Why I'm buying a new iPad, despite my own advice

After a drop off a desk destroyed my iPad 2, I went back to my Android tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. But I won't be staying.

A trip off the desk, landing charging cable first on a hardwood floor, sprung this iPad 2's glass and broke the home button.
A trip off the desk, landing charging cable first on a hardwood floor, sprung this iPad 2's glass and broke the home button. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Ordinarily I advise people to upgrade their gadgets every second generation. So why am I not taking my own advice with the third-generation iPad?

Maybe it was carelessness. Then again, maybe my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was jealous that the iPad 2 was getting all the attention.

I had set the iPad 2 on top of the Galaxy Tab, which in turn was resting on a couple external hard drives in the power-strip section of my office where most of my electronica goes when it needs a current fix. (Don't ask me about my office, and really don't ask my wife.) One of the hard disks was propped up a bit for better airflow, so the Galaxy Tab was sloped just a smidgen. Apparently it's slippery enough that the iPad 2 gradually slithered its way off until it fell down to the hardwood floor.

It had been charging, and through some butter-side-down phenomenon, the charging cable was the first thing that hit.

The first result: the iPad glass bowed out, the 30-pin charging connector was smashed up into the iPad, and the nearby home button stopped working.

The second result: a trip to the Apple store, where a genius told me the only thing Apple would do is sell me a new iPad 2 for 400 euros (about $525). I couldn't put the money toward an iPad 3, and though I could have sold it, the hassle didn't seem worthwhile.

The third result: Gazelle is going to pay me $75 for my borked iPad 2 , and I'm paying Apple a lot more than that, because I just ordered the third-generation iPad.

dented iPad corner
An earlier drop onto a tile floor left the iPad 2 corner dented, but the tablet otherwise was fine. Good thing aluminum is a soft metal. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Ordinarily, I wouldn't have upgraded. The third-generation iPad seems a solid replacement for the first iPad--faster processor, 4G wireless networking, thinner. But unless you have lots of extra money sitting around, moving from an iPad 2 to its successor just seems extravagant.

If you travel a lot, the Wi-Fi hot spot feature could be very helpful. And because I read a lot of text and look at a lot of photos, the high-resolution Retina Display is very compelling feature to me. But it's not as if the iPad 2 is suddenly awful.

Samsung gripes
What has been disappointing, though, is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. I like Android well enough on phones, but it can be pretty rough on tablets. I expect it'll improve once Ice Cream Sandwich arrives--Samsung has finally announced plans to bring Android 4.0 to the Galaxy Tab 10.1--but the prospect of waiting even more weeks or months leaves me cold.

There are plenty of apps I like fine on the Galaxy Tab--Gmail and Riptide GP, for example, or the Kindle reader, though it's slow to load. But I have difficulties with phone apps that don't scale up gracefully to tablet size.

I prefer the Android realm's approach to buying apps--one purchase means you can use the app on all your devices, vs. the common iOS situation of regular iPhone versions vs. more expensive "HD" iPad versions vs. even more expensive universal apps for either. But Android programmers or programming tools haven't fully adjusted to the reality of big-screen tablets yet.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is generally slick, but within a month of use, the glass started peeling away from the case on mine.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is generally slick, but within a month of use, the glass started peeling away from the case on mine. Stephen Shankland/CNET

As more Android apps are adapted for tablets, perhaps this will improve, but it's been pretty troublesome. Even the Google+ app, which you'd think would be very high on Google's priority list right now, is weak: it boots into a vast, empty screen with five icons that clearly look more at home on a small phone screen. And also, wouldn't it be better to be engaging with your contacts rather than gazing at a start menu?

Other problems are poor standby battery life, at least in my case, and the infuriating boot loop that's now afflicted me twice. The tablet restarts endlessly, never actually getting to a usable state. The good news is that Chung Wu's boot loop repair instructions worked well for me. It goes faster the second time around.

In the hardware department, I find the narrower viewing angle of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 distracting when reading e-books with the screen dim at night. The touch screen simply isn't as responsive as the iPad's, which makes interactions more of a drag. And the build quality, while generally good, isn't up to snuff: within a month of use, one corner of the screen had popped out of the aluminum housing.

Bowed glass on a broken iPad 2
The glass bowed up on the iPad 2 after its fall off the desk. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Missing the iPad
I debated whether to sit out the iPad consumer frenzy, but my dissatisfaction with the Samsung tablet and the household demand for the iPad made things pretty clear: life is too short to live with a subpar tablet.

I'm not dying without one, so I opted to wait the three or four weeks (including ship time) by ordering online. In the meantime, perhaps I'll try installing CyanogenMod 9 on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to see how much of a difference Ice Cream Sandwich makes.

And next time, chastened by my expensive mistake and my cracked Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone , I'm going to be more careful.

I obviously don't really believe a jealous Android tablet gave the iPad a shove, but this experience has reinforced my belief that I shouldn't have to treat a tablet like a Faberge egg. Durability is worth paying for. At Mobile World Congress, I saw waterproof phones underwater , and shockproof cameras are becoming ordinary, so clearly some electronics designers see the value.

I'm not asking for a tablet that could take a bullet on the battlefield, and I recognize that ruggedness adds bulk, weight, and expense.

But for something that costs $500 to $829, that's designed to be toted around, and that has such appeal to kids, durability is a feature that would benefit everyone.

 

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