The iPad has earned its reputation. While there is strong competition from the likes of Samsung and Asus, neither of these companies have (yet) been able to rival the iPad in terms of screen resolution and software experience. Granted, 2012 will be the year where we see an all-out arms race between tablet purveyors to bring screen resolution, battery life, speed, and form factor to unseen levels, but as of today, in many areas, the iPad still has a tremendous shadow cast on the tablet sector.
After taking the new iPad out of the box, its added weight and thickness didn’t seem perceptible. It’s only until you use the device for long sessions that you notice the extra heft.
The new iPad is 49 grams/1.72 ounces heavier than the previous generation iPad, and 0.6mm thicker. Inside it’s packing an Apple A5x dual-core system on a chip with quad-core graphics. It has 1GB of RAM, compared to 512MB on the iPad 2. The rear-facing camera, now labeled with the iSight brand, is 5.0MP versus 1.3MP on the iPad 2. The front-facing camera is unchanged at VGA resolution. The AT&T version has LTE 700 and 2100 bands, plus UMTS/HSPA+ (850/900/1800/1900). The Verizon version has a similar radio, but lacks the LTE 2100 band. This means that the Verizon version can work on AT&T HSPA+ as well as Verizon LTE and CDMA. The AT&T version can only work on AT&T HSPA+ and AT&T LTE. In terms of other wireless radios you have WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, a proximity sensor, light sensor, digital compass, aGPS, and gyroscope.
Oh, and then there’s the display. It’s 9.7″ and 2048×1536 resolution, making for a PPI of 264. Comparatively, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a PPI of 149 (as do all other 10.1″ tablets that have 1280×800 resolution).
The rumors were true… the new iPad looks exactly like the iPad 2, but is thicker and heavier to make room for a much larger battery. This is achieved by a more gradual taper.
This 0.6mm increase in thickness doesn’t look like much when you compare the new iPad (pictured on left), but you can absolutely notice a difference when holding both devices at the same time.
Here’s another comparison of the new iPad (left) and iPad 2.
And finally, here’s how they look when placed side-by-side.
Wow. Just wow. This is the future of tablet computing: displays will be so high resolution that you won’t be able to tell the difference between text on a screen and text in your favorite magazine or newspaper. This means that consuming content becomes much more natural and comfortable, with less (or no) eye strain.
Keep an eye out for screens that will trump the Retina display. Samsung is rumored to be working on a flagship tablet that will push the screen resolution to 2560×1600, which would provide a PPI of 298. This means that the main point of differentiation for the new iPad–the display–will soon be a moot point. What is likely to happen, however, is that Android tablet screen resolution on high-end tablets will not be standardized. We might see some tablets at 2560×1600, some at 1980×1200, and some at 2048×1536. This will be a mess for third-party apps. While text, which renders at the operating-system level in most cases, will be crisp across all of these resolutions, graphics might look strange if not optimized for a specific resolution. We’ll have to see how all of this pans out.
Here’s a comparison of how text appears on the iPad 2 (right) versus the new iPad. The difference is striking. Click on this image to see a higher resolution version. You’ll indeed be able to see pixels on the new iPad’s screen if you look closely enough. But at a normal viewing distance, the screen looks like a magazine with razor-sharp text that came out of a laser printer.
The Retina display also does amazing things for images. Because images are presented in such high resolution, I found myself zooming less to view fine details: the zoomed out view provides tremendous detail. The new iPad is on the left above.
Colors are also more vibrant on the new iPad. The flowers on the left, as shown on the new iPad, appear to be much better saturated than the flowers on the iPad 2 on the right.
Heat: Yes, the new iPad gets pretty warm when you use it for more than 30 minutes, but no warmer than a good laptop (like the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Air).
Apps: A very small percentage of iOS tablet apps have been updated for the Retina resolution. That’s not a big deal because anything text-based is rendered in the operating system, but some apps, like the Wall Street Journal, appears super fuzzy and low-resolution (an update is promised for around April 1).
Photo Stream: Using Photo Stream (a feature of iCloud) on the new iPad is an amazing experience, especially if you’re using an iPhone 4S, which has a very good camera. The new iPad is an incredible photo viewer, providing the clarity that only professional-printed physical pictures can match. It’s wonderful to snap a picture on the iPhone, and have it show up in 2048×1536 resolution moments later on the iPad.
Phantom Data Use: The new iPad is very data-hungry. Because the device is probably downloading emails while idle, you might see your cellular data meter tick upwards, even without your use.
iPhone apps: While the iPad 2 would utilize the HVGA version of iPhone apps, the new iPad utilizes the 960×640 resolution of iPhone apps, resulting in much crisper presentation, even when you hit the “2x” button. This is great news if you’re still using some iPhone-only apps.
iPad hotspot: The iPad also makes one of the best 4G hotspots around, if you don’t consider its large size (relative to a MiFi). With the screen off, you can get many hours of tethering with a laptop or other device. Just keep an eye on your data bill!
Charging: That huge battery takes a lot of time to charge. From zero to 100%, expect to wait about seven hours. Considering that most gadgets charge fully in one to three hours, it’s a bit frustrating having to wait so many hours for the new iPad to juice up.
SPEED & NETWORK
In terms of day to day use, the new iPad feels marginally faster than the iPad 2. The difference is most noticeable in high FPS games.
We were able to clock some impressive (and expected) LTE data speeds over Verizon. Our speeds ranged from 10mbps to 15mbps down, though there’s no reason why the new iPad shouldn’t be able to do 20mbps+ down in optimum conditions.
Most agree that having a camera on a tablet is not a necessity. It’s awkward and uncomfortable to take photos with a 9.7″ tablet. That said, for those opportune times, the iPad does a pretty good job with its 5.0MP iSight camera. Color saturation could be better, but the camera did a great job keeping subjects sharp and in focus.
The new iPad can record video in 1080p, and adds video stabilization to the mix. As you can see in this video, the stabilization works quite well. Then again, you’re probably never going to use your tablet as a camcorder. Or, at least we hope not.
The new iPad has a battery that is 70% bigger than its predecessor. According to Apple, this achieves 10 hours of battery life when over WiFi, and 9 hours of life when on LTE. Our results weren’t as optimistic: we achieved about 8.5 hours of battery life over WiFi, and 7 hours over LTE at medium screen brightness. As with many gadgets, the battery improves after multiple charge/discharge cycles, and we have yet to cycle enough times to achieve optimum results.
But on an unscientific level, the new iPad is more power hungry than the iPad 2. With the previous iPad, we didn’t have to think about battery life. With the new iPad, we witness the battery meter going down a couple of percentage points after a relatively short web browsing session.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
Choices, choices! If you want an iPad, you’ll have to choose color (white deters fingerprints better than black), capacity (16GB is no longer enough, and 64GB is overkill for most: consider 32GB as a good middle-ground), and carrier (for most, Verizon is the best choice). Your price will range from $499 for the 16GB model with WiFi to $829 for a 4G iPad with 64GB of storage.
+ Screen transforms the way you consume digital content
+ iOS tablet app selection is second-to-none
+ Battery life is still quite good
- Noticeably heavier and thicker than iPad 2
- Not significantly faster than iPad 2
- Takes up to seven hours to charge
The new iPad, albeit a bit predicable in terms of its changes over the iPad 2, is the best tablet on the market right now. Android tablets are broken: the app selection is abysmal and anything with Honeycomb is super laggy and frustrating to use; we’re in a bit of a lull of innovation as Android OEMs prepare their flagship tablets for 2012. If you’re looking for a tablet and aren’t in a rush, we recommend you wait a few months to see what comes from Samsung, Asus, HTC, and the other players. It’s possible we might see new iPad-beating specs.
But if you want a tablet that has hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimized apps, great battery life, and a display that makes content consumption as natural as reading as a magazine, the new iPad cannot be beat.