iPad 2: First thoughts on 64GB 3G with black leather Smart Cover

Posted on by Mike Evans

After four days of play I'm loving my new iPad 2. When I sold the first iPad last October it was still running the original OS, without the convenient screen folders and the other software goodies that had already arrived with the iPhone 4. There's no doubt that the user experience without the latest iOS upgrades was distinctly flawed, particularly when compared with the iPhone at the time.

Now I have to separate the OS improvements from the physical changes to the new iPad. The screen is exactly the same and the only significant additions are the front and rear cameras. Nothing much has changed in the user experience and I agree with several friends who are happy to keep their first-generation devices and have decided to skip over the iPad 2.

There is no doubt, though, that the new thinner, sleeker model is more convenient to use and to carry around. You are more likely to sling it in your bag and take it with you for the day. It's also lighter in a different way: With the new Smart Cover I don't feel it necessary to use a heavier case as I did with the old iPad. The wonderful Piel Frama leather folio was a thing of beauty and practicality, but it added over 300g to the weight.

Smart Covers weigh practically nothing and add nothing to the bulk of the device (thus offering protection to the aluminium back when placing the device on a table). In fact, my black leather Smart Cover is the most interesting and welcome feature of the entire iPad 2 experience. Others have raved about it and I was prepared for disappointment, but it is just so right. It feels like an integral part of the iPad and not some add-on accessory.

The double-folding hinge allows the cover to sit flat on either the front or the back, and the ingenious folding system raises the iPad (in landscape mode) to the ideal angle for typing or allows it to stand up for media viewing. The only thing it doesn't do is provide a support for the iPad in portrait mode, which I tend to prefer for writing. The other hidden talent of the Smart Cover, as mentioned by Ben Brooks, is that it quietly cleans the screen as you carry the device around.

I am really satisfied with the screen protection afforded by the Smart Cover but still feel that the aluminium back of the device could be vulnerable to scratches. That's why I intend to get a Zagg film for the back surface. I've tried a Zagg kit on the MacBook Air and it really does offer complete protection from scratches and small dings.

Anything to complain about? Well, I do have some issues with the placing of the buttons and the port on the edges of the device. Because of the steep fall-away from the edge of the device, there is no flat surface for the buttons or ports. As a result it's initially awkward to locate them. Inserting the 32-pin dock connector is a particular challenge because the port is angled. Instead of locating itself automatically, the plug needs a bit of positioning before it can go in. These are minor niggles and do nothing to detract from the user experience.

My iPad is black. I did consider white but listened to the blog chatter about the perceived shortcomings of white—in particular the narrow black line that surrounds videos. This is present on the black iPad as well, but just not noticeable because it blends into the surround. Some even said the white iPad looked "like a toy" and was less restful when reading books or viewing movies because of the white frame. Despite this, I heard stories that the white iPad had been particularly successful in London on the fist day of sale. On balance, though, I'm happy with the choice of black. It's safer, and probably better for subsequent resale.

I ended up with the top-price 64GB 3G model simply because that was all I could get. I had intended to buy the 32GB Wi-Fi only device and save a bit of money. But I don't mind, really, and I am now tempted to renew my 3GB Vodafone contract so I can have constant internet. I've tried the new Personal Hotspot feature and it works really well. It is just a little inconvenient to have to get out the iPhone and switch on the hotspot before using the iPad.

Early days yet, but I am quietly pleased with iPad 2 and look forward to giving it a thorough work out in the months to come.

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