The Apple iPad 2: Thinner, Faster, Two Cameras, Two Colors

Apple has announced the second-generation of its best-selling tablet.  Simply called the iPad 2, the slate gets some serious hardware upgrades while managing to keep prices within the range of its predecessor.

Physically, it wears the same general aesthetic as the first iPad.  What's impressive, though, is the slate's newfound physique -- 33% thinner than the original at only 8.8mm and slightly lighter at just 600 grams.

Despite the smaller dimensions, the Apple iPad 2 maintains the  same stunning 9.7-inch LED-backlit LCD touchscreen (1024 x 768 resolution) and even beefs it up in a number of areas.  New details include a 1GHz dual-core A5 processor, a camera module in the rear with unspecified optics (with 720p video shooting), a front-facing VGA webcam, a bigger speaker grille and an HDMI out.  The previous connectivity package stays intact  for both the WiFi and 3G models.  Here's a neat surprise: battery life supposedly stays at the same 10 hours, even with the more powerful hardware.

Apple also introduced a new cover, called Smart Covers, that users can buy separately.  A foldable flap that attaches to the tablet via magnets,  it can be used as a protective cover for the display and front bezel, as well as a stand (when folded).  Designed right alongside the iPad, the tablet will automatically go to sleep when the smart cover is closed and wake up when it's opened.

Slated to start shipping this March 11 in both black and white colors, the iPad 2 will come with iOS 4.3, the latest incarnation of Apple's mobile platform.  As with last year's iPad, pricing starts at an  attractive $499 (16GB WiFi version).