Apple's new iPad: The JOE Review
Two years on after the introduction of the original tablet, we spent a week with the third iteration of the Apple slate to find out what’s “new” about the new iPad.
By Leo Stiles
Three things define the success of the iPad; its unrivalled App Store, its premium build quality and its 10-hour battery life. The new iPad has all these things, so you can already take it for granted that the first post-Steve Jobs product to roll off Apple’s production line is as solid as you might expect.
The form factor that worked so well for the iPad 2 is replicated here with a little bulk added to its girth to accommodate its more expansive battery. This weight gain is minimal and more than acceptable when you consider what this increased battery grunt is being used towards.
The boosted battery capacity has the job of powering the new iPad’s retina display, the only reason to even consider the new iPad over its equally accomplished and now cheaper sibling. Stunning really doesn't do the new screen justice, as it manages more than just HD with a pixel resolution of 2048x1536. As you might have gathered is actually higher than the current HD standard of 1080p.
Text is the immediate winner here with web pages, books and PDFs all benefiting from a substantial increase in clarity and for the first time I actually felt comfortable reading a large amount of text on a backlit display. Colour saturation and image definition is also immediately improved with magazines in Newsstand now looking far better than their dead tree counterparts ever could.
A slew of games have already seen upgrades to take advantage of the new resolution with titles like Real Racing 2 and Infinity Blade 2 now approaching home console levels of graphical fidelity. However, a quick blast on the new array of games gave me pause because although the quality of the visuals have been given a bump, there seems to have been a bit of a drop in frame rates on a number of titles and on graphically intensive games like Mass Effect: Infiltrator, the frame rate goes from solid to choppy and back again when things get hectic on screen.
Optimisation and updates will no doubt see these issues rectified or at least marginalised but I can’t get rid of my suspicion that the A5x CPU lacks the grunt to deal with the massive jump in resolution these games now require. These issues are by no means a deterrent, just a mild disappointment when you consider what has been promised.
Thankfully, movies on the new iPad go a long way to making up for the mild gaming disappointments, with iTunes films now coming in 1080p flavors to take advantage of the screen. The results are amazing with clarity, colour saturation and contrast perfectly calibrated to deliver the most incredibleg film viewing experience I have had on a portable device. The only downside to the experience is the improved but still tinny sound from the speakers; a minor gripe that is easily mitigated by a decent set of headphones.
The increased processor power and resolution also has a fringe benefit for those of you who like to connect your iPads to larger displays: full resolution mirroring. Hook the new iPad up to your HDTV, either through a HDMI cable (adaptor sadly not included) or through the latest version of the Apple TV and the iPad will “downscale” to a perfect 1080p image.
I’ve said this before but Apple really does seem to be building up to a living room challenge of the traditional consoles with this feature and while I don’t think that Microsoft or Sony should be worried yet, the advances being made year-on-year with the iPad seem to be moving Apple closer to a direct challenge with the two giants.
It is worth noting that this feature is nothing new as the iPad 2 did all this, but the extra resolution makes it all make sense now.
Elsewhere, the new iPad is much the same as its predecessor with the same resolution cameras and the same overly familiar OS. Voice recognition is notable by its absence and while there is a dictation feature on the new tablet’s keyboard, it is a disappointingly hit-and-miss affair that probably would not have gotten past Steve Jobs if he were still around to call the shots. Whereas Siri is baked into the iPhone 4S, voice dictation on the new iPad feels bolted on and requires an active internet connection to work, relegating it to a mere curiosity and a lost opportunity.
One feature that has thankfully stayed the same is the excellent battery life w hich even with heavy gaming use, still managed to give me a good seven hours of use.If you don’t give a damn about playing games on a tablet then you can expect to get the full ten hours and more if you are a light user.
4G or not 4G?
The model on test for us was the 16GB Wi-Fi+4G version and thanks to Ireland being behind the data speed curve, I can’t give you a verdict on how the 4G performs, if at all. The wireless spectrum auction to facilitate the new speeds are to be held in the coming months but even then, 4G data plans are likely to be a lot further out as the networks scramble to upgrade and by which time, we will likely be talking about the next version of the iPad.
So we come back to the question of what is really “new” about the new iPad? The answer is essentially just the screen and while that would seem to be a disappointment to many who were expecting something more, seeing really is believing as one look at the visual fireworks that the new iPad offers should be enough to convert the majority.
For the undecided the same drawbacks of the iPad remain with no scope for customisation or memory expansion and the closed nature of the Apple platform will still irritate those of you who love the wild west experience of a Google Play [Android] tablet.
I still think that the iPad is the best tablet on the market but that the new iPad represents a premium purchase for those that must have the latest bells and whistles, even if they wont be able to take advantage of them, especially in the case of 4G.
So,if you feel have to buy the cutting edge of technology then I can say without reservation that the new iPad is a fantastic bit of kit ,with the best battery life, the best screen and the best app store of any tablet out there. If you have more sense or less money then I’d recommend that you grab the iPad 2, which at a reduced price represents a real bargain and has a screen that holds its own with the rest of the pack.
Overall, while we love the new iPad, it’s a non-essential upgrade that has the superstar looks but very little to offer over its already accomplished older sibling.