Review: Apple iPad (Third-Generation)

by on March 19, 2012

Well, this is certainly interesting—just a few days after I stated that my original iPad was more than adequate, I’m typing this from a brand-new third-generation iPad. As it turns out, the universe aligned just so where I was able to sell my old iPad for a reasonable amount, and not have to wait in line or deal with a preorder for the new iPad (thanks, local Walmart in a non-techy area). Numerous writers have already reviewed the iPad as a whole, but I wanted to offer the perspective from an existing user.

iPad iPad iPad
iPad iPad iPad

The original iPad was like the original Mac in a number of ways—disruptive in the tech industry, panned by some who didn’t get it, and in desperate need of RAM. The 256MB was adequate for most things, but with iOS 5 and a number of more complex apps, there were more crashes. Part of this comes from the fact that nobody knew what to do with the iPad originally, and over time, it became a very competent content creation and consumption device. If the iPad 2 was like the Mac Plus (technically the Mac 512k was between the two, but that was just a RAM increase—the Plus had a lot of other changes), then the third-generation iPad is like the Mac SE. It’s got more RAM, better connectivity, and both familiarity & refinement.

Since I got my original iPad, it started taking over as my main computer even more and more, I was about 50/50 about whether or not the new iPad would bring enough to the table for me to upgrade. After the initial tear downs and benchmarks, the new iPad seemed like enough of a leap for me to eventually get one, but it was hard to justify the expense and I was fine with waiting for the initial craziness to die down.

I was able to sell my old iPad to a friend, as the usual sell-your-iPad sites were giving pretty low offers for a gadget that has been babied for the entire time I had it (plus I had some accessories that I could include). I had planned to sell it once I bought the new one, probably in May or June. Instead, I happened to be at my local Walmart and noticed that quite a few were still in stock. This was on Friday at 3pm. A phone call to my friend, and a few minutes later I was walking out of the store with an 32GB AT&T model. On top of that, Meijer happened to be selling Smart Covers heavily discounted, so I managed to get one of those to complete my setup.

Initial Impressions

Compared to my original iPad, the new iPad is fast. Things that I didn’t even really realize were slow were immediately more responsive (swiping from page to page on The Daily feels like it should have all along), and just general user interface items feel snappier. It reminds me a lot of going from a second-generation iPod touch to the iPhone 4 (my previous migration), but not just because of speed. The display is worth getting excited about, as everything looks rich and incredibly sharp. I know some shrug off the Retina Display as marketing hype or something that people can live without. That may be partially true, but this iPad actually feels like a device that you can use regularly and feels on-par with the iPhone 4 and 4S. It also makes the displays on the fleet of Macs I use seem pathetic.

Dictation is a new feature, to bring the iPad into the realm of the iPhone 4S. It works rather accurately and as expected—I’ve tried it within a few apps, but am not sure how regularly I’ll use it. While some think it should have gotten Siri, I think it is a feature that is more in line with how you’d use an iPhone. Why tell the iPad what to do when you can manipulate items on the large screen?

Other Goodies

I know some have complained about the new iPad’s slight weight and thickness increase, but compared to the original iPad, it’s still lighter and thinner. My biggest complaint about the iPad 2 was that it was almost too thin—it was sturdy, but felt like it could be snapped in half. This iPad is still thin, but has a decent amount of heft. It doesn’t make the device any less portable.

The camera on non-iPhones has been a joke since it first showed up on the fourth-generation iPod touch. Sure, it shoots HD video, but still photos were absolute garbage. With the iPad 2, the camera was carried over, but most people didn’t care, since it was mostly used for sharing items via FaceTime, like the front-facing camera. The new iPad inherited the iPhone 4’s 5MP shooter, which is a solid camera in its own right, but makes it actually useful for a quick snap or two. Would I use my iPad for an everyday camera? No—I’d look like an idiot! Still, it might be good for shooting a 1080p video or certain stills (the big screen does add a bit of control and insight with the process).

iPad

FaceTime isn’t really new, especially with the same front-facing camera as every other equipped iOS device, but it is a new feature for me—on the iPad, at least. Making calls on there just seems that much more futuristic, like I’m in an early ’90s AT&T commercial, but better.

Other than that, the iPad is still a lot of the same—same basic design, same pricing, same carriers for the cellular radio-equipped model (sorry Sprint & T-Mobile), and the same iOS 5 we’ve seen for the last few months. Basically, anyone who has paid attention to iPads over the past year and is upgrading from a previous iPad or adding it to an existing iPhone or iPod touch ecosystem should feel right at home. I opted for setup via iCloud and was impressed how easy it was to transfer settings from an existing iPad backup without ever synchronizing to my Mac via iTunes.

Areas of Concern

The new iPad isn’t without its initial drawbacks. A display this sharp needs a bit more power (and also uses a good chunk of the extra RAM), so Apple increased the battery by about 70%. This has resulted in longer charging times, and the iPad getting a bit hotter in use, especially in the lower-left corner (if the iPad is viewed in portrait orientation). It’s still nowhere as near as hot as a MacBook running Flash. The best way to describe it is to think of an iPhone after a lengthy phone call.

Initially, one would think the battery was beefed up for the LTE chipset, but both models have about the same battery life, and using LTE only cuts runtime down by about an hour. As I live a few miles outside of an LTE market, I decided to venture out and try some unscientific preliminary tests. Except for the last one, these were all done at the exact same spot, the only difference was toggling the Wi-Fi and/or LTE switches on the Settings app—needless to say, LTE is fast:

  Download Upload Ping
AT&T Wi-Fi (Starbucks) 1.16 Mbps 1.36 Mbps 97 ms
AT&T “4G” HSPA+ 5.88 Mbps 1.15 Mbps 229 ms
AT&T 4G LTE 24.59 Mbps 14.50 Mbps 193 ms
Eric’s Apartment Wi-Fi 7.75 Mbps 8 Mbps 32 ms

The new iPad is pretty fast compared to the original iPad, but compared to the iPad 2, it’s much closer. I think the sentiment that most iPad 2 users should sit this update out is fairly accurate. Sure, the new screen, camera, and 4G capabilities are nice, but most people with iPad 2s will be able to use it for the next year or two.

Value, Adoption, and Final Thoughts

The new iPads offer a lot of value, especially when you look at the pure computing-power-per-dollar. Previously, iPad releases were simple—pick if you want 3G or not, the color, and then the capacity based on apps, music, videos, and photos you’d want to store on it. With the release of iCloud and iTunes Match last fall, the decision has become a little tougher—spend the extra $100 (or $200) to get a bigger iPad, or put that money towards a multi-year subscription of iTunes Match. I suspect many more people will be leaving their music in the cloud.

If the original iPad was a toy for geeks and early adopters who wanted something to go between their iPhones and Macs, and the iPad 2 was the release that convinced people the iPad was here to stay, then things like the display and extra power on the new iPad will make traditional computers seem even more like a twentieth century relic.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

Like the Retina Display on the new iPad, Apple’s definition of a post-PC device is getting a little clearer, and I suspect many buyers of this iPad will be first-time iPad owners or original iPad owners who are upgrading.

Pros: Gorgeous display, extra processing power, more RAM, usable camera, 4G LTE on some models

Cons: More things = bigger battery, runs a bit warmer, extra thickness makes some iPad 2 accessories incompatible

The Facts

4/5Product: iPad
Company: Apple
Price: $499 (16GB Wi-Fi), $599 (32GB Wi-Fi), $699 (64GB Wi-Fi)
4G LTE capability adds $130

This post has been filed in iDevices and Reviews