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March 18, 2012

The new iPad -- First impressions

On Friday, March 16, 2012, at 9:30AM, Fedex delivered our two new iPads. The Fedex guy actually gave us three packages by mistake. We get a lot of stuff via Fedex, but since all three looked the same, I checked and saw that this was probably a third iPad. I called after the departing Fedex guy. "You saved me life," he told me as I handed him the third package back.

So then we unpack the iPads, a black one and a white one, both 4G and 64GB. At fist (and second and third) sight they look identical to the iPad 2 and essentially identical to our first generation iPads. That's understandable. Why change a design that has sold tens of millions and is copied the world over? This, of course, also means that the new iPad is as slick and slippery as its two predecessors.

Apple packaging is as sparsely elegand and beautiful as ever. As for instructions, there's a single small card that simply says "To start, turn on your iPad by pressing and holding the On/Off button for a few seconds. Then follow the onscreen instructions to set up your iPad." That's it.

And so we did. The new iPad came alive. I half expected a glamorous multi media welcome, but it was all matter-of-fact. Text instantly looked incredibly sharp. The iPad then let me connect it to my WiFi, and then I had the choice to set it up as a new iPad, or restore from an iCloud or iTunes backup. I chose the latter.

iTunes asked if I had an Apple ID and then asked for the password. This will be an issue as in the past, we used my Apple ID for both of our iPads. Carol now wonders what would happen to all of her purchases if we had separate Apple IDs.

Next came an address screen and a few questions as to how and why I use iPads. Then I could select an iTunes backup. Restoring the basic system from my almost full 32GB first gen iPad would take about 15 minutes, iTunes told me.

The iPad then rebooted, showed 57.17GB available as only the yellow "Other" part of the data had apparently been restored to that point, and then began to sync. That took considerably longer. After about an hour, the sync seemed done. Then... no furher instructions.

I turned on the iPad, which made me go through picking a WiFi account and password again. Then it asked if I wanted to use voice dictation or not. Of course, at least to try it out. Now the iPad said it was ready to use. Nothing about the data plan as of yet.

AT&T data was there, without me having to set anything up at all. Among my first impressions was that all pictures loaded from the backup looked a bit fuzzy and low res (that later resolved itself).

All my apps were there, plus Photo Booth (silly) and Face Time. I quickly tried the new dictation feature where you tap on a new microphone icon in any application that accepts text entry, and the spoken word will be translated into text. As has been the case with voice recognition for the past two decades, it can work if you give it a chance and learn how to use it. But it will inevitably make hilarious mistakes if you just play around with it. Let's hope Garry Trudeau won't use it to diss the new iPad the way he relentlessly mocked the Apple Newton's handwriting recognition way back when.

In Pages, none of my documents were there and I had to first copy them from iDisk. They were, however, on iCloud. Same for my Numbers and Keynote documents. I'll have to figure out how it all fits together.

I downloaded the US$4.99 iPhoto. It quickly inventoried all of my pics and offers a number of minor editing tools.

Amazingly, I wasn't as instantly wowed by the new iPad as I expected. It was simply my iPad, as it always was.

I hoped I could continue to use my old black portfolio case from Apple. Even though the new iPad is bit thicker than the iPad 2, it is still thinner and shaped a bit differently than the original. I cut out a small hole for the camera in the back and also cut a piece of plastic foam for a better fit. It works, but isn't optimal.

What happened to the old iPad? It continued to work as before. Even AT&T 3G access was still there. I have to assume that AT&T is smart enough to disable data access once a new device has replaced an older one. Still, it's both weird and terrific that there wasn't a single question about the data plan.

The rest of the day was pretty much spent playing with the new iPad, going from app to app to see if they all worked and if they looked different. A big concern was how apps that were designed for 1024 x 768 resolution would look on a display with four times as many pixels, 2048 x 1536. I half expected old iPad apps to look like those upscaled iPhone apps look on an iPad: you can look at them in native format or push the "2X" button that enlarges them. None of that happened. All iPad apps looked just fine.

In fact, everything looked so much the same that it was hard to believe that one was the original and one the latest and greatest. Operating was definitely quicker though. The original iPad wasn't slow at all, but what usually happens with a technlogy is that it's being challenged more by software developers as time goes on, and so after a while the device feels slower because it has to drive much larger apps. In a way, the new iPad makes the platform as snappy again as it once was.

The screen? It's terrific. I did not have the almost religious experiences that some iPad reviewers descibed, but the screen is definitely great. It does have an overall more yellowish hue to it than the original, but you only notice that side-by-side. What you do notice is that everything is so very crisp. That especially goes for very small text in web pages and such, where we've simply come to expect a bit of fuzziness on virtually any computer. That is gone. The text is now so sharp that sometimes it almost feels as if it had too much contrast.

That, however, would not give Apple's latest display enough credit. While the new iPad feels an incremental improvement, the screen finally brings display technology to an entirely new level. After decades of constant improvements, it was easy to believe it was as good as it'd ever get. But up to now you could always see pixels on a screen. The pixels are gone. The new iPad's display is probably pretty much as good as it'll ever get.

The same cannot be said of the display surface. While the text and pictures now look as good or better than print, print doesn't have a near mirror-like finish. The gloss and reflection are as bad as ever.

After several hours of using the new iPad, I finally got a message from AT&T in the form of a screen that popped up and asked me to activate data service. That turned out to be surprisingly painless. Log into the existing account, select a data plan (and yes, the unlimited plan for those who had it before was still available), wait a few minutes, and then data was back. And I occasionally saw a "4G" where it usually says "3G" for data service.

Celluar data still seemed to work on the old iPad, but when I logged into the AT&T Cellular Data screen, I only had the option to sign up for one of the three current plans, i.e. 250MB, 3GB or 5GB, so presumably data stopped working on my trusted old iPad and I'd have to sign up a new data plan if I wanted to continue using it.

I had planned on taking comparison screen shots, but frankly, all you need to do is look at the picture below. It shows macro shots taken by a Canon G10 camera of the same very small text on an original iPad and on the new iPad. Everything's sharper.

As far as battery life goes, again there is no noticeable difference between the original iPad and the new one. Which means battery life is almost never an issue. You just use the iPad until it becomes advisable to charge it, which can be days. In that respect, the iPad is much more like a car than a conventional laptop. The battery, by the way, packs a full 42.5 watt-hours as compared to the 25 watt-hours of the original iPad and the iPad 2. Despite the larger battery and higher power draw, the new iPad never warms up.

We went to Best Buy to get a new case for Carol's white iPad since she didn't like the looseness of the device when using it in the old black Apple portfolio case. Given the superb utility of the stealthy portfolio case, it's odd that Apple isn't offering one for the iPad 2 and the new iPad. Carol didn't like the colorful magnetic "Smart Covers" since they do not protect the backside of the iPad. So she bought a Griffin Elan Folio Case that's designed for the iPad 2 but works just fine for the new iPad.

So what will happen to our old iPads? When I checked eBay a few days before the release of the new iPad, eBay offered US$310 for a 32GB original 3G iPad. That went down by a hundred bucks as soon as the new iPads began shipping. That isn't very much for our pristine iPads that never spent a day outside their case, and with all the original box and packaging still there. So we're not sure yet what to do with them.

So there. The new iPad. I am glad we got them. The extra speed comes in handy and restores the sense of snappiness of the original iPad when all it had to do was drive the simple initial apps. Having the cameras is fun, and the new "retina" display simply redefines the bar for what a display should be. Being able to take decent quality pictures and HD video on an incredibly crisp 9.7-inch screen makes any dedicated camera look a bit weird.

Posted by conradb212 at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)