It is now 3 years later, and Apple has just released its 3rd generation iPad, or just simply called “The new iPad”. Confusing as it might be for many people, the latest iPad is the biggest jump so far for Apple’s tablet. Whereas the iPad 2 was perhaps a refinement of the original iPad with an extra core for processing, and a thinner case, the new iPad is a massive upgrade in terms of graphics, power and overall usability.
But the thing is – the iPad 2 is now a year old, still a very good tablet device, and arguably the best tablet out there. While the Android tablets have been catching up fast, the sales of Apple’s device still dominate. But this time around the competition is stiffer than ever, especially with launch of high end tablets like the Asus Transformer Prime. So what have the worker bees in Cupertino been up to in the last year?
Design and Build
First off – if you already have an iPad 2, it will be very tough to spot the differences with the new iPad. In fact, the only giveaway is a slightly thicker case (which we will get to later), a slightly bigger lens on the back, and a slightly heavier weight (yes, all “slight” changes). So if you wanted someone to spot your 3rd generation iPad across a boardroom table – sorry.
But the build is still first rate – all steel and glass. It is still the best looking tablet out there, and the stark minimalism means that it will be instantly identified as the iPad. In terms of buttons it is exactly the same as before. On the front there is the Home button to take you back to the springboard, a sleep/wake button on top, and a volume rocker on the right hand side. Oh, and a mute switch. Simple.
But it is not all good news – even though the average user will not notice the new iPad being slightly thicker, it does make finding a decent case for the iPad very tough. While loose fitting sleeves and cases still fit fine, tight fitting or rigid cases just do not fit at all. My favourite case, a Speck Fitfolio, just does not fit properly. So, here is one little problem for early adopters – your existing iPad 2 case might not fit.
This is the showpiece of the new iPad. Apple took the insane high resolution from the iPhone (called “Retina” because the eye cannot distinguish pixels in normal use), and jacked it up to the iPad’s 10-inch screen. This means that the new iPad carries a massive 2048 x 1536 resolution. Just to put it in context – that is more than a million more pixels than your fancy Full HD television. All squeezed into a 10-inch display.
But numbers and pictures just do not do this display justice. Text looks painted on the screen, and at normal viewing distances, you cannot see the pixels at all. Images are brilliant and viewing photos are just as good (if not better) than actual printed photos. I suddenly had a very critical eye for my photos – you instantly see the slightest blur in images.
But the biggest change is most definitely in reading. Magazines look simply brilliant, and if publishers ever worried about the reading experience on the iPad, they need to rethink that notion. I immediately loaded Car Magazine through the Zinio app, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything in the magazine looks better. Images are sharper, and I do not have to zoom in to see small text, as was the case with the iPad 2. I would argue that magazines for the first time look better on the iPad than on actual paper.
But, that incredibly high resolution means that you instantly see poor resolution images. In fact, they stick out on any page or app you might be viewing. Even something as simple as the Google logo does not look great on the iPad screen – for the first time I saw pixels in their logo. But after using the new iPad screen, you suddenly notice pixels on every other larger screen you use. This is clearly Apple’s vision of the future, and I have a strong feeling that seeing actual pixels on a screen will disappear in the future.
However you very quickly get used to it. In fact, you want to avoid looking at an iPad 3 if you already have an iPad 1 or 2. Going back to the old iPad screens are like looking through a net – and the “poorer” resolution really does start to bother you.
Obviously to drive that massive resolution, Apple had to upgrade the internals. Driving those larger size on-screen elements require more memory, processing power, graphics, and also battery. Apple delivered on all fronts, and the iPad 3 is a massive jump in mobile device performance.
The new A5X processor is a big upgrade from the previous A5 system on a chip, but the CPU portion essentially stays unchanged. In fact, in pure CPU based benchmarks, the latest iPad does not score higher, but Apple has gone and doubled the RAM to 1GB, and increased the graphics processor to four cores.
This means that graphics intensive games and apps look incredible on this new iPad. Nevermind the giant resolution – framerates and graphics really just look better. Apps just fire up faster than ever, and I never experienced any lag, even in apps like iBooks textbooks and iPhoto.
Apple also threw a 4G radio inside this iPad, but I could not test the LTE functionality in SA, but existing 3G networks could be joined without any issue. Just a pointer – if you have someone grabbing you a new iPad 3 in the US, make sure to get the GSM based AT&T models, not the Verizon model. That way if LTE ever launches in SA, you will have a better chance of it working.
To drive that big resolution, bigger GPU and new LTE radio, the new iPad needs quite a lot more battery power. This means Apple had to increase the internal battery to keep that legendary 10 hour + battery life. I have no idea how Apple did it, but they somehow increased the internal battery by almost 70%. The previous iPad had a 6930mAh battery, and the new iPad has a 11560mAh battery.
But that 70% increase in battery size does not necessarily mean better battery life – their engineers clearly work within very fine tolerances, because somehow they managed to keep the battery almost exactly the same as before. That means if you are one of those typical iPad users who only charge their device once or twice a week, you can expect exactly the same with the new iPad. The iPad’s battery life is still absolutely stellar – you can continually play videos for more than 10 hours continually. This great battery life means the iPad is still the ultimate conference or meeting companion.
The massive battery creates a new problem for the iPad. It means that charging the battery takes a very long time. Whereas the previous generation iPad that was 3G enabled could charge in 3 hours, the new iPad takes 6 hours + with the included iPad 10w charger. Why Apple did not increase the wattage on the new iPad’s charger is beyond me? Just keep in mind – a Macbook Air 11 inch currently has about the same size battery, but gets a decent 40w power supply. Come on Apple!
This also means that you are forced to charge an empty battery overnight. Also, you cannot hope to quickly charge your iPad with your PC anymore. Even on a 2011 Mac Mini (which as higher voltage USB ports), the battery trickle charged incredibly slowly. So keep your iPad charger safe, you cannot get by with borrowing an iPhone charger any more and don’t even try charging the iPad from your PC.
I have never been too positive about cameras on tablets. One of the criticisms of the original iPad was the lack of a camera, then Apple listened and put cameras in the iPad 2 and low and behold, I almost never used the camera on my iPad 2.
The new iPad does have a pretty great camera though. This time Apple took the sensor from the iPhone 4, and the optics from the iPhone 4s, and blessed the iPad with a 5MP shooter that takes some pretty great photos. It is also now enabled to record 1080p HD video, which looks great on the new display.
With the launch of the new iPad, Apple made available iPhoto for the iPad and iPhone, and it looks stunning on the new iPad. Anybody who thought that the iPad is only good for content consumption might want to look at iPhoto on the Retina display. I reckon with the combination of the new improved camera and the brilliant iPhoto software, we might be seeing more people use their iPad for taking photos.
But you still look silly holding a tablet up for a photo. Not even the engineers in Cupertino can solve that.
This is perhaps the easiest part to praise about the iPad. The iPad’s applications simply work better than other platforms, and with the Retina display they look even better. The integrated ecosystem that makes using Apple devices such a joy to use is still there, and the iPad will be a brilliant bargaining tool for Apple to get people to buy even more Apple stuff.
iOS is still a first rate mobile operating system, and with Mac OS X’s future adoption of some iOS type features, it is clearly the future of computing for Apple. While the grid of icons might look boring compared to more adventurous interfaces like Metro on the Windows Phone devices, it really is super intuitive to use. Go into an app, click home to go out of an app. Simple.
The new iPad does not add a lot of software specific enhancements, but Apple obviously made all the built in apps Retina display ready, and all their own apps in the Appstore. The only other enhancement I could find was the new dictation button on the keyboard, which enables you to simply tap, then talk. The iPad will then convert that speech to text through you. This is not Siri however – so don’t expect some snarky comebacks to your speech.
Existing non-Retina apps already look great on the new iPad. Text heavy apps simply render all the text in higher resolution, but developers need to change their buttons and graphics in order to look truly great on Retina. Luckily, the app developers seem to be rolling out the Retina updates hard and fast, so most of the apps on my iPad already looked great. Another enhancement is that iPhone–only apps now look a lot better than on the previous iPad. Whereas the iPad 1 and 2 only ran iPhone apps at old non-Retina graphics like from the iPhone 3GS days, the new iPad makes iPhone apps look pretty great.
Late last year I reviewed the iPhone 4s, which was a very evolutionary upgrade to an already great phone. At first glance it looks like Apple is doing the same with the new iPad, because it still looks exactly the same. But the addition of the Retina display is a massive upgrade that really does improve the iPad’s user experience so much that it is hard to recommend the iPad 2 right now, even with Core’s price decreases. If you were planning on grabbing one of the cheaper iPad 2′s, I really urge you to wait until you see the new iPad’s display. It is just that good.
Overall the iPad 3 just increases Apple’s lead in the tablet space even further. Even if the Android tablet makers can catch up in terms of processing power, the overall user experience and broad AppStore catalogue means that it is still the tablet to beat.
But what if you are already an iPad user? If you are using an original iPad you might have noticed a significant lag in some larger apps in the last few months in iOS5, so if you can afford to upgrade, the latest iPad is really a massive upgrade. However, if you are using an iPad 2, the only significant upgrade to the latest iPad is the much better screen – and little else for us South African folks. So just like with the iPhone, it might only make sense to upgrade if your current iPad is two generations old.
Just do not look at the new iPad’s screen. If a friend shows you one – just walk away.
New Retina display really is the best display I have ever used. Same great battery life as before (10+ hrs). Upgrade internals give improved performance, especially in graphically intensive games. Camera quality is much improved, and takes beautiful photos. iOS platform is a great combination of ease of use and tight ecosystem integration due to iCloud.
New larger battery requires 6 hrs+ to recharge from a weak included charger. Slightly thicker case means existing iPad 2 cases will not necessarily fit.