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An utter disappointment and abysmal failure” (Orange County Design Blog). “Consumers seem genuinely baffled by why they might need it” (Businessweek). “Nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks” (Bloomberg). “Insanely great it is not” (MarketWatch). “My god, am I underwhelmed” (Gizmodo).

Good heavens! What a critical drubbing! Whatever it is must be a real turkey. What could it be?

Only the fastest-selling gadget in the history of electronics: the Apple iPad.

All right, let’s not pile onto the tech critics. The thing is, they were right, at least from a rational standpoint. The iPad was superfluous. It filled no obvious need. If you already had a touch-screen phone and a laptop, why on earth would you need an iPad? It did seem like just a big iPod Touch.

But as it turns out, the iPad’s appeal is more emotional than rational. Once you get it in your hands, you get caught up in the fascination of manipulating on-screen objects by touching them. Apple sold 15 million iPads in nine months, created a mammoth new product category and started an industry of copycats. Apparently, it doesn’t pay to bet against Steve Jobs’s gut instinct.

On Friday the iPad 2 goes on sale, for the same price as the old one (from $500 for the Wi-Fi-only model with 16 gigabytes of storage, to $830 with 64 gigabytes and both Wi-Fi and cellular Internet connections). And if you thought there was an intellectual/emotional disconnect before, wait till you see this thing.

On paper, Apple didn’t do much. It just made the iPad one-third thinner, 15 percent lighter and twice as fast. There are no new features except two cameras and a gyroscope. I mean, yawn, right?

And then you start playing with it.

My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight. So are rounded edges, which the first iPad didn’t have.

The iPad 2 is now 0.34 inches thick. Next to it, the brand-new Motorola Xoom — the best Android competitor so far — looks obese. Yet somehow, the new iPad still gets 10 hours of battery life on a charge.

Some of the iPad’s new features play industry catch-up. A 5-megapixel camera on the back (no flash) can also record high-definition video. If you’ve never used a tablet as a camera, you’re in for a treat; the entire screen is your viewfinder. It’s like using an 8-by-10 enlargement to compose the scene.

There’s also a low-resolution front camera that’s useful for video calls, like clear, sharp Wi-Fi calls to iPhone 4, Touch, iPad 2 and Mac owners using Apple’s FaceTime software.

You can now connect the iPad to a hi-def TV, thanks to a single H.D.M.I. adapter ($40) that carries both audio and hi-def video. What you see on the TV mirrors whatever is on the iPad, which makes it a great setup for teaching, slide shows, presentations, YouTube and movies. It works automatically and effortlessly.

The more expensive iPad 2 models can also go online using either AT&T’s or Verizon’s cellular networks, but figuring out the right pricing plan requires a graduate degree in forensic accounting. With AT&T, for example, you can pay $15 a month for 250 megabytes of data, or $25 for two gigabytes. Verizon’s plans are 1 gigabyte for $20, 3 for $35, 5 for $50 or 10 for $80. O.K., but how are you supposed to know how many megabytes a bunch of Web pages and YouTube videos are going to consume?