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When it comes to iPad 2 reviews, there aren’t many surprises. It’s thinner, faster, and lighter, just like Apple claimed when it was unveiled last week.

Reviewers all agree that it’s still the best tablet on the market right now. After all, it’s Apple’s second stab at a tablet, while most competitors are still struggling to launch their first entries (Samsung is one of the rare exceptions with last year’s Galaxy Tab).

For new tablet buyers, the iPad 2 seems like an obvious purchase. But it’s not so clear if it’s a worthwhile upgrade for current iPad owners — unless, of course, you’re a rabid gadget fiend who demands the newest toys.

One of the biggest changes with the iPad 2 is the addition of front and rear cameras. But the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg took issue with Apple’s surprisingly low-quality camera components:

Its cameras take mediocre still photos and Apple won’t even reveal their megapixel ratings. The company says they were designed for video, not still photography. They did capture decent video in my tests, including high-definition video from the rear camera and video good enough from the front camera for satisfying video calling. But, for a company known for quality, which bundles a new still-photo app with the device, the cameras are disappointing.

Back in January, we reported on a rumor that claimed the iPad 2 would ship with the same camera components used in the latest iPod Touch, instead of the higher quality cameras on the iPhone 4. Given that the iPad 2 and iPod Touch now share the same camera specifications, it looks like that rumor was accurate. The iPhone 4 sports a 5-megapixel rear camera, while Apple refuses to put a megapixel rating on both the fourth generation iPod Touch and iPad 2’s cameras.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out how much faster the iPad 2 feels compared to its predecessor:

In practice, the iPad 2 feels like the fastest iOS device I’ve ever used — faster in every way than the iPhone 4… Doing various side-by-side comparisons with an iPad 1, I noticed all sorts of places where the iPad 1 lagged. Apps that were launched slowly. Buttons that were pressed that didn’t take effect immediately. Every little thing on the iPad 2 feels more responsive.

The iPad 2 runs Apple’s new dual-core A5 CPU running at 1 gigahertz. The company claims the A5 sports twice the computing horsepower, and nine times the graphics capabilities, of the original iPad’s A4 chip. In his review, Gruber ran a variety of benchmarks that confirmed Apple’s numbers.

Reviewers also liked Apple’s new Smart Covers (starting at $40 in polyurethane, $70 in leather), which magnetically attach to the iPad 2 and automatically put the device to sleep. The covers can be fashioned to prop up the iPad 2 for video chat calls, or for more comfortable typing.

The New York Time’s David Pogue wisely points out that the iPad 2’s appeal is primarily emotional. It may not be the best tool for certain tasks, but its new design will make it instantly desirable to consumers once they get their hands on it.

Overall, the consensus seems to be that the iPad 2 is an evolutionary update for Apple that will best appeal to new users. It further refines the original iPad’s design, and at $499, it’s still surprisingly the most affordable tablet on the market. But challengers will be popping up soon, so Apple will likely have to make its next iPad, which may land later this year according to some rumors, an even more significant update.

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