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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It's also worth noting that Verizon allows the iPad to be used as a personal hotspot at no extra charge with a data plan; AT&T does not. But there's a tradeoff: Verizon iPads are not as well-supported internationally, so if you travel abroad often, you should probably consider the AT&T version.

Two other points to note: While all models feature a digital compass, only the Wi-Fi + 4G iPads have an assisted GPS. (The Wi-Fi-only models rely on wireless networks to triangulate their location, which isn't as precise as having a GPS.) And while Apple did not build Siri, its voice-activated personal assistant, into the new iPad, it added a dictation function: You talk to the iPad as if you were talking to Siri, and your words generate text for emails, iMessages, and so forth. It works quite well.


Before pronouncing judgment on the new iPad, I should explain my experience with the two previous models: They have both been the most reliable computers I've owned. In two years, I haven't run into any issues that a reboot didn't immediately remedy, and even saying that unnecessarily blemishes the iPad's reliability.

To be frank: I believe that the iPad is exactly what the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs wanted all those years ago when he "borrowed" Jef Raskin's vision for the Macintosh. Chris Espinosa -- head of publications for the Mac team at the time -- described an Apple computer like this: "When you show a Mac to an absolute novice, he assumes that's the way all computers work. That's our highest achievement. We've made almost every computer that's ever been made look completely absurd."

With the third-generation iPad, the crew at Apple has again crafted something beautiful, functional, reliable and intuitive -- what I consider the Holy Grail of computing. The new hardware is dramatically improved, but what's really grand is being able to use the apps I already love on the best display I've ever seen. The biggest drawback of the Retina display is that I'm now painfully aware of how lacking my MacBook Pro is.

The iPad's success isn't just about sleek hardware. When the computer in front of you is nothing more than a display in your hand, the overall experience hinges on software. The iPad effectively becomes whatever app you're running. That's why the number and sophistication of the apps available for it clearly make the iPad the winner, bar none, of the tablet wars. Nothing personal against Android or Windows tablets, but the software and ecosystems just aren't as mature. And with its Retina display technology, Apple puts even more distance between itself and would-be rivals.

If you have the first-generation iPad and want to upgrade to the new one, my advice is simple: Go for it. If you already have an iPad 2, the answer is a little less clear: Are the new features worth the cost of upgrading to you? Do you mind the extra weight? For me, the new iPad is a better version of something I already use every day; upgrading was a no-brainer on the strength of the Retina display alone. Everything else -- the improved cameras, LTE, 1080p support for videos -- is just bonus.

Screen close-up
A close-up of the new 'Retina' display. (Image: Michael deAgonia.)

If you're intrigued by tablets but haven't yet made a purchase, the iPad is still your best bet, with the most third-party peripheral support, by far. With its rich and diverse ecosystem of apps, media and accessories -- all tied together with other Apple hardware through iCloud -- you can't go wrong.

After the loss of Steve Jobs in October, there was concern that Apple would lose its way. With the arrival of the latest iPad, the current Apple team has continued Jobs' legacy of creating intuitive machines that people rightfully line up for. Of course, Jobs no doubt had a big hand in making this iPad what it is. We'll know more about how Apple advances his legacy with the next iPad.

In the meantime, the new iPad remains the epitome of what a tablet computer should be.

Apple's new iPad features a Retina display, LTE connectivity, and more -- but is it advanced enough to stay ahead of rivals?

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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