Review: Apple iPad (Third-Generation) With Wi-Fi / Wi-Fi + 4G (16GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: Includes everything found in last year’s excellent iPad 2, plus more: a dramatically superior, groundbreaking 2048x1536 screen, faster graphics processor, much improved 5-Megapixel rear camera, and reasonably good voice dictation. Screen and rear camera offer particularly pronounced upgrades from prior models, enabling iPad to perform full-resolution HDTV content, record full HD 1080p videos, and snap cleaner, more detailed still photos. Runs virtually all prior iPad applications without hiccups, and updated versions with much-improved detail and richer colors; graphics can now look photorealistic, roughly equivalent to printed paper. Finally adds ability to display iPhone/iPod touch Retina apps at full resolution, missing from prior models. New “4G” versions are capable of dramatically faster cellular speeds when on LTE, in some cases outperforming conventional wired broadband connections. Improved headphone port audio. Still available in two colors, with familiar design that’s substantially compatible with iPad 2 cases and accessories, and similar (though not identical) battery longevity.
Cons: Power-hungry new screen and graphics processor require 70% larger battery pack to maintain prior run times, resulting in dramatically longer recharging - roughly 6.5 hours versus prior iPad’s 3.5 hours - when using iPad-certified chargers, and leading to warmth on part of the rear aluminum casing during normal use; like original iPad, additional seasonal heat may lead to overheating-related device shutdowns. Fails to include new, faster wall charger to accommodate larger battery; most computer USB ports won’t recharge tablet when in use. Availability of LTE networks remains spotty, leading to extremely uneven, sometimes halting cellular performance from neighborhood to neighborhood when transitioning from LTE to older networks, and users without LTE will see small speed benefits at best. Front camera remains low-resolution. Voice dictation is less accurate than on iPhone 4S, varying with ambient noise levels. Apart from superior resolution, user interface looks identical to prior models. Storage capacities remain unchanged despite greater demands of high-resolution apps and videos.
Though we learned back in January that the new iPad would look nearly identical to the iPad 2, we were nonetheless surprised at how similar their packaging has remained. Whereas the original iPad’s box was filled with an image of the device’s screen, both the second- and third-generation models have largely white fronts with the same angled side view of the iPad, de-emphasizing the screens in favor of showing off their tapered right sides. This angle enables Apple to use the same packages for Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 4G models, which are differentiated by black plastic top antenna compartments that the photography renders invisible. All that’s changed on the front is the iPad’s screen: the iPad 2’s box showed a gray-screened device, while the new iPad’s box depicts a blue-screened tablet, alternating between a white or black bezel depending on the color of the model inside.
As with the iPhone 4S’s package, what was once an Apple logo on the bottom edge has been replaced with an iCloud badge in matching silver foil, while the iPad name remains untouched in dark gray on the box’s left and right sides, and a foil Apple logo remains on the top. Stickers on the otherwise white back continue to indicate the capacity, serial numbers, and optionally 4G cellular hardware, along with more granular descriptions of the wireless technical specifications and a required download of iTunes 10.6—up from 10.1.2 on the iPad 2.
The new iPad’s body looks virtually identical to the iPad 2’s. Apple still uses a single piece of partially-painted glass for the face of the iPad, with a clear rectangular space for the 9.7” display, a large circle below it for the Home Button, a small circle above it for the front-facing FaceTime camera, and a matrix of tiny dots above that for the iPad’s ambient light sensor. None of these elements have changed in any discernible way.
Silver aluminum once again forms the iPad’s back, remaining flat for most of the 7.31” by 9.5” surface with one soft curve tapering to each front edge. The taper has changed only subtly to accommodate the 0.6mm of added thickness, which brings the new iPad to 0.37” versus the iPad 2’s 0.34”—such a small difference that photographs can barely capture it.
Markings on the back are unchanged apart from numerical tweaks, while a large Apple logo remains centered, gleaming like black chrome. The rear camera lens remains in the same place below the top Sleep/Wake Button, increasing in diameter to match the slightly larger glass lens of the iPhone 4S, while 4G cellular versions retain the same black antenna stripe across the top that was found in earlier 3G models. A single microphone hole remains in the center of this plastic stripe, or in the same position on the entirely metallic Wi-Fi-only iPad. The 4G models both have micro-SIM card trays in the same location next to the top headphone port, with barely larger tray ejection holes on their sides; the tray’s presence is only a change from the SIM-less Verizon CDMA iPad 2 to the Verizon third-generation iPad.
Cosmetically, the changes from model to model are so modest that you’d almost have to be obsessive to care about them—they’re not noticeable when the new iPad’s in hand, on a desk, or resting on your lap. You’d have to be an iPad 2 user to notice the Wi-Fi model’s slight weight jump from 1.33 pounds to 1.44 pounds, or the 4G models’ jump from 1.34/1.35 pounds to 1.46 pounds; both versions remain at least a little lighter than the original iPad with Wi-Fi (1.5 pounds) and Wi-Fi + 3G (1.6 pounds) models.
Speaker performance is the same from model to model; there’s still only a single speaker grille on the bottom right corner of the back when the unit’s facing towards you, and though the output level remains louder and clearer than the iPhone 4S’s, no improvements are apparent in the new version. By comparison, headphone port audio sounds a little better. A clicking noise that was evident every time headphones were connected has been fixed in the new iPad, and small improvements have been made to the treble and mid-treble definition, as well, which we noticed when testing with top-of-the-line Ultimate Ears earphones.
Apple’s pack-ins remain almost entirely unchanged. The company continues to ship the new iPad with the same 10W USB Power Adapter as was sold with its two predecessors—down to a 2010 trademark and copyright notice on one of its edges—as well as a three-foot USB to Dock Connector cable (with increased strain relief joints introduced with the iPhone 4S last year), instruction manuals, and in the case of the 4G versions, a micro-SIM card with a SIM card tray removal tool. (International versions may or may not include the SIM.) Apple’s current version of the tool is only a little better than a paperclip for popping out the SIM card, flexing and bending in a way that earlier versions did not, but it works.
The similarity of these pack-ins is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Apple was rumored to be considering bigger changes, such as a radically revised Dock Connector plug and the removal of the micro-SIM card in favor of a purely software-based cellular registration option, but didn’t pull the trigger on either of them this year. Second, Apple could have opted to ship a more powerful wall adapter with the new and power-hungrier iPad, as it does with its larger-batteried MacBook computers, but didn’t. As a result, the new iPad takes much longer to recharge than its predecessors, as further discussed below.