iPad 2 Review Round-up

iPad 2 hits stores tomorrow, and there is no shortage of reviews, to go along with Apple's own guided tour collection. I won't add my own notes to the growing list because first of all Apple seems to have forgotten to send me a review unit and, secondly, John Gruber's write-up covers everything you need to know. In his typically masterful style, he gives just enough relevant technical analysis combined with his opinion on how iPad 2 fits into the average consumer's life, and why it matters.

From his review:
Every once in a while, Apple releases something brand-new. The original iPod. The 2007 iPhone. Last year’s iPad. These original releases tend to be minimal technically, but radical conceptually. Then, generally on an annual schedule, Apple improves them iteratively and steadily over time. 
This is exactly what they’ve done with the iPad 2. It is a refinement of the original iPad — an impressive one, in several ways, considering that it arrives just 11 months after the original. But it is in no way a radical or significant departure from last year’s model. The fact is, Apple got it right with the iPad 1 in almost every way, and the iPad 2 reflects that. If you didn’t like the original iPad, you’re not going to like the iPad 2. If you liked the original iPad, you’re going to like the iPad 2 even better.
and, later:
One thing that struck me about these benchmarks, though, is that the iPad 1 consistently outscored the iPhone 4. But in real life, my iPhone 4 feels faster than my iPad. Most people I know who own both agree. For one thing, it’s because the iPhone 4 has better graphics capabilities than the original iPad. That doesn’t show up in benchmarks like SunSpider or Geekbench. With these iOS devices, how it feels is what matters.  
In practice, the iPad 2 feels like the fastest iOS device I’ve ever used — faster in every way than the iPhone 4. It doesn’t make my iPhone 4 feel slow, per se, but it does feel faster. Doing various side-by-side comparisons with an iPad 1, I noticed all sorts of places where the iPad 1 lagged. Apps that were launched slowly. Buttons that were pressed that didn’t take effect immediately. Every little thing on the iPad 2 feels more responsive. The Photos app is one example. With the same photo library on both iPads (consisting of several thousand images), it takes about two or three seconds for the iPad Photos app to be ready for use after a cold launch on my iPad 1. On the iPad 2, it’s ready almost instantly. This repeats itself throughout the system: apps launch faster, sometimes way faster, and every little thing within each app feels faster.
He goes on and on, and I think the whole thing is worth reading; but I recognize that I'm weird. If you'd like his recommendation in a nutshell, it comes down to this:
If you buy a new iPhone or iPod Touch every year, then, yes, you should replace your old iPad with the iPad 2. It’s thinner, a comparative joy to hold in hand, noticeably faster, gets the exact same battery life, and has more RAM (spoiler: 512 MB). If you don’t buy a new iPhone every year — if you have the good sense to hold onto them for more than a year before upgrading to a new model — then you’ll likely want to wait for a new iPad, too. 
Most of the 15 million original iPads sold to date do not need to be replaced by iPad 2s. That’s not a problem for Apple, nor a failure for the iPad 2. A $500-800 device should have a useful life that is longer than a year. The same is true for all Apple’s products: iPods, iPads, iPhones, and, of course, Macs. Anyone who argues that the iPad 2 falls short because it doesn’t offer enough to get current iPad owners to upgrade is missing the point. Apple’s target is not the 15-20 or so million people who’ve already bought a tablet. They’re looking at the hundreds of millions of people who haven’t yet, but will soon. The year-over-year delta between Apple products is almost always noticeable but seldom dramatic.
Of course, I have no basis to disagree or offer counter-arguments to anything Gruber lays out. I will, however, admit that I'm puzzled by what seems a universal disdain for Apple's iPad 1 cover. I've heard a lot of people bad-mouth it (including, implicitly, Apple in their iPad 2 launch event), and I just flat-out disagree.

I think the iPad needs a case. When I used it for a few weeks without one, it always felt awkward in my hand. I never carried it around bare like I would a book or a laptop. With the Apple case, though, I felt like the iPad was relatively safe, was suddenly easy to grip with one hand (the ridge around the bezel gives your thumb something to hold onto) and was even a little more elegant. I seem to be alone in this, though. I know I'm supposed to be dazzled by the Smart Cover, and I do think the concept is interesting, but I also wonder if Apple won't come out with a case for the iPad 2 eventually.