Thanks to the extra muscle under the hood, the new iPad has little trouble playing back HD video. 1080p MOV and MP4 trailers played back perfectly where on the iPad 2 there was major judder if they played at all. The iPad 3 can also manage High definition MKV, but annoyingly you’ll need to work around Apple’s accepted format limitations with an app like AVPlayerHD. The iPad does have the required power, but due to the difficulty in getting content onto the tablet, native format limitations, and the black bar issue, we definitely prefer the experience on the Transformer Prime or other, equally-endowed Android tablets.
iOS 5.1 is a slick operating system that’s easy to get to grips with. It feels cleaner and still just a little shinier than the best Android has to offer, but to be honest, with Android 4 – known as Ice Cream Sandwich, or ICS – running on a powerful tablet, it’s a close battle. Android also gives you more customisation, more control, and of course widgets.
For anyone familiar with Apple’s OS, very little has changed. You still get apps in grids of four, and you can fill as many pages as you like. One nice touch is that you can now put up to six icons on the ‘most used’ bar for quick access no matter which page you’re on, and of course folders can still be created by dragging one icon onto another. A few notifications, like wireless status and battery life, are visible in the top bar, and there’s an Android-like notifications panel that’s accessed by a downward swipe from there.
There was a lot of debate as to whether the new iPad would receive Siri, the SF-like, voice-activated and controlled assistant we first encountered on the iPhone 4S. It hasn’t, though a pared-down core has made it in in the form of Diction. Diction is essentially the iPad 3’s Dragon Naturally Speaking, letting you talk rather than type. This is undoubtedly a cool feature, but it’s a bit of a let-down after Siri and we hope that the virtual assistant becomes an option in a future iOS update, if only on the 4G models.
iOS has some nifty gesture support, including a four-finger pinch to return to the Home page from an app. A four-finger swipe, meanwhile, will let you access your running applications in a task manager-like menu raised from the bottom bar. Pressing one of these active app icons for a while will bring up little close buttons, allowing you to shut down apps to keep your tablet’s resources free. Apps actually pause when you go back to the Home screen, go into another app or receive a notification though. Unlike Android where they can still be running full-tilt in the background, iOS still doesn’t let you multi-task ‘properly’, though for most this probably won’t be an issue.
So the bad points? Initial setup (from scratch) does take a lot longer with the iPad than on an Android tablet, and of course you’re tied into iTunes for most things unless you set up workarounds. We would have really liked a few photos and maybe some video to show off the amazing screen out of the box too, rather than needing to use wallpapers as eye-candy. We also noticed a few rare, minor freezes in various apps, only during more intensive tasks like video playback and gaming. Overall though, everything ran smoothly despite the extra processing power, and our iPad 3 didn’t get too hot even when gaming for an extended period.
Speaking of gaming, playing on the Retina Display is amazing. There aren’t many graphically impressive 3D titles that have been created specifically for the new iPad out yet, with a few notable exceptions like Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy and Real Racing 2. However, there are also some gorgeous ‘remastered’ titles, with Infinity Blade 2 being the standout. We really can’t reiterate enough just how glorious the game looked at 2,048 x 1,536.
Naturally, other (non-gaming) apps are also taking advantage of the increased pixel count. Of course, all the standard apps have been reworked to support the new resolution, and most of the premium apps coming out will support it. However, what about your existing collection? Worry not, just like with old iPhone 3/3G apps running on the iPhone 4, the screen resolution on Apple’s iPad 3 is exactly double that of the previous model, so everything will scale beautifully. Obviously, browsing and reading are sublime on the pin-sharp screen.
On average we’re getting around the same battery life on the new iPad as we did with the iPad 2, though if anything it’s actually a bit less. Still, considering that you’ll easily get over eight hours, there’s little reason for complaint.
Last but not least there’s the question of value, where the iPad 3 holds up well because it doesn’t cost a penny more than the iPad 2 did at launch. That means the 16GB Wi-Fi model can be yours for as little as £399, which is superb value for the amount of tech the iPad 3 packs into its casing no matter how you look at it. Do keep in mind though that, unlike on an Android tablet, memory is not expandable, so you’re stuck with what you buy. Unfortunately, Apple charges a rather hefty £479 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and it goes up from there, bringing it more in line with the kind of pricing we were expecting for Apple’s newest tablet.
So should you actually buy one? It really depends on what you want from your tablet. If you intend to use it mainly for browsing the web, reading books (although an eReader like the Sony Reader PRS-T1 or Kindle would be far healthier for your eyes) and various apps plus gaming, there’s little reason not to go for Apple’s latest tablet unless you already own an iPad 2. It still has a larger app selection and is very well supported, and for now its screen is unmatched.
If, however, you want a tablet that can cope with all kinds of content and you want to be able to decide how it gets there; if you watch a lot of video on your tablet; if you want to use it for productivity and/or design; and most especially if you want it to come as close as possible to a laptop replacement, then the iPad 3 is not necessarily your best choice. Instead we would recommend a premium Android tablet like the amazing Asus EeePad Transformer Prime or even the bulky but versatile Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet.
There’s no denying that the Apple new iPad is a stylish, desirable tablet, and its Retina Display is simply stunning. It also packs plenty of power under the hood thanks to its A5X SoC, combining a dual-core processor with quad-core graphics – all without sacrificing battery life or putting the iPad 3’s starting price over £400. iOS 5.1 looks better than ever before, as do the apps and games that take advantage of the iPad 3’s stunning 2,048 x 1,536 resolution. Finally the iOS app store still holds the edge over Google’s Android Market – for now. However, the new iPad is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary product, and all the same annoyances and limitations apply as with previous models. Android tablets are also beating it on size and weight, battery life, features and connectivity, and should soon match its specifications.