New iPad Faster, Sharper but Missing a Little 'Wow'

Early reviews of the new iPad are in. While most still find the iPad superior to other tablets, this new version lacks a specific "wow" factor that's been common to Apple products.

The new Apple iPad goes on sale March 17, and the early reviews are in. People like it. It's really nice. Apple made some great updates to the iPad 2. The screen is impressively sharper, and where there's Long-Term Evolution (LTE) access, it's really much faster.

Still, no one was super, Apple-style blown away. No major tingles up the spine. No "one last thing." It's just a really nice update€”which is the type of thing consumers have come to expect from Microsoft, or maybe Samsung, but not Apple.

Is this the moment we begin really wondering about Apple without Steve Jobs?

Either way, there's no bad news here. The New York Times' David Pogue and The Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg, two of the most venerable reviewers in the industry, agree that Apple's is still hands-down the best tablet money can buy.

The iPad's greatest new feature is its Retina Display, which has 2 million pixels more than an HD television.

"[H]igh-definition videos look dazzling," writes Pogue. "This is the world€™s first tablet that can actually show you hi-def movies in full 1080p high definition."

Mossberg called it "the most spectacular display I have ever seen in a mobile device." Using it, he added, "is like getting a new eyeglasses prescription€”you suddenly realize what you thought looked sharp before wasn't nearly as sharp as it could be."

But there's a downside to this. Two, really. Apps that haven't been updated to high definition, like Netflix's streaming movies, suddenly seem a bit disappointing. Like how painting one room in a house can suddenly make the others seem shabby.

Mossberg, holding the iPad 2 and the "don't call it an iPad-3" side-by-side, which most people won't do, writes that "letters and words that had seemed sharp on the older model five minutes earlier suddenly looked fuzzier."

The sharper display also eats into storage, in again more than one way. Pogue explains that Retina-ready apps use two to three times more of the iPad's nonexpandable storage than pre-Retina apps. To take advantage of the new display, developers must rework the graphics at a higher resolution, which makes for much larger files.

Worse, continues Pogue, the new apps actually also means less space on iPhones as well, as the new apps sit alongside the old, moot apps, on the iPad as well as the iPhone, since many are written to run on both.

"In other words," says Pogue, "iPhone owners, too, will wind up losing storage space because of this graphic-bloat ripple-down effect."

But, more pros: The lame sub-1-megapixel camera on the back of the iPad 2 has been replaced with a 5-megapixel version and a feature that helps work around users' shaky hands.

There's a speedier processor and that added 4G LTE connectivity on AT&T and Verizon Wireless networks are together said to make the new iPad run "buttery smooth," according to Mossberg. On the Verizon network, the new iPad can also work as a tether, enabling users to connect other WiFi-enabled devices. (AT&T, as it said for years about tethering on the iPhone, is working on it.)

Apple also managed to add these new battery-devouring features while keeping battery life consistent€”though that too comes at a price. The new iPad is a smidge thicker and heavier€”8 percent heavier and 7 percent thicker, by Mossberg's math€”than its predecessor.

If you have the original iPad, or another tablet, or no tablet at all, the new iPad will surely seem light and lovely. But if you have an iPad 2?

"It€™s a very slight difference," says Pogue, "but fingers used to handling the old iPad will feel it, and that€™s too bad."

Also too bad, Apple added a button for voice dictation€”users, particularly those less fond of typing on the on-screen keyboard, can dictate text messages or emails€”instead of fully bringing Siri on board, as many expected. The transcription, performed by servers somewhere, is said to be good though not incredible; words like "baby" and "maybe" can be swapped.

In summary? Mossberg writes that since the 2010 launch of the iPad, Apple has offered the world's best tablets. "It still holds that crown."

Pogue pointed to some silver lining: Apple took its excellent tablet and made it "better looking, better integrated and more consistently designed than any of its rivals." That means that if you have an iPad 2, instead of feeling bummed out about being so quickly left in the dust, "you don't have to feel quite as obsolete as usual."

To squeeze in a last-minute, third perspective, USA Today's Edward C. Baig offered a different take.

"No extra storage or expansion options, no smaller-screen model to compete against the likes of Amazon's Kindle Fire. Still no Adobe Flash, and no camera flash, either. Not even Siri ... " wrote Baig.

He went on, as though anyone were ever worried about Apple: "No big deal. Apple may have left a few things out. But Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates Apple will sell up to 60 million iPads this year."

It's the consistent wow factor that consumers around the world look to Apple for, that more of us may quietly be worried about.