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FILE UNDER: Tablet PCs
Posted on: Nov 2nd 2012, 1:56PM

Welcome to the new new iPad, same as the old new iPad. Well, mostly, anyway. It was less than eight months ago that Apple grafted a Retina display onto its world-conquering tablet, giving every other slate on the market resolution envy, while enchanting gadget lovers with world-class performance and battery life.

Now, it's obsolete. Put out to pasture just as it was hitting its stride and replaced by this, the fourth-generation iPad -- still just called "new iPad." Other than a Lightning connector on the bottom it's visually indistinguishable from its predecessor. Even its starting MSRP of $499 stays the same. But, on the inside where it counts, is the new, fire-breathing A6X processor.

This tablet measures 9.5 x 7.3 inches across its glass-covered front, which of course protects that luscious 2,048 x 1,536 Retina display. The tablet still measures 0.37 inches (9.5mm) thick and weighs 1.44 pounds (632 grams) in WiFi guise, as we tested here, 0.02 pounds (10 grams) heavier if you opt for the cellular model. That's 0.6mm thicker and 0.11 pounds heavier than the iPad 2. Again, it's a 2,048 x 1,536, 9.7-inch LCD up front, with a 720p iSight HD camera located front-and-center above the panel and the familiar, concave Home button below. The power/lock button, still slender and made of black plastic, resides on the right side of the top, while the black volume rocker and rotation lock switch can be found on the catty-corner on the right side. On the bottom, of course, is the major change: the Lightning connector. Apple's new interconnect is far superior in every regard to the old Dock port: thinner and easier to connect, more durable and faster when transferring files.

The new iPad has a five megapixel camera on the back and 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera up front, a step up from the VGA unit that was still found wedged inside the bezel of the third-gen iPad. That said, image capture is completed much, much more quickly than before, enabling the kind of rapid-fire shooting we enjoyed on the iPhone 5. Sadly, still no Panorama nor HDR modes here.

The new iPad is the best 10-inch tablet on the market. That said, we'd be lying if we didn't say the new iPad mini is an incredibly compelling alternative, a device so good that perhaps this update was released so soon after its predecessor to maintain the appeal of the bigger, more expensive unit. The conspiracy theorists are welcome to argue this point, but we'll say this with conviction: this is a wonderful time to buy a tablet. If you're still on the fence about buying into Apple's tablet ecosystem, go ahead and pull the trigger already. The only question is: which size?

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