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Review: The New iPad (3rd-Gen) – More Than Just a Pretty Face

Review: The New iPad (3rd-Gen) – More Than Just a Pretty Face

I’ve been using Apple’s latest iPad for nearly two weeks now – plenty of time to get a feel for it and wrap my mind around the everyday aspects of using it on its own without the iPad 2 around to muddle my opinions. A chance to experience the thing in itself. As such, my emphasis will be on the actual day-to-day experience of using the device, with only a small amount of thought outside that realm.

Overview

Despite the fact that it’s the best tablet Apple has ever made, and a stellar improvement to the iPad 2, many expressed disappointment after seeing or hearing about the media event. And frankly, I don’t get it. To me, the fact that it’s not thinner, lighter, or packing a quad-core processor or the familiar “iPad 3” name are moot points. Overall, it’s a solid update to an already great device.

The iPad Experience

As with nearly every Apple product, the real strength of the new iPad isn’t in how it compares with other devices in terms of processor and RAM – it’s in the experience of actually using the device to increase your efficiency, and make it easier for you to do the things you love to do.

The iPad is easy to use and extremely versatile from day one, even before you begin installing apps from the App Store. Apple’s built-in apps make up the core of the device (pardon the pun). And it’s an especially strong core. Virtually anyone, whether they’re 5 years old or 105, can pick up the iPad and get a general feel for it very quickly.

That’s what makes the iPad so “magical” – it caters to the average everyday person – not to the über nerds who just want to geek out and brag to their friends. I’ve used the Galaxy Tab. I’ve used the BlackBerry Playbook. I’ve used the Kindle Fire. None of them even come close to the intuitive, natural experience of using the iPad

  • Reading

Boom! That’s the first thought that popped into my head when reading on the new iPad. Whether browsing the web, enjoying a magazine, or reading a book in iBooks, the text is just incredible. It’s as crisp and sharp as any paper document – and better in some cases (such as inexpensive trade paperbacks). That’s simply all there is to say.

  • Writing


Dictation, dictation, dictation. The days of using the iPad’s touchscreen or an external keyboard to type anything and everything into the iPad are over. Dictation works very well (although it’s still not perfect), and makes me significantly more likely to input text. That’s a wonderful thing.

  • Web Browsing

The new iPad brings the same great web browsing experience as the iPad 2. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I didn’t notice much of a difference over my previous iPad, other than that the images in many websites didn’t quite look as sharp.

I was disappointed, however, that despite the new iPad packing a full gigabyte of RAM, you can still only have a maximum of nine pages open at any one time. Sometimes that’s just not enough, such as when comparison shopping. All in all, though, it’s a minor gripe, as there are other browsers available for the iPad (such as Dolphin, which I love) that can remedy this.

  • Video

This is a big win. The ability to view movies in full 1080p high definition is a major plus for me. The images are sharp, crisp, and detailed. Unfortunately, though (and this isn’t Apple’s problem), aside from loading your own 1080p movies or buying HD video content from iTunes, there isn’t much high-def content available.

Netflix, Hulu, and Crackle still don’t offer true high definition content, and most web video is not optimized for high-definition viewing. Still, it’s great to have the option of downloading and viewing high quality video.

  • Photos

My photos have never looked so spectacular. From the scenic wonderland of the Tetons to the waterfalls of Yellowstone, viewing photos on the new iPad is almost like being there and experiencing the wonder of nature all over again – and that’s something that no other tablet on the planet can match.

Photographers can enjoy their art in almost as pure a way as a high-quality print. Family photos tale on a whole new dimension. Shots that you thought were pretty good before suddenly become spectacular, and that’s an experience that has immense value in itself. The improved editing tools in the built-in photo app are also fantastic – much more useful and extensive than ever before. Amazing.

  • Gaming

Gaming is incredible on the new iPad. There are already plenty of Retina-optimized games available, such as Real Racing 2 HD and Sky Gamblers, and these provide a fantastically crisp and detailed gaming experience. In some cases, even better than modern games running on my 27-inch Thunderbolt display.

Games optimized for the new iPad also tend to take much fuller advantage of the hardware, which is always a great thing in my book.

  • Speakers/Sound

Here’s the part that makes me sad: Among all of the components that are much improved in the new iPad, the speakers were completely glossed over. While audio from the iPad’s speakers doesn’t sound bad, it’s certainly not an ideal experience, and I all-too-often found the built in speakers entirely inadequate.

It disappoints me that, considering that Apple pioneered personal music consumption devices, that they didn’t place a higher emphasis on the quality of the audio. Still, most casual users likely won’t have any problem at all with the iPad’s speakers. Unfortunately, I do not fall in that category.

Retina Display

While the Retina display can easily be explained in talking about the reading, photo viewing, and movie watching experience of the iPad, the 2048 x 1536 Retina display deserves a shout-out all its own. Why? Because its staggering. Eye-popping. Unbelievable. You really have to see it to believe it.

Everything from the icons to the backgrounds to the many Retina-ready apps available from the App Store seem to almost literally pop right out of the screen. They jump out at you. And despite my anticipation of the Retina display, the difference is far more pronounced than I expected.

Magical. Revolutionary. Incredible. Indescribably. That is all.

Camera

While the rear camera of the new iPad did get a stellar update, it’s still not quite the same photography experience you can get on the iPhone 4S. Even so, I doubt that many people do a lot of photography on their iPads – it’s an awkward and unnatural experience. And in the real world, most people will not be able to capture the sorts of photographs that Apple shows on their gallery page.

Video is another story. I am thoroughly impressed with the new iPad’s ability to process video. I can really see myself mounting my iPad on a tripod and recording all sorts of video – cooking demonstrations, family concerts and performances, and the everyday world. Like myself, I suspect that many people will find that they no longer have need for a separate video recording device.

The front-facing camera, on the other hand, is an utter disappointment. Apple has included the same VGA camera as before, which means that FaceTime chats and Skype calls don’t look any better than before. In fact, due to the iPad’s Retina display, in many cases they look significantly worse.

Size and Weight

While some may be disappointed that the new iPad is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor, I actually found that I prefer the feel of the new iPad. I often found the iPad 2 to be almost too thin, and the added weight makes the new iPad feel more solid and sturdier to me.

Your mileage may vary. Reading for long periods of time or extended gaming sessions are likely to be less comfortable with the new iPad – but considering all of the other fine enhancements to the device, I’d say it’s well worth the trade-off.

Speed

Zippy. Apps seem to open slightly faster, and the interface seems to be slightly more responsive. But only slightly. Highly graphical content, however, such as large images, HD video, and Retina-enhanced games, seem to perform significantly better on the new iPad.

While I didn’t purchase a 4G model of the new iPad, the new and much faster mobile data will be a massive selling point to some – although its worth noting that it’s extremely easy to use up your entire data allotment much more quickly that before – and perhaps far more quickly than you expect.

Battery

The battery in the new iPad is something of a mixed bag. While it’s great that users can still get the same 10-hour battery life as previous iPads, this comes at a cost. The new iPad takes significantly longer to charge. While I could completely refresh my iPad 2’s battery in 2-3 hours, that time increases to a dismal 6-7 hours on the new iPad.

This may not be a big deal for everyone, but I miss being able to quickly charge my iPad and be on my way.

Value

This is one of the most spectacular points of the new iPad. Apple is making a significantly lower profit margin on the new iPad. Despite the inclusion of an incredible Retina display, vastly improved graphics, a better camera, and LTE support on 4G models, the new iPad won’t cost you a penny more than its predecessor.

The new iPad still costs just $500-700 depending on capacity, and an extra $130 for mobile data. That’s some serious bang for your buck – significantly more so than any other iPad ever released.

Should You Buy One?

While the new iPad isn’t a must-have upgrade for many iPad 2 users, the eye-popping Retina display, improved camera, and superior graphics performance are very significant factors. I personally find that the new iPad is a spectacular upgrade to the iPad 2. The Retina display along made it worth the upgrade.

For users of the original iPad, Apple’s latest iPad is a no-brainer. Buy one. You won’t regret it.

Verdict

[rating:4]

  • Evolutionary, But (Mostly) Not Revolutionary

The new iPad isn’t perfect. It still has significant room for improvement. But at the very least, it’s a giant step forward. Not everyone will feel the need to upgrade. But then again, most people won’t feel the need to upgrade to a new Mac or iPhone every year either.

In the end, though, those that do decide to upgrade likely won’t be disappointed, and that’s what’s really important – that there’s significant and measurable improvement. The new iPad is exactly like every iPad that came before, only more evolved and refined.

Apple has taken an already fantastic device and made it even better. What’s not to love about that?

The Good

  • Incredible high-res Retina display.
  • Vastly improved graphics.
  • Better rear camera with 1080p video recording and improved low light performance.
  • No decrease in battery life.
  • Etc.

The Bad

  • It’s not a must-have upgrade over the iPad 2.
  • No improvement in the internal speakers.
  • Front facing camera is still awful.
  • Slightly increased weight may be uncomfortable for long periods of time.
  • Battery takes much longer to charge.

  1. zapote21 says:

    Call me when it has file system access…

    1. cyberb0b says:

      Yes because THAT’S what is keeping people from buying it… :-S

  2. Bill Hill says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a review with which I agree so completely. I’ve been using mine since the day it arrive, March 16. I use it to work, to play, to read, to photograph, to film, to listen to and record music, and to watch movies – especially in bed at night.

    I got into the habit of keeping the charger plugged in whenever possible, since I noticed the time it takes to fully charge from a low battery. But it’s a small price to pay. I had a 204 pixels per inch display in 1998. It was great, but the color was nowhere near as good as this, it wasn’t nearly as sharp – and it retailed at $13,000!

    I’ve added an Apple wireless keyboard and an Origami stand/workstation/case ($39), and it’s turned my iPad into a better writing machine than any computer I’ve ever owned. And I’ve been working on computers since 1984.

    1. I’m glad you agree, and thrilled that the iPad has improved the way you work!

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