New iPad Is Faster And Sharper But Misses On The ‘Wow’ Factor

The Apple iPad 3rd Generation ships today and the early reviews are in. People like it. It is really nice. Apple made some great updates to the iPad 2. The screen is impressively sharper, and where there is Long-Term Evolution (LTE) access, it is really much faster.

Still, no one was super, Apple-style blown away. No major tingles up the spine. No “one last thing”. It is just a really nice update – which is the type of thing consumers have come to expect from Microsoft, or maybe Samsung, but not Apple.

Life after Steve

Is this the moment we begin really wondering about Apple without Steve Jobs?

Either way, there is no bad news here. The New York Times’ David Pogue and The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg, two of the most venerable reviewers in the industry, agree that Apple’s is still hands-down the best tablet money can buy.

The iPad’s greatest new feature is its Retina Display, which has two million pixels more than an HD television.

“High-definition videos look dazzling,” writes Pogue. “This is the world’s first tablet that can actually show you hi-def movies in full 1080p high definition.”

Mossberg called it “the most spectacular display I have ever seen in a mobile device”. Using it, he added, “is like getting a new eyeglasses prescription – you suddenly realise what you thought looked sharp before wasn’t nearly as sharp as it could be”.

But there is a downside to this. Two, really. Apps that have not been updated to high definition, like Netflix’s streaming movies, suddenly seem a bit disappointing. Like how painting one room in a house can suddenly make the others seem shabby.

Mossberg, holding the iPad 2 and the “don’t call it an iPad-3” side-by-side, which most people will not do, writes that “letters and words that had seemed sharp on the older model five minutes earlier suddenly looked fuzzier”.

The sharper display also eats into storage, in again more than one way. Pogue explains that Retina-ready apps use two to three times more of the iPad’s non-expandable storage than pre-Retina apps. To take advantage of the display, developers must rework the graphics at a higher resolution, which makes for much larger files.

Worse, continues Pogue, these apps actually also means less space on iPhones as well, as they sit alongside the old, moot apps, on the iPad as well as the iPhone, since many are written to run on both.

“In other words,” says Pogue, “iPhone owners, too, will wind up losing storage space because of this graphic-bloat ripple-down effect.”

But, more pros: The lame sub-1-megapixel camera on the back of the iPad 2 has been replaced with a five-megapixel version and a feature that helps work around users’ shaky hands.

There is a speedier processor and the added 4G LTE connectivity in the US on AT&T and Verizon Wireless networks are together said to make the iPad run “buttery smooth”, according to Mossberg. On the Verizon network, the iPad can also work as a tether, enabling users to connect other WiFi-enabled devices. AT&T, as it said for years about tethering on the iPhone, is working on it.

Apple also managed to add these battery-devouring features while keeping battery life consistent – though that too comes at a price. The tablet is a smidge thicker and heavier – eight percent heavier and seven percent thicker, by Mossberg’s calculation – than its predecessor.

Drivers for change

If you have the original iPad, or another tablet, or no tablet at all, the new iPad will surely seem light and lovely. But, what if you have an iPad 2?

“It’s a very slight difference,” says Pogue, “but fingers used to handling the old iPad will feel it, and that’s too bad.”

Also too bad, Apple added a button for voice dictation – users, particularly those less fond of typing on the on-screen keyboard, can dictate text messages or emails – instead of fully bringing Siri on board, as many expected. The transcription, performed by servers somewhere, is said to be good though not incredible; words like “baby” and “maybe” can be swapped.

In summary? Mossberg writes that since the 2010 launch of the iPad, Apple has offered the world’s best tablets. “It still holds that crown”.

Pogue pointed to some silver lining: Apple took its excellent tablet and made it “better looking, better integrated and more consistently designed than any of its rivals”. That means that if you have an iPad 2, instead of feeling bummed out about being so quickly left in the dust, “you don’t have to feel quite as obsolete as usual”.

To squeeze in a last-minute, third perspective, USA Today’s Edward Baig offered a different take.

“No extra storage or expansion options, no smaller-screen model to compete against the likes of Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Still no Adobe Flash, and no camera flash, either. Not even Siri … ” wrote Baig.

He went on, as though anyone were ever worried about Apple: “No big deal. Apple may have left a few things out. But Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates Apple will sell up to 60 million iPads this year.”

Michelle Maisto

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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