Odds are, if you ask anyone waiting in line for an iPad 2, they'll list plenty of reasons why they're lusting after Apple's latest camera-equipped tablet.
According to our lab tests, image quality isn't going to be one of them. In this case, megapixels did matter, and the iPad 2's 0.69-megapixel sensor turned out iPod Touch-esque results. On a bright note, the new iPad does shoot decent video, and it even outscored a dedicated video-capture device in that realm. Not too shabby.
We put the first generation of camera-equipped tablets through PCWorld Labs' subjective testing for image and video quality, and although some tablets fared much better than others in terms of photo quality and footage, they were all outscored by the output of the iPhone 4.
Of course, that's not a dealbreaker for prospective tablet buyers. While cameras are useful things to have on a tablet, they're mainly in the mix for a few reasons, and none of them overlap entirely with the contents of your camera bag: videochats, augmented-reality apps, and immediately shareable pics and video while you're out and about.
The cameras in these first- and second-generation tablets are serviceable for any of those tasks, and for anyone who routinely overlays effects and filters on their on-the-go photos (via Instagram, Camera Bag, or Hipstamatic, for example), the lacking source-image quality may not make much of a difference.
In any event, here's a look at how the iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and Samsung Galaxy Tab handle their business in the realm of capturing photos and video. We test each camera that comes through our doors in a consistent way: we print unmarked 8-by-10 sample images, put them in front of a panel of judges, and rate each sample image for exposure quality, color accuracy, sharpness, and distortion. The panel of judges also watches sample video clips shot with each device in bright indoor lighting and low-light conditions; those clips are also rated for overall video quality and audio quality.
You can get a detailed explanation of our subjective tests here, in the "How We Tested" section.
For these tablet image- and video-quality tests, we used a test pool of the Apple iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and Samsung Galaxy Tab. We also included sample images from three other devices in our evaluations as a basis of comparison: the Apple iPhone 4, the Apple iPod Touch, and the Canon PowerShot S95 point-and-shoot camera. For our video tests, we also included test footage from the Cisco Flip Video UltraHD in our comparative evaluations.
Here's how the tablets fared against one another--and the non-tablet competitors--in each round of our tests.