The new iPad is here with its Retina Display and quad-core graphics chip and in this review, we’ll see if Apple still delivers the best tablet experience out there.
- The Retina Display is absolutely gorgeous.
- It has the best battery life of any tablet.
- The improved camera is nice and the ecosystem is the best.
- The same relative design as the iPad 2.
- If you're not sold on a tablet experience, this may not push you over the edge.
When it's turned off, the new iPad isn't dramatically different than last year's model except it's a little bit thicker and heavier (even more so if you get the 4G LTE version). That's fine with me though, as I felt the last iPad had a great design. There will now be thinner tablets on the market but it's a fair tradeoff in exchange for the great battery life and the amazing screen on Apple's latest tablet.
It may not seem like Apple made many advancements with the hardware but once you turn on the screen you realize what a leap forward this really is.
The Retina Display
The iPad looks exactly like what most people think a tablet looks like: a large screen takes up the majority of the face, a home button on the front, some ports on the bottom and top and a camera on the back. Because it's such a minimalistic design, each of these elements take on a larger role in the overall experience and none more so than the display.
The Retina Display on the new iPad is one of the best displays I've ever seen and the only thing that even comes close to it is the prototype 4K screens I saw at CES 2012. At 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution, the new iPad has a better resolution than my HDTV - even if that's not quite a useful comparison.
Basically, the new screen on the iPad is amazing and as cruddy as it is to say, it's something that's difficult to convey with words or video. You do have to check it out for yourself. Photos and videos look great, the lack of pixels when you're trying to read is a refreshing experience I didn't even know I needed. Along with the incredible clarity, Apple's tablet still has a responsiveness to touch which is still industry-leading.
The beauty of the new iPad's Retina Display is that you soon forget it and think that this is just how computing should be. When I first saw the iPhone 4's Retina Display, I was also blown away but after using it for a while, it just became my norm - you just shouldn't be able to see individual pixels. Duh.
A 3.5-inch screen is one thing but it's a much bigger leap forward when it's a 9.7-inch screen.
It's been compared to the first time you've seen an HD television compared to a standard screen but I think the Retina Display on the new iPad goes even further than that because you're actively interacting with the screen. There are so many layers of abstraction when we're computing but a display this good, along with strong, intuitive touch controls can really make you feel like you are interacting with the content on your tablet in a meaningful way.
I truly believe the new iPad's Retina Display has the potential to change the way we see computing but that doesn't mean it's there yet. Apps that aren't updated for the Retina Display look ok and iPhone apps that aren't ready and are scaled up look like crap. 1080p HD videos that Apple sells look pretty darn good on the screen but not all content you'll find on the web will automatically look great on this new screen.
I never thought the old iPad's screen looked bad but once you go Retina, you won't want to go back.
The build quality on the new iPad is exactly what you'd expect from Apple: minimalistic design that's executed really well. The now iconic form factor will be familiar to anyone who's seen the previous version.
Apple seems to have nailed the tablet form factor with the original iPad and it has innovated on that. The competition is finally starting to catch up when it comes to form factor though, as devices like the Toshiba Excite arguably look better from afar. The Retina Display really pushes Apple back to the forefront in tablet design though.
Guts And Glory
The new iPad has the A5X processor inside and it sports a dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU. In the era of a quad-core processors, Apple is claiming that the A5X can provide for a top-of-the-line experience and I'm finding that to be the case early on.
I set up the iPad as a new one and downloaded the apps I wanted from iCloud, so it has that new device snappiness. I will check in on the performance after a few months once it's clogged full of apps and content but it's been a great time so far. Those of you who have used an iPad 2 should expect a similar level of performance and those coming from the original iPad will be very happy with how fast this new tablet is.
The quad-core GPU and extra RAM are supposedly being used to pump out graphics to the screen and it will be interesting to see what happens as we get some more computationally complex apps down the road. So far, I have no complaints about the performance of the new iPad.
You can also look forward to a Bluetooth 4.0 chip inside, optional 4G LTE support for AT&T or Verizon and 1 GB of RAM. The Bluetooth 4.0 could be big down the road because of what it enables but it will take a while for the industry to properly make use of it (kind of like the Thunderbolt ports on Macs).
The new iPad comes with iOS 5.1 and it provides a nice, touch-friendly tablet experience that can be greatly augmented by the robust App Store ecosystem. It's everything you'd expect in a tablet experience including a swipe-tastic interface that's easy to pick up and play with.
Interestingly enough, the new iPad doesn't have Siri but instead has voice-powered dictation. This works well for the most part (it couldn't get my name right) but you have to wonder why we don't get the full deal because the new iPad is definitely powerful enough to handle it. I truly think that the service just isn't ready for the masses, as iPhone 4S owners can attest to the fact that the voice-controlled personal assistant service just doesn't work as well as it should. I think it could be quite a cool experience on a tablet too, so it's a shame we don't get it ... yet.
For all the talk of Apple products "just working," you have to remember that they're still computers. I've had some apps crash randomly and boot back to the home screen and this included third-party apps and even the Apple-produced Safari browser. This didn't happen often but it's just a reminder that no computing device is perfect.
With that said, the new iPad delivers the best tablet experience out there by a country mile for a variety of reasons but mainly due to the robust App Store support. Only a handful of these are actually ready for the Retina Display right now but I'd expect nearly every app maker to have their programs ready before too long. As I mentioned before, the real interesting thing will be seeing what these app makers can do with the new hardware in addition to the gorgeous display.
Apple's iCloud can also play a significant role in the new iPad, as all of your content including some of your movies can be backed up and downloaded from the cloud. It's a neat way of keeping all your Apple products in sync without wires but be warned that you'll likely need to purchase additional storage if you're a heavy user. I love using iCloud with the App Store because I like to set up my iPad as a new one and then just cherry pick my previously-downloaded apps. I tend to not delete apps that often, so this gives me a fresh shot. For a primer on how iOS, Android and Windows Phone approach the cloud, check out this post: Cloud comparison: Apple iCloud vs. Google vs. Windows Live.
We're probably going to have to wait until the next iPhone until we get a significant update to the new iPad and I could really go for an improved notification bar and a better way to switch between apps. For example, Windows 8 does a much better job of quickly and easily switching between apps and transitioning between programs.
Still, the software experience on the new iPad is the best in the tablet market and it will only steadily improve as time marches on.
Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera
Safari is your default browser on the iPad (although there are alternatives) and it's pretty darn good. Apple's big bet on HTML5 is paying off on the new iPad, as much of the content viewed on this tablet can scale up to the Retina resolution. Text is incredibly crisp and if you go to visually-stimulating sites like Pinterest or Boston's The Big Picture, you'll be very happy with your experience on the new iPad.
There are still a few things which annoy me about Safari, as I think it's silly to have a URL bar and a separate search bar - just combine them please. Other than that, the Safari browser does a great job on intelligently zooming on text and the extra RAM inside of it makes switching between apps a much faster experience.
Android and Windows Phone have quickly been catching up to iOS in terms of multimedia content and capabilities but Apple still trumps both with the media juggernaut that is iTunes. The new iPad slides seamlessly into that ecosystem and when you combine the Retina Display with the newly-available 1080p HD content, you have an awesome media tablet. Throw in the audio content in iTunes and the excellent third-party options and your video and audio needs will easily be taken care with the new iPad.
Apple is still kind of a pain when it comes to what types of formats will play on the iPad but there are a few third-party apps in the store which will help you get those uh, legally-converted AVI or MKV files of your own DVDs on your tablet. Being able to sync and set up your tablet without having to plug into iTunes is also a great thing.
That Retina Display does come with a cost though and it's looking like storage will be an issue. I rented Young Adult in 1080p HD from the iTunes store and it was a whopping 3 GB. That will go away after I watched it but if you're on a 16 GB version, you may get squeezed for space very quickly. Additionally, we expect apps to get larger as they provide support for the Retina Display.
The new iPad has a much-improved 5-megapixel camera that's essentially on par with the iPhone 4 but I'm still not convinced there's really much value in having a rear-facing camera on a 10-inch tablet. You look dumb taking pictures, if you hold it in landscape mode it's easy to block the camera with a finger and did I mention that you look dumb taking pictures with a tablet?
To be fair, the new iPhoto app ($4.99 from the App Store) is a great way to to look at and edit your photos. I've just come back from a long trip (Barcelona, Berlin and Austin) and I'm dreading having to go through so many photos to find the ones that worked. But being able to use your hands to do near-professional style editing of your photos has changed the way I will edit my leisure photos. It's especially great if you use an iDevice primarily to shoot because tying into Photo Stream is a breeze. As it is, I'll be buying a camera connecting kit and doing most of my photo editing from my new iPad from now on.
You can also record 1080p HD videos with the rear camera and the improved iMovie app makes it cool and simple to create good-looking movies with a few swipes. Sure, you're still a weirdo shooting lots of videos with a large tablet but if that's your thing, you'll be happy with the quality of the video recording on the new iPad.
The front-facing camera is good enough for FaceTime and I noticed some interesting facial-recognition software but the quality of these pictures aren't going to blow you away. It's nice that the new iPad has these cameras but I'm not going to be singing the praise of these cameras any time soon.
Call Quality And Battery Life
The new iPad can be purchased with 4G LTE from AT&T and Verizon but I only have a 32 GB WiFi-only model, so I regret to say I can't be of much help on this one. Other reviews said both AT&T and Verizon 4G LTE provided lightning-fast speeds in various markets but I'd be wary of blowing through my data cap quickly with this tablet. I'm fine with a WiFi-only model because I mainly use it at home or on a plane where I don't care if it's connected or not. If you want this to truly replace your laptop and often travel, you may want to consider buying the 4G LTE version.
Other tablet makers have still yet to match the original iPad in terms of battery life. I recently flew from Houston to Berlin and pretty much used my original iPad the whole trip to watch movies, play games and read and was stunned to find that not only did it survive the trip, it still had juice to go. That's something that never happens with the Xoom, PlayBook or other device.
I'm happy to say that the new iPad continues that great tradition with a legitimate 10 hours of battery life on a full charge, even with that big, beautiful power-sucking screen. It does that by having a 70 percent larger and other reports also suggest that the 4G LTE version lives up to its 9 hours of battery life claim. That extra battery does come with a cost though, as the new iPad is ever-so-thicker than the iPad 2, it gets quite warm in your hands and it does seem to take a bit longer to charge than previous models.
I'll take those negatives any day to get such long-lasting battery life.
The Final Take
With its gorgeous display and incredible battery life, the new iPad really raises the bar for what we should expect from tablets. It's a great marriage of cutting-edge tech with well-thought out software. Some other tablets may have some technical advantages but I'd still recommend the iPad.
It's the ecosystem, stupid.
Pretty much all tablets are just electronic toys for people with disposable income but that changes once you have a robust app selection. As simple as the iPhoto app is, it is going to fundamentally change the way I edit travel photos.We're seeing all sorts of innovation in different markets with iPad apps, so that's a major reason why this tablet is clearly in the lead.
But ecosystem isn't just apps, as the vast majority of cool cases, stands and Kickstarter project around tablets will be iPad-specific. It's silly to choose a tablet just because it offers better cases but when you pile that on top of the much stronger app selection and the "cool factor" of this tablet, it's clearly a winner.
If you are even considering a tablet, get the new iPad. The iPad 2 or some of the competitors will do if you can't afford the $500 entry-level price but if you truly want to understand the tablet experience and why Apple talks so much about the "post-PC era," then you need to get a new iPad.
If you're still not convinced that a tablet has meaning, I'm not sure if the amazing screen, good video and excellent battery life on the iPad will be enough to make you replace your computer. Those on the iPad 2 may also see it as more iterative than innovative but I'm a huge believer that you'll want one once you see it.
Apple has again set the standard for a tablet with the new iPad. Do you think the competition will be able to catch up this year?