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New iPad’s retina display is clearly sharper - but worth the hype?

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TORONTO - Shortly after wrapping up its news conference unveiling the brand new "new iPad," Apple updated its website boasting that the tablet's so-called retina-display screen was "resolutionary."

Made up of 3.1 million pixels — four times more than the iPad 2 and 50 per cent more than high definition TVs — the new iPad's screen is definitely its most compelling new feature, although its extra processing power, camera and LTE connection are also significant improvements.

But does the new iPad’s new screen represent a "revolution" in tablet technology and mobile computing? I don't see it.

Yes, text, photos, graphics and videos are all clearly sharper and more vivid on the new iPad. Small text on a website or in an ebook is perfectly crisp and can be zoomed big with no loss of sharpness, while high-quality photos can be magnified to see tiny details. But it took a side-by-side comparison of the new iPad and its predecessor to fully appreciate the increased resolution. Perhaps it was because the iPad 2 already had a great display, or maybe it was the over-the-top enthusiasm of the early new iPad hype, but my first impression of the retina screen was slightly disappointing. It's a definite upgrade and very easy on the eyes, but isn't quite like the jaw-dropping jump that we saw going from standard definition to high definition television.

The new iPad's boost in processing power is even less visible during routine usage but should become more apparent in the months ahead, as app programmers get more time to develop for the new tablet.

The improved camera, however, is clearly far, far superior to the one built into the iPad 2, which produced decent video but unacceptably bad photos. The new five-megapixel camera takes good photos in a pinch — although it's a little awkward using a tablet as a camera — and video is now recorded in 1080p high definition.

One impressive feature that some buyers might not immediately consider is the ability to connect to high-speed LTE mobile networks through Bell, Rogers or Telus (although the feature isn’t unique to the new iPad). On Rogers' network, my download speed tests surpassed 30 megabits per second, which is more than double the speed I get at home. It wasn't always that fast — it often dipped into the 10 to 15 megabits per second range — but is still far faster than what most mobile users are accustomed to. You may not notice the blistering speeds when surfing the web but it makes video streaming on the go a flawless, buffer-free experience — just make sure to watch how much mobile data you use, going over your limit can be expensive.

Using LTE does put an extra drain on the battery, taking the new iPad's charge from a high of 10 hours down to nine. Despite all the improvements made to the new iPad, the battery time has essentially stayed the same as the iPad 2's, which is impressive.

Given that the new iPad is Apple's latest and greatest, it is surprising that the voice recognition program Siri, which was released with the iPhone 4S, wasn't similarly built into the new tablet. There is, however, a dictation feature on the new iPad that allows you to speak instead of type when sending emails, messages or creating a text document. Like Siri, the results can be somewhat hit and miss. It generally understands what is said but slips in a few errors here and there. Some users will think it's a major time saver, others may find that having to correct a number of mistakes every time is more trouble than it's worth.

Another thing that becomes apparent when comparing the new iPad to the iPad 2 is a slight but noticeable difference in weight. Picking each one up reveals that the new iPad is a little heavier — about 50 grams heftier for both the WiFi-only and mobile-ready versions. Fifty grams might seem like next to nothing — it's the equivalent of a couple of AA batteries — but practically speaking, it's enough extra weight to feel just a little burdensome after holding the new iPad for awhile, especially one-handed. It's certainly not a reason to look for another tablet, but worth noting.

For those who have been on the fence thinking about buying a tablet, choosing the new iPad is a no brainer, especially if price isn’t a major consideration. There are cheaper options out there, but considering the new iPad sells for the same price that you would have paid for an iPad 2 not too long ago — and it's also a superior device — it's not overpriced for what it is.

There's no question the "new iPad" is superior to Apple's older iPad 2 and any other tablet on the market. It's an especially big improvement over the original iPad. But is it new enough to warrant a purchase for those who already own an iPad 2, or another tablet they’re completely happy with? Probably not.

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