- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I wasn’t planning to write about the Apple iPad 2; I wasn’t even anticipating getting my hands on one for a while. But a combination of circumstances led me to the Apple Store at the Columbia Mall on Friday afternoon. There, along with, I’d estimate, 300 of my closest new friends, I stood in line for about three hours just to buy one.

That I got the model I wanted, and before sunset, was a bit of an accomplishment.

Your options for getting an iPad 2, whose non-3G prices of $499 to $699 are the same as the Wi-Fi-only models of the 2010 iPad, may be a bit slim this week. The Apple retail outlets sold out in blazingly fast time. You might find the Wi-Fi-plus 3G models at either AT&T or Verizon stores (Best Buy and Wal-Mart were also carrying the product) this week, but if you order online from Apple, waits could be three or four weeks.

Is it worth it? For my money, yes, at least for now: Lighter by a few ounces, the iPad 2 is easier to hold when reading in bed, and it’s even nicer to carry during a workday. It has new, built-in cameras, front and back, that let you do video chats (called “FaceTime” after the Apple application) and lets you take pictures and record videos. It’s thinner — did I mention that? — and thus the easier-to-hold thing.

Oh, and there’s the “Smart Cover,” list price $69, which clamps on to the iPad 2 (and only that model), not only protecting the display screen, but also turning the device on and off when the cover is opened or closed. The cover also folds up into a small stand for easier reading and writing at a desk or on an airplane.

Depending on whom you’re speaking with, somewhere between 30 percent and 70 percent of buyers of the iPad 2 already have a 2010 iPad, so you might be able to score some bargains on “gently used” models. (“This one is a real cream puff. It was used by a little old lady from Pasadena, who only took it to church on Sundays.”)

But the value of the iPad 2, in my opinion is not only that it advances the technology in some useful ways, but also that it points the way to a better tablet-computing future. Motorola’s Xoom is getting a lot of TV advertising, at least on the Verizon FiOS cable system, which is owned by the telephone company offering that tablet on its cellular network. But the Xoom — and any other tablet you care to name — isn’t getting the same level of attention from buyers. No one is standing in line for three hours to buy one of these devices, after all.

Performance, using an A5 processor that research firm UBM TechInsights says comes from Samsung, is faster than that of its predecessor, though not by much. But even a few seconds’ gain is helpful on something that is in constant use.

I like the cameras in the unit, but it helps to have a subject close in to get a good photo. I was able to snap a decent picture of Fox 5 D.C.’s Steve Chenevey on Monday morning as we sat on a set at the station. However, another picture of his co-anchor, Sarah Simmons, was less satisfying. Bottom line: The built-in camera is good, but won’t replace even a point-and-shoot.

I also like the intelligence behind the “Smart Cover” concept, even if $69 is a bit much. It shows that Apple is thinking of even incremental ways to make its tablet computing experience better and more practical.

That may be why Apple has such a dominant share of the tablet computing market, and why it’s likely to continue to have one for some time to come. I can recommend the iPad 2 easily and happily — now, all you have to do is find one.

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