I absolutely cannot get over how fantastic everything looks on this screen. Even if there were no LTE, the camera had stayed the same, the battery life took a hit, and even if the new iPad were significantly slower than the iPad 2. It would still be worth every penny just because the screen, which on an iPad is the entirety (or close enough) of the interface, is so exquisite, every detail so pristinely rendered, that it would be worth almost any compromise.
But There Were No Compromises.
Thankfully I didn’t have to compromise, or I guess it’s more accurate to say that the compromises that do exist are so minimal, that they’re hardly worth considering. The issue with marketing, reviewing, explaining, or discussing an improvement like the Retina Display is very difficult to conceptualize unless you’re looking at one. Technology enthusiasts may grasp how difficult such an astronomical transition it was, in terms of the processing power required to quadruple the number of pixels rendered. Design enthusiasts may understand the benefits that such a screen would provide, and people that are passionate about both technology and design (or those who experienced a similar, though by no means as radical transition from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4) may have been adequately excited to hear about this development, but even I, understanding the technical difficulties, the benefits, and knowing roughly what to expect from the transition having experienced a smaller scale Retina Display first hand in the iPhone 4 and 4S, even I, a four year veteran of Apple Retail, and passionate advocate for their products, was not prepared.
In the days leading up to the release of the new iPad, I poured over every review I could read, I watched the videos multiple times, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a new Apple product since the original iPhone, I read many first hand accounts of people that had been lucky enough to see the new iPad before its official release, but I recognized that all of them were having trouble conveying the impact of the Retina Display. They all agreed it was amazing, but how do you describe to someone that sudden feeling of clarity? It’s like when I was seven years old, and got my first pair of glasses, and was shocked at the fact that I could see individual blades of grass in the backyard through the bay window of my parents house. That’s the closest I can get. I know it’s ridiculous, but just looking at the icons on the home screen is awe inspiring. It’s like a magic trick. I know there are pixels there somewhere… Why can’t I see them?
Partially because it’s new, and partially because I’m this much of a nerd, I’ve been using the new iPad pretty much constantly since it was removed from the box on Friday afternoon. I’ve been downloading apps, playing graphically intensive games, watching videos, shooting videos, taking pictures, reading books, browsing the Internet, and experimenting with different writing apps with the aim of blogging more. The screen of the iPad has been on far more often than it has been off. I have drained the battery, make no mistake. But from the moment I woke up this morning until now (approximately six hours) excluding several short breaks, this new iPad has been used in a similar fashion, and despite not being plugged in the entire time, I’m still well above 50% battery. (65%). The battery is one of the most important parts of any portable piece of technology, it’s something Apple has rightfully poured tons of attention into, and unfortunately, it’s something that most people only notice when it’s not performing well. No one notices their car battery, and no one should have to notice their iPad battery either, the fact that a heavy user like myself, doesn’t need to leave the iPad plugged in while working, should alone be a testament to the quality of the battery, and the fact that they can fit a battery of such high quality into a device that weighs less than 1.5 pounds is just amazing. They nearly doubled the capacity of the iPad’s battery in this generation, and managed to do so without significantly contributing to the weight or thickness of the device. (Both increased, but only slightly, and these are the only two trade offs in upgrading to this device over last years model.)
The camera in the iPad 2 was terrible. (The camera on the first iPad was nonexistent) and a lot of people complained. Personally I don’t see the camera on my iPad getting much use, regardless of its quality, but it is useful if it’s the device I’m using when one of my cats does something ridiculous. Improving the camera, as far as I can surmise, was informed by the Retina Display. You won’t really notice the difference in the quality of the screen of this device if the images that you are looking at are lower quality than should really be displayed on either screen. So the camera was improved. It’s 5 megapixels, supports 1080p video recording (with image stabilization) and has the optics that the iPhone 4S pioneered. For non-nerds that essentially boils down to this:
- It takes great pictures
- It shoots great video
That’s all that’s really important. I don’t have to reach for my 4S to take a picture. If I’m going for a hike, or walking around all day, I probably will use my iPhone, but the iPad is more than adequate.
I haven’t been able to test LTE (fast cellphone tower based internet) because I don’t get LTE service in my home, but it doesn’t really matter. The existence of LTE makes the iPad more practical for frequent flyers, and for those that don’t already have high speed Internet in their house. It’s faster than most people’s broadband connections, and it goes wherever your iPad goes (except for my house). It’s awesome. Ok, the fact that it works everywhere is an over-exaggeration. Verizon has better LTE coverage than AT&T, and neither are even close to what I would call ubiquitous, but if you can take advantage of it, it’s worth having. Though with data limits the way they are now, it’s incredibly easy to exhaust your monthly allotment of data, especially if you’re a heavy iPad user like myself, so be cautious.
- The presence of dictation (but not of full blown Siri) is helpful. I look forward to the day of having Siri on all my Apple devices, but the simple truth of the matter is that it isn’t ready.
- iPhoto for iOS is an excellent app, I particularly love the journal feature, but it isnot Easy to learn.
- The improvements to GarageBand are nice (up to four people can jam simultaneously now) and the inclusion of trailers for the new iMovie is so much fun. I know all of my day trips and vacations will likely be accompanied by an overly epic trailer for the foreseeable future
- iOS 5.1 is a welcome improvement, particularly in how accessing the camera from the lock screen functions, but I see that applying more to the iPhone than the iPad.
- I really wish there was some sort of indication in the App Store whether or not an app was updated to take advantage of the Retina Display
- iCloud continues to see a slow and steady trickle of improvements that make it even more useful.
- I know I spent a lot of time talking about the screen, but you need to see it in action. Do yourself a favor, and go to your local Apple Store, spend about 10 minutes reading a book, looking at pictures, and playing around with the new iPad, and then do the same on the iPad 2 (they still sell them) Yes, the iPad 2’s screen is great, but comparatively? It just sucks. After you’ve seen the difference for yourself, ask yourself why you’d want to spend any amount of time beyond what is absolutely necessary, subjecting your eyes to something that isn’t as flawless as the screen on the new iPad. I know that I’ll be spending as little time looking at other screens as I possibly can.
by Nicholas Collins
Nicholas is an experienced technology blogger and consultant for various businesses. He specializes in new technology and has set up iPad programs within professional businesses. He worked at the Apple Corporation for five years. Currently he is the owner of Finding Simple Technologies and blogs at SMPLFI and PacoTheSage about philosophy, technology, psychology and politics.
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