Apple iPad review: ‘Retina Display’ technology makes screen look like glowing paper

March 14, 2012

Last week, Apple chief executive Tim Cook took the stage and announced the new iPad in San Francisco. Even though the device looks and acts like the previous version, there’s a lot that’s new under the surface.

For starters, the new iPad boasts a magical 9.7-inch “Retina Display” screen with 2048-by-1536 resolution. That’s a million more pixels than an HDTV.

The tablet also offers a greatly improved camera on its back (a 5 megapixel shooter with technology similar to the one featured on the iPhone 4S), new 4G LTE options (for both Verizon and AT&T), and a considerably more powerful processor.

But does the new iPad successfully defend its reputation as the King of Tablets?

In terms of materials, general design and even packaging, it’s essentially the same product as the iPad 2. It’s a tiny bit thicker and a little heavier — but that’s about it.

The device comes in a handful of varieties here in the U.S. You can buy it with storage capacities of 16GB ($499), 32GB ($599) or 64GB ($699), or get it equipped with 4G LTE for an additional $129.

Apple’s now selling the new iPad’s predecessor, iPad 2, at the discounted price of $399.

By now you’ve heard about the revolutionary screen on the new iPad. But does it live up to the hype? In a word: yes.

This display is outrageous. It’s stunning. It’s incredible. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you can hold these beautiful images in your hands, or maybe it’s the technology that Apple is utilizing, or maybe it’s the responsiveness of the operating system. But there’s something almost otherwordly about how good this screen is. For rendered text or high-resolution images, it just looks like a glowing piece of paper.

As far as performance goes, while there isn’t an obvious speed boost in comparison to the previous generation iPad, there’s certainly no stutter, stagger or delay when using the tablet. With many modern mobile devices, there’s this constant, nagging sensation that it’s going to jam up, freeze or otherwise not respond to your commands. That sensation is nowhere to be found on the new iPad — and it’s a relief.

On the data side of things, at least on Verizon’s LTE network, this thing screams. If you own a Verizon 4G phone, or know what they’re capable of, then you’ll get the gist of what the new iPad can do. I saw higher speeds in midtown Manhattan than what I get on my home network.

Another nice perk is that if you buy the Verizon version, you also can use the device as a wireless hotspot at no extra charge (AT&T says they’re working on it, but they don’t offer the same luxury).

As far as the battery life of the new iPad is concerned, the iPad lives up to Apple’s ambitious claims that you can do 10 hours straight of browsing the web, listening to music or watching video on this device (9 hours using LTE).

The new camera on the rear of the device also performs admirably (and is now capable of shooting full HD video). That said, it’s hard to imagine actually spending any time walking around and snapping photos with this thing, since it’s about the surface size of four regular point-and-shoot cameras.

Apple also introduced some software which plays nicely with the new iPad. On the iPad, iPhoto almost feels like a full-blown desktop application, allowing you to do all sorts of very specific editing of photos, including adjusting exposure, coloring, making repairs and more. You’re also able to collect your images (along with dates, maps and weather tiles) into virtual “journals.” Those journals can then be uploaded to iCloud and shared on the Web.

In all, the new iPad is in a class by itself. As the latest product in a lineage of devices that defined this category, the iPad continues to stand head and shoulders above the competition.

Now on to the key question: Should you buy it?

For those who already own the iPad 2, this isn’t necessarily a slam dunk. While the updated features are boon to the new iPad, it doesn’t offer an experience that is significantly different from the previous version. If your screen never bothered you, and you never wanted a faster cellular connection or a better camera, there’s not a great argument to upgrade — especially considering many just shelled out for a new tablet less than a year ago.

However, if you’re in the market for your first tablet, or upgrading from the original iPad or an Android device, do not hesitate. The new iPad is the most functional, easy-to-use and beautiful tablet that any company has ever produced.

Joshua Topolsky is the founding editor in chief of the Verge (theverge.com), a technology news Web site. To read previous columns, go to PostBusiness.com.

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