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First Look review: The new iPad is shaping up as the best tablet yet

Consumer Reports News: March 16, 2012 06:08 PM

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Apple's new iPad has taken a fine product, the iPad 2, and made it notably better, according to preliminary tests today in our lab. This third-generation iPad is shaping up to be the best tablet we've ever tested, whether from Apple or any other manufacturer.

As we reported earlier today, the third-generation iPad has a display that renders color and detail superbly, better even than its predecessor, whose display ranks among the best on the market. The new Retina display squeezes 3.1 million pixels into the iPad's 9.7-inch screen. That's four times the number of pixels in the iPad 2, and the differences were clear in our tests.

In further tests, the display also proved its mettle on games. When both were running the same sophisticated video games, the higher resolution of the new iPad made for smoother edges to people or objects, especially when they were in sharp contrast to the background. And there was also more detail apparent in those backgrounds.

Apple has also replaced the dual-core processor in the iPad 2 with a quad-core A5X graphics processor in the new model. That processor allowed the new iPad to render those sharper images with no degradation in smoothness.

Gaming action looked equally smooth on both the new and old iPads. That held whether they were running Infinity Blade II, Madden NFL 2012, Mass Effect Infiltrator, or Skygamblers: Air Supremacy, a new game that Apple touts as a showcase for the new iPad. We'll do another comparison of games on the two iPad versions once there are more gaming titles available, since it's possible that some new games might actually look even more realistic on the new iPad than on the iPad 2.

The quad-core processor serves another purpose: The iPad's high-resolution display requires more power, and the efficiency of the A5X should help mitigate the battery drain it causes. We'll post results of our battery life tests soon.

Among the other improvements to the device is an upgraded camera, one with 5 megapixels compared with less than one megapixel for the iPad 2. Besides its edge in resolution, the new iPad yielded very good images in our preliminary camera tests, compared with fair images produced by the iPad 2.

The upshot of our tests to date with the new iPad tablet computer? Apple has taken an excellent product and improved it significantly, though not dramatically.

—Paul Reynolds and Donna L. Tapellini

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