Apple's latest iPad is a largely evolutionary device with an amazing, revolutionary new screen that puts it leagues above the competition. Already the best of the tablets, the new iPad extends Apple's lead and puts Android and Windows 8 on notice: The bar has been raised yet again.
In its marketing for the new iPad, which dispenses with the numbering scheme and could be thought of as an iPad 3 or iPad 2S, depending on your perspective, Apple calls the device "resolutionary," a wonderful description that very neatly highlights the device's strongest feature. I wrote about this display at length in my Compete Report: Apple IPad (2012), but the basics go like this: You will notice a subtle crispness in the iPad's home screen, the onscreen keyboard, and in other places. But any app that displays text (and has been updated for the retina display), like Amazon Kindle, will reveal a startling clarity. Those with poor vision, like myself, will equate it to the experience of getting new glasses or contact lenses. It's amazing.
It's also hard to explain, even visually. So please accept this Apple demo shot as an example, at least, of the relative difference between the iPad 2 display (1024 x 768) and that of the new iPad (an astonishing 2048 x 1536).
An inadequate way of demonstrating how much better the new iPad display really is.
You can also see the differences in HD movies and TV shows, too, though such videos weigh in at a hefty ~2 GB for each 60 minutes of content, so they will quickly eat up the device's relatively paltry storage allotments, which remain unchanged from the iPad 2. But SD video looks as good as it always has. Apple just does an amazing job with this kind of thing.
I suspect that many new apps will take advantage of this new pixel density, though I don't personally spend a lot of time in graphically rich apps, or apps in general. No matter.
Like previous iPads, the new iPad is sold in both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/cellular configurations, with the latter costing dramatically more. (Adding cellular capabilities costs $130 more per device.) Assuming you can shoulder the cost--a big if, I know--I do feel that getting a cellular-equipped new iPad is worth it, even more so now than in the past.
First, these new iPads have true 4G capabilities. So, yes, it supports 3G of course, and pseduo-4G networks like HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA. But it also supports LTE here in the US and in Canada, which offers blazing speeds assuming you're in one of the few but growing areas that provide that. The cost is no different, either. So whichever network type you're hitting, it will work.
The cellular-equipped iPads also work worldwide, so you can travel internationally and still get online (albeit with more costly international data plans). This is a big deal for me, given my travel.
These iPads also provide hotspot capabilities, so you can connect to a cellular connection and then share it with up to 5 other devices over Wi-Fi. This feature is carrier dependent, and in the US it's offered now on Verizon and soon will be on AT&T, which I prefer. But it works internationally (again, at extra cost) and works across all the cellular network types, including LTE.
Finally, as with previous iPads, the cellular data plans are pay as you go. So you could get an iPad instead of a Mi-Fi type device and only pay when you use it, not pay every single month for two years whether you use it or not. And you can keep adding data to the iPad, which is wonderful.
Yes, the iPad is already expensive. And yes, the cellular-capable iPads are even more expensive. But they offer the best cellular and cellular sharing capabilities I've ever seen. If you need this functionality--and some of us really do--this is a big deal.
While much has been made of the A5X processor that power the new iPad--dual core processing with quad-core graphics processing--the truth is, this device performs no more or less well than its predecessor. My guess is that Apple simply bolstered the old A5 as much as needed to ensure that the new device could drive all those pixels and yet deliver the same performance as its predecessor.
That is not a complaint. In fact, this was clearly the right thing to do, both for customers and for developers. And there isn't a single person on earth who could ever claim that the iPad 2 was slow. In fact, the performance of that device--and of the new iPad--is exemplary. (The original iPad is another story.)
I've seen a few people out in the world taking pictures with their iPad 2s, a scene I've witnessed with a mixture of sadness and amazement, similar to watching a car crash or its aftermath. Put simply, I don't get it. But with the new iPad, Apple has bolstered the device's camera so that it is somewhat similar in functionality to that in the iPhone 4S, albeit without a flash and with a far lower resolution of just 5 megapixels. I've peeked at few photos and the truth is, they're pretty good. But chances are you have a phone with a decent or better camera. I recommend using that instead.
iPad 2 perks that carry over
Most of what makes the iPad 2 special is still true with the new iPad, which is visually identical to its predecessor and just a hair thicker and heavier. You don't notice the size or weight differences too much, unless of course you're holding both and trying to discern those differences. And after a few days of use, I've already moved on. I don't see this as an issue in any way.
The new iPad is compatible with the nice looking but functionally retarded Smart Covers (hint: Get an Incipio Smart Feather back shell to both protect the device's back and to keep the Smart Cover from coming off incessantly, as it does otherwise). It uses the same, familiar iOS software (still missing many key iPhone apps for some reason) and the same apps, many of which are rapidly being updated for the new display. It sports the cool Air Play feature, which I just used last night to project an iPad-rented movie to my HDTV via an Apple TV. All that stuff that makes an iPad an iPad is present in this new device.
Apple didn't lower the price of the new iPad as I had hoped, meaning that this device is still far too expensive for most people. (The company did keep a single 16 GB iPad 2 version available for $399, however, and this remains a decent entry-level iPad.) The iPad pricing structure is still as complex as ever, since there are both white and black versions of each of the following, and versions of each of the cellular models that run on AT&T or Verizon in the US:
16 GB, Wi-Fi, $500
16 GB, Wi-Fi and cellular, $630
32 GB, Wi-Fi, $600
32 GB, Wi-Fi and cellular, $730
64 GB, Wi-Fi, $700
64 GB, Wi-Fi and cellular, $830
With the average selling price of a PC laptop just north of $400, even the cheapest new iPad is over $50 more expensive, and it lacks many PC features that will bedevil some, including support for hard drive/SSD upgrades, external storage, USB peripheral support, and so on. But again, what you're buying into with the iPad is simplicity. And one might make the argument that getting a truly simple device is worth more money. Fair enough.
Still, I wish these prices were exactly $100 less. Maybe next year, maybe not. Apple will still sell many millions of them regardless.
Should you upgrade?
If you're looking for a reason to upgrade, this display is it. And that upgrade is thus a no-brainer for owners of the first iPad, which is also much slower and lacks other iPad 2/new iPad features to boot. If you have an original iPad and love it, you'll want the new iPad.
If you do own an iPad 2, the upgrade is much less obvious. My recommendation is to skip it unless reading is your number one activity, given the cost of the new iPad, which too is unchanged from that of the iPad 2. It's just not worth another $500 to $830 one year or less after your iPad 2 purchase. Few are that rich.
Should you buy one?
If you have thus far sat out the tablet wars and are wondering which platform to bet on, wait no longer. Aside from an admittedly large market of people who will need Windows applications, and aside from the cost, which remains stellar, the new iPad is as close to no brainer status as such products come. It is beautiful to look at, a joy to use, blessed with the best screen on any mobile (or desktop) device, and backed by the strongest ecosystem of software and content on earth. The iPad line has risen from its paltry beginnings as a giant iPod touch to become the backbone of a new computing revolution. For many people, this is all the computing power and capability that will ever be needed. The iPad isn't less expensive than a PC or Mac. But it's a heck of a lot simpler.
So should you buy one? Hell, yes, you should buy one. Assuming of course you can afford it--a factor far too many silently ignore--and it meets your computing needs.
The new iPad raises the bar yet again, extending Apple's lead in this important new market that promises to redefine how we think of "personal computers." I think it's time for some name changes, frankly. The iPad, today, is the only truly personal "personal computer", if you will. And it’s the PCs and Macs most of us still use to get work done that should change names, perhaps to "impersonal computers." There's nothing personal about a PC, folks. But there's plenty to love about the new iPad.
Yes, I wish it was cheaper, and I won't stop beating that drum, sorry. And yes, I wish Apple would unshackle some of the closed box features that make this device less accessible and extensible. But the company is going to sell these things by the truckload. And they deserve it. The new iPad is just new enough, and just revolutionary enough, to keep the party rolling. This is the best tablet on the market by far. Heck, it's the only tablet currently worth considering.