Review: New iPad neither dud nor ‘revolution’

Apple iPad Announcement

By John D. Sutter

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) — On first glance, the new, never-to-be-actually-named iPad is exactly the same as its predecessor: Same size, same price, same colors.

But guts count for something. And the guts of the new iPad — don’t you dare call it iPad 3 — are what make this tablet computer a step forward from the iPad 2.

They’re also what give Apple execs some room to claim this device as “amazing” and “revolutionary,” rather than run-of-the-mill and incremental.

The truth is that the new Apple iPad probably falls somewhere in the middle. It’s neither dud nor game-changer.

I got to handle the new tablet for a few minutes after Apple’s launch event Wednesday. My first impressions:

The screen

The main upgrade is the screen, which is markedly crisper. Apple says it quadrupled the number of pixels on the iPad’s 9.7-inch display to the point that there are now 3.1 million pixels on the screen, with a total resolution of 2048 by 1536 pixels. Color saturation on the device was increased 44% relative to the iPad 2, the company says.

“Your retina in your eye cannot discern those individual pixels,” Apple’s Phil Schiller said at the news conference. “The images on it look stunning.”

That’s not overstatement. Images do seem to have jumped out of the real world.

That’s good for people who want to watch movies, look at photos and play games on the new iPad. It also could be a big step forward for people who want to read digital books on the device. Enlarge the text on the latest-gen iPad, and the letters maintain their quality. The edges of the fonts are perfectly smooth, as if they’re molded from plastic.

“One of the iPad’s biggest competitors has been paper,” said Nick Bilton, a tech columnist at The New York Times, “and now this is better than paper.”

Gaming

Another new feature of the guts: The A5X “quad-core” chip, which is supposed to help render graphics much more quickly. This could be a boon for gamers, who likely will see high-resolution and more graphics-intensive games coming out for the tablet.

In a short demo on Wednesday, a flying game called “Sky Gamblers” looked like nothing you would expect to see on a mobile device. Mountains and valleys appear photo-realistic, and the steam coming out of the back of the plane warps the sky around it.

During its presentation, Apple highlighted gaming as a big advantage of the latest iPad.

“This new device has more memory and higher screen resolution than an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3,” said Mike Capps, president of Epic Games.

Apps

Apple announced several new ones, and while these should work on older versions of the iPad, they’re designed to take advantage of the new tablet’s better screen.

iPhoto is among the standouts. Apple’s photo-organization software really comes to life on the high-def iPad, where users will be able to sharpen their photos with new features. One detects the horizon in a landscape photo and, with the tap of a finger, will make it perfectly level. Another lets users rub a finger over a section of a photograph to lighten, darken or soften it. It makes photo editing more hands-on and intuitive than before.

Connectivity

While it’s far from clear that tablet owners really want to connect to the Internet over cellular data networks (rather than Wi-Fi, which is often free but, of course, isn’t available everywhere), the new iPad has 4G capabilities for those who do.

In a demo, Apple reps showed videos loading considerably faster on the new iPad than on the iPad 2. Again, this plays into Apple’s hope that this will be an even-better device for viewing media.

“This new iPad has the most wireless bands of any device that has ever shipped, and it is truly revolutionary,” Apple’s Phil Schiller said during a news conference.

Who’s to say whether these updates will lead people to want to purchase the new iPad, or to upgrade from a previous version. Nothing about the iPad was completely overhauled, but the overall user experience is crisper and speedier than before.

We’ll leave you to be the judge. Let us know what you think of these updates in the comments section. Does this new iPad sound like it’s worth the cash?

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