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A Foolish review of Apple’s new iPad

As one of The Motley Fool’s most vocal Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) bulls, it probably won’t surprise any of you that I’m the proud owner of the new iPad, despite the fact that I already own way too many Apple products than I can reasonably justify.

I decided to go all out and so I picked up a 64 GB model with 4G. How does Cupertino’s latest iteration stack up? Will competitors ever be able to catch up?

Display: So … sharp.

The Retina Display is absurd. But in the best possible way. As the primary selling point for me, and the most difficult component for suppliers to manufacture, nothing compares. It’s only been a couple of days, but I’m already spoiled by how sharp the resolution is. At 264 pixels per inch, or ppi, it makes my 11-inch MacBook Air’s display look inadequate at 135 ppi, not to mention my 27-inch iMac’s 109 ppi. (I told you I have too many iProducts, right?)

There are three potential suppliers of the display: Samsung, LG Display, and Sharp. There’s some debate over how many of these suppliers are actually providing the displays at this point, but Samsung has confirmed that it’s not the sole supplier.

In hindsight, it’s a little shocking that no other gadget maker has pushed this envelope this far before. Increasing a display’s resolution shouldn’t be a breakthrough notion in itself, yet why have no other device makers pushed its suppliers to make it happen? It’s not as if Apple is manufacturing these things by itself.

As in other categories, rivals will likely hop on after coming to this realisation, especially as Samsung provides one of the most bountiful Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android OEMs. Displays of this resolution are bound to eventually become the standard, and it’s hard to go back after getting accustomed to such high pixel density.

4G: So … (kind of) fast.

Okay, 4G is incredibly fast, but there’s a catch. Unfortunately we can’t use the iPad’s built-in 4G capability in Australia – the technology in the device is different to that being used by our mobile carriers. Telstra Limited (ASX: TLS) has been the first mainstream carrier to market with a 4G service, which sports incredibly impressive speeds, which some have said are faster than home WiFi. So the iPad won’t have inbuilt 4G capability here, but Telstra has just announced a 4G WiFi modem, which will do the trick (and if the budget stretches, you won’t look back).

Camera: So … adequate.

It’s now that confirmed that OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI) is back in the camera driver’s seat and the company is hoping that Sony‘s tryst with the iPhone 4S was just a one-night stand.

The 5-megapixel image sensor is identical to the one found in the iPhone 4, so it’s nothing to call home about. It’s a healthy win for OmniVision that should boost its top line, but not as much as a pricier and newer sensor would have.

The tablet form factor isn’t particularly conducive for photo shooting, but it might come in handy someday.

A5X: So… large
As suspected, Apple’s custom A5X processor did turn out to be built on a 45-nanometer manufacturing process at Sammy’s foundries, just like the A5 before it. One notable difference between the two chips is that the A5X’s die size is significantly larger at 163 millimeters squared (as opposed to 122 millimeters squared on the A5).

This is largely to accommodate the extra 2 graphics cores, but also adds fodder to the argument that the A5X won’t turn up in the next iPhone, since smartphones have much less physical space to spare inside. It also adds some context to Apple’s comparison to NVIDIA‘s (Nasdaq: NVDA) Tegra 3, with Cupertino claiming 4x graphics outperformance.

Laptop Mag ran some benchmarks that showed the A5X outperforming in a couple of categories (with the Tegra 3 winning one), but it wasn’t a fourfold difference. The A5X chipset is roughly twice the size of the Tegra 3, so it’s using a lot more real estate to deliver that performance.

This is also another area where I’d expect Sammy to take what it’s learning from supplying Apple components and apply that knowledge to its own competing products. NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang even noted this on NVIDIA’s last conference call.

Long live the king!

The new iPad reinvigorates Apple’s lead in the tablet market and continues to raise the bar that Android devices have already been struggling to jump. Contrary to what IDC predicts, I don’t see Android dethroning the iPad as the tablet king, especially if Apple continues to aggressively price older models each year to defend its crown.

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