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New iPad giving users a warm feeling — and not in a good way

Consumer Reports finds the device can reach 116 degrees. The magazine's test comes after user complaints. An Apple spokeswoman says the new iPad operates 'well within our thermal specifications.'

March 20, 2012|By David Sarno and Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Analysts say its not surprising for new devices that often are packed with more electronics to get warmer than their predecessors. Above, customers check out the new Apple iPad at an Apple store in San Francisco.
Analysts say its not surprising for new devices that often are packed with… (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg )

Here's a hot story, especially if you're reading this on the new iPad.

The popular device — 3 million were sold in its first weekend — can reach 116 degrees during intensive use, according to a test by Consumer Reports. The analysis came as more iPad owners complained that the latest version of the tablet computer got warm — very warm in some cases.

The consumer magazine ran a graphics-intensive video game for 45 minutes and found that the device got hottest on its back panel, in one corner, likely near the computer processor. It was hottest when plugged into an outlet.

It wasn't the first time that the nonprofit Consumer Reports has turned up the heat on a new Apple product.

In 2010, the influential consumer guide called attention to an antenna problem on Apple's iPhone 4, noting the device seemed to lose its reception when held a certain way. Apple apologized and offered free protective cases for affected customers. Still, the antenna flaw did little to hamper sales of the device, which is still Apple's bestselling product.

Beryn Hammil, a San Francisco blogger and interior designer, got her new iPad on Friday and noticed that evening that the device got very warm when it was "just sitting there doing basic functions" such as email and running apps.

"It wasn't so hot that I went, 'Ouch,' like when you touch a hot pot," Hammil said of her 32 GB, Wi-Fi-only iPad. "But it was hot enough that I went, 'Hmm I don't want to leave my hand here.' "

Hammil said her original iPad never felt unusually warm. She's now monitoring blogs and news stories "to see if there's a recall or a swap or something they're doing to address it."

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the new iPad operates "well within our thermal specifications" and that if iPad owners have concerns they should contact Apple customer service for help. She did not elaborate on the precise thermal specifications.

Analysts say its not surprising for new devices that often are packed with more electronics to get warmer than their predecessors.

During the last decade, the computer industry increasingly began calling portable computers "notebooks" rather than "laptops," in part because the increasingly powerful devices were becoming so hot that users could no longer comfortably situate the devices on their laps.

In order to carry more power and last longer, mobile device batteries must pack more energy into the same space. Apple says its new iPad's battery lasts 10 hours. That's about the same duration as the earlier models, but the new device has a far more sophisticated screen and graphics processor, both of which require more power to operate than the earlier models.

"There's always a compromise," said Isidor Buchmann, the chief executive of battery diagnostics firm Cadex Electronics Inc. "Yes, you can pack higher capacities into a battery of the same size, but then the internal resistance goes up."

And more resistance means more heat.

But how hot is 116 degrees?

Consumer Reports said 120 degrees "is too hot for laptops" and "can cause skin abrasions over a long period of time," spokesman James McQueen said. But he noted that the iPad doesn't get that hot, and only reaches its maximum temperature when it's plugged in —not the normal case for the portable tablets.

"We don't think the iPad runs hot enough to cause injury, just discomfort depending on how it's held," McQueen said.

Marlyse Comte, a Web developer and designer, has owned all three generations of iPads. When the latest version arrived in the mail, she said she noticed that it got "really, really warm" on the sides and on the glass surface.

"When I say it was really hot it wasn't comparable to a laptop, but hot compared to any other iPad, where I never felt anything," Comte said. "My first thought was maybe by mistake I bought a lemon."

Comte began searching online for a solution and came across an Apple message board where many people had posted similar overheating problems. The Kansas City, Mo., resident turned the iPad's screen from 100% brightness to 85% and said "the problem vanished."

"It's so sharp and it's so crystal clear that I'm fine with it, actually," she said.

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