The new iPad is here and some say it's landed with a fizzle rather than bang. There’s no doubt that the new iPad has an amazing screen, but what else does it do? Is it the best all-round tablet and is it worth an upgrade from the iPad 2?
New iPad 3: Design and build
The new iPad looks virtually identical to the old iPad, it’s certainly sleek and appealing, with a brushed aluminium casing, in either black or white. It’s about 50g heavier than the iPad 2, which is only noticeable if you’ve upgraded from the iPad 2.
Apple certainly knows how to design fantastic-looking products , the new iPad feels incredibly solid and well built, with a new-rear camera, the usual side mounted volume controls and the central control.
There's no card slot, so you have to choose between 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions One thing we noticed is that if you shoot lots of full HD movies using the camera and download some Retina display ready games, the iPad’s internal storage can quickly fill up, so if you can afford it, go for the 64GB version. Although if you'll just be browsing the web and checking email the 16GB version will be fine.
New iPad 3: Screen
So to the screen or Retina Display. At 9.7-inches it’s the same size as the iPad 2, but Apple has bumped the resolution to 2048x1536 pixels - 264 ppi. That’s double the iPad 2 at 132 ppi, but less than the iPhone 4S at 326 ppi.
So numbers aside what does this actually mean? Text is exceptionally sharp - zoom in and letter edges look far smoother than the iPad 2 - and easier to read from further away. Great if you’re an iBook reader and especially if your eyesight is poor (like ours) the new iPad is noticeably easier to read.
The new iPad’s screen is at it’s best when viewing photographs and movies; colours are just breathtaking - we’ve talked about colours leaping out, but here they grab you by the neck and shout ‘look at me’. You can also see tiniest detail too - photographers will find it a useful tool for checking the clarity of their photos.
Of course games need to be optimised for the screen, which is gradually starting to happen with titles like Real Racing 2 HD and which we saw on launch. Of course it’s possible your favourite games might not be optimised just yet, but we're sure developers are busy updating applications as we speak.
New iPad 3: Operating system
The new iPad runs iOS 5.1, with Apple’s familiar grid structure, whereby you can drag applications around the screen or create folders by dragging icons them on top of each other.
We are big fans of iOS, which is incredibly easy to use, but here it feels for the first time that iOS is lagging behind Android and Windows Phone in terms of its features.
On Android tablets you get live widgets, an overview showing all the contents of multiple screens and better social network integration and excellent sharing. These would be relatively simple features for Apple to include in the new iPad but they aren't here. Thus far, it's been fine but we can't help the feeling three iterations down the line that something's missing. Of course that doesn't stop the enjoyment of the iPad, it just feels time for Apple to be include something new.
What Apple has done is update its iMovie, Garage Band and iPhoto apps, with new features and support for the Retina Display. iPhoto in particular looks to be an excellent accompaniment to the new camera, where you can use gestures to adjust the exposure, use dial to correct the horizon and make adjustments using brushes. It's all incredibly intuitive and at £2.99 is well worth investing. Check out our iPhoto and iMovie in-depth reviews to find out more.
New iPad 3: Performance
The new iPad includes a dual-core A5X processor with 1GB RAM, but it supports quad-core graphics. On launch Apple claimed the new iPad had 4x the graphics performance of Tegra 3 chip. We haven’t been able to put that to the test yet, but games are certainly fantastic. In fact, saying they are console-like sells the iPad short. Motion is incredibly smooth and graphics look very life-like with games taking on an almost cinematic quality on that fantastic screen. Elsewhere full 1080p movies load incredibly quickly, as do photographs included in emails.
If you’ve opted for the connected version of the tablet, you’ll notice that it’s called the new iPad WiFI+4G. Unfortunately it supports 4G frequencies in the US, but not in the UK, although the new iPad will be able to pick up HSPA+ frequencies which Three and Everything Everywhere will support.
Everything Everywhere CEO Olaf Swantee told us: 'Everything Everywhere will be in a position to begin the roll out of 4G before the end of the .'
In short, it will eventually be much faster than the current iPad, but when the UK gets 4G, you won’t be able to use it on this tablet. We explore the topic more here.
Apple quotes 10 hours of web browsing, which seems fairly accurate. We are curious as to how HSPA+ impacts battery performance, but this is not something we can test at the moment.
New iPad 3: Camera
The new iPad 3 has also been given a speced-up camera with a 5-megapixel back-side illuminated sensor and the same optics as found in the iPhone 4S.
The difference is immense. In a bright sunny London 5-megapixel shots have great levels of detail, and saturated colours, dynamic range is also good though overblown skies do creep into the toughest shots as do blacked out areas. It does struggle with high-contrast scenes.
Moving objects are handled incredibly well and macro shots look great,with stunning detail, beautiful depth of field and given the bountiful supply of light in the scene.
The iPad doesn’t have a flash - luckily the iPad is easily one of the best noise handling mobile devices we’ve seen of late, although Apple clearly softens detail.
Overall therefore, the camera on the new iPad 2 is a 5-megapixel master. Easily bettering the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for example, with great overall saturation and detail, if you can get over the awkwardness of shooting on a 9.7-inch tablet, it’s superb.
The new iPad also shoots full HD 1080p video to take full advantage of the Retina Display. Quality is extremely impressive. Content in well lit conditions looks sharp and colours are vibrant and well saturated. Add a smooth frame rate into the mix and we would say the quality is at least as good as that of the iPhone 4S. You can check out our test sample underneath.
With no flash, indoor and dimly lit video can struggle at times with noise, however, Apple's optics handle grain better than most high end devices out there so this should seldom be a barrier to capturing movies in full HD.
New iPad 3: Verdict
The new iPad is without doubt the best tablet Apple has produced. The screen is fantastic and far better than any screen currently being used on a tablet.
Apple’s iOS operating system is incredibly easy to use, but at this point it feels that it's lagging behind rivals, especially with Windows 8 on the horizon. It's not about usability - the new iPad is incredibly user friendly. There are however value adds that should be there that aren't.
Secondly, the big changes to the new iPad - the camera and the screen - while amazing individually, aren't essential. We'd rather see really useful features like an SD card slot (something that will probably never happen), a micro HDMI port and maybe even a dock. Of course we realise that for many people the screen itself is a big-enough selling point and there's no doubt, the screen is phenomenal, but it feels somewhat self-indulgent when elements that could really impact usability are missing.
What is clear is that Apple hasn't just putting a camera on board and left it at that. With iPhoto and iMovie it has created affordable apps for people to get the most of the camera - a feat we applaud.
We haven't really touched on dictation, suffice to say it works pretty well, but we don't understand why Siri isn't here instead.
Of course, that won't stop the new iPad being a huge success and we'd certainly recommend it to anyone looking to invest in their first tablet. But iPad 2 owners shouldn't feel pressured to upgrade just yet - unless you need to have latest and greatest fruit of Apple's labour.
The Apple iPad is available from T-Mobile.