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The new iPad is great, but there are plenty of ‘good enough’ tablet competitors

by Larry Magid

March 30 2012

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and Internet safety advocate. He serves as the on-air technology analyst for CBS News, and also writes columns for CNET, Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and the San Jose Mercury News.


How does Apple's new iPad stack up against older tablets? Surprisingly well.

After spending several days playing with the third-generation iPad, I put it aside and went back to using my Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1, my Kindle Fire and even my old original iPad to see if the experience on the new iPad is really superior to its competitors.

My verdict is mixed. I certainly agree that the Retina display on the new iPad is best in its class and there’s no question that the iPad is host to the largest and best collection of tablet-specific apps.

But the difference between the new iPad and other tablets is far from life-changing, which led me to conclude that if you already own a tablet—just about any tablet—you might be better off sticking with that unless you have extra cash to spend.

Let’s start with the screen. The new iPad’s 9.7-inch screen with 264 pixels per inch is truly an amazing accomplishment, but to take full advantage of it, you need apps that support that resolution. Apple updated some of its own apps to take advantage of the screen, but most other apps aren’t quite up to speed.

Static images look great on Netflix’s updated app, but movies continue to play in 640 by 480 mode. Netflix is reportedly working on streaming movies in high definition.

If it does that, however, that means that the movies will take up even more bandwidth, which could be a major issue for anyone watching streaming video using AT&T’s or Verizon’s 4G cellular networks. Bandwidth aside, high-def video will quickly eat through users’ data plans. The high-def version of “The Muppets” from iTunes uses more than 3 GB, a significant chunk of memory on a $50, 5 GB plan from Verizon.

Kudos for the “new” iPad 2

As per the difference between the iPad 2 and the new iPad, last week someone at Gizmodo put the iPad 2 in the hands of co-workers and told them it was the new iPad. People loved the “new” machine and raved about its screen, not realizing it was the old one they were holding.

I can understand why people felt that way. While you can tell the difference when you hold them side by side, I’m not sure people actually appreciate the difference when using the devices. It’s not like comparing a high-def TV with an old fashioned CRT.

The better screen, faster processor and faster 4G network on the new iPad all demand more battery power, which means a larger battery. That in turn makes the iPad heavier, slight as it may be. My Samsung weighs just over 3 ounces less than the new iPad which isn’t a lot, but it is noticeable.

I also took my Kindle Fire out of mothballs to see how it stacks up and came to appreciate its smaller and lighter footprint. Amazon’s 7-inch tablet weighs only 14.6 ounces, compared to the 23-ounce new iPad. Of course, the Kindle Fire is a lot smaller but that has its advantages as well as its negatives. It’s actually possible to fit it into a large pocket and it fits nicely in places that are too small for an iPad.

Having said this, it’s hard to argue with the critics who have proclaimed the new iPad the best tablet ever and it’s even harder to argue with the millions of consumers who are snapping up the iPad and pretty much ignoring most of the Android tablets.

Apple has more than a lead in this arena, it dominates to the point of almost having a monopoly (a legal one by the way) in the tablet world.

Superior hardware is one reason, but so is the iPad’s ecosystem of apps, cases and accessories that make it so much easier to live in an Apple world than in an Android world.

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and Internet safety advocate. He serves as the on-air technology analyst for CBS News, and also writes columns for CNET, Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and the San Jose Mercury News.

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