Steve Dinneen
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The iPad 2 is better, faster, slicker. Rivals hoping to muscle in may as well pack up and go home – if you want a tablet, nothing comes close to this.

LAST night I got my hands on one of the first iPad 2s in the country. Steve Jobs, looking positively healthy for a man already written off by some papers in the US, promised 2011 will be the year of the iPad 2. And he’ll probably be right.

The first impression is just how thin the iPad 2 is – it somehow manages to make the first generation seem boxy, and that’s already a good bit thinner than most other tablets on the market.

At just 8.8mm thick it’s a third smaller than its 13.4mm predecessor.

It’s also noticeably lighter, adding to the amount of time you can cradle it on the tube before your arms fall asleep. The back keeps the brushed aluminium of the last iPad and fits nicely in your hand.

Its A5 dual-core processor is twice as fast and it can run graphics an impressive nine times quicker than the first iPad.

It also packs in a lot more hardware than the first generation. As predicted, it features both front and rear facing cameras, meaning you can video chat with other Apple users using FaceTime and take pictures directly from the device.

It has a three-axis gyroscope and an accelerometer, giving the iPad 2 very precise data on how you are holding it and how hard you hit the screen.

This comes into play in apps like the new version of GarageBand, which can tell if you tap a piano key, or mash it with your palm. Despite all this, it weighs just 1.3lb – down from 1.5lb in the previous version – and maintains 10 hours of battery life.

One of the most impressive innovations is the new “smart cover” – a folding, magnetic skin that snaps onto the device to protect the screen, cleaning away fingerprints as it goes. The ease of snapping the sleeve onto the laptop is incredible, although whether it will remain stuck on after a few hours in your rucksack is yet to be seen. The cover will cost $39 in the US. Another nice addition is an HDMI cable allowing you to plug the device into your TV.

Good news for the legion of fans already registering pre-orders is that the price will stay the same as the previous version (which is already being discounted), starting at £429.

In a dig at other firms struggling to keep tablet costs down, Jobs quipped “It’s an unbelievable price, just ask our rivals.”

The first iPad created a new category of machine. As Jobs pointed out, previous iterations of tablets had crashed and burned – the iPad was ground zero.

For this reason, the iPad 2 could never have quite the same wow-factor. But that isn’t to detract from Apple’s achievement – it’s better, faster, slicker. It has improved on a product that already controls 90 per cent of the market. Rivals – such as the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the HP TouchPad, and the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook – which hope to chip away at that may as well pack up and go home, if you want a tablet, nothing comes close to this.