Right after the big announcement, we headed across for a hands on look at the New iPad. Here’s our first hand report:

From the outset, looking at the New iPad is like a bit of deja vu – it seems nearly identical to the iPad 2, and for the most part, it is. The only cosmetic differences are that the New iPad is marginally thicker – about 0.8 of a millimetre, it’s fractionally heavier and the camera lens has a larger diameter. When comparing the two though, it’s very difficult to tell unless you have them side by side. Otherwise, all of the connectors, switches and buttons are in the same place, and there are choices of black and white bezels. The units we saw had the same magnetic Apple Smartcovers that the iPad 2 came with.

The iPad 2 compared with the New iPad (with Smartcover). It's not easy to see a difference.

However, the big question is what about that Retina screen? From a first hand point of view, it is simply amazing. The degree of sharpness is unlike anything available on a tablet today. This really becomes apparent when viewing web pages, where often text sizes need zooming in to read comfortably. Now, those smaller blocks of text are razor sharp and much easier to read, and there wasn’t a ‘jaggy’ or pixellated curve in sight. Also, the new Retina display has about 44% greater colour saturation, which means brighter, more vibrant colours. This was particularly noticeable when looking at photos with greens and reds in them, and the extra detail you can see in the photos and video is fantastic.

The New iPad's Retina display has 44% greater saturation.

The updated 5 megapixel camera is a needed improvement, but interestingly, it’s not has high-end as the 8 megapixel version found in the iPhone 2. The camera has 5 lenses and an IR filter, but we didn’t see any evidence of a HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, like that found on the iPhone 4S. When testing the camera, it was able to pick out faces from the crowd opposite, and put green boxes around them.

The new iPad's 5 megapixel camera, and face detection, in action.

New versions of iMovie, Garage Band and iWork were installed on the demo units, and we managed a very brief look at them. Most notably, a new iPhoto is available on iOS devices, and it has a lot of impressive features for managing, sharing and editing your photos. Apple seems to have incorporated the best of many 3rd party photo applications into one elegantly designed tool. We’ll write reviews on iPhoto for iOS and the other updated applications once we have some time to use them.

iPhoto has now been ported for the iPad and has some excellent photo-editing features.

The New iPad’s A5X chip appeared to do its job well. Menus, zooming functions, swiping and application loads were brisk – and there was no apparent stuttering or delays. During the short time that we spent with it, the New iPad seemed just as responsive as the iPad 2.

Looking closely, you can see the LTE network settings.

The New iPad’s LTE network compatibility in Australia is still a big question. At time of writing, it appears that the New iPad will definitely be faster than 3G tablets when operating on Dual Channel (DC) HSDPA cellular networks – as this is supported along with variations of LTE. DC HSDPA provides about 41Mbps versus the 7.2Mbps download speeds available with 3G. These are ‘theoretical figures’, however, so real-world speeds will be less. LTE is meant to be faster still – around 90Mbps but it does not appear that Australians will be able to enjoy the full speed capabilities of LTE yet – as Australian LTE networks are slightly different.