Where do I begin? On the launch day of Apple's third-generation iPad launch, I ran down to my local retailer and picked up a couple of them. I then did a video unboxing of the device and a few little spiels of how it's changed, etc. But now we have the juicy review, where you'll find out just what I think of the new iPad.
But, I'll stop myself there and explain something first. That's the problem with reviews and technology sites. It's all well and good to pump out a review, but it's just that person's opinion on the device. You can tear it apart, review it from every angle, but at the end of the day - the person, you, has to agree with the reviewer, or disagree, in order to like, again, or dislike, that review. It makes reviewing hard, especially on a device like the iPad, because I cannot first keep everyone happy and secondly, my opinion will differ from everyone else's.
Alas, the review.
HARDWARE, SPECS and DETAILS
The new iPad is specced to the best of its abilities, it doesn't beat out the specs of current top-tier Android-based tablets, but in reality, it just doesn't need to. I personally believe that spec wars are a moot point these days. Apple's devices are built to run on iOS 5.x, not for anything else and vice versa. This means that Apple can handcraft the new iPad around iOS and nothing else. It makes the hardware and software gel like nothing else, pure smoothness.
The new iPad has been upgraded to Apple's A5X processor, up from the A5 processor that is featured in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. This change to the chip means nothing for most people, as a tablet it doesn't change, for games - it's a whole different ball game. CPU-wise, the new iPad rocks along with the same dual-core 1GHz chip, but the GPU side of things receives quite the shake up. The iPad 2 had dual-core graphics, but the new third-generation iPad sports quad-core graphics. This would result in better looking, faster running and higher resolution games.
I'm guessing that Apple needed to beef up the graphics side of things because of a few factors, one of them being the new screen resolution of 2048x1536, as well as new rear-facing snapper being capable of taking 5-megapixel (1080p) shots. Displaying all of this new spiffy technology isn't easy on a GPU, ya know?
It still sports a rear-facing camera that has been upgraded, big time. Instead of the old crappy 0.92-megapixel (720p) camera, we're staring down the barrel of a 5-megapixel camera. But, Apple didn't just stop at megapixels. The new iPad sports an 'iSight' camera, but features "advanced optics", which includes a backside illumination sensor, an f/2.4 aperture and a five-element lens. This helps the new iPad take some great shots, as well as it being 1080p-capable in both still shots and video.
Let's hit up some measurements, shall we? The iPad 2 measured up at 9.5-inches tall, 7.31-inches wide and 0.34-inches thick. The new iPad? Well, it's the same 9.5-inches by 7.31-inches, but has put on some weight, it's now 0.37-inches thick. It's not that noticeable, but again, you have to take this into consideration. In my hands, it didn't really feel much different to the iPad 2 and considering that most people will slap on a cover... this doesn't really change things all that much.
THE RETINA DISPLAY SCREEN, IS IT ALL THAT ITS CRACKED UP TO BE?
We have all heard about the new iPads screen, a beautiful 9.7-inch 2048x1536-pixel display that just looks gorgeous, sometimes. What? Just sometimes? Yes. Out of the box, it looks like any other iPad screen. If you pull the iPad closer to your face and look at the icons, it does indeed look a hell of a lot better. Text-based applications, or websites, look gorgeous, however. If I'm reading something on the screen, or scrolling down on some text it does look mouth-wateringly gorgeous. There's just no doubt that the new iPads screen is simply the best tablet screen on the market.
I've seen other reviews say that the new iPad screen is simply the best display they've ever seen - but, I can't agree with that. Sure, it is high-res and it does look insanely good... but best display ever? No. Best mobile display on the market? Yes. If you hold an iPad 2 and new iPad side-by-side, you can tell the difference, most of the time. Not everything is better, but you can just see the difference. In some things it's a night-and-day difference, in others, its subtle. But overall, it's just gorgeous.
Resolution-wise, yes, it's 2048x1536... but does it benefit? Not really. You're still stuck with the same amount of icons on the screen, unlike a desktop where you might upgrade from [a similar resolution of] 1024x768 to 2560x1440. The change is mind-blowing, that to me gives you the right to say, "that is the best display ever". That change, changes, well, everything. On a PC, you gain super amounts of desktop real estate and it makes you literally turn your head from left to right when looking at the screen - its just so in-your-face huge.
It's not the screen size, but resolution that does it. You can cram a browser or two, a chat window, desktop widgets or gadgets and more, all on the one screen because of the higher resolution. On the new iPad, the resolution improves and just clears up the screen, big time. Don't expect any changes in how it feels or handles because of the resolution, it just feels like the same iPad display, but better.
Double-tapping Safari and then pinch-to-zooming some text shows just how much the resolution helps, but again, it's mainly the pixel density changes that help here. Zooming in to text to make it say, 5 or 10-times larger is an instantly visible difference. The text looks super anti-aliased, to the point of ridiculousness. It almost looks too good to be true. That's the power of Apple's Retina Display. It's not real estate, or more room, it's pure clarity. Apple goes hand-in-hand with quality and this is no different. I feel as though the screen resolution is simply a step in a new direction for Apple and this is the beta product of future mind-blowing products we'll see from the company.
AESTHETICS/LOOK AND FEEL
Does the new iPad look any different? That's easy: no. It looks absolutely no different. The display is still 9.7-inch, it comes in either black or white and still sports the same silver-colored back with the Apple logo shown off. Nothing is different in the way that it looks, whatsoever.
The new iPad is slightly thicker - but again, this is more of the "feel" department, it is kind of hard to tell the different (weight-wise) between the iPad 2 and the new iPad after a while. The new iPad weighs in at (for the Wi-Fi-only model) at 1.44lbs, compared to the slightly lighter iPad 2 (Wi-Fi-only model) which weighs in at 1.33lbs. This is not that bad, but still something to consider when checking out the new iPad.
NEW APPS - MORE OF THE SAME
Upon opening up the new iPad, firing it up and checking out the docked icons, there's not much here to discuss, really. The new iPad sports Dictation, which is actually really cool, but for me, useless. I didn't use it too much, but I did test it out in my video review above so you can see it in action. Apple chose to not load Siri onto the new iPad, even though it's featured on their iPhone 4S handset. This is definitely something Apple should explain and I'm disappointed it's not included.
There's iPhoto on the App Store, which is a bit stupid if you ask me. Apple is selling their premium tablet, without one of the better apps to be included by default. Apple should stock the new iPad with all of their killer apps, within reason, of course. iPhoto is very cool and is a great tool for quick manipulation of photos and to do other professional-type effects. iPhoto is a universal app, meaning it can go between the iPad and iPhone, which is a great feature from Apple. It also allows pictures to be directly uploaded to Facebook or Flickr and also allows you to use AirPlay to stream photos and slideshows to your HDTV over Wi-Fi with Apple TV.
iOS LIMITATIONS, YES, THERE ARE PLENTY
When the first iPad arrived, iOS was still in its infancy, it wasn't packed with features, but it didn't feel lacking, either. The new iPad sports iOS 5.1 and if you've only ever used iOS-based devices, this is absolutely, 100% fine, but if you've used high-end Android-based devices, you begin to detect the huge limitations that Apple forces upon you with iOS.
It's not like it is all bad, I just felt that with the 'new iPad', it would've come with a 'new iOS'. Something different. Something fresh. Something new. But, the iOS that is available on the iPad 2, is the same you receive on the new iPad. The new resolution mostly goes to waste in terms of functionality within the iOS, which I think is a real shame.
The new 2048x1536 Retina Display could handle something like, having two pages side-by-side. I'd like to be able to have two websites open, or if IOS 6 intros new features, a task manager or app manager on the left (using 1024-wide pixels) with my current open app on the right (again, using 1024-wide pixels). This would make multi-tasking truly great, something I expect from the next iPad release and iOS 6.
I'm not much of a tablet gamer, but for the purpose of the review I purchased and downloaded a bunch of games. I'll swing through a few of these in the video review (embedded above) instead of telling you about them here, but just quickly: the new display kicks ass. Angry Birds Space just looks jaw droppingly gorgeous. It positively pops with color and you actually see colors and detail you just simply cannot see on the iPad 2 with the same game.
I tried out EPOCH too, which is powered by the Unreal Engine and it looks quite good for a mobile device game. Yes, it is not dripping in detail, but this is a device you hold in your hands and not a primary gaming device.
There are some other games that take advantage of the Retina Display which look equally as good. Casual gaming is great on it, too. OMGPOP's (recently acquired by Zynga) Draw Something is a joy to play on the big 9.7-inch display and Words with Friends just looks... perfect. The new iPad has now become my default gaming device.
Battery life and standby life is something Apple just seriously smashes the ball out of the park with. Does the new iPad have the same traits? Yes. Battery life was great and I got what the average reviews and users say: around 8-10 hours of general, mixed use. This is Facebook, e-mail, taking pictures and video, gaming (be it Retina Display-powered games, or upscaled games), Draw Something, Words with Friends and more.
I found I could leave the iPad for a few days at a time and game for an hour or two between each day and it was fine. I wanted to space out my review so that I could get a real-world feel for it, so that this review isn't formulaic, but a review from just someone who loves technology and wants to share his thoughts through a review.
Charging was a different story, I'm sure you may have read some reports on charging issues with the new iPad, but I didn't exactly get those issues of it hitting 99-percent and taking a fair bit longer to reach 100-percent to charge "fully". But, the new iPad definitely takes a while to charge. A hair over 6 hours from a complete dead new iPad to fully 100-percent charged. I actually did this a few times over a 1.5 week period to average it out and while it takes a while, most people would leave it on overnight to charge.
I will note, I had the app "Alarm Clock", where it sports a normal alarm clock view, with Facebook and news feeds built-in. This was useful and I wanted to test it overnight over a few nights to see how it would do with the battery. See, this isn't a normal review now, is it? I left my battery at 56-percent that night before I went to bed at around 1am, I woke at 8am and the iPad was off. I thought it had maybe just turned the screen off, but I turned the iPad back on and it was completely flat.
I let it charge for a few hours, but it seems some apps really drain the battery more than others, with Alarm Clock being something to mention. I tried another app the night after, just as I came down with a real bad case of the flu. It was called "Quick Sleep", I thought I'd use this app to see if it would relax me when trying to fall asleep and left my iPad at 35-percent this time.
The screen is off with this app and it's just playing music or sounds in the background. The iPad charged up to 99-percent by the morning and 100-percent shortly after. App-to-app battery use is obviously different.
IS THERE ANYTHING IT DOES WRONG?
Is the new iPad invincible? It nearly is. Think of the iPad as Superman against the rest of the tablets in the wild. Superman is virtually invincible and has near limitless power, but he does have quite a few weaknesses, one of them, Kryptonite. The new iPads Kryptonite is heat. And boy does it get hot.
I purchased two iPads on release, one 16GB Wi-Fi-only and a 32GB Wi-Fi-only. My mate had sold his old iPad 2 just 24 hours before I picked up the new iPad, so he had a good idea of how they felt heat-wise, versus my impressions. The first thing I did with the new iPad was load it up with apps and began thrashing it for this review. Within the first hour I had downloaded Facebook, iPhoto for iPad, Draw Something and Words with Friends, that's it.
I had Facebook, Words with Friends, Draw Something, Camera and Settings open all at once and was flicking between Facebook, Words with Friends and Draw Something when I noticed something weird. I had moved the iPad from my leg, as I was sitting down and into my left hand so I could draw a picture in Draw Something with my right hand. Ouch. It was HOT. Not just warm, or lukewarm, but uncomfortably hot.
It was enough that I was kind of shocked and presumed I had a faulty unit, until I started reading that others were experiencing the same issue. I figured I had too much open at once, but I did not, just those apps mentioned above. I began more testing on this particular problem and found that it was app-to-app. If I play something intense, say Retina Display-native apps like Angry Birds Space, for long periods of time, it gets hot.
It gets hot enough that I will stop using it, or put a pillow between my legs and the iPad and for something from Apple, this is not acceptable to me. For everything the iPad just does so perfectly right, this is such a flaw that it is hard to overcome. For every other review I've read thus far, they don't really stop to smell the roses with the new iPad heat issues, barely mentioning it as a talking point and it's not just me. The 32GB new iPad my mate has does the same thing, he just did not notice it as much as me as he didn't use it as much.
This made me paranoid that it was "just me", but the thing that Apple has over its users is they will overlook these little things or not even notice them. What's the one thing most Apple devices have sold along with the device itself? Covers. If there's a cover on the iPad which protects the back of it, the heat issue would most likely not even be known by most people. I run my devices naked, with no screen protectors and no covers. I noticed it within the first two hours.
My thoughts on the heat issue is that the new screen resolution requires more graphical grunt, in turn requires more battery grunt and the new battery is quite hefty compared to the previous iPad 2. These few upgrades would be enough to create more heat inside the new iPad, but is this not something that Apple tested? Did they not notice any heat issues at all before putting this out for sale?
Is it enough to not buy the new iPad? No. But it's definitely something that should be talked about and thought about before purchasing the new iPad.
WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED?
What could be improved in the new iPad? I think Apple need to branch out and release a smaller iPad, as well as a bigger iPad. We should see a 7-something-inch model and a 10- or 11-something-inch model. I would truly love a 17-inch tablet that docks into a laptop and makes it an iPad/MacBook Pro. So that there's enough horsepower in the screen to run it independently, but when I want to do some serious work, I can too. I don't see this coming anytime soon, but it would be a great move.
The heat issues simply need to be addressed with the next iPad. On top of this, I'd also like to see iOS 6 released on the next iPad. It, in my opinion, needs to be radically different to iOS 5 if it wants to keep up with not only Android 4.0/Ice Cream Sandwich, but Google's next iterations of their OS Android 5.0 and 6.0 which are coming late this year and early next year, respectively.
The front-facing camera also needs to be upgraded, not to a 5-megapixel shooter, but just a 3-megapixel or so shooter would be fine. For a high-res iPad, it has an abysmal front-facing camera. It's just disappointing.
I love the new iPad. It's as simple as that. The new iPad is fast, its slick, the new screen is just gorgeous and it has a long life in it because of these things. Sure, the heat issues are there - but the iPad does so much right that it can be easily overlooked.
If you're after a new tablet, there's no reason to not fully consider the new iPad. Sure, check out other similar priced tablets, but most people will find themselves circling the new iPad after that. This is why Apple has a strong hold on the market right now. With the next iPad I expect things to jump quite high and show considerable change in design (screen size, heat issues) and a new iOS.