This is a review based initial impressions from on having the iPad 2 for about two days. I'll update this article with a full review in a week or two.
The iPad 2 is a solid upgrade over the first-generation model. I'm not sure it's a completely must-have upgrade for owners of the previous model, but new iPad users will find it a speedy, sleek, terrific tablet.
I tested how fast both models loaded a handful of complex websites. The iPad 2's speed is listed first. Speeds are in seconds.
ESPN.com: 10 vs. 18
Apple.com: 6 vs. 8
CNN.com: 9 vs. 12
HoopsHype rumors page: 7 vs. 8
iPod.About.com: 6 vs. 9
I also tested how quickly both models launched the same apps. For apps that included downloads of new content at launch to update them, I counted until the new content was download and displayed. Again, time is in seconds and the iPad 2 is listed first.
The Battle for Wesnoth: 5 vs. 10
Marvel Comics: 3 vs 7
New York Times: 8 vs. 12
Netflix: 9 vs. 15
Needless to say, testing proves that Apple's claims of significantly greater speed in the iPad 2 are correct and will result in a more pleasing experience for users.
In addition to being a bit lighter (the iPad 2 weighs 1.33 pounds in the WiFi-only model, whereas the original weighs 1.5 pounds), the body of the iPad 2 has been redesigned to be thinner and sleeker.
At about 1/3 thinner than the original model, the iPad 2 fits even more comfortably in the hand and feels easier to hold for longer periods of time (one person who used my model felt that it was harder to hold than the original because it's smaller; some people may agree). Beyond just being thinner, the edges of the iPad 2 taper in a way similar to the 4th generation iPod touch, which gives the device an overall improved feeling of sleekness, lightness, and style over its predecessor. In comparison, the original iPad--which is pretty sleek in its own right--feels downright bulky in comparison.
Another particular sleek and slick element of the iPad 2 is the Smart Cover, a screen protector that has magnets built in to easily attach and detach from the iPad. Simply closing the Smart Cover will put the iPad 2 to sleep, while opening it will wake it. Features like these are ones that, while relatively minor and not necessarily essential, tend to make the iPad feel magical in the way Apple touts.
Much has been made of the relatively low resolution of the iPad 2's cameras for taking still images. Defenders of the cameras have countered that they're designed for video and take 720p HD images. While that may be true, the quality of the iPad 2's video is noticeably lower than 720p video taken by, for instance, the iPhone 4.
Video shot with the iPad 2 is generally less faithful in color (its colors are darker, redder) and less detailed (pixels tend to smudge together a bit more). The video taken by the iPad 2 is much closer to that shot by the 4th generation iPod touch than the high-quality images taken by the iPhone 4.
I suspect Apple expects iPad 2 users to primarily employ the cameras for FaceTime chats, where they should be good enough. I wouldn't want to use the cameras for too much else, though.
The Bottom Line
The iPad 2 is a strong upgrade over the original model, but perhaps not strong enough to make it a must-have upgrade for original iPad owners. This upgrade makes me think of the iPhone-to-iPhone-3G transition: nice to have, but not required. It was the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 that were the must-have upgrades. I suspect that's going to be the case with the 2012 iPad, too.