New iPad vs. iPad 2: Office faceoff

By Sharon Machlis

So how much better is a new iPad than the iPad 2? The new HD retina display specs are impressive; so are the reviews. But after Gizmodo's "We Gave People an iPad 2,Told Them It Was the New iPad, and They Loved It," I was curious if the new iPad's screen was truly, noticeably better than its predecessor.

A IT manager friend told me over the weekend that he couldn't see that much difference, as he was already happy with the iPad's display. He's nevertheless pleased to have upgraded, since the 4G LTE is so much faster than the iPad 2's 3G -- and after testing his network connection, I had to agree. But looking at his new iPad out in the sunshine without my old one to compare, it was hard to judge how much better the display was.

So today, we set up an iPad faceoff: My colleague Ken Mingis brought in his new iPad; I brought in my 10-month-old iPad 2. Since the form factors are so similar, that's not a giveaway. Time to compare!

Still photos. We pulled up some of the same photos on both devices and compared. After adjusting so screen brightness was similar, Ken and I agreed that the new iPad looked somewhat more vibrant -- but it also was more likely to blow out white highlights. We called in a colleague, who looked at the same image of Santorini, Greece at dusk. Her pick: She thought the iPad 2 was the new one, since she preferred the look of that screen for that particular image. We pulled two more colleagues in to look, and they split, with one picking each. Winner: iPad 2, but not by much.

Aside: If speed matters to you, we noticed that the new iPad displayed photos almost instantly while browsing through the gallery, instead of waiting a second or so for a file to come into focus.

Text. Next up: We sent our colleague out of the room and called up the Kindle app, where we compared text sharpness. Ken and I agreed that the new iPad's was crisper, but the difference was not as much as I had feared ("feared" as in "What if I end up wanting to spend $699 for one of the new ones less than a year after I bought this one?"). This time, our colleague picked the new iPad as the new iPad, but it did take her some careful looks at both before deciding. Winner: new iPad, but not by much.

Video. Finally, we each pulled up the same HD video trailer side by side. Ken found the difference like that between a good standard TV and HD. I found the new iPad slightly more saturated and crisper in certain frames, but certainly not enough to engender a case of techno-lust. "Practically indistinguishable," said our colleague. "I can't tell the difference," said a second co-worker asked to compare. I suspect the difference would be a lot more noticeable on a 42-inch TV; but at 9.7 inches, the new iPad's pixel power wasn't nearly as superior as I expected. Winner: new iPad, sort of.

Conclusion: If you want 4G, a better camera or built-in dictation, the new iPad may be worth an upgrade. But Ken and I agreed that the display alone wouldn't be worth ditching your iPad 2 for this year's model.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is You can follow her on Twitter  @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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New iPad and the iPad 2: Not always easy to tell which is which

New iPad and the iPad 2: Not always easy to tell which is which

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