New iPad Review
The iPad - it launched a whole new side to the IT industry. Tablets weren't a new thing when Apple launched its first device, but until that point they were limited in both functionality and usability and never came close to capturing the mass market imagination. By adapting the already widely used iOS for a larger form factor created a new platform, one which was more portable than any laptop and more useful than any smart phone.
The iPad 2 improved the concept in almost all areas - faster, more features and just far more rounded hardware made for a tablet that would remain a pack leader right up until the latest generation.
The New iPad (Apple dropped the numeric this time around) takes the one area in which the iPad 2 didn't push the boundaries and not only improves it, but creates a whole new benchmark - with a pixel density FOUR times that of the previous model, the New iPad has a resolution of 2048x1536 - that's the same as sticking FOUR iPad 2's together and then squashing everything back down to the size of one! This leads to ultra-sharp text - for the first time on anything larger than a mobile phone, we have a screen that makes it almost impossible to identify an individual pixel (if you look very very closely then the 264 points-per-inch isn't quite print quality, but it's as close as we're likely to get in the foreseeable future). This makes everything look better - from simple text right through to detailed graphics, there isn't one application that won't look better when taking advantage of the high-resolution display. This is a significant step up from HD on a device that can be comfortably held in one hand.
With Apple's Newsstand now really picking up, retina-ready magazines are one of the best ways of visualising the massive gulf between the new display and earlier versions. Check out the two screen shots from a couple of the upgraded magazines to see just how much information is now squeezed onto the screen...
Click to view at full resolution
The actual display isn't quite as punchy as some of the iPad's Super AMOLED equipped competitors, however colours and brightness are arguably more natural and pleasing to the eye. We find Super AMOLED devices can be a little tiring on the eyes, so toning that down a little is a benefit in our book.
Everything else is pretty much as expected. iOS is familiar as ever and the growing number of tablet-friendly apps is reassuring. The more impressive screen has called for a processor upgrade and most benchmarks put the new Pad roughly in line with the iPad 2 (less powerful processor, but less overhead thanks to the display). It also has had a slight negative effect on battery life, something Apple have gone some way to combat with a larger battery. This has had the knock on effect that the device is 60g heavier and marginally thicker; although neither of these is really noticeable in the real world.
When taken in the context of other tablets - particularly the new ICS equipped likes of the Transformer Pad TF300 and the slightly earlier Transformer Prime, the iPad is a more rounded effort in every way. We think iOS is still the best tablet OS on the market - while Android is now winning the fight in mobile arenas, the higher adoption rates of iOS tablets for both consumers and developers means that the software ecosystem is far more established. Added to the fact that while on pure numbers the latest Apple A5X processor just about on a par with the Tegra 3 that is appearing in top-of-the-range Android tabs, the iPad feels far smoother in operation. Whether this is down to Apple making things appear more fluid, or that iOS makes better use of what it has access to there is only one clear winner for big screen touch screen interfaces.
We also suffered no crashes during our tests - something that we can't say about any of the competition which invariably often seize up and require the killing of processes and tasks. Apple may restrict users to their walled garden, but the benefits are obvious.
iPad audio is decent - surprisingly so given the small speakers. We have something that is more than adequate for late night movie watching, and while it doesn't come remotely close to the sound you'd get from external speakers, the iPad is aurally more pleasing than any other tab we've used. There is a solid bass line that adds a level of depth missing in every other tab.
It is disappointing that given the obvious space requirements that the higher resolution display will create, Apple haven't upgraded their onboard storage and still doggedly stick to the no external storage mantra. 64GB as a maximum meant iPad 2 users would rarely hit their space limits, when your visuals are now taking up to four times the space we could see even the most generous pad struggle for heavier users. The 16GB on test here really isn't going to be of any use to any but the lightest users - new retina ready magazines now take up to half a gigabyte per issue, so it is clear that space is now at a real premium.
Connectivity again is a mixed bag - as is always the case Apple are using their proprietory dock connector here and therefore any wired peripherals will either need to connect directly OR use adapters. The New iPad does knock the ball out of the park with wireless connectivity; the device supports Bluetooth 4.0 allowing for faster and more stable connections with less power. There has been much said about the 4G support not being compatible with any future UK 4G networks; and while this is a definite negative we could realistically be looking at another couple of generations of tablet before the new mobile technology is widely enough deployed for it to be any use here anyway. We didn't have a chance to check the 3G connectivity as our review model is wifi-only.
The wifi on offer here supports everything from a to n and is rock solid in use offering good connectivity even in weak signal areas and no noticeable speed issues when accessing the internet via BT Infinity.
The build quality, as you expect, is second to none - well put together kit with responsive hardware buttons where applicable and a perfectly sensitive capacitive touch screen. The screen is scratch resistant although it is a true fingerprint magnet and even slight use results in a smeared screen. Fingerprint resistant screen protection is a must!
The New iPad is a revelation - it's not quite the perfect tablet just yet (we were going to give it 10/10 right up until the moment before publication) and we strongly urge Apple to improve their storage space options with support for SD cards being something that we REALLY want to see. The reliance on proprietory connectors is also becoming an irritant that we should have seen the back of long ago. With those reservations in mind, we still strongly believe that Apple are tablet pack leaders by a massive margin and while Android has made worthy gains over the past year Apple have maintained their lead by providing a solid, reliable and visually amazing product.