Review: The new iPad (2012)
Back in the day, tablets meant something a doctor would prescribe one to take when sick. In tech-world, it meant super-expensive laptops that had a swiveling display on which users could scribble using a stylus. I know of at least one C-level executive who had bought one such machine costing upwards of Rs 100,000 only to sign documents! Then came the iPad in the beginning of Summer 2010 and turned the tablet space on its head. With almost 60 million iPads already sold globally, the iPad has not only defined a brand-new gadget category but has also dominated it like no one’s business. In fact, many executives of rival companies have admitted to me in private that it is really an iPad market and not a tablet market even in India, where we have numerous usable tablets selling for under Rs 20,000. So much for India being a price sensitive country.
Now in its third generation, the iPad hasn’t changed drastically in its looks and feel. Unlike the iPhone, which has now settled into a design refresh every two years, the iPad refreshes have all been about adding more hardware capabilities. I own all the three generations and I feel almost at home irrespective whether I’m using the first-gen iPad or the latest third generation. That’s not saying that the new iPad is only an incremental update over the older ones but instead how iPads age graciously unlike Android tabs that suffocate to death within a year, lacking timely updates. Mind you, most of the first-gen Android tabs of 2010-2011 were much more powerful machines if one were to strictly talk about hardware.
Without getting into discussing the merits of Apple’s new naming scheme for the iPad, now just called the iPad or the new iPad rather than the iPad 3, the third-gen iPad is probably the most controversial of all. Many think it is just an incremental update with no ground-breaking hardware shift from Apple. Their usual gripe is the absence of a truly new processor (the Apple A6 with four cores – the new iPad has the A5X, the same dual-core processor as the iPad 2 but with a quad-core GPU) and probably the same design as the iPad 2. However, the question still remains – is the new iPad still THE must-have tablet or the iPad 2 continues to rule the roost. Let’s find out.
Keep the new iPad and the iPad 2 next to each other and differentiating between the two is next to impossible. Have the new iPad 2 alone and it could easily pass off as the new iPad to an untrained eye. Even after having used an iPad 2 for a year now, I could distinguish between the two on looking at them upfront. The significantly bigger camera lens on the rear is the only give-away. Yes, the new iPad is marginally thicker and heavier than the iPad 2 but it is something one can spot only while reading specs on paper, not something one can feel while holding the device. So if one has ever held the iPad 2, the new iPad won’t feel any different. The decision to go with the same design could be looked at from two point of views – on one hand there is the sense of familiarity while on the other it doesn’t feel like you are holding a new device. But that changes as soon as the new iPad is powered on…
Most of the work that really makes the new iPad tick is what you get under the hood. The A5X processor might still be rocking only two cores, each clocked at 1Ghz, but the accompanying quad-core GPU and doubling the RAM from 512MB to 1GB ensures that the performance difference is noticeable. I never found my iPad 2 to be slow till I started using the new iPad. It does make a huge difference. Games feel much fluid while playing and general multi-tasking has become smoother too. The new iPad also has a 4G LTE variant but it won’t work in India as our carriers will use a different LTE variant, which is not supported by the iPad. On a brighter note, some 3G users might experience faster speeds if they are on an HSPA+ plan (14.2Mbps or 21Mbps). The iPad 2 could only support HSUPA.
The next big upgrade has been on the battery front with the new iPad rocking a massive 11,666 mAh (42.5WHr) battery, which is 70 percent bigger than the iPad 2′s battery (6,930 mAh or 25WHr). This was necessary to ensure the performance remains same despite rocking a more powerful chipset, a higher resolution display and 4G LTE connectivity, all of which guzzle battery juice by the gallon. In my usage during the past three days, the new iPad has actually lasted me the same or even slightly longer than the iPad 2!
The biggest and the most noticeable difference (and probably the reason why many people would buy the new iPad) is the stunning Retina Display. The 2048X1536 pixel display has 264 pixels crammed into every square inch and has four times the number of pixels in the same 9.7-inches of diagonal display estate as the iPad 2.
If one intends to watch movies, surf the Internet or even just read anything, the new iPad would give the same experience as one does after wearing prescription glasses for the first time. Everything one sees feels much clearer with greater depth of field. Icons look sharp and the text crisp. Even characters on the on-screen keyboard are much sharper. After using the new iPad, one just can’t go back to the iPad 2 – everything looks blurry. Unless all one intends to do is play Angry Birds or some such games. Also, not all apps will appear different on the two devices – app developers will have to tweak their apps slightly to give the Retina Display experience.
Talking about Retina Display, the one on the new iPad is not strictly one, considering its Pixels Per Inch (PPI) count is under 300. Apple contends that unlike a phone, a tablet is held further away from one’s eyes and it will have the same legibility as a display with a PPI above 300. I’m willing to grant that to Apple. Another thing I noticed is that the display seems to have a wider viewing angle than the iPad 2. I can’t test it to be sure but it certainly feels that way. Eventually, it is only the display that one really interacts with all the time on a tablet and the iPad’s Retina Display alone would make it worth picking up the new iPad for most people who really use their tablets.
The next big update is the new iSight camera on the rear. The 5.0 megapixel sensor uses the same optics tech as that found on the iPhone 4S and it shows. Provided one is in a well-lit place, the iPad’s camera churns out some brilliant shots with proper color reproduction and good details. It shoots some good 1080p videos too. However, the absence of flash ensures grainy pictures in low-light conditions. The iPad’s improved camera combined with iMovie and iPhoto means that one can click pictures and shoot videos on the iPad, edit them and share them with the world from same device.
To be honest, I am not a big fan of holding a massive device to shoot pictures and videos using a 9.7-inch display as a viewfinder. Having said that, I know of many people who do that and it looks like I’m in the minority. I’d have rather appreciated if Apple would have showered more attention to the front facing camera, which continues to do just VGA videos. A full 1080p video function would have come in handy while doing FaceTime or Skype video calls.
I also found the speaker on the new iPad to be slightly louder than the iPad 2. However, I’m told there has been no change to the speaker. Barring that, the new iPad uses the same OS (iOS 5.1) as the iPad 2 and it doesn’t really need a separate section to review.
During my usage the new iPad performed just the way one expected it to perform. The battery did last for over 10 hours of usage on Wi-Fi, which was slightly better than what I used to get from my iPad 2 when I first started using it. My review unit did get a little warm on the lower left side after about 45 minutes of usage but only when there was something downloading in the background. Also, it was only warm and not hand-burning hot. I have been writing this review on the iPad for the past three hours while it is also charging and it remains perfectly cool. Apart from the slight warm corner, there was nothing else I could notice that wasn’t expected.
Being an iPad user for almost two years now, I find the new iPad to be the first one that has almost every base covered. Think about it. The first-gen iPad didn’t have any camera and there was no way one could do a two-way Skype video call (FaceTime didn’t exist then). The iPad 2 added two cameras but the rear camera was a joke. Also, by then there were many Android tablets with better displays on which watching videos was a treat. The new iPad has done that all and more. The only thing I wish it had was a better front facing camera and flash for the rear camera to make it usable under all conditions.
If one is looking for a high-end tablet, the new iPad is the only option. At the moment, there is no other tablet in the market that can take on the iPad in the north of Rs 30,000 price segment. Its closest competitor would be the iPad 2, nothing else.
Which brings us to an interesting situation. Whether one should buy the iPad 2, which starts from Rs 24,500 for the 16GB Wi-Fi variant and Rs 32,900 for the 16GB Wi-Fi+3G variant or the new iPad, which starts from Rs 30,500 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version and Rs 38,900 for the 16GB Wi-Fi+4G version? I’d suggest someone to pick the iPad 2 over the new iPad if money is really a constraint. Otherwise, for the extra Rs 6,000 not only is one getting much better hardware but also an extra year of software support as and when Apple updates iOS, which really makes a big difference. Typically, Apple iOS updates fully support only the last two generations of hardware preceding the update while the product immediately preceding them does not get all the features.
Things get a little messy, however, if one has to decide whether to upgrade from the iPad 2 to the new iPad. If money is not a criteria or you are an Apple fanboy who needs to have the latest and greatest iDevice, then it is not even a question whether one should or should not upgrade. However, if money is the criteria, then I don’t really see any need for upgrading to the new iPad. It would be prudent to wait for the next iPad, which would not only have a design refresh but even better hardware. Just a word of advice – resist the temptation to use the new iPad that your friend has just bought or even at an Apple store. Remember, once you have used the new iPad there’s no going back!