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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If you're moving from an older iPad, setup has never been easier. After turning on the new iPad, one of the first prompts is for an iCloud username and password. By entering this information, all of my apps, their placement on the Home screen, my iTunes purchases, Mail configuration, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, photos in Camera Roll app and iOS settings all downloaded to my iPad wirelessly. (Before starting this process, you'll want to make sure to back up your old iPad using Settings> iCloud> Storage and Backup> Backup Now. That way, your cloud backup will be up to date.)

iPad syncing
You can wirelessly sync content after the initial setup; just select the "Sync with this iPad over WiFi" option in the main iTunes info tab. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)

While iCloud imported my previous settings, I completed the process by tapping my way to Settings to enter more passwords for Home Sharing and iTunes Match, FaceTime, iMessages and email.

The out-of-the-box experience couldn't be simpler. With Photo Stream and iTunes Match on the iPad, you now have quick access to your most recent 1,000 photos and 25,000 songs. In concert with iCloud, getting up and running is embarrassingly easy.

Though the iPad has come a long way in severing the cord when it comes to transferring content from iTunes to the iPad, many users may still want to sync their content using the USB cable. If so, plug in your iPad and use iTunes to select exactly what you want to transfer over. You can also choose to wirelessly sync content after the initial setup; just select the "Sync over WiFi" option in the main iTunes info tab.

A better camera

The new iPad gets a needed upgrade to the rear-facing camera system and the software that powers it. (The front-facing camera -- largely designed for FaceTime calls -- retains its mediocre VGA quality.)

The new 5-megapixel camera includes an f/2.4 aperture, a five-element lens system and an infrared filter; the results are photos that make the iPad 2 blush. There's still no built-in flash, but noise in low-light situations is noticeably reduced and the rear camera now yields images similar to the iPhone 4. That's not surprising, since the iPad now uses the same image sensor.

The video camera resolution has been raised to 1080p, and the built-in stabilization helps a lot when shooting high-definition video. Even better, the Camera app has been optimized a bit more for the iPad. The record button has been moved to the right on the lock screen, making it easier to initiate recording and photo-taking; the button is now located where your right thumb naturally falls when holding the tablet. If you prefer a manual trigger, you can use the iPad's volume-up button instead.

What has not improved, however, is the inherent awkwardness of shooting videos and photos on a device with the iPad's form factor. While the software tweaks go a long way to improving the results, you certainly won't be choosing the iPad over an iPhone or dedicated camera for photos. Given the maxim that the most important camera is the one you have with you, at least you know that if you need a quick shot, the new iPad can deliver.

Connectivity: Welcome 4G/LTE

All new iPads support Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) access and, for the first time, Bluetooth 4.0, which is important because of its high energy efficiency.

The connectivity focus has been on the arrival of 4G/LTE, which delivers fast wireless transfers over cellular networks. 4G is at the opposite end of the efficiency scale from Bluetooth 4.0, however, and is one of the reasons the new iPad has a bigger battery.

But 4G isn't free. For $129 more, the iPad WiFi + 4G models offer support for Verizon or AT&T's LTE networks in the U.S. When connected to an LTE network -- Verizon and AT&T are still rolling them out across the country -- data throughput increases dramatically, literally quadrupling download and upload speeds. LTE has a theoretical peak of 100Mbps, although, of course, speeds will vary by location.

LTE is not available in most areas, so you should check to see if you have 4G in your area before deciding which iPad to get. If 4G isn't available, the iPad reverts to the more common 3G network. In some areas, like where I live just outside of downtown Orlando, true 4G access isn't available; instead, we get something of a hybrid -- HSPA+. It's faster than 3G, and AT&T calls it "4G." But it's nowhere near as fast as LTE.

Not sure whether to go with AT&T or Verizon? At the moment, Verizon's LTE network reach far exceeds AT&T's, though AT&T is rushing to catch up.

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