New iPad is the 'epitome' of what a tablet should be

With a high-resolution 'Retina' display, it leaps ahead of rivals.

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The new iPad
The new iPad builds on the success of earlier versions by adding a super-high-resolution 'Retina' display and 4G/LTE access. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)

Two years ago, Apple side-swiped the computer industry by releasing the first iPad. Though dismissed by some critics at the time as an overgrown iPhone, the iPad has proved to be just as disruptive to the PC industry as the iPhone was to mobile. And 55 million tablet sales later -- including an incredible 15.4 million last quarter alone -- there's a new king of the tablet hill: the latest iPad.

Unveiled by Apple CEO Tim Cook and other company execs on March 7, the new iPad arrived this past Friday to long lines and sold-out preorders, its popularity surprising almost no one. As was the case last year, the new iPad was available in a variety of retail locations besides Apple stores, including Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack, AT&T, Verizon, and assorted resellers. (Some Wal-Mart stores began selling the tablet just after midnight, eight hours before Apple's own retail stores opened.)

I preordered my iPad -- the 64GB model with Wi-Fi and 4G -- for home delivery. As fun as chatting up other Apple fans is, the convenience of not leaving the house beat standing in line. I still got to talk with an Apple fan, though: the FedEx person who delivered my iPad. He immediately struck up a conversation, volunteering the fact that he'd been (enviously) delivering new iPads all day and was excited he was soon to get his own after missing the prelaunch window. (Just a few days after orders began, Apple ran out of stock; current delivery times are two to three weeks.)

I was struck again about how software encased in a bit of aluminum and glass can engender so much excitement, prompting perfect strangers to chat for hours on end while braving long waits to get the latest Apple hardware. Owners post unboxing photos online, on Facebook and in tweets; videos pop up in forums and on personal sites; and every mainstream media outlet from USA Today to the local neighborhood blogger feels the need to weigh in.

Clearly, the iPad has gone mainstream. But does it live up to this year's heightened expectations?

The basics

At first glance, the new iPad is virtually indistinguishable from the iPad 2; if you loved/hated the design before, you're going to love/hate this one just as much.

I've always been a fan of the aluminum-and-glass look, so I don't mind that it's unchanged. The new iPad, still encased in a 9.5-in.-x-7.3-in. aluminum frame, is just slightly thicker than the previous model. The oil-resistant oleophobic 9.7-in. glass display again comes bordered in either white or black, a minimalist design that's still as sharp-looking and luxurious in quality and feel as ever. My first choice is always black.

While even the most experienced iPad 2 users would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the new iPad and an iPad 2 on looks alone, the same cannot be said regarding the weight. At 1.46 lbs. for the LTE version -- 1.44 lbs. for the Wi-Fi-only models -- the new iPad is a couple of ounces heavier than its predecessor; iPad 2 users will notice a difference, though it's not enough to be off-putting. (For those who are still using the first iPad, this one weighs just slightly less than that model. So if you're upgrading from version 1 to the new iPad, you should notice this one's slightly lighter.)

Still, wrist fatigue could be an issue with extended use.

It's unusual for Apple to take a step back from it's lighter/thinner/smaller mantra; heavier is the wrong direction for technology, especially one as personal as a handheld tablet. But, and I'll get to this in a minute, the improvements to the iPad overshadow the uptick in weight.

iPad 2 and new iPad
The new iPad (left) is slightly thicker than the iPad 2 (right) and slightly heavier. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)
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