New iPad (2012): Full Written Review

Design

The design of an Apple device is as important as its performance and features. It’s the reason the company exists, it’s the focus of all the team’s efforts. Cupertino’s motto and purpose is to live on the cross junction between the arts and technology. It’s always been what sets them apart from the competition. So much so, that when they get something “right”, they stick with it for more than the usual standard of 9-12 months. The second iPad was a big leap in design from the first model. It became slimmer, lighter and more beautiful. There was really nothing wrong with it, and it doesn’t look outdated, so why change it?

The third generation model continues with the same looks and engineering – only adding 0.6mm in thickness to incorporate the new display, battery and 4G chipset. To the eye, the difference in size is completely unnoticeable. There’s a tad more weight – which is noticeable, but not off-putting. I’m coming from the first generation model, so I’m slimming down and shaving off 4mm and around 30grams (o.o6lbs).

The bezel is more or less thumbs width, perfect holding size. A tiny bit on the thin side for me, but nothing to complain about. Apart from the incredible 2048×1536 resolution Retina display (which completely dominates the face) there’s a simple home key, and the tiny FaceTime camera. Beautifully minimalist. On the right side there’s the mute/orientation lock switch and volume rocker: the two caveats. They’re plastic and sharp, making them feel cheap and uncomfortable to use.

The back is the familiar well-crafted piece of Aluminum, with the same precision-drilled speaker grill in the bottom left corner. On the top the 5MP iSight camera sits just on the top side of the tapered edge. Although the lens cover sits at a slight angle, the lens inside is straight. Then, of course, we have the Apple logo taking pride of place in the middle, and the usual FCC information in fine print half an inch above the 30 pin dock connector.

As with most tablets this size, one-handed use does get a little tiring after time. Holding with two hands in landscape is a joy, and I would still go as far to say that the iPad really nailed the perfect form factor and size. The curved edges make it feel really slim, and the completely flat back means there’s no risk of it spinning and getting scratched on any hard surface.

Sure, Apple could have changed the design. But like I wrote earlier, there was no reason to change. If we look at it critically – realistically there’s not a lot Apple could have changed. It’s as slim as it could possibly be, and it’s a tablet, which means it has to be a rectangle. Any changes would have been negligible. Case in point: look at the tablet market, everything looks like an iPad. Cupertino focussed on what was most important – the display, and knew that the iPad 2′s design was more than good enough.

Display

“WOW!” I could add so many words to that, but it was my initial reaction as soon as I switched on the new iPad. The Retina display is awesome, and anyone who thinks it’s not a “true” Retina needs to check it out for themselves. It’s 36 pixels per inch short of the the magical 300ppi figure quoted for the iPhone 4. You need microscopic vision to detect any individual pixel. It’s a stunning display. It gets out of the way, and convinces you that all there is, is you and the content. To the point where improving it any further would be an utterly useless waste of time, and battery drain. It’s that good.

But that’s not all. In the past Apple could be criticised for focussing so much on pixel density and ignoring color and vibrance. Those are improved too. Hues are much more saturated (but not overly so), making the screen seem so much brighter, and more alive. I know, I’m gushing, but you really have to try it to believe it. Games like Sky Gamblers, and Infinity Blade II have been updated to take full advantage, and bring the tablet firmly into the world of gaming. If I had the choice of paying seven dollars for Sky Gamblers, or paying fifty bucks for a similar title on XBox, I’d choose the iOS version every time. Graphics are sharp, and the enhanced quad-core GPU makes light work of the frame rate and all the quick changes in direction.

Then we get on to text, and browsing. Even on the non-optimized apps, text is crisp and sharper – rivalling actual print on paper.Whether the text is in iBooks or Safari, it looks incredible. There are no slightly fuzzy pixels, all the letters’ curves look perfectly smooth. The only issue with the screen is that it still isn’t great for use in daylight. Sure, it’s brighter which helps a lot, but it’s nowhere near flawless. (An anti-glare screen protector should take care of that.)

Performance

Speed didn’t wow me, but, that’s not to say it isn’t fast. Everything loads up perfectly quickly thanks to the 1GHz A5X chip. And, being rational for a second, the fact it didn’t wow me and just did its job without me noticing, means that it does it very well indeed. There’s no lag, no skipping frames in apps. Everything is smooth as butter.

Web browsing is a dream. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the best web browsing experience of any device, ever. Sure, it still doesn’t support Flash but to me that’s a good thing. The only Flash I come across is generally in the form of irritating ads. And, since Adobe declared Mobile Flash dead, we all know that what Steve Jobs said a couple of years back is true. Flash is old technology, HTML5 is the future. He was mocked and scorned for saying so, but the iPad has become so popular that all next generation pages will be focussing on the more “stable” HTML5 platform.The only time I noticed any slow page loading was down to my poor broadband speeds, and not the hardware. When pages loaded it wasn’t a gradual thing, images and text load up at the same time and there’s no “checker boarding” when performing simple pinch-to-zoom tasks.

Camera

The new camera is a big improvement on the old version. (Click image above for full size.) Distortion levels are much lower, and the images are much sharper. Check out Jake’s comparison post yesterday to compare with the previous model. I can’t say that I’m ever going to replace my NEX-3 with an iPad, or an iPhone for that matter, but it’s nice to know that when I do decide to take photos with the new iPad they won’t look like utter garbage. Dare I say, it still rivals some current high end smartphone snappers.

We’ll have a separate article up with camera samples in different conditions as well as some sample HD footage. Needless to say, I’m left feeling indifferent. It’s not great enough to get me excited, and it’s not poor enough to warrant any serious scalding. The best way to describe it: it’s fine.

Sound Quality

Sound from the new iPad is great. Considering how small the speaker is on Apple’s latest and greatest, it gives off a pleasant sound. It doesn’t cover the bass notes as well as I’d like but that’s more to do with the limitations of the physical speaker hardware. Stick a decent set of headphones in the jack input and your experience is transformed from being mediocre, to being fantastic. It is dependent on the quality of the sound track, but results have been fantastic. There’s no overwhelming unclear bass, or excessive noise. The sound is well balanced and copes with a good range of frequencies.

Final Thoughts

I’ve read a ton of reviews that state that you shouldn’t upgrade from the iPad 2 unless the display is really important to you. It’s true that all other performance is comparable, if not exactly the same. The form factor is virtually identical too. But here’s where I disagree. You should upgrade from the iPad 2 because of the display. A tablet is all about the screen, that’s why it’s a tablet – it is a framed display. The Retina is that good, that if you were to see it – then look at your iPad 2, you’d suddenly feel disappointed and start hating your tablet. When a product is all screen, that’s the most important thing, and it’s reason on its own to purchase one. So what, it hasn’t got a quad-core chip – you won’t get bragging rights over your friends toting an Asus Transformer Prime – but you will have the best tablet on the market.

The 2012 iPad shows why Apple is the market leader in the tablet world, and as far as I can tell, it’s the other manufacturers that are chasing them, not the other way around. The 3rd gen model will prove to be incredibly popular, and will stretch Cupertino’s lead further. It’s a stunning device, and gives us a glimpse in to what these tiny computers are capable of. It’s so versatile and quick that it’s managed to replace my laptop, my games console, my DVD player, TV and all my books. It’s fantagmagastic.

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