The third-generation iPad is the best iPad ever released, and it's also the best overall tablet currently on the market. But is that really saying much?
Before the new iPad, the iPad 2 was our top choice among tablets, and since Apple's iPad first arrived in 2010, the product line has defined what a modern tablet should be -- a full multi-touch display up front, speedy performance, tablet-specific apps and video, music and games just a tap (and a credit card purchase) away.
The new iPad simply continues the evolution of Apple's tablet with slightly better specs all around, but the user experience of the new device is largely the same as with the iPads that have come before it.
Meanwhile, Android tablets -- such as the Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, Motorola's Xyboards and Xooms, Samsung's Galaxy Tabs and options from Acer and Asus -- are continuing to improve, but at this point rivals still can't entirely match the iPad in terms of its hardware refinement, the ease of use and power of the iOS operating system or the diverse selection of apps and entertainment available in the App Store and
And yet, as consumers scoop up the third-generation iPad up in record numbers (so far), questions linger.
Is the new iPad worth an upgrade from a first-generation iPad or iPad 2? Is the Retina display really that much better than what has come before it? Do we really want to take a photo with a tablet?
Times gadget reviewers Nathan Olivarez-Giles and Michelle Maltais have lived with the iPad 2 for the last year and reviewed many Android tablets along the way, and offer up their thoughts on how the new iPad stacks up against what else is available -- in particular the second-generation Apple tablet.
Olivarez-Giles: The third-generation iPad boasts a Retina display with double the resolution of the first iPad and the iPad 2. Sporting a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, the new iPad offers up apps, websites and an operating system that looks noticeably sharper and more detailed than on previous iPads -- when the new is sitting side by side with the old.
Apps that have been updated to take advantage of the higher-resolution screen look fantastic. Discerning between pixels is nearly impossible to do with my naked eyes. But apps that max out at the previous iPad's 1,024-by-768 resolution don't look as great -- yet. There will be some catching up to do on this end, so the new iPad's retina display, already being used by millions of people around the world, will force Web and app developers to rethink the way they build what they build.
There are other great tablet displays out there, but the new iPad has the best-looking screen I've seen on a slate. That said, it's not as if the iPad 2 has a bad screen. As good as the new iPad's display is, the iPad 2 still looks fantastic.
Maltais: There's no denying that the screen cuts a beautiful image with the sharper Retina display. Count me in the minority, though: With the dramatic difference it made between iPhone generations, I really expected to be a bit more wowed.
Sure, the iPad 2 screen looks less sharp than the new iPad's, but I think it's a stretch to say it looks grainy or distractingly pixelated. That said, the new iPad boasts a significant upgrade to the visual experience. Video and photos are more vivid and dynamic. This is likely to make the new iPad a more useful tool for photo editing.
What I'm really not thrilled about is how the Retina display affects apps. Every app that gets upgraded is also getting fatter, meaning it's taking up more precious storage on the iPad -- whether you have a new one with the souped-up screen or not. Boo to that.
Olivarez-Giles: The new iPad is faster than the earlier-generation iPads, but the speed increase isn't too dramatic. Web pages and apps load faster. In my testing, high-resolution videos loaded faster as well. But the difference was never enough to make me think of the iPad 2 as slow. I'm not trying to slam the new iPad -- more speed is always appreciated, but the difference here isn't a major differentiating factor to me. The speed boost comes by way of a quad-core graphics processor, up from a dual-core GPU in the iPad 2, as well as a bump to 1 gigabyte of RAM, up from 512-megabytes in the iPad 2.
Maltais: Faster is always better. I'm not enough of a gamer, though, to totally appreciate the speed. If you get a new device, it should be faster than its predecessor. The speed of the iPad 2 never bugged me, though.
Olivarez-Giles: The difference in the camera between the new iPad and the iPad 2 is dramatic. The iPad 2 was the first to introduce cameras on the front and rear, but both were less than 1 megapixel in resolution, and the photos produced were often dark, muddy and offering little in detail.
On the new iPad, the front-facing camera remains the same, which is fine for video chatting. But the rear camera jumps dramatically up to 5 megapixels in resolution, similar to what was found on most smartphones about a year ago. The result is a tablet I'd actually want to take a photo with, as awkward as it is to hold up such a large device to snap a shot. The new iPad's optics let in more light as well, which produces better details and truer color reproduction.
Still, with a smartphone in my pocket, I rarely reach for the iPad to take a photo. It's nice to finally have a quality camera on an iPad, but my smartphone still has the camera I use most.
Maltais: I agree. The camera is a huge improvement from what's on the iPad 2, which reminded me of my grainy flip-phone camera of old.
It was obvious, even with bad shooting technique, that the colors were more vibrant -- bananas look much more yellow and inviting in a photo taken with the new iPad than in one taken with the iPad 2 camera. And the shift in shutter location with the iOS 5.1 upgrade helps with the unwieldy nature of having to hold this device with two hands to frame a shot.
That said, I haven't really figured out in what scenario I'd actually use an iPad as a primary camera.
Weight and thickness
Olivarez-Giles: The new iPad is heavier and thicker than the iPad 2, but the difference wasn't too noticeable. I had a colleague hand me the new iPad and the iPad 2 with my eyes closed, and I incorrectly thought the iPad 2 was the newer, heavier model. Of course, thinner and lighter is where we'd like our gadgets to go, but the difference here isn't a problem for me. The added weight is worthwhile, considering that the new model packs an improved display, camera and internal hardware.
The Wi-Fi-only version of the new iPad is 0.37 of an inch thick and weighs 1.44 pounds. The Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad 2 is 0.34 of an inch thick and weighs 1.33 pounds.
The 4G LTE new iPad weighs 1.46 pounds; the 3G iPad 2 weighs 1.35 pounds.
Maltais: I actually noticed the weight difference immediately when Nate brought the iPad to my desk. Then again, I'm acutely attuned to the tiny fluctuations when my infant eats. As someone who deals with wrists that throb from repetitive stress injury, this gave me a little pause -- not enough to not get or use the new iPad, but enough to think about how to adjust iPad usage. It's a small sacrifice of wrist strength for the sake of improvements.
Also, I insist on using a case as insurance against my own terminal clumsiness. The additional 0.11 of a pound will make a difference.
Should current iPad owners upgrade?
Olivarez-Giles: If you have an iPad 2, no, don't spend the extra dough on a third-generation iPad. For one thing, who wants to get into the habit of shilling out $499 to $829 on a slightly better tablet each year? And as good as the new iPad is (best tablet ever so far), the iPad 2 is still a helluva machine.
If you have a first-generation iPad, the upgrade makes more sense if you use your iPad a lot, as the performance differences are more significant, and eventually, Apple and app developers will start rolling out features (such as voice dictation currently exclusive to the new iPad) that the first iPad won't receive.
If you've never owned a tablet but want one, I recommend the new iPad, if you are comfortable with the cost.
Maltais: You know, I've stood in line for the next great thing from Apple, several times now. Although the new iPad is an impressive machine, I don't hate my iPad 2. And the rule of thumb for upgrades with iDevices is every other generation.
Along those lines, first-generation iPad owners would be fully justified upgrading to the newest iPad -- if you've got the cash, of course. Just having cameras (for video chat) would be worth an upgrade.
Frankly, the smart consumer would probably pick up the iPad 2 at the new discounted price and not feel the least bit cheated.