Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 01:00 pm PT (04:00 pm ET)
First Look: Apple's iPad 2
Just as with the previous iPad, Apple has created a cover designed to protect and position it in either a tall or flat orientation. The new Smart Covers, profiled in detail earlier, are a nice improvement over the previous design.
The $39.99 polyurethane or $69.99 leather, magnetically retained iPad 2 Smart Covers ship in a retail package that doesn't require scissors to open. Instead, there's an adhesive-backed tab that holds the cardboard back of the box to its clear plastic front.
Unlike the original iPad's cover, the new Smart Cover doesn't add a lot of bulk or cover up the iPad's design; instead, it augments it with a tailor-made finish that snaps into place instantly, and peels back (or even off) just as effortlessly.
Apart from looking sharper and contributing toward a thin, clean appearance, the new Smart Covers are available in a broader range of colors and two finishes: a cheaper polyurethane (blue, green, orange, pink and grey) or a more luxurious "aniline-dyed Italian leather" (cream, tan, black, dark blue and red).
While the new Smart Covers don't "protect" the back, that's partly a feature, as the metal rear of the iPad should hold up to normal use without much scuffing (unlike the polished rear of most iPod models), so you won't need to deal with any extra thickness or the need to peel a more complex cover off of the unit to plug in adapters or docks. It was particularly annoying that the original iPad's cover couldn't remain on when plugging into the Dock designed for it.
Stand up, lie down
Rolled up into a triangle behind the unit, the new Smart Cover offers a more stable, hands free way to watch movies or play games; you can poke at the screen without knocking it over. The previous cover supported a similar configuration, but it required folding the back into a slot, and resulted in a rounded base that didn't confidently hold the iPad up very straight.
With the folded up triangle under the top edge laying down, the new cover presents a similarly solid typing surface, with less springy bounce compared to the previous design. It's quite solid, requiring a forceful push to dislodge the the back magnets from the iPad.
The self positioning nature of the Smart Cover works perfectly, and it does not appear likely that the metal strip that connects it to the iPad's edge will scratch or scuff the back. It's also clever that closing the cover automatically puts the device to sleep, and that opening it both turns it on and unlocks the screen (unless you have a security passcode set).
The cover peels up just like a paper back book. It feels a bit heavy to dangle open like the cover a magazine while using (imagine a magazine with a thin, segmented cardboard cover), but you can wrap it around back while using it. The Smart Cover doesn't stick the the back, but it does conveniently fold flat in half under your holding hand, virtually disappearing until you want to fold it back shut. Folded open this way, the cover also leaves the rear camera exposed for shooting video.
While the soft inside lining might prevent lots of dust from accumulating, it doesn't really clean the screen when you open and close it; the very shiny screen still requires a regular wipe to control the fingerprints and specs of dust, but unlike the previous cover, it's very easy to wipe the screen clean corner to corner without running into the cover's edges.
A more in-depth review of the new iPad will take a look at its unique software features and revised internals.
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