Quick Hands-On with the New iPad

image © Apple, Inc.

I was able to spend some quality time with the new iPad (a.k.a “iPad 3,” a.k.a “iPad HD,” a.k.a “The One Pad to Rule Them All,”). I ran it through a few games and apps and spent some time looking at books and magazines. I have to say it is a noticeable step up from the iPad 2, and the display leaves every other tablet looking outdated by comparison – even its own direct predecessor. This update is all bout pixels, and everything else takes a back seat to a display that you have to see to truly appreciate. This is not a revolutionary new take on the tablet computer, but it is enough of an evolutionary step that even some iPad 2 owners might stop to take a look.

The Display

The real story here is the new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 display. At twice the resolution of the previous iPads, this display sports four times the pixels of its predecessors. The original iPad and the iPad 2 featured 132 pixels per inch, and the new display has 264. Despite the Retina Display marketing, the iPad’s display falls short of the magical 300 ppi where most people can no longer perceive pixels, but it’s very close. It’s so close, in fact, that I had to look pretty ridiculous in our local Best Buy trying to pick out individual pixels on the display. For all intents and purposes, they are indiscernible.

Of course, this means that high resolution photos look fantastic while low resolution images on the web look pretty heinous. Apps that have been updated to take advantage of the display are incredibly crisp, but apps running at the lower resolution look a bit fuzzy in places. I imagine there will be a quick scramble among iPad developers to quickly double the resolution of their apps (if they had not already started based on rumors). This brings a frustrating dilemma to universal app developers, though, for they will now have four screen resolutions to support – the original iPhone’s 320 x 480 and its newer 640 x 960, the original iPad’s 768 x 1024 resolution and now the new 2048 x 1536 display. It makes one pine for the old discussions of resolution independence.

image © Apple, Inc.

With the new display, this is the first time I can, without reservation, recommend the iPad as a reading device. Text is incredibly crisp, both in ebooks and on webpages. Again, any screenshots are incapable of doing justice to this feature, for your own computer’s screen is probably running at a lower resolution, thereby removing definition from the images. Nothing on the market with an LCD this size or larger renders text a crisply and clearly as the new iPad.

The only problem I ran into is that the model I was testing out had a noticeably warm tint. I found this distracting, especially since I usually calibrate my own displays to the cool side of the spectrum. Based off Twitter, I’m not the only one to notice this, but results have been inconsistent. Since there’s no user-accessible way to change the temperature of the iPad’s display, I hope Apple will release a fix for this in the near future.

The Rest of the Hardware

There’s not much to say about the rest of the device. Physically, it’s basically identical to the previous two models – a little thinner than the first, a little thicker than the second. The internals are faster, and it shows. Games and apps launched quickly; pages in iBooks turned smoothly, and the library loaded instantaneously; frame rates were good in intensive games; photos and other images scaled smoothly; Keynote and GarageBand ran without a hitch. If you own either previous iPad, you’ll notice the better performance of the newest model.

The camera is much better than before. The iPad 2’s camera felt like a serious afterthought, taking video at a respectable 720p but capturing still images at an embarrassing 0.7 megapixels. The new camera captures 1080p video and 5 megapixel images. It moves from being terrible to being okay. In truth, since it impossible to take a picture with a tablet without looking ridiculous, you should only use this camera in the most dire of circumstances. It’s nice to know it’s now a serviceable camera if you absolutely must use it, but you really shouldn’t.

Storage is identical. It should have increased, and let me tell you why.

Picking Nits

The new iPad is beginning to show the chinks in iOS’s armor. The reliance on bitmaps for everything means developers have to plan out and use different resolutions interface elements for different screen sizes. This means an app designed to run on an iPhone 3G, and iPhone 4S, and an iPad 2 will be much larger than an app designed only for iPad 2. Now, apps and magazines designed to run across all iOS devices, including the new iPad’s higher resolution screen, could balloon in size. This brings us back to the discussion of resolution independence. By vectorizing interface elements, apps could scale up or down to various resolutions while rendering consistently across those different screens.

Now we come to storage. Apps are going to take up more storage now. 1080p iMovie projects will consume a great deal of space. Higher resolution images in magazines and photo libraries will take up more space, but the storage is the same. Chances are, with the investment that obviously went into the screen, increasing storage while keeping the same price point would have improbable. Still, it would have been nice for Apple to have offered the option to have a high-end model with 128 GB or more of storage.

Wrapping Up

image © Apple, Inc.

Besides a couple of small issues in display temperature, potential storage constraints, and my continual wish for a resolution independent mobile operating system, the new iPad is a wonderful device. It responds to touch commands better than any other tablet I’ve used. It renders text better than any other tablet out there (excluding e-ink displays, sorry). The screen is almost unbelievable. It’s almost like the sensation you get when watching a DVD and then seeing the same film in 1080p HD – except this screen has a million more pixels on it than an HDTV. The new iPad not only defines its product classification, it now clearly outshines everything else in the category.


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