Apple New iPad Wi-Fi only
The screen's the star
Review Let’s cut to the chase. The "new iPad" doesn’t have the much-rumoured haptic touch technology. In fact, its list of major new features can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It doesn’t even have a number after its name. How disappointing is that?
And yet, after a weekend of gazing longingly at the imperceptible pixels on that new "retina" display, all I can say is that you can take my new iPad – when you pry it from my cold dead hands, as Chuck Heston once said about something else entirely.
That screen really is the star of the show. Apple boasts that the displays used in the iPhone 4S and the new iPad have such high resolution that you can’t see the individual pixels on the screen. Well, to be honest, if you look really closely, you can. But if you hold the tablet beyond contact lens distance, you'll have a job.
I could see an immediate difference in the higher-than-HD resolution of the new iPad. The pinpoint clarity of the 2048 x 1536 display is remarkable, even when looking at existing apps that haven’t specifically been updated for the new native resolution.
E-book text presented by iBooks was cleaner and sharper, and experimenting with fonts in Apple's word processor, Pages, revealed an amazing smoothness to the lines and serifs on individual characters.
The textures in swordplay game Infinity Blade II – already updated for the retina display – were more detailed and realistic, and colours were noticeably richer and more vibrant. Even standard-definition video on apps such as BBC iPlayer seemed to benefit from the improved display.
Of course, the fourfold increase in resolution means that the screen needs a lot more processor power too, so the next major improvement is the inclusion of Apple’s new custom A5X chip. The main CPU core in the A5X is identical to the 1GHz A5 processor used in the iPad 2, but it now sports a pair of dual-core GPU parts - four cores in all - to handle all those pixels.
Middle age spread
All that extra graphics power is absorbed by the 3,145,728 pixels on the screen so the new iPad isn't noticeably faster - or slower - when playing games or flicking from app to app. We’ll have to wait for new retina-quality games such as Infinity Blade: Dungeons, rather than old ones with upgraded pictures, to see how the A5X really shapes up.
The other consequence of the retina display is the need for a larger and more powerful battery simply to maintain the existing ten-hour runtime. That battery is probably responsible for the burgeoning waistline of the new iPad – a whole 0.6mm on the thickness of the unit. At least that's what Apple says, but the iPad 3 feels more than several mills thicker.
After a day or so, you won't notice the extra girth - though you may need a new case - but the 51g weight gain on my Wi-Fi only model is definitely obvious – it is an increase of almost ten per cent after all.
However, my weekend of testing seems to suggest that the battery life is still hanging in at around ten hours, and that’s more important to me than a little extra weight.
Incidentally, the 3G/4G model is only 49g heavier – the downside being that 4G connectivity sucks an extra hour out of the battery life. Or so we’re told, because the UK doesn’t do 4G yet, and it probably won’t be iPad-compatible even when it arrives.
GeekBench 2 scores worked out identical overall
To be honest, the retina display and the new processor and battery are really the main things that existing iPad owners should think about when deciding whether or not to upgrade. Pricing for the new iPad remains unchanged, starting at £399 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model and £499 for the Wi-Fi plus 3G/4G version. That’s better value than the previous model, but it’s still a lot of money to spend just to get a better screen.
iPad old and New side by side
iPad 2 3G on left, new iPad Wi-Fi only on right
No obvious difference in brightness and the screen scaling remains the same
The back has no changes either, although the iPad 2 here is the 3G version which has the antenna assembly at the top
The new iPad has the edge
The new iPad is thicker by a whisker
The devil is in the detail – icons compared
At a glance the camera has only slight differences
iPad 2 lens on left, new iPad lens on right appears much larger
The upgrade dilemma
There are other new features, of course, but these are almost irrelevant when deciding whether to upgrade from an iPad 2 – or for fondleslab virgins who might want to opt for the now lower priced iPad 2.
There’s a new rear-facing camera that now allows 1080p HD video recording and has a 5Mp resolution for stills, and the image quality is clearly much improved as a result. But, from a point-and-shoot point-of-view, the iPad’s 12in slab of metal and glass is an ergonomic disaster when it comes to photography – as I discovered when I carried it around with me to take a few test shots over the weekend.
I’d have been far happier if Apple had upgraded the iPad’s front-facing camera, which still has the same blurry 640 x 480 resolution for both video and stills. The FaceTime video-conferencing app only works with Wi-Fi connections, so the front camera could easily have gone up to 720p for video-chat sessions without straining your broadband too much.
Another missed opportunity was the failure to include the iPhone 4S’ Siri voice-recognition system in the new iPad. There is a kind of Siri-lite dictation option that actually proved to be more accurate than I had expected – although, like Siri, it only works when you have an internet connection.
Unfortunately, I found the lack of feedback during dictation to be both frustrating and limiting. You press the microphone button on the on-screen keyboard to start dictating, but you don’t see a single word appear on screen until you press the button again to end the dictation. There’s no way to correct errors while dictating either, so – as with Siri on the iPhone – this feature seems more like a gimmick for impressing your friends rather than a genuinely useful tool.
If you don’t already own an iPad or an Android tablet then the new iPad could be the one that finally breaks down your resistance. It certainly blows away the Android competition and should ensure that the iPad continues to dominate the tablet category – especially with the iPad 2 still on sale at a reduced price.
Existing owners of the iPad 2 are faced with a trickier decision. The new display is lovely, but is perhaps more of a luxury than a must-have. But you’ll want it all the same, and all that bottled-up techno-lust will keep the iPad at the head of the pack for another year. ®
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