Apple's new iPad offers a razor sharp display and lightning fast 4G, although Australians have been left in the LTE wilderness.
No, it's not the iPad 3 or the iPad HD. Apple has dubbed its new tablet the "iPad", which is likely to cause some confusion. It's actually seen a slight price drop, with the new Australian 16GB Wi-Fi model selling for $539 and the 16GB Wi-Fi/4G for $679. It's set to hit Australian shelves on March 16, with pre-orders taken from today. The 16GB iPad 2 has been retained, with the price dropping to $429/$569 – putting serious pressure on the Android competition.
LTE let down
Along with the old new name, what's also likely to cause confusion is that the new iPad 4G models only support LTE mobile broadband networks running at 700 MHz and 2100 MHz. That leaves out Telstra's 1800 MHz network – currently Australia's only commercially available LTE offering.
Telstra customers will be forced to fall back on the 850 MHz HSDPA network, although it should still offer iPad 4G users not-too-shabby speeds of up to 42 Mbps via DC-HSDPA . Meanwhile, Optus has run 700, 1800 and 2100 MHz trials, while Vodafone has run 1800 MHz trials. Both telcos are preparing to launch commercial LTE services and it remains to be seen if iPad 4G customers will get any joy.
The iPad 4G models also support both GSM and CDMA, making it easier to roam internationally. Apple has also added 'Personal Hotspot' features, letting users share a mobile broadband connection via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB.
The new iPad's 2048x1536 9.7-inch retina display is its other eye-catching addition, supposedly sharp enough that individual pixels are imperceptible "when held at a normal distance". It roughly doubles the pixel density of the iPad 2, which is similar to the jump from the iPhone 3G S to the iPhone 4. Colour saturation has also been boosted by 44 per cent.
As with the iPhone 4's leap to the retina display, we'll need to wait for third-party app developers to redesign apps to take full advantage of the new iPad's extra pixels. Meanwhile Apple is releasing iOS5.1 and updating flagship apps such iMovie, Garageband, Keynote, Pages, Numbers and iBooks to take advantage of the new iPad's display. Apple has also unveiled iPhoto for the iPad.
Dual-core grunt, quad-core graphics
The iPad's retina display is backed by Apple's new A5X dual-core processor with quad-core graphics. Android still has bragging rights with its handful of quad-core powerplants, but grunt is more than a numbers game and the true test will be in real-world performance.
The new processor reportedly doubles the iPad's performance but Apple says this won't impact on the "up to 10 hour" battery life. As with older iPhones, the original iPad 1 may groan more under the load of a newer operating system and apps designed for a more powerful processor.
The new iPad's extra grunt will enable 1080p movie playback along with 1080p video capture via the improved 5 megapixel iSight rear camera. Apple has upgraded the camera's lens and also added video image stabilisation to compensate for shaking hands. Unfortunately the front camera used for video conferencing is still only 640x480 VGA.
The iPad's sharper display, extra grunt and faster download speeds do require sacrifices.
In a reversal of Apple's 'less is more' mentality, the new models are actually .6 mm thicker and 50g heavier than their predecessors. It's a minor change but may well mean that tight-fitting iPad 2 cases and accessories will not fit on the new iPad.
All things considered the new iPad provides plenty to keep the Apple faithful happy as well as win over new users. It offers more innovation than the leap from the iPad 1 to the iPad 2 and should help Cupertino hold back the Android hordes at the gate.