As cocky as it may seem, when Steve Jobs boasts that most of the new 2011 tablets are no match for the original Apple iPad, he has a point. Currently, only the Motorola Xoom (Verizon Wireless) ($599-$799, 3.5 stars) shows enough promise to compete with Apple’s tablet. RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, HP’s TouchPad, and Samsung’s Honeycomb Galaxy Tab could also be contenders, but as Apple hits its second tablet rev, they’ve yet to arrive. The iPad 2 is thinner than the original iPad, with a faster processor, dual cameras, and FaceTime video chat. Apple also drummed up some excellent new accessories and apps, like the innovative Smart Cover and the endlessly fun, yet affordable GarageBand music app. Android lovers and Apple haters can argue that there are quality non-Apple tablets out there, and, like Jobs, they have a point.

The Wi-Fi–only model costs $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. The pricing for the Wi-Fi + 3G models is $629 for 16GB, $729 for 32GB, and $829 for 64GB. In the U.S., the 3G version is available on both AT&T and Verizon Wireless. AT&T’s monthly plans are as follows: $14.99 per month for 250MB (with a $14.99 overage fee for every 250MB above the limit) or $25 per month for 2GB, (with $10 overage for every 1GB). On Verizon, monthly plans cost $20 for 1GB of data, $35 for 3GB, $50 for 5GB, and $80 for 10GB—with a $20 overage fee for the $20/month plan and $10 overage fee for the others. For both AT&T and Verizon, iPad service is a month-to-month proposition, so you aren’t tethered to a long-term contract with either carrier. That said, once you buy a Verizon iPad 2 it’s locked to Verizon, so you can’t opt for AT&T service, or vice versa.

Measuring 9.50 by 7.31 by 0.34 inches (HWD), the weight of the iPad 2 varies slightly with each model. The heaviest model—by a hair—is the AT&T Wi-Fi + 3G iPad, at 1.35 pounds. The Verizon version, which we tested, weighs 1.34 pounds, and the Wi-Fi–only model is 1.33 pounds.

The original iPad measured 9.56 by 7.47 by 0.5 inches and weighed 1.5 pounds—so the tablet has slimmed down some, but your hands are not going to notice much difference in weight after holding either device for more than ten minutes. The real physical change is in the contour—the iPad 2 has rounded, narrow edges whereas the original tablet was a bit boxier with wider side panels.

The 9.7-inch LED-backlit multitouch-enabled display remains unchanged from the first iPad, in terms of size and 1,024-by-768 resolution. The front panel is still covered by glass, but now the screen is framed in either glossy black or glossy white. The back panel is brushed aluminum on both the black and white models and prominently features the Apple logo right in the middle.

Thinner than the original. New A5 chip offers faster graphics processing, general performance. Dual cameras for video chat, HD video recording, and stills. Improved design incorporates internal magnets for Smart Cover accessory. 3G versions available on AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Improved AirPlay features. Supports HDMI output (via optional adapter).

Image quality with rear-facing camera is not great. Front-facing camera is not HD. Still no Flash video support. No earbuds included.

Bottom Line
The clear standout in the ever-widening sea of tablets, the Apple iPad 2 brings a slimmer design, faster processing, dual cameras, and FaceTime video chat to a tablet that already had a leg up on the competition.

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