Well, sure, it is a new iPad, but from the outside it doesn’t look like there’s much difference to its predecessor. However, there are changes internally, and they do kick it up a notch.
Design and build quality
From an exterior perspective, there’s little difference between the iPad 2 and the new iPad (henceforth referred to as the iPad 3). On top, in portrait orientation, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left and the power/sleep/wake button on the right.
The left side is bare, while the right side holds the volume rocker and a switch, which can be configured to either change between silent/non-silent modes or to lock/unlock the orientation. On the bottom is the 30-pin connector.
Something that always seems to crop up is the height of buttons and whether they’re easy to find and press or not. Apple prefers to make hardware buttons quite prominent, which is fine by me. Of course, the tapered construction of the back means that you don’t actually see the buttons or switches, so they don’t detract from the look of the iPad 3 from the front.
The back is machined aluminium which looks good and feels strong. Worth noting, however, is that it isn’t as easy to grip as the rubberised or textured backs of some Android tablets. In the top left corner, just below the power/wake button, is the 5 megapixel camera.
The front, as expected, is a big screen with a home button at the bottom and a camera at the top.
The only real physical difference between the iPad 2 and the iPad 3, is that the latter is slightly thicker (8.6mm vs 9.4mm) and a little heavier (608g vs 662g). You probably won’t notice, but if you do, you probably won’t care.
Overall, it’s still a sleek design that puts the important bits front and centre, while keeping the less important parts within easy reach.
The iPad 3 has had more than a little work done on the inside. It features a new A5X System-on-Chip which has a dual-core CPU clocked at 1GHz, along with a PowerVR SGX543MP4 GPU. The RAM has been bumped up to 1GB, though storage space remains at 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB, depending on the model.
It has WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth (v4.0), and HSPA+ (up to 42Mbps down and 5.76 up). While it does support LTE, no SA cellular operators currently have consumer LTE offerings. In fact, Apple lists only US and Canadian carriers as LTE supporters on their website (scroll down to the footnote #2).
Screen and responsiveness
The screen is one of the major upgrades that the iPad 3 has to offer, and it’s probably the most important for users. The iPad 3 features the same size display as its predecessors (9.7-inch), but like the iPhone 4 and 4S, has been given the Retina treatment. This means that it has a resolution of 2048 x 1536.
It is, without a doubt, the best display currently available on a tablet PC.
I’ve often use the term “crisp” when describing how text is rendered, but with the iPad 3 I’d prefer the term “smooth”. There were no blocky or splotchy areas of text, even at extreme zoom levels.
Viewing photos and movies was as much of a pleasure as reading was, though in this case the sharpness and clarity of the images were the main source of awe.
I’m gushing, I know, but the display is truly magnificent. In all honesty though, you probably wouldn’t realise how great it is unless you compare it side-by-side with other displays. The biggest problem with doing that of course is that what has been seen can not be unseen.
In terms of responsiveness, the iPad 3 is as responsive as we’ve come to expect from Apple’s latest mobile gadgets. Touches, swipes, and even 5-finger gestures are registered without any trouble.
The sound that came from the single speaker next to the 30-pin connector was of a higher quality than most other tablets can get out of two.
One thing worth mentioning: at one point we maxed the volume and carried on as usual. Later on we wanted to reduce the sound, but the screen locking and unlocking sound remained at maximum volume for some unknown reason.
The camera on the iPad 3 is a bit of a mashup between the iPhone 4 and 4S cameras. It’s a 5 megapixel, f/2.4, five element lens, and it’s good…for a tablet PC camera.
The only situation I can imagine where you’d actually want to use it is if you’re video chatting with someone and you want to show them something that you can see without swivelling the whole tablet around. Other than that, you’re only using a tablet camera because you have no other options.
On the topic of video chatting, the front-facing camera is the same as on the iPad 2, which is good enough for the intended purpose.
It should come as little surprise that the iPad 3 did extremely well in our usual tests, seeing as Apple has torn out the old 25Wh battery and replaced it with a massive 42.5Wh.
In normal use involving reading books and articles, browsing the web, watching a video or two, and playing a few minutes of Angry Birds Space, the iPad 3 could go for days without needing to charge.
In our video looping test, with Wi-Fi on and the screen brightness at around 65%, the iPad 3 managed to get over the advertised 10 hours – closer to 13 hours of 1080p video playback.
I think most people would agree that the trade-off between weight, thickness, and battery life is well worth it.
There aren’t many changes to iOS from when we reviewed it on the iPhone 4S. As it’s the first time properly using iOS 5 on an iPad, I would like to mention one thing.
The new notification system in iOS looks disgusting on an iPad and it handles even worse. The only good thing there is to say about the new method is that it is a definite step up from the previous, jarring, popup system.
A new feature for iPhones is the camera shortcut on the lock screen that is now always present next to the usual “Slide to unlock” bar. It has also changed from a button to a “Slide up” gesture. On iPads, this is a “Picture Frame” button which, when pressed, plays through your picture gallery.
Another new feature is voice dictation. This places a microphone icon on your standard on-screen keyboard which, when pressed, allows you to speak to the device instead of typing. Pressing the button a second time will stop the process and make the spoken words appear on the screen.
In general, voice dictation worked well, though it struggled with similar sounding words and particularly URLs where we tend to use the term “dot” instead of “full stop”.
The iPad 3 is, without a doubt, the best consumer tablet currently available. The bump in internal hardware keeps it a hair ahead of the rest, but the new screen and astonishing battery life sets it far apart from any other tablet PC we’ve reviewed so far.
iPad 2 owners don’t absolutely need to upgrade, though they probably shouldn’t spend too much time looking at the screen on the iPad 3 at the risk of theirs losing its lustre.
Those upgrading from the first generation iPad and first time buyers should definitely consider the iPad 3.