The hardware changes are small bit significant. On stage Steve Jobs declared the iPad 2 as 'an all new design' but any fool can see that such a claim is taking liberties with the definition of 'all' and 'new' However, it is fair to say that the changes to the design of the iPad 2 over the iPad make it feel like a more up to date - and better - device. It's just enough of an improvement that owners of a first generation device will be jealously eyeing up second generation iPads when spotted.
Front-on the iPad 2 looks almost identical to its predecessor, but close inspection reveals a front-facing VGA camera above the screen. That the iPad 2 features the same 9.7in, 1,024 x 768 pixel panel as the first iPad will be a disappointment to those expecting a Retina Display in the style of the iPhone 4, but not unexpected. While we're not surprised to see quite such a sharp and high resolution display on the iPad 2, it would've been nice if Apple bumped it a little bit - we know of several people that want to wait a further year or so (before buying any form of iPad or tablet) for such a move to hopefully be made on the iPad 3.
Despite not seeing a boost in resolution, the iPad 2's display is still the best we've seen on a tablet with bright and vivid colours, impressive black levels (making videos look that much better), and of course all important superb viewing angles. Other tablets we've had brief looks at also have great displays but the iPad 2 is leading the pack so far. The resolution is low enough, though, that text on websites looks pretty pixelated at times, making it harder to read than we'd like - our eyes have been spoiled by too many super-sharp displays on all the great smartphones now available.
It's around the back that the changes to the physical form of the iPad 2 make themselves known. For a start, the aluminium now curves around to meet the bezel, losing the flat ridge of the iPad's edge. The overall thickness has also dropped to a mere 8.8mm thick - down from the 13mm of the iPad. Pedants might like to know that the width and height are down from 243mm and 190mm to 240mm and 186mm respectively, as a result of a slight reduction of the amount of aluminium at the edges of the iPad 2, but these differences are much less noticeable - the black bezel and display are still the same size.
The curved edges also mean that the dock connector doesn't feel quite as secure on the iPad 2 as on the iPad, and that the volume rocker and lock (or mute) switch is hidden from view when holding the iPad 2 face-on. There's also a large-ish speaker at the rear of the iPad 2, but frankly there might as well not be; the audio is okay for watching the odd YouTube video, but not much more - it is at least a small improvement over the original. More practically, the back of the iPad 2 is completely flat so, unlike the first iPad, when placed on a desk it won't rock about - this makes typing on the screen much easier. The rear holds another camera, this time with a 720p resolution.
Not visible, but perhaps the most important 'upgrade' to the iPad 2 is the loss of 80g of weight on the W-Fi model, and an even more noticeable 130g on the 3G model. It may not sound like much, but the weight saving of around 15 per cent really does make a difference in long-term use of the iPad 2. Even just moving it about or leaning it up against a leg when sitting down is easier, but it’s one-handed operation that really benefits - we found our wrists aching a lot less frequently with the iPad 2 than our first generation iPad. That said, it's still a rather large and heavy device that isn't exactly what we'd call comfortable to hold with one hand. What's more, compared to a laptop, where the screen is held at a comfortable angle 'hands-free', it can sometimes be a bit of a pain to use when you just want to sit back and watch a video or read an article.