? the apparently elusive color, white. (Still no white iPhone 4 has surfaced, though reports promise its debut this spring.)

Most impressive is what Apple has managed to replicate with the launch of a moderately modified device ? lots of hype.

Lines yet again curled around buildings across the country hours before the iPad 2 went on sale Friday. Shipments of online orders have been delayed two to three weeks.

We put a 32-gigabyte iPad 2 with Wi-Fi through its paces and tallied up some of the upgrades and changes to help you figure out whether it’s an “iGotta-Get-It” or “Not-Gonna-Sweat-It” device for you.

“Sexy” and “svelte” are two words that come to mind to describe the new iPad. The curves and the feel are both more appealing than its predecessor’s design. IPad 2 is a slimmer, lighter and sleeker version of its predecessor. It is noticeably less cumbersome to hold. It fits in the hand similarly to the way the iPhone 3G and 3GS did. All of the buttons ? power/sleep, mute and volume ? are tucked along the outer curves, on the top and right respectively. The port for the sync cable is a little harder to get to, and connecting it will take a few tries and some getting used to.

While front and back cameras were must-have additions for which the masses clamored, the cameras aren’t quite ready for their close-up. FaceTime, Apple’s video-chatting program that works only over Wi-Fi, functions easily by designating which of your e-mail addresses should be used to call the iPad ? no phone numbers needed since the tablet isn’t a phone. But the picture quality is nowhere near what appears in ads. Ultimately, though, the streaming video is serviceable enough for Grandma and Grandpa thousands of miles away to keep up with the baby ? but they may still need the bifocals to make everything out.

For simply shooting video, the back HD camera does just fine, but holding an iPad to shoot video is just downright clumsy. The rear camera, at a meager 0.7 megapixels, is nowhere near acceptable for still photos. There are basic cell phones with better still cameras.

The addition of the 1GHz dual-core A5 chip makes the tablet a more powerful gaming device. Graphics in games already optimized for iPad 2, like “Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD,” are quite stunning. The new design of the device and the souped-up power along with the new three-axis gyroscope expand the tablet’s prowess as a true gaming device.

Apple has also added a few extras: AirPlay for wireless streaming of music, photos and video to compatible devices; AirPrint for wireless printing to select models of HP printers; and video mirroring (which requires an additional cable) for plug-and-play sharing of what’s on your screen with a broader audience.

Then there’s that amazing little Smart Cover that Apple developed in conjunction with the new iPad that seems to have everyone mesmerized. With three folds of the magnetic cover that attaches to the left side of the tablet, the iPad can prop up for typing or stand up for video chatting or viewing. The covers work seamlessly with the new iPad, waking it when opened and putting it in sleep mode when closed. It’s sold separately, of course, costing $39 for the polyurethane version and $69 for leather.

Although they work seamlessly, the cover’s color options are a bit limited and, frankly, unappealing. Plus they truly are only covers ? not cases. Again, for the clumsy among us, these covers don’t promise or provide any protection for the bulk of the device. If you drop or bump the iPad, don’t expect the cover to do anything but cling to its host. And the covers are smart but not completely thoughtful ? they leave noticeable smudges with each groove on the cover.

Speaking of smudges on the screen, they still multiply quickly, despite Apple’s touting fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.

For those inaugural iPad owners who are wondering whether to upgrade, the incremental changes, however sexy, and low-end cameras might not be enough to truly quell that upgrade addiction that’s likely burning in your belly.

For those of us who waited to buy an iPad, it was worth the wait. And that’s a good thing, because you’re likely to have to wait, for a while at least, to get your hands on one.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.