Still the finest large-screen tablet on the market, the third-generation Apple iPad delivers an unmatched array of excellent apps on a truly gorgeous screen. The high-res display and fast 3G are the best of what’s changed from the wildly popular iPad 2, and the little improvements like a better rear camera and a new dictation feature only help sweeten the deal. The biggest reason to recommend the new iPad, though, isn’t its hardware, fine as that is. It’s the software. And I don’t mean Apple’s software, either, although iOS 5.1 is certainly no slouch. The collection of third-party apps for the iPad is far better than on any other platform, including Android, delivering a superior experience.
Pricing, Physical Features
The new iPad comes in six different models. There are 16, 32 and 64GB sizes in Wi-Fi-only and 3G variants. If you want to be able to keep apps, movies, and music on your tablet, I advise getting at least 32GB. For this review, I tested the 64GB model.
The new iPad looks just like the old iPad: a 9.7in screen surrounded by a black (or white) bezel, with a curved metal back, and a single Home button. Apple’s magnetic Smart Cover, which was released with the iPad 2, clips on just fine. The tablet still has a sealed-in battery and no ports other than a MicroSIM slot, a standard headphone jack, and an Apple 30-pin dock connector.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that at 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4 mm (HxWxD) and 652gram (Wi-Fi) or 662grams (Wi-Fi+3G), it’s just a hair thicker and a smidge heavier than the iPad 2, but you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t holding both tablets at once. The additional weight is because of a much larger battery, although the new iPad promises the same battery life as the previous model – the 3G radio and sharper screen are just much more power hungry.
The 2,048 x 1,536-pixel Retina display is as beautiful as you’ve heard, and colours are more saturated than on the previous model. It’s still reflective, which creates some problems outdoors, but at 264 pixels per inch, it’s the sharpest tablet screen there is.
Several times during this review, I’d pick up the new iPad, do something, and be afraid I had mistakenly picked up the iPad 2. So then I’d pick up the iPad 2, look at its screen, and be horrified at the comparative graininess. On the new iPad, things look the way they’re supposed to. They look real. No matter how small an element is, it’s readable. Diagonal lines are never jaggy; nothing decays into a shower of pixels. Text probably benefits the most, though.
The new iPad offers 3G LTE connections as well as HSPA+ links up to 42Mbps. All but the Wi-Fi-only iPads have unlocked MicroSIM slots, so they’ll connect to any compatible network. The tablet also integrates 802.11 b/g/n including the 5GHz band, which is useful if you live or work in a place with crowded Wi-Fi networks. Bluetooth 4.0, meanwhile, opens up the option of not just wireless headsets and headphones, but Bluetooth watches and sensor devices. The built-in GPS locked in quickly when using the Maps app.
Buying a 3G tablet means signing up for an iPad data plan and staying under your data cap. That’s one way iOS falls short. There’s a data counter, but it’s buried under Settings>General>Usage>Cellular Usage, which is just too deep to monitor regularly.
The new iPad’s A5X processor, a dual-core Cortex-A9 running at 1GHz, is the same CPU as in the previous iPad, with a better GPU to handle the higher-resolution screen. In tests we saw similar performance, with both the Geekbench processor/memory benchmark (at 761) and Rightware’s Browsermark benchmark (at 102,096) falling very close to the scores for the iPad 2.
According to Apple, the new GPU offers “four times the performance” of the iPad 2, which turns out to mean that it offers the same performance while pushing four times the pixels. In the GLBenchmark 2.1.2 “Egypt High” test, which creates a simulated 3D game scene, the iPad 2 and new iPad had almost exactly the same frame rate of 28 frames per second-but remember, the new iPad has to work four times as hard to get there. The “Egypt Offscreen” test, which takes displaying actual pixels out of the equation, drew 50 per cent more frames on the new iPad than the iPad 2, highlighting the additional graphics power.
But benchmarks have never been a good measure of the iPad user experience, because there’s a lot of clever programming involved. Apple prioritizes user input, which means buttons respond quickly and scrolling and zooming are always smooth. That programming, rather than raw CPU speed, is why iPads feel faster than Android tablets.
App developers may be pushing the limits of the A5’s power, though. In the Retina-display-enhanced Barefoot Atlas and Real Racing 2 HD apps, I saw occasional stutters when zooming or rotating complex, rendered objects. This didn’t occur in on-board apps such as the Safari Web browser or the video player.
Apple estimates the 42.5-watt-hour cell will deliver ten hours of usage time on Wi-Fi and nine hours on 3G, which is very good for a large-screen tablet. In our iPad battery tests, I found battery life to be highly dependent on screen brightness; I got only five hours, thirty three minutes of video playback at full brightness but ten hours, fifty four minutes at half brightness. Also be aware that the big battery takes up to seven hours to fully recharge from zero.