As usual, I was one of the over enthusiastic bunch that waited in line for a chance to buy the iPad the minute it was available. The next morning, I awoke with the burning question many of you may have: is this new iPad really that much better than the original? Is it worth the cost of upgrading? So I began my extensive test to compare both versions. I spent two hours comparing them with the help of my son, also a heavy iPad user. I also continued to use it all throughout the weekend, and this post contains my findings

The Original iPad
I purchased the original iPad when it was first released, and have used it almost daily since its purchase. I use it mostly to consume Internet content, nightly before bed, and to play games, and have watched some video on it as well. I take it with me daily to work, to every conference, and whenever I travel. I use it for taking notes at conferences and in meetings, and have created a few presentations with it. I also bring it with me to lunches to demo web sites. I’ve blogged from it, accessed files from my home computer on it, done some server administration and web site monitoring, and even edited some code. Overall, I would say I’m a heavy user of the iPad, and that it’s been well worth the investment and has benefited me significantly in my lifestyle.

The iPad 2
I purchased the iPad 2 Friday at 6:30, after waiting in line for about 90 minutes. Not bad at all compared to the iPhone 4 purchasing experience.

I ran extensive side by side tests between the two. I browsed the Internet, some videos sites, like You Tube, Netflix, Hulu, and played some games. Overall, the experience appeared not as though the iPad 2 was any faster, but instead, that it had a slightly faster Internet connection. This was true particularly when loading video. YouTube videos always started a few seconds earlier on the iPad 2 than on the original. Video games had no perceivable change in speed or playability. Scrolling was noticeable less choppy on content lists, but again that felt like it was because it had downloaded more of the content.

Of the 20 or so apps I tried, the most noticeable improvement was on Google maps. On the original iPad they were sluggish at best. Now they zoomed in and out with far less time to download and fill in all those squares.

I’m sure the perceived Internet speed increase is due to the improved graphics capabilities and therefore being better able to handle loading and displaying of the downloaded content.

My first impression when I removed the iPad 2 from its box, was that of feeling like something had happened to my iPad; like some part of it was missing. After handling the iPad so frequently over the last year, it took some time to get used to the thinness and lightness of it. It was just enough that it almost felt like something was wrong. I prefer to use my iPads naked, so that’s how I compared the feel of the two, and it was a noticeable difference…at first.

However, prepare to be a bit disappointed if you purchase the magnetic cover, which, I would say the majority of people did at Best Buy yesterday. With that cover, and its magnets, the new iPad 2 feels almost exactly the same as the original in weight and thickness. What apple took off in size and weight, it put right back on with the cover that is essentially standard issue because of the way it integrates so impressively with the magnets.

However, after typing on it for some time the next day, I did notice some advantage due to the thinness. I like to type on the iPad with both thumbs, QWERTY style, while holding the iPad in each palm. That hold was always a bit of a stretch to pull off for me, and impossible for others with smaller hands, but with the new iPad it’s much easier, and will now be an option for faster keyboard entry for many with smaller hands.

I purchased the black leather cover. The most common case purchased at my Best Buy was the blue, it was the only color sold out, and next was the orange. Few opted for the leather. My personal opinion is that the vinyl covers look like a cheap 3 ring notebook. I can’t imagine wanting my $700 tablet to come off as a 3.95 paper binder, but to each his own.

The cover does work exactly as advertised. It’s easy to put on, lines up perfectly, and turns the iPad to sleep and wakes it up, though I need to retrain myself, because I keep turning it off before closing the cover. When I purchased the case I fully expected to return it in a few days, but I’m really loving its feel, other than the added extra weight. I’ll have to see if other non-magnetic cases feel as thin, and make the iPad as pleasant to use without the added weight.

Sound and Speaker
During the build up to the announcement, the rumor was it would have an improved speaker and sadly there was no mention of improving this on the iPad. However, as my son and I played video games, not thinking about the sound, but instead focusing on game play, we both independently came to the conclusion that the sound was better. We began doing blind tests on each other and could always determine which iPad was in use by the sound. A nice added, and unexpected bonus. The new iPad has a louder and clearer sound; the original sounds more muffled and dull. Perhaps its not the speaker but instead is the simple change in case that is causing this improvement which may explain why Apple didn’t mention it. Either way, it’s a noticeable improvement.

It’s unfair and difficult to compare this yet as companies generally have not had enough time to make improvements. You won’t see any improvement by playing the exact same version of a game. It’s not smoother, not faster loading, not better looking.

There was one exception that was noticeable and that was in my company’s iPad app, Tour Wrist. With our app, you can use the iPad to spin and move around a full 360 panorama of thousands of locations worldwide. It’s an enjoyable experience for anyone who loves traveling, or nature, or architecture as I do. On the iPad original, spinning fast (for example while seated at a spinning desk chair) causes the iPad to fall behind. It’s then choppy in skipping ahead to catch up. With the new iPad no matter how fast I spun, the iPad did not get behind. It never had to skip to catch up. It remained smooth throughout full speed chair spins. Not that you’ll necessarily ever need to spin around in your chair that quickly, but I thought it was a good demonstration of the improved graphics processor and I look forward to the day when games take advantage of this.

There are two cameras on the new iPad. From my perspective, they are useless. I don’t think consumers are going to use them as much they think they are. It’s extremely awkward to get it at the right angle that someone seeing you would expect. It can be hard to even center your own face. The quality is poor particularly if you aren’t in perfect lighting. The only use I can see for either camera is entertainment. My kids already had some fun playing with it. I think this was added simply because “everyone else is doing it” and not because its a real world use case.

My overall conclusion is that the iPad 2 is certainly another step toward having a lightweight computer you can take with you almost anywhere. It’s faster, lighter, thinner, and sounds better. For the first time buyer, they will have an even better experience than those who purchased the original. For those that already own the original, I can’t recommend an upgrade unless you are a tech junkie. This new version represents a 10% improvement at best. Probably worth about an extra $75-$100 over the original. I was able to sell my original iPad for half what the new one cost. Certainly nice to offset the difference in price, but for the masses, simply can’t recommend that option.

There is one catch however. I do think that within the next six months, we’ll see more and more apps taking advantage of the improved CPU and graphics chip, and I’d bet that many of the improved apps won’t work on the original. We’ve seen that happen between the iPhone 3GS and 4, and this should be an ever bigger difference in speed and graphics capabilities. If this happens, you may find yourself wanting to upgrade to take advantage of these apps, and the 10% difference between the two versions could increase exponentially if apps take advantage of the speed boosts.

At present, that difference isn’t noticeable enough to warrant taking the hit on selling your old model and buying the new one, unless you can pull of the switch for around $100.