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Consumer Reports Trolls for More Anti-Apple Hype

So a representative from Consumer Reports magazine appeared on a certain cable TV station claiming that the new iPad ran too hot. This came ahead of the magazine’s actual tests that had a different result, but it sure served as an attention-getter. Suddenly the media was paying attention to an issue that otherwise wouldn’t have been considered very important.

The question on the table: Does the new iPad overheat? Is it burning your hands, or your lap? Did Apple release a defective product? Inquiring minds want to know.

Now to put matters in perspective: Some users did report that the iPad 3 ran warmer than the previous model. This is to be expected with beefier hardware and a much larger current draw from the battery because of the Retina Display and, where equipped, the LTE wireless radio. Apple can do wonders with cooling systems, but they can’t change the laws of physics.

In recent days, some testers have delivered results about the iPad’s heat generation, and it didn’t seem so bad. Maybe it’s 10 to 13 degrees more than the iPad 2, but it’s never more than warm. But faced with the possibility of finding yet another excuse not to recommend a new Apple product — in the tradition of the iPhone 4 and Antennagate — CR’s staff got right to work and set up a test using a high-energy action game,

At the end of the day, though, even Consumer Reports reviewer Donna Tapellini had to admit that the new iPad doesn’t run too hot: “During our tests, I held the new iPad in my hands. When it was at its hottest, it felt very warm but not especially uncomfortable if held for a brief period.” This observation came at a point where the unit was measured at up to 116 degrees, which, by the way, is far higher than every other test of heat generation. The hottest reading Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith could achieve was 99 degrees. That result, therefore, is curious, but that’s not unusual for CR.

There was one problem, however, the result of playing that game while attempting to charge the unit. Here, the current available from the USB connection just wasn’t enough to do both. On the other hand, you hardly think that people will always or even occasionally use an iPad or an iPhone while it’s tethered to a charger. Sure, I do sometimes check my email under such conditions, but otherwise, I leave it well enough alone, as do most of you I’m sure.

In any case, CR raised enough of a fuss for Apple to release a response, in which they stated that the new iPad is “operating well within our thermal specifications.”

Now in advance of CR’s final report on the new iPad, I think we have to put the claims about possible excessive heat in perspective. If the measurement of 116 degrees is correct — and as I said, it’s far higher than other test results — it’s still not hot in the scheme of things. The rear of my 2009 27-inch iMac runs hotter, as do many note-books. Do you remember how many customers complained about the heat produced by a first-generation Intel MacBook or MacBook Pro? Some people suggested you might be able to fry an egg on it, but that’s an exaggeration. At the same time, it could get almost uncomfortably hot without going into a thermal shutdown.

Where was CR then? Oh, that’s right, PC note-books run even hotter, and how often has CR mentioned that terrible truth? Have they ever?

With the new iPad, CR wasn’t able to get the temperatures up without playing a game that taxed the quad-core graphics chip for 45 minutes straight. At the same time, such gear is equipped to go into a thermal shut down in the event it runs too hot. And 116 degrees isn’t even close. For normal use and service, it’ll run much cooler, but I have no objection with CR testing the extremes. After all, when they test autos, they will perform emergency handling tests to see how a vehicle will perform if you have to make an abrupt maneuver to avoid a road obstacle of some sort, even if it’s an animal or a person. If the vehicle goes out of control under such conditions, and a very few do, that becomes a serious safety issue.

If CR refused to recommend the new iPad because of runs a little warmer under stressful conditions, that would be curious, because it doesn’t stand the logic test. At the same time, and to be fair, CR should be testing all other tablets under similar conditions to see how they fare. With the controversial antenna on the iPhone 4, they devised a test where just one product failed, without taking into account the fact that, when held in somewhat different ways, other mobile handsets also had severe signal drops.

As I’ve said in the past, most members of the press give CR a pass. They are considered incorruptible, even though the magazine clearly hasn’t a clue how to properly review tech gear. But I’m also seeing a change. Members of the tech media are beginning to realize that CR does have an agenda, and that agenda is not to simply review products thoroughly and without bias. Unfortunately the eagerness with which they jumped into this bath shows yet again that they did it to generate publicity (and sales of the magazine no doubt), not just to provide an honest review of a hot-selling gadget.

However, in fairness to CR, they are now saying that they do not consider the temperature readings they recorded in their tests of the new iPad to reflect a potential safety hazard, and that it wouldn’t influence their final rating. At least that’s progress.