I’m not sure why you’re reading this. By now, you either have an iPad, want one, or despise everything it stands for and think that anyone who owns one is a dark herald of Steve Jobs and his Apple cult of doom. But for those two of you who are still on the fence about it, here’s a review of the device with gaming in mind from a man who hates Apple, yet bought an iPad 2 on launch day. On a side note, if any of you happen to die in the next few days, please send me an email and let me know if hell has in fact frozen over, or if the world has just gone upside down.
Apple has an interesting way of creating products. When they release a new product, it always seems to be built by lazy fuckers to give you the bare minimum required to reach the market, but they polish those few key elements to the point where a few dozen of them could be used to create a solar death ray capable of starting a war with Mars. Then each year they think to themselves, “Hey, what can we tack on this year to make everyone buy it all over again?”
Or at least that’s what everyone likes to think. In all honesty, Apple doesn’t expect you to upgrade every year, and they shouldn’t. A $500-$829 device shouldn’t be thrown in the trash after just one year. As such, I’m not going to compare the iPad 2 to the iPad 1. I’ve never owned the original, and if you’re the kind of person who buys a new iPod and/or Macbook each year, you’re already beyond help. For those of you looking for a tablet in the next year and are wondering if the iPad 2 is the way to go, read on.
iPad 2: Hardware
First, let’s take a look at the workhorse in the iPad 2. Apple’s very descriptive tech specs list it as having an A5 CPU and a Superfast 9x GPU. For those of us who want to know some specs that aren’t just bullshit hype terms, the CPU is a dual core Arm A9 processor, clocked at 900MHz, and the GPU has been determined to be a PowerVR SGX543MP2 which is apparently an advanced dual core version of the GPU used in the original iPad. The A5 is a System on a Chip so all this is on the same die.* The end result is a stupidly powerful computer inside a ridiculously small space; this thing is capable of rendering graphics on par with current gen consoles with ease. At this point, not many developers have taken advantage of the power in the iPad 2, but after playing Infinity Blade, which runs on the Unreal Engine 3, I’m impressed.
In fact, I’d wager to say if you put this and an Xbox 360 in a boxing ring, you should slap whoever organized it for being an idiot because inanimate objects can’t fight. But the iPad could probably render pictures that were just as pretty. If Microsoft isn’t shitting themselves at this already, they should be.
The iPad’s screen is 9.7 inches and has a resolution of 1024×768. Hooray, it is still the 90s! I would have liked to see a higher resolution then what my CRT monitors ran more than 10 fucking years ago, but it does make sense for them to leave it the same as the first iPad. For older apps to scale up nicely, they would have needed to quadrupole the resolution and 2048×1536 seems a tad bit ridiculous. Regardless, the screen is pretty sharp. The density is 132 ppi as opposed to the 72 or 96 ppi found on most monitors. So, even at such a shitty resolution, your images won’t look too jagged. Games like World of Goo look better on this than on my PC.
The battery life on this thing is ridiculous. Apple claims 10 hours, and they aren’t kidding. I’ve been fucking with it non-stop for three days now, putting it through heavy use. 3D rendering, data transfer over wifi, constant screen use… all the major battery drainers. I’ve had to charge it once. The battery meter barely goes down to half after a full day of use, and it blows my mind.
I hate Apple. I hate Steve Jobs. I hate everything about how they do business. I hate not knowing how the hell they made this thinner than the iPad 1, added more hardware, and a way more powerful CPU and have the same battery life. But they did a damn good job.
Apparently Apple is too scared to actually tell us how much RAM is inside. And since geekbench reports 512 MB, I can understand why. Why on Earth Apple wouldn’t put at least 1GB in a device like this is beyond me. Regardless of whatever stupid decisions and/or cash grabs Apple made with the RAM here, I haven’t noticed any serious memory issues. My guess would be it’s just one more checklist item they can add to next year’s model. Overall, the new iPad is surprisingly powerful. I highly recommend you check out this anandtech spec article to see the numbers for yourself.
The cameras are not so impressive. You’d think since Apple touted the cameras as one of the selling points of the iPad 2, they would have actually included a camera that could take pictures worth a damn. The rear camera is 720p both for pictures and videos. That’s less than a megapixel. On the front is an 800×600 camera. For anything other than video chats, these are both pretty much useless. Pictures taken with these cameras are grainy and blurry as all hell. The front camera more or less serves its purpose well, but the back one shouldn’t have been added at all. It’s almost an insult to people who wanted to take pictures with this, and it’s probably a bullshit move that was made so Apple could tell its investors it’s competing with products like the Galaxy Tab and the Xoom on every front.
Last, we have the speakers. There’s not a whole lot to say about them; they’re crisp and clear, but far too quiet. If you want sound in a place that isn’t totally silent, you’ll need to pick up a pair of headphones.
iPad 2: Accessories and Aesthetics
The iPad is a sexy looking device, there’s no doubt about it. I know I’ve wanted to plug my headphones into its jack on more than one occasion. Apple products have a strange effect causing them to appear to be extremely high quality and luxurious, while any other brand that tries to go the same route has the opposite effect. I remember reading a study a few months ago: when comparing the iPad to the Galaxy Tab (which has almost the same design) people said that the Galaxy felt cheap compared to the iPad and guessed a much lower price tag.
What can I say? People are idiots. I’m sure we’ll see the same effect with the iPad 2 and the Xoom.
While I don’t think one looks pricier than the other, there are a few differences that cause me to prefer the iPad. For one, the Xoom is widescreen, which means it’s a major pain to use in portrait mode and looks ridiculously tall. Secondly, iOS is just more established than Honeycomb. The Xoom also feels rushed in many ways: things like the MicroSD slot don’t work at all because they need Google to release a software update. And if you want LTE on it, they expect you to mail it into them so they can add the hardware! I think someone was high when they made that call. It’s one of those sticking point where just not including it at all would have been a better choice. Though the iPad has neither of those features, the fact that it didn’t include them saying they’ll work “at some point” makes it seem better thought out.
Now that I’m done rambling off topic, let’s talk about the the iPad 2 design. Apple has done something really interesting with the layout of the device; other than the screen, the front camera, and the home button, nothing else is visible. The volume buttons, lock buttons, and mute/screen orientation switch are all slightly back on the rear bevel, making them slightly annoying to find when you want them, but making the device look even better from the front. At times, it feels less like you’re holding a tablet and more like you’re holding just a touch screen which I’m sure is what Apple was shooting for. We are living in the future.
I’m not sure why Apple made a white iPad. I’m also not sure why, at the last second, I bought a white one instead of a black one. You don’t see very many TVs where the screen is surrounded by white instead of black. And when you shrink down a picture, it gets letterboxed with black. The white iPad gets almost distracting at times, and makes it very hard to elicit the sensation of not really holding a tablet. Still, I suppose it’s good they actually managed to get the white ones off the factory line (who thinks the white iPhone 4 will come out just a month before they announce the iPhone 5?).
The other unique feature to the iPad is the “smart” cover. While it is in fact dumb as a doornail and incapable of winning at Jeopardy, it is a damn cool accessory. It’s a flat piece of leather or polyurethane with a microfiber back. It has four panes that fold into a triangle and stay together with magnets to either prop the device up to watch videos, or slightly incline it to type. And if you want to just hold it in your hands, the hinge also detaches magnetically and comes right off. But because I wasn’t asking myself “fucking magnets, how do they work?” enough, there are even more magnets on the right side of the screen to keep the cover attached when it’s closed. It also automatically locks and unlocks when you open and close the cover. The hinge has some particularly strong magnets in it. If you hold the cover up to the left side, the smart cover aligns and attaches itself really well. You can also lift the cover up by holding the case, and the iPad won’t fall off. Though I’m slightly terrified the magnets are going to wipe the iPad’s hard drive, it’s a really impressive, if simple, addition.
iPad 2: Games
And now for the shit you actually care about, vidya games. I’ve had a lot of friends and family ask me if they should get an iPad since I’ve gotten mine, and I’ve said no to all of them. A tablet is not something that everyone needs and a lot of the people buying them don’t have a reason or a real use for one. That’s why so many people say it’s useless. But gamers have good reason to buy one. A lot of people are dismissing things like the iPad and Facebook as legitimate gaming platforms; those people will soon find a swarm of Rabid Ferrets entering their house while they sleep. There are a lot of great games coming out for the iPad, and I think that most of the innovation we’ll be seeing for the next few years will be on emerging platforms like tablets, not on the consoles or on PC. But that’s another article.
You’re going to find a lot of games for literally any price on the App Store. You’ll see 2D indie titles like Wispin and Angry Birds;** you’ll see big names like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space, and you’ll see ridiculously rendered games like Infinity Blade. And believe it or not, a lot of these are really good. Surprisingly good, even. And you’re not going to have to pay 60 fucking dollars for a 6 hour long game. Some of the games are way too short to justify their price, but for the most part I’ve been noticing that I’m getting more bang for my buck on the iPad than on traditional gaming platforms.
Believe it or not, most games aren’t using the touch screen as a gimmick, and they aren’t just overlaying buttons on the screen. I’ve seen a lot of really creative, interesting, and fun control schemes for different games. And for some games like World of Goo, it feels better than it ever did with a mouse and keyboard. At the same time, it’s a good idea to try and find a review or two that aren’t in Apple’s app store before you buy a more expensive game. Some developers pay people for downloads and 5 star reviews, so you need to be wary.
I’d also like to say something to Electronic Arts: Fuck you. I bought your franchise tie-ins thinking they’d be terrible, terrible cash grabs that I could rip apart hilariously in reviews. Instead, I discovered they were damn good games that took the core concepts of their console parents and translated them creatively to a new input scheme. And now this paragraph which could have been dedicated to my hilariously making fun of you is instead boring. So fuck you for not giving me anything to work with, other than fun games based on beloved franchises. I’ve also played 2K’s Civilization Revolution for the iPad, which was solid but not exactly unexpected. Activision hasn’t released any iPad games yet, but I’d be a bit more wary of them.†
There are plenty of things I hate about the iPad. I hate how many apps completely restart themselves when I hit home. I hate the terrible, terrible notification system. I hate the lack of widgets. I hate how many settings there are that you can’t tweak (though less so than with my now-ditched iPhone from last year).
But there are a lot of things going for the iPad 2 as well. And there are three points that make it unarguably the best tablet on the market. First off, the price. For a 32GB model, it’s $200 cheaper than the Xoom. That’s a third of the price, and the biggest hurdle for the Xoom in my opinion. Second, the battery life. I’ve seen some tablets advertise 10 hours, but I’ve yet to see one deliver, other than the iPad. Finally, there’s the maturity of the market. iOS has a lot of solid iPad apps available. By contrast, Honeycomb has just come out and Google made the mistake of not providing devs with time machines to make tablet apps in time for launch. And platforms like Blackberry and HP Touchslate haven’t even come out yet. Also, when you buy one, there’s a crowd of Apple employees that cheer for you as you walk out. Granted, people do that for me no matter what I buy. Maybe that was just at launch for the rest of you.
Despite my cautious approval, don’t just buy into the hype. Don’t buy a tablet if you don’t have a use for one. However, if you do, the iPad is the way to go… at least for this year. I’m rooting for the competition to win, but they’ll need to reverse engineer Apple’s voodoo magic and perform a bit of their own before I can justify buying a competing tablet product.
*If you’re interested in some benchmarks and exact numbers on the iPad’s performance, check out this page.
**Please for the love of god, do not buy Angry Birds. It’s a shitty clone of a flash game that’s been made 100 times and isn’t worth your money.
†Fuck Activision ~WiNGSPANTT