Say Hello to the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.
Retina Display, same battery life, better camera, 1080p video, same price
Longer to charge, can get a bit warm while in use
The Bottom Line:
If you already have an iPad 2, the choice to upgrade hangs on to the Retina Display.
Apple has sprung many leaks. A lot of us knew about the similar design as the iPad 2, as well as the Retina Desplay. But even if you weren't in-the-know, the iPad "3" didn't seem much different from the iPad 2.
Case in point: My mom knew I was going to buy the new iPad, but when I got it, she didn't even realize I had it all along. She asked me "when are you going to get it?" even thought it was right in front of her.
She didn't notice the new display, nor the weight.
So is the upgrade worth it for you? As with many things, it depends.
The New iPad
Apple decided not to call the next iPad the "iPad 3", but instead called it "the new iPad".
As with the iPad 2, the packaging and contents are more or less the same. The only noticable difference is the background image (wallpaper) of the photographed iPad, and the new iCloud icon. Otherwise, you still get the 10W USB charger, a USB dock cable, and the iPad itself.
It's still has a brushed aluminium shell and smoothh glass. Putting the iPad 2 and the new iPad next to each other, and you still won't be able to tell a difference. While the specs say the new iPad is about half a millimeter thicker, you'd be hard-pressed to see the difference even when right next to each other.
This is why I don't think you should think of the "iPad 3" as a whole new iPad, but instead a refresh of the current iPad 2. The biggest changes are the newer Retina Display, which offers four times the resolution as the original iPad and the iPad 2, a battery that's 70% larger in capacity, quad core GPU (graphics core), and (not in Apple's official specs) 1 GB of RAM (double the iPad 2).
Aside from the Retina Display, the changes aren't immediately tangable to the average user. Thus, the new iPad feels much more like a refresh.
The A5X CPU is still the same CPU on the iPad 2, except with more GPU cores. The GPU cores don't really translate into faster performance either, since it has to drive more pixels due the Retina Display (2048x1536 vs 1024x768). The average user won't feel a difference in speed.
For those who bought the 4G version, the most noticable thing is internet speed compared to 3G. Of course, I am reviewing the WIFI model, and there is no increase in speed on WIFI.
Using the new iPad is no different than the iPad 2. After backing up my iPad 2 to iTunes, then restoring it back to my iPad 3, the darn thing feels like the same old comfortable slippers. My apps worked the same, all of my emails were there, even the browser tabs I had opened were there.
Just like the older iPads, I always thought the brushed aluminium was a bad idea for a tablet, since it tends to be slippery. The glass is also pretty slippery, too. I've solved this by installing Ghost Armor, which is a clear plastic adhesive meant to protect your devices from scratches and scuffs.
Of course, it's still just as smooth and responsive as the previous generations. Because the iPad 2 also receives the same iOS version, the experience felt the same as well on the new iPad.
I did notice that it's a bit heavier than my iPad 2. However, my mom did not.
Believe it or not, I didn't really notice the display being "better". I then look closer, and can tell text is clearer, but not mind-blowingly so. It was only when I put my old iPad next to this one did I realize how much better the new one really was!
When I went back to the old iPad, I still didn't feel it was that much blurrier than the new one. In fact, holding it a couple feet away, I barely can tell.
The only benefit for me was when I read at night in bed without my glasses on. I had to put the iPad closer to my face without my glasses, but with the Retina Display, I could definately tell.
There is a noticable yellow tint compared to the old iPad. I feel that the older iPad render colors more accurately. My brother feels the same way, since there is a photo of a car he is intimate with, he knew the color was off.
While the front-facing camera hasn't changed on the new iPad, it now inherits the same rear camera found on last generation's iPhone 4. The 5 MP camera module was considered one of the best camera on a phone, and have been superseded by the 8 MP camera on the current iPhone 4S. For whatever reason, Apple haven't given the new iPad the best. Instead, it has second best.
Still, it's better than the iPad 2's rear camera, which is the same as the camera module found on the current iPod Touch.
With a better camera module, photos are just as good as photos taken on the iPhone 4. Colors are vibrant and clear. Autofocus is finally a feature found on the iPad, and is quick. It can take clear photos of objects as close as a few inches!
5 MP is more than enough to capture 1080p video, but it requires processing power to do so. This is why the iPhone 4 only captured 720p. The same camera module with a dual-core A5X allows the new iPad to capture 1080p at 30 fps with the same camera. Video is very good and comes very close to the iPhone 4S. Better yet, the new iPad has video stabilization just like the iPhone 4S!
Using the iPad as a still or video camera is akward, but large display allows me to better see what I'm actually capturing. Because the display's resolution is actually higher than 1080p, videos viewed on the display doesn't look at that sharp. It's because it is beling digitally zoomed to fill the display. Make no mistake - it looks very good on a 1080p HDTV!
Audio capture is pretty good, too. The microphone is located at the same location as the iPad 2 (top center) and picks up voice without too much echo until after 4 feet.
The built-in speaker design is the same as the old. It also sound exactly the same. Volume and distortion wasn't a problem. It does get pretty loud. There isn't much bass, but it isn't exactly tinny sounding, either. Speakers of this size usually sound like a tin can, but this one doesn't.
Sound quality via headphones is also just as good as the iPad 2.
No, Siri doesn't make an appearence on the new iPad, or any iPads for that matter. The new iOS 5.1 is the same on all iPads, and introduces voice dictation instead.
It looks like a subset of Siri's functionality, which is voice recognition. It does not go out to Apple's servers to answer questions and work on tasks, unfortunately. However, it makes long-form typing a possible unnecessity. There is a microphone icon on the virtual keyboard now. When you tap it, you can start talking. You will need internet access to send your voice recording to Apple to process. Because of this, dictation performance highly depends on your internet performance and latency.
That said, voice dictation is eeriely accurate at times, while humorously inaccurate at other times.
Most of the apps work just fine. Most apps that renders text can already take advantage of the Retina Display, since it uses Apple's API (text rendering engine). However, there are some apps that does not take advantage of the higher resolution. They still work, but it will look a little more pixelated. iPhone apps finally render using their Retina Display resolution as well, so they look better.
There was one app that crashed after an attempted update for the new Retina Display. Pulse, a news reader, pushed out an update that is optimized for the new display, but crashes whenever you try to open an article. It sure looked good while doing it, though. The author of Pulse finally fixed the problem within 24 hours.
I won't let that sully the experience because the issue was isolated.
With the new iPad introduction, Apple also introduced a new app to celebrate - iPhoto. They also updated their current apps with new features as well as optimizations for the Retina Display.
With a larger battery capacity, the battery life is still the same as the iPad 2. This is due to the fact that the display draws more power, as well as the graphics core. It also gets warmer on the bottom left corner, where the CPU/GPU is located at.
Charging does take longer as well - almost twice as long as the iPad 2. It also gets warm when charging.
It's not hot to hold, though, mind you. However, if you're used to the iPad 2's cool nature, you'd be a bit surprise to feel the warmth on this one.
So, should you upgrade? If you have the first iPad, you're primed for it. If you have the iPad 2, it really depends. Performance is the same, so there's no benefit there. While video games can benefit from the higher graphics core count, it also has to drive more pixels on the display. The performance isn't as high as you'd expect, but it's there.
For thsoe who do not play video games, but instead, read a lot of web pages, emails, magazines, and books, the display itself may enough to be worth it.
If you play videos and look at photos, you may not notice it as much, since they are usually viewed a few feet away. If that's the case, you should just stick with the iPad 2.