'New' iPad Review: Is A Better Screen Enough?

The dust has settled, the queues have cleared, and what we're left with is a new iPad with an old name. Does that make for enough of a difference to make it an essential tablet? This week's Mobile Monday ponders whether Apple's delivered a must-buy product. Before I start, one quick note: There's one area I've not assessed as part of this review, and that's the dual channel HSPA+ capabilities of the new iPad. As I've noted many times before, despite the 4G branding on the iPad box, this particular model won't connect to Telstra's 4G network or, for that matter, Optus' incoming 4G network. Whether it'll do so with the 700MHz network Optus is testing is an interesting but somewhat moot point; that won't become a public facing network for a couple of years at least.

In any case, expect a full in-depth examination of the new iPad's data speeds in real world use directly -- but not in this review.

Why It Matters

Like it or not, Apple's in the commanding position in the tablet market, so any new iPad is worthy of evaluation. Apple's launched the new iPad on the back of upgraded features; while the 4G here is a non-factor, it's still got improved internals, a better camera and that "resolutionary" screen.

I promise you, that's the last time I'll use that phrase in this review, because it makes my skin crawl.

What We Like

There's no denying that the screen on the new iPad is an improvement over the older iPad and iPad 2 -- to an extent, and with the right material. That's an important caveat to throw out there, because your choice of tablet app or content will affect how well the screen represents that content.

To take one example, the updated version of the Kindle app renders text in a much crisper fashion than on the older devices. The screens on the first two iPad generations weren't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but put them side by side and anybody would be able to pick the new iPad in an instant.

In games that support it, the new iPad also looks lush; putting Infinity Blade II side by side again allows the new iPad's screen to really stand out. Video's a slightly more mixed bag. With the SD iTunes store version of X-Men: First Class, it was quickly clear which iPad was which as the new iPad's screen displayed a richer colour depth across even SD material.

The camera's a great improvement over the iPad 2, but that wasn't a particularly tough thing for Apple to improve. It's been said endlessly, but tablets make awkward cameras; hard to hold and socially inept in one. It does fall somewhat in within the well-worn theme of "the best camera is the one that you've got with you", in that if you were stuck with only the new iPad, you could take some decent shots with it -- but it'd be awkward to do so, as it was taking the shot above. Good result (given the weather), but not something I'd want to do on a regular basis.

App performance is equally a little mixed. Apple made a lot of noise about the new iPad being "4x" faster than an equivalent Tegra processor, which could lead you to think that it'll be a massive boost over the existing iPad 2. It's not, and it does vary from app to app.

For straight loading times of a given app there's not much difference, but certain apps -- notably iPhoto and iMovie -- that shuffle a lot of data around do work with more zip than they used to. Again, this is something that may become more apparent when and if apps are optimised for it. When that happens, we may also see a decrease in performance for older original generation iPads, though.

What We Don't Like

It's heavier. That's clearly a matter of battery density to ensure battery life remains constant, but if you're used to the weight of the iPad 2, it is a noticeable extra bit of heft. Put it in context with the rest of the tablet pack and it's not a giant, but it's still heavier.

Apple's big refrain for the new iPad centres around larger data, whether it's the 4G we don't get, or the higher definition screen. So the fact that Apple's done nothing whatsoever to change the storage sizes on the new iPad is galling. It'd be great to have a 128GB version if we're meant to store 1080p content on it all the time, but no such thing exists. It'd be even better to have removable storage capabilities, but again that's not part of the current iPad strategy. I'd steer clear of the 16GB model for that exact reason.

The new screen is great, as long as the quality of the content you're throwing at it is up to the task. Running an episode of Red Dwarf through the BBC iPlayer app made the new iPad stand out, but not entirely in a good way. Because the iPlayer content is compressed, a higher resolution screen makes the compression that much more obvious -- in the same way that throwing an old VHS tape up onto a Full HD LCD screen makes you wonder how you ever put up with that level of clarity. It's not unwatchable, but it is distracting. That is something of a garbage in, garbage out kind of problem, though; not a flaw with the screen but the content, and it'll be in the content designed for the new display that the new iPad either shines or fails.

Specs 9.7-inch 2048x1536 screen Dual-core Apple A5X processor 1GB RAM 5MP rear-facing camera, VGA front-facing No expandable storage Dual-channel HSPA+ and Wi-Fi (4G not compatible in Australia) Weight: 652/662g (Wi-Fi / Wi-Fi+4G) Price: Wi-Fi 16GB $539, 32GB $649, 64GB $759 Wi-Fi+4G 16GB $679, 32GB $789, 64GB $899

Should You Buy It?

There's a clear segment of the Gizmodo audience that would never buy an Apple product under any circumstances; you'll never buy one, so I'm not addressing this at you.

What then of the rest of the market? In one sense, Apple's a victim of its own success. The new iPad is undeniably better than the previous two generations of iPad tablets, but it's only a slow evolutionary change while we await more retina-specific applications. That doesn't mean that the new iPad is a bad buy, but if you're one of the many that owns an iPad 2, it's a less compelling upgrade option than Apple's marketing might have you believe. Apple's rather good at hype marketing, something I've noted before, but those with iPad 2 models shouldn't rush to upgrade.

If you're a totally new iPad buyer, whether a first-time tablet buyer or an Android switcher, the new iPad retains the features that gave the original models allure -- including an unmatched library of tablet-specific applications -- along with the best screen currently available on a tablet, and should definitely be at the top of your shopping list. An excellent tablet is still an excellent tablet, even if it's not quite the revolution that some were hoping for.


Comments

    I'd like to point out that the benchmarks seem to put the graphical capabilities of the new a5x processor at between 10 and 30% more powerful than the tegra 3, not Apple's claimed 400%
    Hell, in terms of raw processing power, Tegra seems to be slaying a5x in most tests.

    I would love to know where Apple got that "4x" stat from

      i think because the new iPad has 4x the number of pixels than the previous generations, they can state that the new chip is 4x faster. Marketing BS indeed.

      What we need is someone to somehow hack together the new screen with an old chip or the other way 'round.

      At the end of the day I'm pretty sure I still want one. This will be my first iPad and I think it is the right time to jump on the bandwagon.

        These kinds of calculations are always BS and my mind just considers it as whitenoise - just like with intel and AMD, nVidia with ATI - theyre always throwing in the big numbers and whizzy graphs. At the end of the day its all about whether it works for you or not.

        Someone did try it out - they said the connectors were a bit different or something? So you wouldnt be able to retrofit gen 2 and gen 3s with each other's.

    I think its a good buy for anyone that is an iPad power user. But if all you do is browse the web and look at pictures - the cost of upgrading might be harder to foot. After getting the iPhone 4, i refused to get an iPad until they fit it with a ret-display - and i have to say - im quite pleased with how it turned out. Now... the long wait for the app developers to retrofit their apps for ret' or spawn new ones.

    I updated from iPad1 to iPad 3 (I call it a "ThriPad") and the jump is fantastic!! Very happy I upgraded on this one, performance is very noticable over iPad1, screen makes the 1 look dated by a very noticeable amount.
    Were I going from a 2 to a 3 - I'd hold off until the next one. But from a 1 to a 3? Highly recommended!

    Why is this on Kotaku? There's three sentences about games and I already read it on Gizmodo. I'm starting to get sick of so much cross-posting within Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku =(

      The answer to your question should be very obvious. All the sites you mentioned are run by Allure media. They cross promote in the hope that if you were a strict Koatkuite you might venture over to Gizmodo or Lifehacker more often and give them some more page clicks. That's like asking why advertising exists....

        Why bother having three separate sites then? Wait let me answer that as you no doubt will. More page clicks and more ad revenue.

        It's just annoying me enough seeing the same article three times over that I'm considering unsubscribing from two of the three.

          the reason they have it separate is because some people want to go to a tech blog and others want to go to a game blog. If you merged them together it would become a disorganized mess and people wanting just tech would go to engadget etc and kotaku people would move to escapist/joystiq etc. The occasional cross promote wont dilute the fan base of this gaming blog. Also kotaku and gizmodo have branding power.

    Seems the trend for upgrading Apple devices is, no matter when generation you have, always skip a generation in your upgrade paths.

    Beep Beep Boop. ID: 69242TRe

    Last edited 16/08/14 8:42 pm

    Considering this versus an ultrabook at the mo'. Seems very nice, and for the price of the cheapest ultrabook I could get the best possible iPad... but then I can't do programming on it. Or plug stuff into it... kind of annoyed it doesn't fit my needs :P

      I program on my iPad all the time, the dev kit is only a hundred bux.

    What will you use that nice new screen for? Movies currently and for the forseeable future wont be at that resolution and if it was how big would those files be? How much you can fit in the smallest capacity Ipad (assuming all you will do is watch movies) Not many and the screens full resolution.

    What about games? I dont think games will run at the resolution either, i mean even mid to low-end desktop graphics cards can struggle to output that resolution. How does such a small and thin and passively cooled device manage to do what a dedicated piece of hardware with active cooling cannot?

    Sure it will make looking at things on the device nice and clear and crisp, lets not deny that, but a 1080p panel would have been sufficient until there is enough content to warrant such a screen.

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