The new iPad — more of the same, twice as tasty [Review]

With little other than a display revamp, the new iPad is a little brighter, crisper and heavier. But is it equally as loveable?

Retina Display is king

If you’re an existing owner of iPad or iPad 2, you’ll certainly notice the difference between versions. Text and images are both clearer thanks to the 2048×1536 Retina Display which is four times the number of pixels than previous iPad models. Other hardware upgrades includes the back camera which has been bumped to 5-megapixal and renamed the iSight. The front-facing camera, however, remains frustratingly low-res. The back camera also shoots in 1080p for what it’s worth. The general form factor is pretty much unchanged, although 60g heavier.

What is new is the crystal-clear screen. This makes for a much improved, definitely less fuzzy reading and app experience across the board on the 9.7-inch display. The image quality is, to quote Apples carefully researched marketing, “razor sharp”. With four-times the pixels of the iPad 2, the new iPad sits at a PPI of 264.

I tested a slew of titles to put the new display in its place. Gaming (Infinity Blade 2) is delicious. The game loaded almost instantly and defied expectations. This is console-like gaming and if I were an Xbox, I’d be crapping my digital shorts.

Text is now beyond crispness. Letters are etched into the screen and pixel-hunting is close to impossible. Reading an eBook is pure joy.

I’m about to descend into fanboy gushiness now, but nothing can beat this screen. Currently, nothing comes close and the Retina Display screen belies HD TV’s for the coveted “best display ever” award.

Sound is a sore area though, and there are no notable changes to the iPad when it comes to audio, which is shame as it can often mean an uncomfortable holding situation due to the placement of the speaker area. It’s passable, but a high-quality pair of earphones are still a must.

But what about the battery?  There’s no change here thanks to the semi-new dual-core CPU which is carefully mixed with a new quad-core graphics component called the A5X. This equates to 10 hours of “casual” surfing on Wi-Fi, or nine hours if using cellular internet. The meaty 1GB RAM alone cranks the new iPad into lightening faster territories.

4G’s future

The decision to include 4G LTE was a wise one. For users in countries which support this high-speed data transmission, they can expect theoretical speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Realistically you should expect far less than that, but it’s not uncommon to see download speeds of up to 50Mbps on certain LTE networks. I couldn’t test this though, so we’ll just give Apple a hesitant pass.

An easy decision

So it’s clear, despite the cheaper versions of the older models, Apple is going graphics heavy and wants you to do the same. The question which really remains though is, “should I upgrade from my iPad 2?” In this reviewer’s opinion yes, you should.

The iPad is a step forward due to usability tweaks on apps such as AirPlay, voice dictation and even manages to add additional gestural interface motions. The display, whilst not terrible in previous versions, was hardly ideal and seriously held it back for long periods of use. The sustained battery life is a particularly nice touch considering the drain the new resolution entails but it’s less about what the hardware really allows — it’s more about what the apps that these upgrades now permit.  Richer graphics means greater gaming experiences, sharper images for magazines and faster processors means dynamic content types are now a breeze. HTML5 bends over backwards to accommodate the new iPad. I posted an example below, with the iPad 2 on the left and the iPad 3 on the right.

Issues, I have a few

It’s HD issues, mostly. Non-HD content looks shocking on the new iPad. It’s like watching a standard TV broadcast on a full-HD LED screen. Colours are washed out, images are pixelated and ghosting occurs on upscaled, non-HD apps. It looks like garbage but this is an Apple so I fully expect the market to flood with iPad 3 HD apps in the coming months.

Minor gripe: the iPad 3 gets rather hot after prolonged use. It’s a legitimate issue for some, but in my tests, the device cools down as quickly as it heats up.

The front-facing camera is also a sick joke Apple is playing on us. A VGA camera on a 2012 devices is unacceptable.

By far my biggest gripe is Siri. Why her presence is not included on the iPad 3 is unknown. You’ll be stuck with the dictation feature, which works exceptionally well, but isn’t enough for me after Siri.

Next-gen prices

This adds up to the iPad being quite a step above anything that’s currently available. How long it remains this way, is up to competitors. The hefty price tag attached to an outright purchase is hardly surprising. Price-wise, the 16GB model starts at US$499, 32GB comes in at US$100 more and 64GB another US$100 on top of that. The top of the range iPad therefore equates to around US$699. Not a small chunk of change but current owners may take solace in the buy-back scheme recently announced by Apple.

However you spin it, this is a major upgrade, if not for the crazy-high res screen and beefy speeds alone. Is the iPad worth a purchase for current owners? That’s a possible yes. First time tablet owners should snap the new iPad up as quickly as possible though and enjoy Apple’s shiny vision of tablets in 2012 and beyond.


Paul Armstrong


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