iPad 2 Rolling Review: GarageBand, Gaming, iPod, Movies - InformationWeek

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3/18/2011
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iPad 2 Rolling Review: GarageBand, Gaming, iPod, Movies

In Part 4 of our review of Apple's iPad 2, we take an in-depth look at the new GarageBand application, the iPad's gaming chops, and of course media playback.

Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
Thanks to the faster processor, doubled memory, and bolstered graphics performance, the iPad 2 is a formidable entertainment powerhouse. It's so capable, that Apple created a version of its GarageBand application just for the iPad 2. Developers aren't ignoring the iPad 2, either. We tested a number of games on the iPad 2 side-by-side with the original iPad. The performance boost is significant. Let's dive in.

GarageBand

GarageBand on Apple's desktop computers is a powerful music creation tool. I've used it over the years to put together a number of recordings. Having nearly all the same capabilities in a device as conveniently portable at the iPad 2 is nearly a dream come true. I mean, other than having Rick Rubin's undivided attention in a professional recording studio, this is the next best thing.

GarageBand has a number of tools for creating music. First, it has a basic keyboard that can be used as the controller for any instrument. Pick an instrument and start playing the keyboard to get the sound you want. The "Smart Instruments" are great for adding background tracks to a lead or melody line you might have. For example, using the Smart Guitar, you can set up a loop of an acoustic guitar strumming a chord progression, then add in a bass line with the Smart Bass tool, and a drum line with the Smart Drum tool. You have an instant back-up band! The selection of rhythm patterns is a little on the anemic side (only four per instrument) but you can change up the chord patterns enough to make it sound semi-authentic. You can also use the pre-recorded loops to serve as a backdrop for your own melodies.

The tools for recording your backing tracks are simple and straightforward. Once you have them all recorded, merging them into one master track is a cinch. Then you can add your melody line on top of it all and, voila, you've put together a song.

The application also offers an excellent selection of virtual amplifiers for the guitar players out there. Plug your guitar directly into the iPad 2, and you can select between Fender, Vox, Marshall, Mesa Boogie and other well-known amplifier brands. Beyond simply selecting the amp type, you can dial in all the different sounds you're used to on your regular rig at home. Aspects such as gain, treble, bass, mids can all be adjusted; chorus, delay, reverb, and flanger effects can be added; and of course you can easily swap amps with the flick of a finger. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Once you've recorded all your tracks, the master editing page lets you rip them into a single file and you can then export it to iTunes on your computer. It's really an incredible piece of software for a device that's so easily carried about. As a guitar player and general lover of music, I could easily lose myself in this application for weeks on end.

Worth $4.99? Hell yes!

Gaming

My Sony PlayStation 3 has been gathering dust ever since I bought the first iPad a year ago. Having games with you wherever you are is great, and I find I've transitioned to the iPad for most of my gaming.

My favorite game of the moment is Infinity Blade, which pits you -- a knight of sorts -- against a number of opponents. You have to slash your way through castles and such in order to capture the Infinity Blade. It's a graphically intense game and a lot of fun to play. It is great on the iPad.

It's even better on the iPad 2.

How could changing devices make such a dramatic improvement in the game? All those graphics improvements Apple baked into the iPad 2 make a huge difference with gaming. Not that Infinity Blade ran poorly on the original iPad, but it is flawless on the iPad 2. It's lightning fast, and there's more detail visible in every frame of the game. The opponents' armor, for example, shows much finer detail when compared side-by-side to the original iPad.

One of my other favorite games, Chopper 2, works better with the iPad 2 as well. In Chopper 2, you're flying a helicopter about trying to rescue guys on the ground all while avoiding getting shot down. It uses the accelerometer and you tip the iPad back and forth to fly around. The landscape and background in Chopper 2 move across the screen smoother on the iPad 2 when compared to the iPad, and the overall feel of the game is more responsive.

If Angry Birds is more your speed of gaming, Angry Birds HD looks fantastic on the iPad 2's display, and the app runs perfectly.

With the boosted processor, memory and graphics powers, the iPad 2 is a solid gaming platform. Add in the fact that the iPad 2 has a new gyroscope, and it's safe to say you can expect a lot of solid gaming titles to arrive for iPad 2 in the months to come.

iPod/Video

Of course, the iPad 2 comes with Apple's iPod application and video playback software. These two features round out what it a powerhouse device in nearly every category.

The iPod software hasn't changed appreciably with the iPad 2. It's the same version that the original iPad runs in iOS 4.3. It is a snap to sort through your music library, and the large screen makes it a visually satisfying experience.

The newest capability is Home Sharing. Using iTunes, you can share your home computer's music library and access it from the iPad anywhere in your Wi-Fi network. I have a massive collection of music. My iTunes library has something ridiculous like 18,000 songs and over 400 movies (all legally obtained!!!!). None of the iPad's has enough storage capacity to hold all that media -- and they don't have to. With Home Sharing, I can access and playback and of the music or movies that are stored on my home computer.

In order to use this feature, you have to take the time to turn on Home Sharing on the PC and choose which libraries to share. On the iPad side of the equation, you have to sign in with your Apple ID (no explanation from Apple on why this is necessary), and boom you can listen to anything. It's a great feature, especially if you're a media hourder like I am.

Home Sharing works for both the iPod and the video player on the iPad. If you're concerned about quality, don't be. I streamed Iron Man 2 in HD from my computer to the iPad 2, and it looked fantastic. I put on my best headphones, and the sound quality was also excellent. Though the iPad 2 only shed 0.17 pounds, it is noticeably easier to hold for longer periods of time. I watched several movies, and noted that my hands weren't as fatigued as they had been after watching several movies with the original iPad.

Based on my experiences using the iPad 2 as an entertainment machine during the last week, I have no problem saying that the iPad 2 can potentially replace half the gear you might otherwise need or use to listen to music, watch movies, and play games.


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