Review: Apple iPad (Third Generation) 64 GB

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Published: March 21, 2012 4:16 PM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Apple iPad, Act 3. Stripped of its model number, Apple's newest tablet raises several questions, especially, what exactly the point is. We have to admit that at first sight, the whole thing smacks of the iPhone 4S release—but in all fairness, no one in the company has been throwing the word "revolutionary" around for this model.

This time it's "Resolutionary" and that's what it's (almost) all about: the Retina display with four times the resolution of the iPad 2, effectively upgrading the screen from 1024 x 768 pixels to 2048 x 1536 pixels—in other words, 3.1 million pixels on a 9.7-inch display. As the brand takes obvious pleasure in reminding us, this produces higher resolution than a Full HD TV.  

Apple ipad 3 review - from the side


Inside the glass and aluminium body, Apple has reused the same dual-core processor as the iPad 2, the A5, renaming it "A5X" to take into account the new quad-core GPU, which the firm openly claims is more powerful than Nvidia's Tegra 3. As inputs and outputs go, Apple is staying true to Apple, with its usual 30-pin proprietary port as the one and only transfer interface. There's also the 3.5-mm headphone jack located on the top of the tablet.

The model we tested is the iPad 64 GB Wi-Fi/4G+, which goes for £659. The suggested retail prices start at £399 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model.
 

Apple iPad 3 review- homescreen


Hardware & Handling

Since the new iPad has almost the exact same design as its predecessor, see our review for the iPad 2 for more details about product handling. To summarise: between the ever-relevant 4:3 dimensions and the perfected combination of the glass front and aluminium back, Apple has hit on a format that's as practical and effective in landscape mode as it is in portrait mode.

Apple iPad 3 review - from the back


The only things that have changed design-wise are the weight and thickness, which have both increased. Our testing model (the 64 GB Wi-Fi/4G+) weighs 647 g and is 9.4 mm thick, compared to the iPad 2's 592 g and 8.8 mm. This necessarily has an impact on how this model feels to the touch, especially when it comes to weight. The new iPad feels heavier in your hands than the last one, but it's still quite reasonable.

Apple iPad 3 review - heat readingsAlmost immediately after the release of the new iPad, reports of overheating issues began sprouting up at various points of sale, so we put the tablet to the test with our thermal camera (see image on the right).

We found that the new iPad does indeed heat up considerably more than the iPad 2, specifically on the upper left-hand side of the tablet while holding it in portrait mode. After a series of tests, we found that this only occurs while running video games that require a lot of power. After 6 to 7 minutes of gameplay, the temperature jumps to 35.2°C (95.4°F), compared to 28.7°C (83.7°F) on the iPad 2, when using the same software (Infinity Blade 2).
 
While this is a very localised temperature rise that is definitely noticeable, luckily your hand doesn't cover that spot while you're holding the iPad in landscape mode. So you won't need to go out and buy yourself a pair of heat-resistant gloves, but this does raise questions about the potential long-term impact on the components' lifespan. Only time will tell...

The Screen

The third-generation iPad sees Apple's tablet move towards a near-perfect screen for photo and image industry professionals. For what seems like an age (two years is a long time!) we've been waiting to see a large-sized portable device display that takes colour reproduction a little more seriously, delivering faithful colour reproduction rather than some crazy colour gamut. The 2012 iPad finally brings us a product that does just that.

The average contrast hasn't changed significantly since the iPad 2, with the iPad 3 clocking up a highly respectable average of 930:1. Note, however, that this is still outdone by the likes of Asus, RIM and Acer tablets.

It's a different story when it comes to colour reproduction, though. The average delta E sets a new precedent at an ultra-low 2.1 (delta E measures the discrepancy between colours requested by the source and those displayed onscreen—the lower the better). In other words, the latest-generation iPad displays colours accurately, which is a real boon for photo buffs or for anyone working in imaging or design industries! You could therefore feasibly shoot away with an SLR and then use the new iPad as a portable monitor without the results being denatured onscreen. The cherries on the top of this particularly tasty cake are a well-balanced gamma (grey scale) of 2.2, and an equally consistent colour temperature of 5471 kelvins (images are slightly warm with a barely noticeable red overtone).

So what about that super-high 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution? Well, it's difficult to criticise Apple's choice when the result is just so excellent when displaying text onscreen—whether in a document or online, whether with a huge font or tiny typeface, the results are impressive. In fact, it's so good that the new iPad makes us think we might have another bash at reading (e-books, newspapers etc.) on a tablet screen, something that's not always been a particularly pleasant or practical experience.

The pixel density in the new iPad's Retina display is 'only' 264 ppi (pixels per inch), while the Retina display used in the iPhone 4S smashed through the heralded 300 ppi barrier. However, the 9.7-inch format of the iPad screen goes a long way to making up for things, ensuring unrivalled viewing comfort when reading onscreen. Between an iPad 2 and this third-gen iPad, there's a whole world of blur and visible pixels of difference!
 
Apple iPad 3 review - retina display test
Left: new iPad / Right: iPad 2

Put simply, display quality is so good that we found we no longer needed to zoom in on content—ever! Even if you do decide to zoom, the display is so densely detailed and crisp that any trace of aliasing has disappeared around the edges of individual letters. Just imagine what that means for photos taken with pixel-rich camera sensors … in fact, imagine that and you'll go some way to imaging just how easy on the eye this Retina display is! 

While other generations of iPad used LG IPS panels, the screen in this model could have been sourced from Samsung or LG (and Sharp is likely to join the mix soon too). Whether it's Samsung's PLS panel (the firm's own take on IPS) or an LG IPS screen, the images below clearly show the pointed ends of the sub-pixels characteristic to this kind of technology.
 
Apple iPad 3 review - pixels

Above: high pixel density in the new iPad screen. Below: the 1024 x 768 pixel display in the iPad 2. There's clearly a pretty big difference!

Apple iPad 3 review - pixels close up

While we've clearly seen the benefits of this boosted resolution, we're still a bit dubious of Apple's decision to use a 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution in a touchscreen tablet. Why not use Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels? Was Apple merely seeking to claim a quadrupled resolution compared with the iPad 2? Or was it in some way important to have a higher resolution than the average TV? Comparison with the upcoming Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and Acer Iconia Tab A700—both with Full HD resolution screens—will either justify Apple's decision to use this monster resolution or put the choice into perspective.

You can find more information and test results from the new iPad Retina display in this focus feature.

Interface & Navigation

With the new iPad, you get: iOS 5.1, which we all know well; no widgets—there's a notification window instead; iCloud, which is capable of syncing the content from all your iStuff; and wireless access to iTunes so you can sync your tablet and transfer data and information. For a more in-depth look at iOS 5, please refer to our iPad 2 review.
 
Apple iPad 3 review -  front view

Now for new features. You'll notice the arrival of iPhoto in a version that (finally!) offers more than just plain and simple picture-snapping. With this version, Apple has offered us a truly advanced photo editor. There are hundreds of different settings to choose from, and it has never been so fun and easy to touch up a photo—even more so now that the screen can display tons of info even when you zoom in, enabling you to make precise alterations.

iMovie has also been reconfigured, notably with the arrival of trailers, which we already know from the Mac version. This little addition makes all the difference! These apps are so well-designed for a touchscreen tablet that you end up quickly creating an enormous amount of content (HD, preferably), which can quickly overload the memory on a 32 GB, or even a 64 GB tablet. If you intend to do a lot of video editing, then don't even think about getting a 16 GB model. Any real pros out there will probably wish there was a 128 GB version.
 
Apple iPad 3 review - keyboard

Let's not forget to mention voice dictation. Derived from the iPhone 4S's Siri technology (but lacking the full Siri functionality), this is an efficient feature that can handle lengthy dictations, whether spoken slowly or at a regular, conversational pace. And mistakes are rare. However, you do have to be online to use it. Any time you have the keyboard open, you can activate voice dictation by simply tapping the "mic" key to the left of the space bar. 

As for the tablet's efficiency running iOS, nothing has changed on this iPad, since the CPU is the same as on the iPad 2. It runs smoothly, with multi-tasking capabilities that can handle several apps open over long periods of time.

Multimedia

NOTE: the Multimedia part of this review is mainly focused on display quality and the performances of the A5X processor in games. For more detailed information about multimedia options in this tablet, take a look at our review of the iPad 2, as the iOS environment has changed relatively little. 

Web browsing is a real treat with this tablet. Apart from the sheer speed with which you can surf (that's identical and just as impressive as in the iPad 2), it's above all the Retina display that takes the experience to another level. In landscape and portrait modes, web pages can be read without difficulty, and without you even having to make any subconscious effort to try and work out what's written onscreen. In fact, the new-gen iPad sets a new standard for reading text on web pages comfortably—welcome to the post-iPad 2012 era!
 
Apple iPad 3 review - web browsing

In video mode, the unusual screen resolution used in this Retina display poses a problem, especially with SD files. SD content really suffers and often ends up being transformed into masses of frozen pixels. For HD, the 3.1 million pixels are handled more effectively, but don't forget that there are still only 2 million pixels in HD content. So with an OS that's designed to be perfectly, linearly expandable for various screen formats and 16:9 videos that lose a quarter of the required resolution (at best), it all feels a bit contrived. This display therefore ends up giving the impression that you're watching "not-quite-HD".

Another key feature of the new iPad's multimedia capabilities is the A5X processor's much-publicised ability to out-perform the Nvidia Tegra 3 on graphics. In theory, then, we should already be able to notice a pretty distinct difference between graphics the iPad 2 and the new iPad. With the same game—the technical semi-demo Infinity Blade 2 by Epic Games – differences in graphic detail are minimal. Nevertheless, aliasing and ugly, crudely reproduced textures have been mostly eliminated, making for a much more realistic result.

All in all, we had the impression of playing a cleaner, crisper game rather than being totally blown away by the updated graphics. Like with the Tegra 3 chip, upcoming games and software will no doubt either confirm this feeling or turn out to be even more impressive—time will tell. However, in terms of potential and raw processing power, it's clear that this A5X graphics processor runs circles around the competition.

Test results from the 5-Megapixel iSight camera can be found in a separate feature story. The iPad can also be compared to other cameras, tablet cameras and smartphones in our Face-Off

Battery Life

Between the killer screen, higher brightness and powerful GPU, the new iPad needs more battery power than its predecessor if Apple wants to keep its promise of comparable battery life (which, on average, is 9 hrs 30 mins to 9 hrs 55 mins on the iPad 2). And Apple has delivered. By increasing the battery power by 70%, the new iPad has gained practically the same lifespan as the iPad 2.

With a bit of luck and care as to how you multi-task (with Internet, games, e-mail, photo editing etc.), you can even exceed 10 hours on Wi-Fi, or 10 hrs 20 mins in Airplane Mode.

When watching videos, the battery life can vary between 9 hrs 20 mins and 9 hrs 50 mins, depending on how you're using it (low or ambient lighting) and what your brightness settings are.

However, Apple devotees beware: using the iPad wirelessly with Apple TV seriously drains the tablet's energy. After watching one episode of a show in HD sent from our iPad to a TV killed our battery by 30% in 35 minutes. If your battery's already low, then you're better off using an HDMI adapter (which is optional).
5/5 Apple iPad (3rd Gen, 2012) 64 GB DigitalVersus 2012-03-21 17:16:00

Pros

  • Retina display stands head and shoulders above the rest for onscreen image quality
  • Astounding resolution for unrivalled viewing comfort
  • Good 4G/3G+ connectivity and network speed
  • Rich iOS ecosystem
  • Battery life

Cons

  • Memory can't be expanded
  • Proprietary port / Closed ecosystem may put some users off
  • No 128 GB model
  • 'Good' graphics processing still to be confirmed in practice
  • Not all content is adapted to the ultra-high screen resolution

Conclusion

The new-generation iPad comes with enhanced graphics processing power, more brightness and a headline-grabbing screen. Apple has hit the mark by focusing on display resolution and image fidelity, and the impact on the overall product goes further than just papering over cracks. Users averse to Apple's walled-garden iOS aren't likely to change their minds with this new iPad, but it will no doubt win over plenty of new tablet users to whom it'll appeal as a great (semi-)portable web surfing device.

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