Review: The new iPad

Sim Ahmed gives Apple's latest iPad 3.5 stars. It's good, but is it worth upgrading?

Every year like clockwork Apple releases the next generation of its mobile devices, and every year the world’s most valuable tech company receives fanfare from consumers and press alike. In some years the devices deserve the adulation, adding killer features which competitors spend the next year trying to emulate, while other years’ offerings are far less whizz-bang and merely see a refinement in hardware and software.

Unfortunately for some the late-2011/early-2012 period fits squarely in the latter category, with the release of the slightly ‘improved’ iPhone 4S and now the third generation iPad.

The biggest change in the new iPad is its 1536 x 2048 pixels display. Much has been made of this “Retina display” from the moment it was demoed, and for good reason - it’s a stunner.

Compared side by side to the previous generation, the difference is as clear as the screen itself. The edges of pixels are so small that they almost seem the blend together, giving images a printed look. Curves and small text all look less jagged, and photographs finally look as good as their hardcopies. After using the new iPad’s screen, going back to the iPad 2’s measly 768 x 1024 pixels display just isn’t appealing.

This is also the first iPad able to play videos at 1080p and the new resolution is great for remote desktop apps, allowing more of the virtual desktop to appear on your iPad.

Unfortunately not all apps are optimised for this new resolution. All of Apple’s apps support the new screen, and so do most popular apps available on the App Store, but anything which hasn’t been updated in the last two months is likely to look pixelated.

Quadrupling the number of pixels displayed takes a considerable amount of computing horsepower. Instead of going the route of other tablet manufacturers and putting in quad-core CPUs, Apple has kept its 1 GHz dual-core chip and opted for an improved quad-core graphics processor. The overall effect is that apps and animations running on the higher resolution screen aren’t sluggish, but there’s no significant improvement in performance from the previous generation.

Energy demand for the new screen and improved processor is met with a larger battery. Unfortunately it all evens out and the battery life is much the same as in the iPad 2 (if a bit less). But while browsing the internet, reading emails, watching a few videos, and using drawing applications the new iPad easily lasted a working day without charging.

Other news sources have reported that the new iPad runs around 12 degrees Celsius hotter than the previous iPad (an observation which was later confirmed by Apple), but this wasn’t something I noticed.

Other changes in the new iPad are far less noticeable. If you wanted a device that looked different to the previous generation you’ll be greatly disappointed.

The new iPad has the same brushed aluminium backing, and Gorilla Glass front. Each model comes in either black or white, but from talking to electronics store staff around Auckland it seems the white versions are harder to find.

The wi-fi only version of the new iPad is the same width and height as the iPad 2, but is 0.6 mm thicker and around 50g heavier.

If you’ve been using the super-light iPad 2 for a considerable amount of time, the increase in weight may be noticeable, but only trivially so. It’s still lighter than the original iPad, and most Android tablets available today.

Business users who pair their iPads to wireless keyboards should check if their keyboard still fits. The popular Logitech Keyboard Case is one example which still works fine.

If you do find yourself having to throw away a keyboard because it doesn’t fit, the new iPad’s dictation feature might make it less painful. This isn’t the full blown Siri experience you get on the iPhone 4S, the dictation feature just does that - take dictation.

You press a microphone icon on the keyboard which brings up a prompt for you to speak into, once you’ve finished speaking the data is sent to Apple over the internet and then transcribed into the text field.

Having a light American accent I found the words coming back to be remarkably accurate, but friends with more traditional Kiwi accents couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous sentences Apple would come up with.

Much like Siri was on the iPhone 4S - well for me anyway - the dictation feature is fun but soon forgotten. Sentences with 20 or more words were prone to errors, and the entire exercise seems pointless if you have a decent wireless keyboard. In the future Dictation could easily be something more compelling, but for now it shouldn’t be the swaying factor in any argument to buy this for your business.

For me the iPad 2 was a best of breed device. Other Android tablets have surpassed it in recent times with specifications, but none have the depth that the Apple ecosystem has with its apps, accessories, and business services. The new iPad should be seen as a refined version and not a full upgrade. I’d recommend it to new tablet buyers, but for people who already have the iPad 2 I’d urge them to wait until this time next year when Apple’s clock strikes again.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Specs

Dimensions: 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4 mm

Weight: 652 g

Screen: LED-backlit IPS 1536 x 2048 pixels, 9.7 inches

CPU: Apple A5X Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9

GPU: PowerVR (quad-core graphics)

Storage: 16 GB - 64 GB

Price: Starting at $729 (wi-fi only model)

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