Another year, another Apple tablet and ensuing craze. Though Android tablets are slowly gaining market share, the iPad still rules in terms of units sold, and by a large margin. This year's model is simply called the new iPad, or simply iPad. Blame Apple for that rare misstep in branding. Case in point: when your spouse says he wants a new iPad, what does he really mean? Maybe this is Apple's way of getting us to have long and meaningful conversations with each other instead of Siri.
Can You Tell the iPad 2 from the iPad 3?
The new iPad looks nearly identical to the iPad 2. It's just a hair thicker (0.34" vs 0.37") and a few ounces heavier. Ports and controls are in the same basic locations, though the mic is shifted just a tiny bit and the camera lens is larger and that means form-fitting cases will partially obscure them. The existing SmartCover works fine, and the iPad uses the same 30 pin dock connector they've been using on iOS devices for years so your existing collection of accessories that plug into that connector should work fine.
The iPad 3 differs notably in heat generation, particularly when playing high quality 3D games. The bottom left corner (when held in portrait mode) reaches 95F, which isn't hotter than your body but is warm enough that on notebook computers we and other publications set 95 as the turning point where a notebook might feel a wee bit warm on your lap. Apple has already released a statement that the iPad 3 thermals are within their design specifications, so I guess we won't have to fear its untimely demise.
You've no doubt heard that the new iPad, or iPad 3 as we like to call it, has a triple play of improvements: a much higher resolution Retina Display, 4G LTE wireless and a much better camera. The new rear camera is 5 megapixels, and is not unlike the excellent camera in the iPhone 4. It can shoot 1080p video, and in fact it can only shoot 1080p video; Apple doesn't mess with lower quality settings. Apple avoided stating the resolution with the iPad 2--that gives you an idea how poor it was. The front VGA camera however, isn't anything to write home about. It does decent FaceTime video chat over WiFi (not allowed over 4G) and Skype but folks won't notice your facial blemishes or hairs out of place in the fuzzy feed. Photos taken with the iPad 3 are really good though, and the new display is the perfect way to show off those sharp and colorful photos.
The 2048 x 1536 IPS Retina Display boasts a crazy number of pixels, especially compared to the 1024 x 768 iPad and iPad 2. Apple uses the same dual core 1GHz CPU in the third generation iPad, but the A5X has a quad core GPU to push all those extra pixels (the iPad 2 with Apple A5 CPU has a dual core GPU). Despite Apple's extreme marketing claims, you won't see that much of a performance difference over the iPad 2 because the iPad 3's high resolution display needs that much more graphics processing power.
Are Your Eyes Retina Display Certified?
How is the Retina Display? Extremely sharp and clear. You'll notice it when looking at text in Retina-optimized iPad apps like Apple's own apps (Safari and iBooks) and the updated Kindle app. Colors are richer and seem to pop more thanks to increased contrast and color saturation. It's a very, very pretty display. Is it an earth shattering difference over the iPad 2? Not so much. Assuredly it's sharper with somewhat richer colors, but if you head to an Apple store and look at the iPad 2 and new iPad side-by-side, I'll wager you'd have trouble saying which is which at first and even second glance. The difference is more obvious when you get less than 12 inches away from the new iPad. From a more natural viewing distance, it's harder to spot. And you'd best have good eyes to really enjoy that clarity!
For those of you who wear glasses, it's something like that feeling you get when you get a new eyeglass prescription: everything looks sharper and pops. Graphical applications like games and video apps that are Retina optimized pull ahead, while apps designed for lower res iPads and the iPhone look less different. Higher resolution graphics mean larger resource files, and iPad 3 apps can be up to twice the size of their non-Retina counterparts. That means you'll eat up storage space more quickly than you did with older iPad models. The 16 gig model is just barely adequate if you intend to load up some HD video (full 1080p is so tempting when your screen is higher than 1080p resolution) and 3D games. Apple still offers 16, 32 and 64 gig options. Given how quickly we filled up our 32 gig iPad, we wouldn't mind a 128 gig option, even if we're entering the laptop SSD storage realm.
New iPad (iPad 3) Video Review
Pricing and 4G LTE Options
Pricing is same as it ever was: $499 gets you the 16 gig WiFi only model, $629 nets you a Verizon Wireless or AT&T 16 gig WiFi + 4G LTE model, and each storage increment adds $100. The most expensive is thus the 64 gig 4G model for $829 (enough to buy an Ultrabook on sale). As ever, there is no contract subsidy and you won't be locked into a multi-year agreement with a carrier for the 4G models. Just buy the thing and pay for your data month by month. In the US, Verizon and AT&T offer the new iPad, and both support LTE 4G. While Verizon has 200 markets covered with LTE, AT&T's network is much smaller and younger, so you can fall back on 4G HSPA+, which is a pretty decent consolation prize. LTE download speeds vary by market and carrier, but we've seen an average of 10Mpbs down and 9Mbps up on LTE and 5Mpbs down/1 Mbps up on AT&T HSPA+. Verizon 3G uses the same EV-DO Rev. A as on the iPad 2. Interestingly, if you buy the Verizon iPad 3, you can use it with an AT&T micro SIM, at least for 3G. Since LTE micro SIMs on AT&T are very rare, we can't speak for LTE, plus there are LTE interoperability issues.
Plan pricing between the two carriers is similar, but only Verizon offers the mobile hotspot feature where you can use your iPad as a mobile WiFi hotspot for your other tablets, notebooks or other devices. Verizon offers the mobile hotspot feature with all their current tablets, this isn't an Apple specific feature.
The iPad has always felt fast and responsive, and Apple tweaks iOS to make it responsive to your input. The new iPad feels as fast as the iPad 2, and while that might not be an improvement, it's impressive since the tablet is pushing 4x more pixels around. The A5X uses the same 1GHz dual core CPU as the iPad 2 (both are significantly faster than the original iPad). The new iPad has a gig of RAM, up from 512 megs, and this should help multi-tasking and allow for more graphics caching. The CPU benchmarks the same as the iPad 2, and falls behind the quad core Tegra 3 CPU used in the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. But the iPad 3 pulls ahead of older iPads and the Prime in graphics benchmarks, thanks to the quad core GPU used in the A5X. Granted, the Tegra 3 has a quad core GPU too, but Apple's squeezing more performance from their chip.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
Extra GPU cores and a 4x higher resolution display are bound to eat more power, especially when the chip architecture remains the same (Apple will likely go to a lower power, lower nm process with the A6 chip). Thus the battery is larger, and that's why the new iPad is a tiny bit thicker and a few ounces heavier than the iPad 2. It achieves the same excellent runtimes as the iPad 2, and we easily got 8 hours of use from the tablet.
The new iPad is a lovely evolution of the world's favorite tablet. It has an absurdly high resolution display (your eyes might not be up to the task of fully appreciating it), much faster cellular data courtesy of LTE 4G and a camera that takes lovely shots and good video. If you have the original iPad, this is a no-brainer upgrade. If you own an iPad 2 and money is dear, then the case is less clear unless you frequently use cellular data and wish for better speeds. The display is nicer, but for those of us with average eyes, it's probably not worth the upgrade of your 1 year old (or less) iPad 2 unless you're a tech enthusiast or an Apple lover who wants to have the latest and greatest from Cupertino. If you've got the cash and are eager for the new iPad, nothing stands in the way of my recommending it though. Even with my mediocre eyes, I can tell you it makes other tablets look a little jaggie and fuzzy.
For those of you who prefer Android tablets, I can tell you that Apple hasn’t brought any new innovations to the table that push the iPad farther ahead. It hasn’t made my Transformer Prime suddenly obsolete, and for resolution mavens, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity 700 will bring a 1920 x 1080 display to Android later this year.
Display: 9.7” Retina Display. LED backlit glossy IPS widescreen with multi-touch. 2048 x 1536 resolution (264 ppi). Fingerprint resistant coating. Supports accelerometer and has ambient light sensor and 3-axis gyroscopic sensor.
Processor: 1GHz Apple A5X dual core CPU with quad core GPU. 1 gig RAM.
Network: Wi-Fi model: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; AT&T Wi-Fi + 4G model: UMTS/HSPA+ 850/900/1900/2100MHz, LTE 700MHz, GSM/EDGE quad-band, data only. Verizon Wireless model: CDMA dual band digital EV-DO Rev. A 3G and 4G LTE. All models have Bluetooth 4.0 and Apple 30 pin dock connector to USB.
GPS: Cellular models have GPS as well as digital compass. WiFi models use WiFi-based location triangulation.
Cameras: VGA Front camera and 5MP rear camera. Back camera can record up to 1080p 30fps video.
Storage: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB internal flash storage.
Audio: Built-in mic and speaker, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Audio formats supported: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.
Video: Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately). Video out support at 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable. Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format.
Size: 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches. Weight: 1.44 pounds (Wi-Fi model), 1.46 pounds (Wi-Fi + 4G model).
Battery: Rechargeable 42.5 watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Not user replaceable. Claimed usage time: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 4G data network.