With an incredible display, faster 4G LTE mobile connectivity, improved graphical performance and a new 5 megapixel shooter, the new iPad is an excellent upgrade to a product that has defined its category. But, is it worthy of your hard-earned cash?
On March 7, Tim Cook took the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for his second keynote since he became CEO of Apple in late 2011. From the moment he announced the “new” iPad, I knew my wallet was about to become a little bit thinner.
The new iPad, which went on sale March 16 at a starting price of $529 AUD, offers some pretty significant upgrades over its predecessors – an upgraded 9.7-inch, 2048 by 1536 pixel “Retina” display, offering four times the resolution of its predecessor, optional LTE 4G mobile connectivity, a new “A5X” processor with four times the graphic performance, 1GB of RAM and a 5 Megapixel “iSight” rear-facing camera.
So, the question on the minds of both iPad owners and people seeking to purchase their first tablet is “Should I spend $539-$899 on Apple’s new device?” – Let’s explore this further.
Retina = Beautiful
While the new iPad is physically almost identical to the iPad 2, the headline upgrade is noticeable from the moment you turn on the device. The display showcases graphics and text with such clarity, it is like you are looking at a fine printed book. In fact, Apple has coined the term “Retina display” to refer to displays that are so high resolution, that your eyes cannot make out any more detail. The Retina display can only be described as beautiful and is by far the most amazing display I have ever seen.
Apple first debuted the Retina display with the iPhone 4 in mid 2010, just months after the release of the original iPad. The difference the display made to the overall experience was mind-boggling and now, finally, after almost two years, this display has been brought to the iPad.
Fonts are rendered to be incredibly crisp, and high resolution images are viewed with crystal clarity. This new display will appeal to everyone, but especially those who who will be regularly reading on the device for long periods.
The 9.7” retina display in the new iPad has a display resolution on 2048 by 1532 (264ppi), which Apple claims has a million more pixels than a full 1080P HD Television. Just to give an idea of how many pixels the new iPad’s display has, the 27-inch monitor on the iMac I am currently writing this article on has a display resolution of 2560 by 1440 (127 ppi), which is a measly 12.2% increase in pixels on a display close to three times the physical size. This is not only an incredible implementation of this technology, but also an amazing engineering achievement.
4G LTE – Not so fast..
4G LTE connectivity is a headline feature for the iPad. The technology can bring download speeds of up to 72 Mbps on a supporting wireless network, which is faster than most home broadband connections. This increased speed will allow for much faster web browsing, media streaming, and file downloads.
Unfortunately, the new iPad’s 4G LTE is limited to networks running on the 700Mhz and 2100Mhz spectrum ranges, and neither of those spectrums are supported by Australian carriers. Telstra’s new 4G network runs in the 1800 Mhz frequency range, while Optus’s planned LTE network will be running in the 2300 Mhz frequency range, which it acquired through its $230 million acquisition of Vividwireless earlier this month.
It’s not all gloom for Australians who want connectivity on-the-go, as the new iPad now supports dual-carrier HSDPA technology, allowing for download speeds of up to 21 Mbps and 41 Mbps on supported networks, which are currently Optus’s 3G network and Telstra’s Next G network.
This is still a huge increase over the 3G iPad 2’s max theoretical download speeds of 7.2 Mbps and will be a welcome speed bump for many.
An added feature is the ability to now use the iPad as a wireless hotspot, so you can use it as a wireless access point for multiple other devices on-the-go. This could come in handy for many while traveling, or on long car trips where multiple people need access to the internet.A5X – Quad-Core Graphics
By doubling the resolution of the display found in the new iPad, Apple created themselves a small problem.
To handle the outstanding new display, Apple has upgraded the processor within the new iPad to include quad core graphics. They have also increased the memory from 512 MB to 1GB, but have left the clock speed of the dual-core A5X at 1GHz. The increase in memory should help across the board, but was most likely needed, if only to handle the new display.
From my initial engagement with the device, an increase in speed is not immediately apparent, but there is also no decrease in performance from the iPad 2. Apps open fast and web browsing is smooth.
Overall, the speed is at least on par with the iPad 2. This new processor will allow developers to create far more graphically intensive applications and games.
Apple has released a version of iPhoto for the iPad to show off its graphic powers. The application seems like quite a powerful photo editing tool for a tablet device.
5 megapixel “iSight” Camera – Shoots 1080P video
This feature is one that I see having little, if any, benefit. Since the release of the iPad 2 that featured a very poor 2 Mega pixel rear camera and a VGA quality front-facing camera, I’ve thought the idea of having a camera on a tablet is ridiculous.
Regardless of my thoughts, the camera will take very good pictures, if you feel you must use it. Apple has updated the camera within the new iPad with a 5 megapixel camera that utilises the same technology found in Apple’s incredible iPhone 4S camera. Colors looked good, if not slightly washed out, and highlights and shadows show an appropriate amount of detail.
Auto-focus and face detection also work quite well here. The ability to selectively focus works surprising well and will allow you to be a little creative with your photos. There is no flash on the iPad as there is on the iPhone 4 and 4S, but the low light sensitivity of the sensor is excellent and the increased aperture size to F2.4 helps significantly here.
In terms of video performance, the new iPad delivers 1080P HD video and does so surprisingly well. Much needed digital image stabilisation has been added and is clearly at play when you are in the middle of recording a video. Once again, I’m not quite sure when or if this feature will be used for many people, but if you so choose to use it, the camera does an excellent job.
The “FaceTime” camera on the front of the new iPad has been left unchanged from the iPad 2. This is still a very limiting VGA-quality camera. Personally, I would have rather seen Apple put their resources into the camera on the front of the camera, especially since they have been pushing HD FaceTime on the Mac front. Don’t expect to get great image quality out of this one.
Other – Name, Larger battery = Thicker, Heavier
The naming of the “new” iPad was something that caught many followers of the company off-guard. The rumor mills were turning for months before the unveiling on the next iPad’s name with suggestions such as the apparently obvious iPad 3, and the not so attractive iPad HD and iPad 2S.
Dropping the number in the naming convention is something that doesn’t come as a surprise to me and was an event as I saw as inevitable. Apple doesn’t apply a numerical naming convention to any of it’s other product lines other then the iPhone. The iPods have always been differentiated by their generational numbers and their Mac lines have always been differentiated by the design, month and year they were released.
Also, I would expect Apple to do the same with the next iPhone release. There needs to be a point where the numerical values stop. The naming does not sound so enticing when the iPad of year 2023 is named the iPad 13. It just doesn’t make sense.
Another reason Apple may have dropped the number is because they may be planning to make a smaller version of the iPad. It has been rumored for quite a while that they have been testing a smaller, 7.85 inch version of the device to go head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle Fire. This would make sense, as Apple would most likely append a descriptive adjective to the “iPad” brand such as “mini”, as they have done with their Mac and iPod line.
To power the new iPad and keep the same battery life, Apple has nearly doubled the capacity of the battery, from 25 watt-hours in the iPad 2 to 42.5 watt-hours in the new iPad, adding 0.3 inches to the thickness and 1.8 ounces to the weight. I could barely notice the difference. Apple claims the new iPad still gets 10 hours of battery life on Wi-Fi and 9 hours when connected to a mobile network.
The new iPad sits in a category of its own, as did the iPad 2 and the original. After nearly two years since the original iPad debuted, a worthy competitor still hasn’t surfaced in the market. With the addition of the Retina display, faster A5X processor, more memory and optional ability to connect to 42Mbps HSDPA+ mobile networks, the new iPad holds its place as the product to beat.
So the question still remains; should you spend a minimum of $539 for Apple’s new device?
For owners of the iPad 2, the answer isn’t completely obvious. The new iPad doesn’t offer an overall experience that is significantly different from the previous version, plus many have just only made an investment in an iPad 2 less than a year ago. If the screen resolution never bothered you, you don’t desire the upgraded 5 megapixel camera, or you don’t require faster mobile connectivity, you can very comfortably skip this upgrade.
For anyone who is looking to purchase their first tablet device, or looking to upgrade from the original iPad, the answer is a definite yes. The incredibly beautiful high-resolution display is an upgrade that in itself makes the purchase worthwhile.
The new iPad offers absolutely the best experience of any mobile tablet device on the market. Period.♦ End