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Old iPad's screen can't touch this

Published March 20, 2012 8:00 am

Review • At four times the resolution of its predecessor, new iPad is crystal clear.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Perhaps the most important element of any computer or tablet is the screen.

After all, it's the window to another world, the portal to a vast array of information that's instantly available with just a few keystrokes. So that screen better be clear.

And so it is with the new iPad.

The first thing you'll notice with the new version of the Apple tablet is that gorgeous and detailed screen. If there is any reason for a current iPad user to upgrade, it's for the high-density LCD screen that boasts four times the resolution of the iPad 2.

At 2048 by 1536 pixels, the screen resolution is not only higher than the iPad 2's 1024-by-768 screen, it's higher than the monitors of nearly all the laptops and desktop computers currently in use today.

Imagine struggling all your life to see the words on the chalkboard, then putting on a fresh pair of eyeglasses and suddenly viewing the world with a brand new clarity. That's what it's like looking at the new iPad's screen.

But that may be the only perceptible difference you'll see in the third generation iPad, which Apple strangely calls just "The new iPad."

The computer tablet also has the same dual-core central processor as before, but coupled with a new quad-core graphics processor. Yet things don't necessarily run faster.

Apps start up with the same speed as the iPad 2. Games run with the same smooth frame rates. And the rendering of images is not appreciably quicker. But that faster graphics processor is necessary in order for the new iPad to operate with the same speed on the more dense screen.

Not that these functions were ever slow before. As with the iPad 2, the processor on the new iPad is speedy, and the images scroll with a silkiness that has yet to be equaled on any Android device.

The new version now has a 4G LTE receiver that makes wireless connectivity quicker compared to the older models that are compatible with slower 3G networks. Testing with a Verizon 4G model, download speeds reached an average of at least 4 megabits per second compared to my 3G AT&T iPad 2, which average about half that speed.

The battery life also remains the same as the iPad 2 with about 10 hours under normal operation. But to achieve that, the new iPad had to make some slight compromises. It's ever so slightly thicker than the old version (though still thinner than the very first iPad), and it's noticeably heavier in order to accommodate a bigger battery. It also requires a lot more time to fully recharge than the iPad 2.

Alas, Apple has not been able to improve on the battery technology itself.

The other change in the new iPad in the rear-facing camera. Now sporting a 5-megapixel camera capable of 1080p high-definition video, it's a visible improvement over the iPad 2's camera and essentially equal to the camera on the iPhone 4S, though I can't imagine anyone really using the iPad as a camera due to it's bulky size.

Unfortunately, the front-facing camera is still the grainy VGA camera used on the iPad 2, which is barely good enough for video conferencing. Hopefully, the next version of the iPad can improve on that so video conferencing can be done in high definition.

But the quality of that screen is the real purpose behind the new iPad. Though it's pixel density is slightly lower than that of the iPhone 4 and 4S, Apple still dubs it a "retina display," meaning you can't discern the individual pixels at a reading distance of about 15 inches. And that's true. Reading books is more like looking at a high-quality printed page than a pixelated LCD screen.

Games look much sharper, especially if they are programmed to take advantage of the new resolution. Videos tend to look more crisp, though you will now need to download higher-resolution videos that are bigger in file size to see the difference. And best of all, websites through the built-in Safari browser show a clarity and detail that you've never seen before on any computer or laptop, let alone a tablet.

For first-time buyers, there's no question: Get this new iPad over the older versions.

For veteran iPad users, it gets to be a more trying decision. But this is clearly a more significant upgrade than the iPad 2 was over the first iPad.

Despite it's hefty price (certainly compared to the likes of the smaller Kindle Fire), the new iPad, or whatever Apple wants to call it, keeps the Cupertino, Calif., company well ahead the rest in the computer tablet race.

vince@sltrib.com