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Summary:

Like a few million others, I took delivery of a new iPad from Apple last weekend. Mine arrived late on Friday afternoon, and after a week of use, I’m turning more to the new iPad over other tablets. Here’s why and some minor wishes or gripes.

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Like a few million others, I took delivery of a new iPad from Apple over the weekend. Mine arrived late on Friday afternoon and there were already enough “first look” videos and quickie reviews, so I chose to forego those activities and simply live with my iPad for a week. And although I also have several Android tablets in hand, it has been an enjoyable seven days without them.

Before sharing my impressions, let me emphasize that they are just that: my impressions. We all work differently, have varying expectations from our very personal mobile devices, and have unique needs. So although I am mentioning Android tablets, my intent isn’t to start another futile “iPad vs. the others” war. I’m lucky in that I can offer perspective by using an iPad and the others, so take from this what you will and buy what works best for you.

It’s like the old iPad, only better

There is little external difference between the new iPad and prior models; most people would be hard pressed to pick them apart in a lineup. Sure, the most recent iPad is slightly thicker and heavier, but neither is a detriment to the overall experience. You can still tote the iPad and carry much less weight around when compared to a laptop, for example. I still believe that for me, a larger tablet is less portable than a 7-inch slate. I generally take my Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet everywhere, while the iPad is mainly used at home.

As an HDTV owner since 2001, I am all about high-resolution displays, and the new 2048 x 1536 screen on the new iPad doesn’t disappoint. If I had to pick, I would say it’s the device’s best hardware feature by far. I may place a higher emphasis on displays than most, but my thought is: This is what you look at for every iPad activity, and it’s also your entire interface for interaction with the device.

The screen is awesome, but the Web isn’t ready for it

Text is supremely clear, making Web pages really pop; the browser is fast to render and navigate. I’m also loving the screen for my Kindle books. Low-resolution images on the Web look terrible, however, and this affects some apps too. I was browsing homes on Zillow last night and all the pictures of properties looked like a pixellated CompuServe page from the early 1990s. (That means poor if you are too young to know what our old dial-up Web was like!)

That will change over time, but for now, the new Retina display shines a spotlight on these low-quality images. I am also not thrilled by 1080p videos; sure, they look great, but they have black bands above and below the picture. I actually get nearly the same size and perceived quality with a 720p movie on my 7.7-inch tablet and its 1280 x 720 resolution.

Apps that can take advantage of the new iPad are excellent

I have a mix of apps on the iPad, some that are optimized for the Retina display and many that aren’t. The former are fantastic, and the latter aren’t a problem. Real Racing 2, for example, was quickly optimized and you can immediately see the extra detail in the vehicles: improved reflections and shadowing, which make the game more realistic. And the new quad-core GPU in Apple’s A5X chip powers the graphics handily.

Older apps benefit from the chip too and are pixel-doubled to fit the full iPad display. They are not as clear as software built specifically for the Retina display, but they appear at least as good, if not a little better than on older iPads. That’s important, because there are relatively few apps specifically made for the new iPad’s display. Instead of scaling up low-resolution phone apps, which is what Android tablets initially did, Apple is scaling up tablet apps. That means all the controls, text, images and such fit the screen and are rendered in the proper size. The same apps work across all iPad models as a result.

Finally: a usable camera in a tablet

Most people suggest that using a tablet to take pictures simply isn’t done because it looks silly to hold up a giant viewfinder. There’s merit to the argument, but I would suggest an additional reason: No tablet camera has been good enough to bother using over a smartphone camera. Unless you have an iPhone 4S, the new iPad’s camera is good enough. Why? It’s the same hardware found in the iPhone 4, which is the most used camera on photo-sharing site Flickr. I haven’t taken a bad shot yet with the iPad. Here’s a recent example:

I will take things a step further: By pairing this camera with a super high-resolution display and improved — or in the case of iPhoto, new — imaging software, I think more people will turn to their iPad for stills and 1080p video. Add in the connectivity of Wi-Fi or LTE and the new iPad truly is a portable video studio. Will folks with a DSLR or professional photographers dump their cameras for iPads? Nope, but most people buying an iPad will be more than happy with the camera’s capabilities.

Minor gripes and overblown issues

Since this meme has been hitting the rounds of late, let me assure you: Yes, the iPad can run warm. That’s not surprising, considering it has the Retina display and essentially the same computer chip as last year with added quad-core graphics. Apple didn’t do a major chip redesign on next-generation ARM architecture, so it shouldn’t surprise that the chip can run hotter, especially when gaming in high-def or better. And the new display requires far more power to backlight: 7 watts at full brightness vs. 2.7 watts on the older iPad. More power usage generally means a warmer environment. But while the heat difference is noticeable, I haven’t found it to be an issue.

I would have liked to have seen a higher-resolution front-facing camera in the new iPad, but hey, Apple has to leave something to improve for next time, right? The FaceTime experience is generally no different as a result. Also slightly disappointing to me — although iPad LTE owners are surely happy — is that there is no battery-life improvement on the Wi-Fi model, even though the battery capacity of Apple’s tablet is 70 percent greater. Again, it comes down to the display, which uses up the juice. Still, I can use the iPad all day as a primary device and easily make it through the day on a single charge, so battery life isn’t an issue.

The real difference between the iPad and “the others”

Again, I’m not trying to start a platform fight here, but it’s worth mentioning that you give something up when deciding between buying an iPad or an Android tablet — or a Kindle Fire, for that matter. But you gain something at the same time, and perhaps this will help people decide which tablet is best for them. I am intentionally omitting any jailbreak, rooting or custom ROM arguments, because if you know about them, you already know which tablet platform is best for you.

With iOS, you give up the ability to have total control over your device. Apple’s iOS software sets the limits of what you can and can’t do. The iTunes App Store is the app gatekeeper: If an app you want isn’t there, you can’t get it. And if you want the ability to use a storage card, you have to buy Apple’s camera kit accessory. In return, you get synergy: well-designed hardware that works extremely well with its specific software and a wide media ecosystem to boot.

On the Android side, you generally have total control to make your device look the way you want and run the apps you want. You can even have intelligent apps control your hardware so that when you leave your home, the Wi-Fi radio is disabled to save juice, for example. Apps come from Google’s store, but a developer could also post their software installation on the Web and you can use it. You also have a vast range of hardware to choose from. The downside is that all of this freedom and choice can be maddening for software developers and for carriers to keep the devices up to date. And you’re also giving up personal information with integrated Google services for its ad business.

Amazon’s Kindle is more like the Apple approach but built on Google’s software. There is a clean, simple interface that focuses on the primary activities Amazon can offer: Web browsing, e-books, music, videos, curated software and Amazon’s own storefront. You have less control, but for a low starting price, you are giving some of that up for an integrated experience. If you use Amazon’s Silk browser, you’re turning over your surfing habits to Amazon instead of Google.

Is the new iPad “the best” tablet?

Which is best? That’s a personal decision. I have used devices across all platforms, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For most, however, the iPad is the closest to that, given its leading sales figures. And ultimately, you have to make a decision on which platform you want to use first. Interestingly, I have been running the developer preview of Mac OS X 10.8 for the past two months on my MacBook Air, and because of that, I’m turning more and more toward the iPhone and new iPad.

Integration of notes, reminders and notifications — all features that started on iOS — are now part of the desktop experience. I’m finding that to be a huge benefit as the iOS/OS X environments keep these data points in sync for me, and I think others will feel the same way after Apple releases OS X Mountain Lion this summer. Between that and the impressive new hardware, the company is sure to generate even more record sales for its new iPad, which offers a great tablet experience for the broadest range of activities in exchange for Apple’s constraints.

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  1. iPad3 pushing out the SGT7.7?

    1. I’m so torn on that because I still enjoy the size of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 (along with the awesome display, of course). So it all depends on where I plan to use a tablet. Out of the house, I lean on the Tab, although I have taken the iPad with me when going out for lunch. At home, the size and portability matters less. It’s all about trade-offs! ;)

  2. Travis Henning Friday, March 23, 2012

    Its a bit sad that you must preface your tablet articles with the “use what fits you best” disclaimer. Unfortunately with the proclivity of many commenters to generate conflict where none really exists, I understand the need.

  3. “And you’re also giving up personal information with integrated Google services for their ad business.”

    Let’s stop with this k? Apple does the same thing and every single other tech company today. It’s just the nature of the beast so let’s keep these arguments out as if Apple or others are any different. You use a device or cloud service, you are giving away information about yourself. Simple as that.

    Also, Amazon Kindle Fire is a perfect example why Android as a platform is far superior to Apple’s iOS. It encourages competition, innovation and while Amazon has their media eco-system locked in, you can still use your Amazon Kindle Fire just like any other Android tablet and download apps from other sources (which is a pretty big difference compared to Apple’s model). This way, Amazon keeps the tight eco-system at hand and gives amazing experience to consumers but also allows consumers choice to use something beyond what Amazon offers which is how it should be.

    Another thing, which you briefly mentioned is how big of a difference is between new IPad’s hi-res screen and sacrifices Apple made compared to your Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 which has an HD screen but on a smaller screen.

    Raving about iPad’s insane resolution is just a tad ridiculous because in reality, after the initial fad runs out it doesn’t make an experience THAT much more enjoyable. There is very little benefit to upgrading to iPad 3 just for to see sharper icons and controls. Especially when you compare it to the HD screens on 7″ tablets on Android and upcoming 1920×1080 screens on Android tablets. There is only so much benefit in higher resolution on a small screen like 7-10″.

    iPad is a great tablet, but I’m getting tired of media and blogs helping Apple sell their hardware based on hype while they don’t do the same when amazing Android tablets come out. We’ve had HD screens on Android tablets for a year that were far superior to iPad and nobody wrote thousand articles about it.

    1. Good comments, Boz. You’re right in that many tech companies use personal data. No argument there. But there’s a key difference: Google’s main revenue stream is based on that information. Apple’s isn’t.

      I think I fairly pointed out that the iPad’s new screen has some cons and little benefit for movies as compared to my Galaxy Tab 7.7. I’ve also written a number of articles and even shown videos of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 display as well as the 1280 x 720 display on my Galaxy Nexus phone. I cover all platforms and I write FAR more articles on Android than on iOS. Perhaps you missed them, which is why you’re implying that I’m writing yet another article praising Apple’s hardware and ignoring Android tablets. Check here every Saturday for my Android column, which I’ve been writing for nearly 2 years. Thx!

    2. Yours must be quite a checklist for desired features in tablets:
      1. Must encourage competitors
      2. Must not emphasize “latest’n’greatest” features like great “faddish” great screen quality that users like.
      3. Must only store data off-device if it helps Google make more money off me.
      4. Must not be the clear market leader despite many other tablets having some better (or at least unique) features.
      5. Must not make me feel bad about not getting respect for the HD screen I bought last year being surpassed.

      Maybe there are other features that some people look for in tablets. Somehow, I don’t think that an article based on the stuff you cite would enthuse many people to buy whatever you’d recommend.

    3. Q: “And you’re also giving up personal information with integrated Google services for their ad business.”

      Let’s stop with this k? Apple does the same thing and every single other tech company today. It’s just the nature of the beast so let’s keep these arguments out as if Apple or others are any different. You use a device or cloud service, you are giving away information about yourself. Simple as that.

      The difference is that Apple does not sell your information to ad companies or anyone for that matter. They sell hardware with highly integrated software, Google sells ads.
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  4. What do you do on the iPad that you can’t put it down as opposed to doing on your laptop? I’ve found my iPad to be a luxury, but not something I want to have to do much typing on as the keyboard is awkward.

    1. Kevin C. Tofel John Friday, March 23, 2012

      John, I’m not comparing the iPad to laptops in this piece; I’m comparing it to other tablets. I’m not yet at the point where I’ve replaced the laptop with an iPad (although I know some who have). Just like for you, it’s generally a complementary device even though I can do nearly all the same activities with it.

    2. There are cases you can buy that have a built-in keyboard. I believe for most people, it is casual use laptop replacement that can be used for certain types of jobs, it can replace a desktop for use as a retail store cash register, it can replace the existing taxi cab meter/gps systems, etc. It is also a replacement for a Gameboy. It is a useful device and I wouldn’t touch another brand for several reasons. Apple has far more apps than the other platforms. Apple has better customer service. Apple is lighter weight and thinner. Apple is easier to use. Apple has a much better computer/smartphone/tablet ecosystem.

    3. A week ago I would have agreed 100%. For most tasks, the awkwardness of the onscreen keyboard has been resolved by an outstanding integrated dictation capability. It takes a little getting used to, but I’m now finding it a chore to go back to the keyboard on my Mac. It does make a small number of mistakes that need to be corrected, but so do I with my fingers when I’m typing on a physical keyboard.

    4. The whole idea about new form factors is NOT that they do the old jobs better, but that they enable NEW usages. My wife’s iPad2 has meant we now Skype our daughter conveniently (and often) from the kitchen table, where it easily fits. It has meant she can practice her Chinese writing in a wonderful dictionary/study app. It means she has all her board materials for the non-profit she serves, and can read an ordinary 8½×11 PDF easily. It means she easily reads the NYT in the morning before she gets going, and the New Yorker at night as she’s settling in. It’s not too shabby for movies at night and a GREAT Kindle device in her purse when she’s taking a break.

      That’s just her. She still uses her desktop for most of her email and other stuff, but of what I listed that she does on the iPad, there’s not a single one that’s better on a desktop or laptop. Some aren’t even possible.

      Now the iPad3 opens it up even more for musicians, medicos, people who read a lot. (PCs are horrible for fast reading; Kindles and iPads not as good as paper; iPad3 is probably much better for faster comprehension, less eyestrain.) Many, many people can benefit from a high-quality display, even if they don’t realize it.

      Welcome to the wonderful world of 2012 technology! It’s pretty certain that many Microsoft tablets will ALSO feature high-resolution, and the rumor mills are all fired up about laptops and desktops upping their games, too. Not too many months before Android tablets join the party. Get the popcorn!

      1. Your family sounds like insufferable yuppies.

      2. There is no replay link to Andrea’s comment below, so I will reply here. I don’t see how communicating with your daughter remotely, studying a language, volunteering with a non profit or reading a newspaper makes you young, or insufferable. I do agree that it might imply that you are an urban professional. Perhaps you are actually jealous?

      3. Fully true These suckers Dont think because is strage pull your iPad keyboard out the only portable device I can go anyware do what I want in 3 g now 4 g fuck these laptop let me now when the 3 g lap top is out like the iPad do now with better hd quality ( not a replacement ) tech company shit …..apple is more than that respect to Steve jobs vision where so far it’s business they make billions you biching about apple iPad is this that choises android. Samsung everyone have they own flavor ther is no business like show business the $ make go round. Respect to a visionary Steve jobs brilliant idea the begin of the circus. Beat that android

  5. I don’t think the heat is generated from the display because that would indicate that the actual screen temperature was also increasing the thermal temperature, but it isn’t. It is the processor because it is utilizing 4 core GPU, which is where i feel the heat being generated from, but the back of the case acts like a big heat sink and the heat gets disseminated throughout.

    1. There’s been several articles written by display experts outlining why it’s the display that’s generating the extra heat. Sorry, no links but I’m sure you can google it.

  6. I don’t think it is the display because that would suggest that the screen is also generating higher temperatures. I think it is the 4 core GPU that is generating the heat and it is being disseminated throughout the back of the case since the aluminum case is acting like a big heat sink. I don’t think there is cause for alarm based on the evidence so far. I think Apple just needs to pay attention on future models in regards to future processors and case design, which I am 100% confident that Jon Ive and his group will come up with something to improve in this product like they always do.

    1. Richard, you could well be right. My point about the screen though is this: It takes more power to backlight it. As a result, the battery is running hotter, not the display itself. That’s just an educated guess at this point because I’m not going to tear apart my iPad to figure it out! :)

      1. Looking at the iFixIt teardown, the processor (and pretty much all the silicon) is along one edge. If the back feels uniformly warm (there is no heat spreader shown in the tear downs) then I would agree that it’s a combination of the display and the battery that people are feeling.

      2. I think that’s the case too. There are way more LED backlights in the new iPad, which consume the power in no small amount.
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  7. Brenda Spoonemore Friday, March 23, 2012

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece. We’ve been working and living with both new and older iPads in our office and have found that once you’ve been using the new high res screen, it’s hard to go back. Also, your Zillow example hit close to home for us–Dwellable launched our iPad app the day before the new iPad came out, and optimized our app (vacation rental search) for the new display. We weighted areas so the best photos come up first–it’s going to take a while to convince all the property managers that they MUST have high res photos, but check out the Oahu section on Dwellable’s app if you want to see how much of a difference this screen and awesome photos can make for a consumer product. There will be no going back!

  8. Well said, Kevin. I have a lot of the same hardware as you, and generally feel the same way, except for my favorite phone. While I prefer the new ipad over my android tablet, I like the Galaxy Nexus better than the 4S. I think the 4S is a work of art, but I end up using the GN a lot more.

    But it’s all good. I just wish I had these gadgets when I was a kid.

  9. I don’t understand how a screen with the same dimensions but higher DPI would make images look any more pixelated than these same images look on the previous iPads which have lower DPI screens.

    If you have a 162 DPI image and print it on a 300 DPI and a 1200 DPI printer, the image will look the same. It’s not going to look worse on the device with a higher DPI output.

  10. I hadn’t planned on pre-ordering but something compelled me to do so a couple of days after the announcement. I managed to get in on the 3/16 date too which helped. After a week of use, I’ve decided to return it to Apple.

    First, I have to agree that “heatgate” is way overblown. Maybe I just didn’t push it enough, but at no point did I feel the iPad get hot enough to become uncomfortable. There seems to be a new trend with Apple products to find that one thing that keeps it from being a “perfect” device.

    While I agree that the screen is nice, I’m content with my 1st gen iPad. I was expecting the new iPad to blow the original out of the water when it came to the speed of launching apps and responsiveness and while it is better, the difference in performance aren’t significant enough for me to justify the upgrade at this time.

    Like you said though, everyone’s use case is different. In my case, I use the iPad to check e-mail and Twitter, light web browsing, shopping on Amazon and eBay, and Words with Friends. None of these uses require, nor take advantage, of any of the new hardware the way that others might. On top of that, the iPad never leaves my bedroom since I just use my GNexus when I’m out and about or my laptop when I’m in my office (which is most of the day). So for now, I’m sticking with my original iPad and putting that $600 towards something else.

    1. Nothing wrong with that.

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