KELLNER: ‘New’ iPad a stunning, paradoxical improvement

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The reported first-weekend sales of 1 million units of the “new” Apple iPad leave little doubt that this product, the third in the series, is going to be successful. (AT&T Wireless, in a nebulous one-sentence announcement, said it sold the most iPads it ever did for an opening day, but a spokesman refused to flesh out that claim.)

Perhaps the greater issue is whether you should buy one now. Five days into my ownership experience, I can offer a definite “maybe.”

It’s not that the new iPad isn’t sleek and fun and fast and visually stunning - “It’s all that and a bag of chips,” as a friend likes to say. But if you own a 2011 iPad 2, should you bail and upgrade? Perhaps, but only perhaps.

I’ll return to that question in a moment. First, just how good is this thing?

Let’s start with the screen. Yes, it has a million more pixels than a high-definition television set (not that your reviewer counted each one) and the quality is impressive, as good as, if not better than the HDTV for which I shelled out several thousand dollars a few years back. And while I can’t carry that HDTV with me, the new iPad is quite handy.

It’s my hope that the new iPad will prove its graphics-oriented “chops” when I’m next out on a road trip shooting an event or location with my digital single-lens reflex camera. Between the super-high-resolution screen and a new, iPad version of Apple’s iPhoto, this could be a real game changer for professional photographers and for photo “duffers” such as your reviewer.

I’ve never really been one for benchmarking tests: My contention is that users buy computers (and now tablets) to use, not to benchmark. That said, I can report that the 64 GB new iPad seems faster than a similarly configured iPad 2 from a year earlier, thanks to the beefed-up processor in the new model. One esoteric program a colleague and I both use would, on the old iPad, take a few seconds to load. Now it’s available in the blink of an eye. Other processes seem faster, though, again, I didn’t break out a stopwatch to time them.

Sound quality is impressive, both through the tiny (but not tinny) built-in speaker and particularly when a good pair of headphones is connected. That’s important not only for movie- and TV-show-watching, but also for music. (You can put plenty on a 64 GB iPad.)

What else impresses? Well, the built-in 5-megapixel iSight camera on the rear of the device is a bit lagging, megapixels-wise, against the 8-megapixel iSight camera built into the iPhone 4S. But it should be good enough in a pinch, and it certainly could work nicely with, say, a document-scanning application for road warriors trying to ride herd on receipts, etc.

Nothing in life is perfect, of course, and there are a few things about the new iPad that concern me.

For a change - I’ve been an AT&T Wireless customer for ages - I bought my new iPad with a Verizon-friendly 4G LTE data radio. Signing up (and signing on) is a bit of a hassle, but $20 off the credit card later, I had a month’s worth of data service, 2 GB maximum.

That is, of course, when one could get an appropriate signal. Forget 4G; I got no “Gs” of any kind in Frederick, Md., or on my way home one evening. It was even tough, I kid you not, getting a signal around the corner from Verizon Wireless’ regional office in Fulton, Md. Move into Silver Spring, and the LTE is on and works blazingly fast.

Because Verizon advertises itself as having the best 4G network, I’m sure these are temporary problems. At least I hope so.

The more serious (for me) worry is that this unit seems to burn through battery life rather quickly. I can’t say for certain, because I’d like to go through a couple of charging/discharge cycles before making a determination, but if I were depending upon this new iPad to carry me across the Pacific, I’d find some battery options, and quickly.

Overall, I like this product, but then again, I’m influenced by years of seeing some very good things come out of Cupertino. Should you buy it? If you have an original (i.e., 2010) iPad, definitely, because the speed boost and visual quality will floor you. Got an iPad 2? It’s not a crucial upgrade, but sit next to me on a long flight, and you might start saving your pennies.

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