'iPad 3' upgrade guide: Who should and who shouldn't

It's easy to spend $500 to $1,000 after one of Apple's euphoria-inducing announcements, but should you?

When Apple unveiled the new iPad today, it did so in a market where there are tens of millions of people like me who already own an iPad. Last year's iPad 2 was a remarkable advance on the groundbreaking original iPad released a year earlier; for many of us, it made sense to dig into our wallets to get the iPad 2. I'm not sure the same is true for the new iPad.

The new iPad popularly called the "iPad 3" -- gone is a version number in the official name -- looks to be very much like the iPhone 4S: a fine device with solid enhancements that you can nonetheless skip if you have the previous model. For example, the iPhone 4S's Siri voice-based assistant is cool, but most of us can live without it until our two-year iPhone 4 contract comes up for renewal; ditto with its faster processor and improved rear camera. The same logic applies to the new iPad if you have an iPad 2; the new iPad's addition of voice dictation (it does not come with Siri) is a nice addition but not worth the $500 and up if you grabbed an iPad 2 last year.

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With the Retina display in the new iPad, text will certainly seem sharper, as it did on the iPhone 4 thanks to the same technology, and movies will look even nicer, especially HD titles. But if you have a year-old iPad 2, the difference in screen quality probably can't justify the $500 for a basic model or $830 for the top-of-the-line unit.

The same goes with the better rear camera and CPU. These types of features are always improved; unless you can't help buying the latest version of every Apple product, it makes more sense to wait until there's a truly must-have new capability or the sum of changes over two or three years justifies the new iPad.

Then there's the new support for the 4G LTE cellular technology for Verizon Wireless and AT&T models. Both carriers aggressively hawk their 4G services, but the truth is that LTE covers just a few cities for AT&T and about a couple dozen for Verizon. AT&T also markets its HSPA+ 3G network falsely as a 4G network, saying in the fine print that its allegedly fast backhaul makes its HSPA+ locations seem as speedy as real 4G. The bottom line is that true 4G availability is quite limited, and speeds are often no better than 3G rates -- that's certainly the case in the San Francisco Bay Area for both networks.

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