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Gadling gear review: the new iPad

The new iPad from AppleIn what has become an annual rite of spring, Apple has released an updated iPad to much critical and financial success. The third-generation iPad, which hit stores last Friday, brings some excellent updates to the device, which has managed to become a true favorite with travelers over the past two years.

The list of improvements in the new iPad includes an amazing new screen, an updated processor and the option for 4G cellular data services for the first time. Each of those is a game changer on its own, but together they represent a dramatic improvement to a device that was already well ahead of the competition. Apple also saw fit to add more memory and a much-improved camera as well, which only helps to round out an already great refresh to the product line.

The most highly touted of these updates is easily the new display. Apple says that it has the highest resolution of any screen ever put into a mobile device and when you see it in action it is difficult to argue against that point. Images and colors pop off the screen like never before and the text on websites and e-books is sharp and clear. Reading on the new iPad is a joy and apps that have been updated to take advantage of the display are beautiful to behold. The "Retina Display," as Apple has branded it, is so good that it is nearly worth the price of the upgrade alone.

In order to drive that new display, which has four times the number of pixels as the first and second-generation iPad, Apple had to develop a new processor with improved graphics capabilities. That processor allows the new iPad to continue operating as smoothly and quickly as we're accustomed while still generating much more advanced 3D graphics and images. This is evident in all operations on the device although games are where we'll most likely see the new processor flex its muscle the most -- particularly once developers have had a chance to code their apps to specifically take advantage of the new graphics system.
The one new addition that will likely be of most benefit to travelers is the option to add 4G data services to the device. Previous iPad models had a 3G data option and while it was great to have the ability to connect to the Internet while away from a Wi-Fi network, the speeds weren't always great for doing anything more than checking email. 4G LTE service is a serious upgrade in speed, on par with many home Internet services, and it makes the iPad even more useful while traveling. Better yet, the tablet can now be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows the data connection to be shared with laptops and other devices as well. While testing out the new iPad with 4G, I was impressed with how fast it brought up YouTube videos, webpages and even movies on Netflix. The only downside is that 4G service isn't available everywhere yet, which forces the device to fallback to 3G in those areas.

The iPad's new camera is also a nice upgrade. With a 5-megapixel sensor the camera is now capable of taking high quality images and shooting video at 1080p quality. While the iPad wouldn't be my first choice for use as a camera, it is at least a decent option now if it is the only device you have close at hand. More intriguing to me, however, is the ability to shoot HD video then edit it directly on the device using Apple's revamped iMovie app. When finished, you can even upload it directly to YouTube without the use of a computer of any type. I haven't had the chance to try this functionality out just yet but it really does open up the door for content creation on the tablet.

The new iPad isn't without a few small issues of course. For instance, in order to power the new processor and screen, Apple had to use much larger power cells in order to maintain the same ten-hour battery life. They've managed to achieve that goal but the larger batteries have made the device slightly thicker and heavier than last year's model, and recharge times have grown substantially as well. Additionally, the high-resolution screen is forcing many apps to improve their graphics and that is causing them to grow in size as well. As those programs continue to improve and upgrade, storage on the device could become an issue too. These are minor nit-picks for the most part, but definitely worth pointing out to would be buyers.

Speaking of which, all of these great updates to the iPad have many consumers wondering if they should upgrade or take the plunge on purchasing the device for the first time. Personally, I think that this is the best iPad yet, and by a considerable margin. If you've been toying with the idea of buying Apple's tablet, now is the time to pull the trigger. Likewise, if you're a first-gen iPad owner looking to improve performance, this is a more than worthy upgrade as well. On the other hand, iPad 2 owners will need to decide if they think it is worth the investment after purchasing their devices within the past year. My guess is that once they get a look at the screen, they'll be convinced that this isn't just a minor adjustment to the product line.

As someone who purchased the original iPad on the first day it was available, and was traveling with it just a few days later, I have found the device to be an invaluable travel companion. The ability to carry books, magazines, games, music and video on a single lightweight device with great battery life is a fantastic option. Add an Internet connection to the mix and you have a fantastic communications tool as well. The new iPad does absolutely nothing to diminish its value to travelers and the inclusion of 4G Internet and the improved display could actually make it more valuable. Either way, Apple has set the bar even higher with their latest device and the competition is continuing to play catch-up. Quite honestly, in terms of the tablet market, there is the iPad and then there is everything else, and the gulf between them just got bigger.

Filed under: Gear, Gadling Gear Review

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