Once again we lined up on release day to check it out for ourselves.
As expected, the screen on Apple’s third-generation tablet computer is superb quality.
Don’t expect to tell the difference just by looking at pictures or video of the iPad, they won’t do it justice. The iPad packs 2048 x 1536 pixels into its 9.7inch screen, giving it 3.1 million pixels, or over a million more pixels than a 1080p HD TV screen.
And, Apple says, it has 44% greater colour saturation for more vivid images.
Apple calls this technology "Retina display", as the dots are too small for the human eye to perceive at normal viewing distance (see picture below).
Apple Retina display technology is used on its iPhone 4 and 4S models, with very noticeable improvement over the screen of the earlier iPhone 3GS. The visual enhancement is even more apparent on the iPad though, due to its much larger size.
But that’s not the only claim to fame of the new iPad, it also has a faster processor, called the A5X, with quad-core graphics—which it needs to drive all those extra pixels without the whole unit slowing down.
The extra power demands of all this meant Apple had to increase the battery to almost double capacity (42.5 Watt-hours Vs 25Watt-hours on the iPad 2) just to maintain the same claimed 10-hour life of its predecessor.
The upgraded rear camera utilises the five-piece lens system used on the iPhone 4S and boosts resolution to 5MP for still images (up from 0.92MP on the iPad 2), plus 1080p video (up from 720p).
There’s also built-in face detection for still pictures and image stabilisation for video. The front “FaceTime camera” for video conferencing is the same as on the iPad 2.
The shape and size of the new iPad (Apple has dropped the numbering system) is almost identical to the iPad 2. The case is marginally thicker (by 0.61mm) and heavier (around 50g) but you’d be hard pressed to notice it.
Controls and cameras are in the same position, which means a lot of iPad 2 accessories will still be compatible.
But Apple products are never just about comparing hardware, you have to also look at the software and content ecosystem that goes with it.
The new iPad brings with it the iOS 5.1 update and Apple has upgraded its own iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) apps. Additionally, there’s an impressive new $5.49 iPhoto app for iOS that offers surprisingly powerful and intuitive image editing. With the upgraded iMovie and GarageBand, this completes the iLife suite for iOS. All work on both iPhone and iPad.
No Siri or 4G
One thing noticeably missing from the iPad is Siri, Apple’s personal digital assistant that debuted on the iPhone 4S. However, the iPad does have the voice dictation feature of the 4S, which recognises and translates speech in any app that offers data entry via keyboard.
The other noticeable absence, in Australia at least, is 4G LTE mobile networking. It’s a big selling point for the iPad in the US, which uses the 700MHz or 2100MHz frequency.
In Australia, however, our only commercially available 4G LTE network is Telstra’s new offering, which operates on the 1800MHz frequency. Apple’s arch-rival Samsung has queried whether the iPad should even be marketed in Australia as a 4G device when there’s no 4G network here to support it.
Meanwhile, the iPad can still access the fastest 3G networks here, including DC-HSDPA and HSDPA+. All models have 802.11n local Wi-Fi capability as standard.
Apple redefined what a tablet computer should be with the first iPad, and the iPad 2 helped it maintain the lion’s share of the consumer tablet market worldwide.
Being first to market with its new super high-resolution screen on the new iPad is another headache for rivals scampering to catch up.
So, should you race out and get the new iPad before the first shipment’s all gone?
Well, firstly, if you’re so inclined you’ll have to be quick. Pre-orders sold out in a couple of days and the same is expected with in-store stocks.
If you’re considering buying a tablet computer you shouldn’t make a decision without checking out the new iPad, and also the still-available but discounted iPad 2, which now starts at $429.
If you have the first model iPad and consider yourself a heavy user, it may be time to trade up, but that’s a personal decision for you to make.
If you have an iPad 2 already, you probably won’t want to upgrade, especially since it can also utilise the updated iOS 5.1 and apps. Unless, of course, you simply fall in love with that gorgeous screen.
See our reviews of the iPad 2 and iPad Mini
For more information about Laptops and netbooks, see Computers and accessories.