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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hands-on with Apple's New iPad

It's difficult to grasp the significance of the new iPad's retina display without seeing it for yourself, especially when paired with such other substantial improvements, like Apple's new A5X quad-core processor, improved rear-facing camera and 4G LTE connectivity. But for the new iPad, it really is all about the retina display.

At a staggering 2048x1546, the new iPad's retina display bears the highest resolution of any mobile product on the market, and even trumps some of the world's most expensive and most coveted HDTVs. While the pixel density falls short of the iPhone 4S (264ppi vs. 326ppi), you'd be hard put to notice. Images that were preloaded on the device were crisp and clear with rich, vibrant colors but not over saturated or unnatural. The most noticeable benefit of the new display was with iBooks and other text-based content. I was able to zoom in on the body of email to the point where I was able to fill the screen with a single word without the edges of the characters becoming pixelated.

I was able to test games like Dead Space and Infinity Blade 2, but neither have been updated to take advantage of the new retina display resolution. Still, the games upscaled well without creating any odd image imperfections. What's unfortunate is that the three new apps optimized for the retina display--Infinity Blade: Dungeons, Sketchbook Ink and Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy--were not playable.

Still, what we did see during Apple's keynote presentation was a promising glimpse of what the hardware is capable of, and once developers get it in-hand, it'll be interesting to see how they'll take advantage of the display and the added processing power.
And to be fair, the retina display would be nothing without Apple's dual-core A5X chip with four dedicated graphics cores. Menu navigation and app loading is blazingly fast, with games loading roughly twice as fast as they would on the iPad 2. With the limited time I had with the device, I was unable to delve too deep into performance, but I was impressed at how well the A5X handles the hefty 2048x1546 resolution output without sacrificing speed.
And then there's the new rear-facing camera.

Apple has replaced the 0.7-megapixel camera from last year's model with a new 5-megapixel camera with the same image sensor used in the iPhone 4S. The new camera can capture 1080p video and fantastic looking stills, which means you'll likely be seeing crazy  people holding up iPads to take family photos and at concerts more frequently. The front-facing camera, unfortunately, remains unaltered with grainy, 0.3-megapixel images and video.
The aesthetic design also remains largely unchanged, maintaining a white or black trim around the display and a tapered aluminum back. Dimensionally, the new iPad is actually slightly thicker than the iPad 2, but not as thick as the first-gen model. In order to accomodate a new 42.5 watt-hour battery (up from the iPad 2's 25 watt-hour battery), Apple has made the new iPad slightly thicker, increasing the total thickness to 9.4mm from 8.8mm. It's also slightly heavier, going from 1.33lbs to 1.46lbs, which is almost as heavy as the first-generation iPad (1.5lbs). While hardly a deal-breaker, the added heft is definitely noticeable and a bit of a step back for Apple in terms of design and portability.

But there's still much to see and test, such as the device's new 4G LTE networking, voice dictation and new iWork and iLife software, so stay tuned for my full review.


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