Review: the New iPad

I have been using a “new iPad” for a few days and would like to share my impressions of the device. For the record, I am using a black, 64GB, Verizon 4G model.

Before I dive into my review, it is important to know that I am upgrading from an iPad 3G (first generation) and can discuss how the new model compares with the old. I have not used an iPad 2 very much so I cannot compare those models by first hand experience but rather from what I have read.

Looks

The new iPad looks pretty much identical to an iPad 2 but it is slightly thicker and a little heavier. If you held them both you might be able to tell the difference in weight. Compared to the iPad 1, the new iPad is a little thinner and weighs a little less, but the difference is so small it is not really a big deal.

The new iPad is compatible with iPad 2 accessories like the SmartCover. Third party soft cases that cover the back may be a tight fit because of the extra thickness. Hard shell cases probably won’t fit though.

I have two small gripes with the iPad 2/3 design. The first is that it is harder to attach the dock connector cable or headphones because the edges of the device are tapered. Second is that the buttons (volume, mute, and power) are all black plastic instead of something nicer. The original iPhone had similar buttons but were replaced by metal buttons on the iPhone 3G/3GS. I was hoping for something similar on the third iPad.

Retina Display

The most prominent feature of the new iPad is its “retina display”. The 9.7 inch panel now packs four times as many pixels as the previous generation devices. For those keeping score, the 2048×1536 display has over 3.1 million pixels. Apple goes out of its way to point out that this is over one million more pixels than an 1080p HDTV.

The pundits have been raving about how wonderful the display is and they are all correct. It really is just terrific. Text especially stands out as being crisp, clear, and very easy to read at all point sizes. The iPad 3 will make a wonderful e-Reader. It is very hard to show how good the display is with a picture because the display you will view it on does not come close to the iPad’s 264 pixels per inch display. You really have to see it in person to appreciate it. If possible, view it next to an iPad 2 to see the difference.

I did notice that the color temperature of the new display is different than the older models. The new display appears “bluer”. The blue text in hyperlinks and the standard iOS buttons seem much brighter and almost purple. I don’t know that I’d notice this at all if I never used another iPad. I have seen this on multiple units, so it is not just mine.

One side effect of the higher resolution is that graphic files will become larger, as well as the apps that contain them. For example, Pages (Apple’s word processing app) went from 95MB to 269MB. Comixology will be releasing HD versions of their comics which will look great but which will be two to three times larger. I’d suggest potential buyers consider the 32 or 64 GB units as a 16 GB model may fill up pretty quickly. I chose a 64GB model because you can’t add storage later.

I was happy to see that app developers are quickly updating their apps to support the retina display. This mostly means including hi-res graphics so that icons and other UI elements do not look fuzzy. AppAdvice is keeping a running list of updated apps.

I discovered another benefit of the retina display. On an iPad 1 or 2, when running iPhone apps on an iPad and expanding them to full screen size the app looks just horrible because they simple double the 320×480 iPhone screen. With the retina display, iPhone apps run at 960×640 and look much better when stretched.

Performance and stability

Performance of the new iPad is much better than the iPad 1. This is the main reason I wanted to upgrade. Under iOS 3.2 the iPad 1 was pretty snappy, but with iOS 4 and then 5 performance has become noticeably sluggish. The new model is very responsive across the board almost surprisingly so. I have not experienced any of the frustrating UI delays that I routinely see with the iPad 1.

I don’t believe the iPad 3 is much faster than an iPad 2 as they share a similar CPU at the same clock speed. Ars Technica’s review seems to confirm this. I have not heard many complaints about iPad 2 performance so if you’re looking for a reason to upgrade your iPad 2, performance probably isn’t it.

Worse than the sluggishness, the iPad 1 has become less stable, especially with iOS 5. Safari in iOS 5 regularly crashes trying to load complex web pages which is a big problem because I mostly use my iPad for web browsing. This is poor coding on Apple’s part but complex web pages would cause low memory conditions which trigger the crash bugs. TechCrunch.com, for example, would almost always crash Safari. To make matters worse, these crash bugs also occur in third party apps that display web pages such as Twitter and Flipboard. This is because they use the same code to display pages as Safari. iPad 3 has four times as much RAM as the iPad 1 and I have not seen a browser crash yet. That doesn’t mean the bugs are fixed, but they are now less likely to happen.

LTE

Support for AT&T and Verizon’s speedy LTE wireless data networks is a new feature for iPad. I use my iPad with a cellular data because my employer does not offer wifi so is a big win as LTE offers 10x or greater speeds than 3G networks.

Apple offers separate models for AT&T and Verizon because the carriers use different bands requiring different radios. This is unfortunate as buyers need to choose which carrier they want to use before buying the device. Both carriers offer contract-free pricing plans but the data plans offered are different between the two carriers. The Verge has a nice summary of the pricing plans.

One thing to consider is that Verizon is offering free ‘personal hotspot’ functionality allowing you to share your speedy connection with other devices. AT&T is not offering this now.

An important thing to consider when choosing a network is LTE coverage in your area. You can look at coverage maps but try to find out from others with phones whether the network you want works where you are as there are always holes in coverage. Also, don’t worry if the unit out of the box displays “AT&T 4G” or “Verizon 3G” in the status bar. LTE may be available but you won’t know until you activate the account.

I ended up going with Verizon. Their coverage is better in my area and where I regularly travel. Personal hotspot was a big bonus. Activation with Verizon was a chore however. It took an “Apple specialist” at a Verizon store over 30 minutes to get my iPad running on LTE.

The good news is that LTE is really is very fast. Using SpeedTest.Net, I have seen download speeds ranging from 12Mbps to 34Mbps. As a comparison, my iPhone 4S on AT&T’s “4G” HSPA+ network usually gets about 2Mbps.

Cameras

I didn’t do much testing of the cameras because I don’t really use a camera on my tablet. It may be nice to have, but using a 10″ tablet as a camera is very awkward.

The new iPad has the iPhone 4’s 5MP image sensor the iPhone 4S’s optics. This is a vast improvement over the iPad 1, which has no camera at all, and over the iPad 2 which has the same crappy camera in an iPod touch. I am a bit surprised that they did not include an LED flash as they did on the iPhone 4/4S. If they went to all the bother to put in the better sensor and superior optics, why not the flash too?

The front mounted camera is the same as the iPad 2 which is also a crappy camera, but adequate for Facetime sessions.

Battery

To power the 3 million pixel display, the new A5X CPU/GPU, and LTE networking and keep the same battery life as older units, Apple put a HUGE battery in the new iPad. The battery actually has 70% more capacity than the iPad 2’s battery.

Battery life was good and is on par with my iPad 1. My anecdotal experience is that my fully charged iPad lasted from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening at midnight when it was down to 5%.

A 70% bigger battery is great, but remember it will take 70% longer to charge. Don’t expect to do a quick charge before your next trip. I found it took about 6.5 hours to charge it from 5% up to 100%.  See Padgadget for more on this.

Voice Dictation

Another new feature of the iPad is voice dictation. The same feature can be found in the iPhone 4S. There is a new microphone key in the keyboard that when pressed goes into recording mode. When you stop recording it translates the recorded audio to text. It works pretty well, as it does on the iPhone. That said, I’m not sure how useful it is on the tablet. On the phone it is handy to dictate text when you’re walking or doing other things and your hands aren’t free to type. That usually isn’t the case when using on the tablet. So, this is a nice to have feature but I’m not sure that I’ll use it that m uch

Voice dictation does not include the Siri question answering system. I’m not quite sure why they did not include it. My guess is that since Siri, a server based technology, is still a work in progress and Apple did not want to add several million more users until they are sure the system can handle the extra volume.

Heat

There are already reports of iPads overheating to the point where the iPad tells the user that it must shut down to cool. I have never seen this, but I can say that my iPad does get a little warm after extensive use. I honestly thought it was from sitting on my lap until I started hearing these stories. Mine has never become uncomfortably hot though as some laptops do.

For more information see PadgadgetBGR, and the Verge.

Conclusions

Overall, I’m quite happy with the new iPad and consider it a most worthy upgrade from my iPad 1. It addressed my biggest complaints about the iPad 1 (speed and stability) and added a bunch of great new features that will make it more useful (retina display, LTE, cameras, voice dictation). I use my iPad every day for work and personal use and I expect will now be an even more enjoyable experience.

If I had an iPad 2 I don’t know that I would have taken the plunge. From what I understand the iPad 2 is already fast and stable. It is a costly upgrade for LTE and the nicer display. I probably would wait for next year’s “new new iPad”.

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About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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