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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Backside of the new iPad
The back of the new iPad shows the same aluminum case as before. It fits fine in an earlier iPad dock. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)

As before, the iPad comes in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB models and at the same price points: $499, $599 and $699, respectively. Opting for 4G/LTE adds another $130. My advice for buyers remains the same as last year when it comes to storage: While Apple services like iTunes Match and iCloud may offset the need for a lot of on-board storage, it's always better to have too much than too little. (I would buy a 256GB model in an instant if Apple offered one.) Whether you want LTE depends on how often you need online access away from Wi-Fi networks -- and how much you want to spend on data plans each month.

That screen

Unboxing the iPad is a familiar experience: Nothing has changed since last year. Inside the box is the iPad, a wall charger, the USB connection cable and a printed welcome packet that includes a SIM card ejection tool on the 4G models.

You immediately notice the difference when you turn on the iPad. From the startup Apple logo to the Setup Assistant, colors are more vibrant and graphics noticeably sharper. Having used the iPad 2 for a year now -- and even though I knew the screen was improved -- I was still confounded by how noticeably different the new 2048-x-1536-pixel backlit IPS LED screen is.

Apple calls it a Retina display, which is basically a marketing term for "Damn, that screen is amazing." (Apple offers an even sharper, but smaller, Retina display on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.) The new iPad condenses four times the number of pixels into the same 9.7-in. screen as the iPad 2. The new display also offers 44% better color saturation, according to Apple, and that shows when you play high-def video. Put another way, the 3.1 million pixels packed into the new iPad's display is a million pixels more than your 1080p HDTV has.

Numbers don't impress me, but the results do: The display is gorgeous, with on-screen elements looking like backlit photos rather than objects on a computer screen. High-megapixel photos and 1080p videos look fantastic, even film-like, but you'll notice the difference the most with text: Websites like the New York Times no longer require zooming in to read on-screen text; comic book apps can display entire pages full-screen without the requisite zoom and pans; text-heavy apps like iBooks and Kindle now look like backlit magazine pages.

While watching me compare the iPad 2 and the new iPad, a friend said seeing the Retina display was like "putting on prescription glasses for the first time." It really is just like that.

To power all 3.1 million pixels, the new iPad offers beefed-up specs: It has 1GB of RAM (double the last model's 512MB) and, not surprisingly, better graphics from Apple's A5X chipset.

If you're like me, specs matter less than the user experience, which is where Apple's new iPad excels: Despite the massively higher resolution and graphics demands of the Retina display, the new iPad remains as responsive as ever. Games play without hiccups, application load times haven't increased at all, and scrolling remains as smooth as before.

iPad screens compared
Putting the new iPad (left) and the iPad 2 screens beside each other displaying the same image shows how much better the new 'Retina' display is. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)

Most remarkable? There's no appreciable decline in battery life. Apple predicts nine hours on battery over LTE, and 10 hours for most scenarios. My own (unofficial) tests clock the new iPad's battery life at a little less than the iPad 2, but that model didn't have LTE or a Retina display.

Apple pulled off this minor miracle by bumping the battery to 42.5 watt-hours, up from the iPad 2's 25 watt-hours. What I like most is that Apple didn't just dump a slightly bigger battery in the new iPad and call it a day. The iPad's uptime (and standby time) is part of its appeal, and it's clear that Apple engineers went out of their way to make sure battery life remained consistent with expectations. Besides weight, what's the other caveat to the 70% increase in watt-hours? The new iPad seems to need more time to reach a full charge.

In short, if Apple took a needed half-step back in terms of weight, charge time and size, it took a full step forward by delivering extremely advanced technology in this iPad without sacrificing battery life.

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