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.
One of the signature features of the iPhone 4S was Siri, a “virtual personal assistant” that understood spoken commands and responded back with equally understandable speech. Though its underlying speech recognition technology is capable of working on numerous other iOS devices, Siri has thus far remained limited to the iPhone 4S, a limitation that surprisingly continued with the release of the new iPad. Rather than adding Siri, Apple carried over only one of its features—Voice Dictation—to the new device, limiting support to English, French, German, and Japanese speakers. Most American, British, and Australian dialects of English are understood.
Unlike the iPhone 4S, which enables you to trigger Siri at any time by holding down the Home Button for one full second, the third-generation iPad activates Dictation solely when you press a microphone key that’s most often found immediately to the left of the virtual keyboard’s space bar. Doing this causes a Siri-style microphone icon to zoom out of the key, complete with a glowing purple light that moves to indicate that it’s hearing you. You typically need to tap the button a second time to stop Dictation, at which point a series of three dots glow until your words have been translated to text on the screen.
As with the Siri implementation of Dictation, we’ve found the new iPad’s performance to be pretty accurate, routinely transcribing entire sentences—occasionally full paragraphs—with only small errors, most often due to proper nouns or slurred words. We did direct comparisons between the iPhone 4S and new iPad to see which did better with transcription, and found them to be close, with the iPhone 4S possessing a small edge in accuracy within a quiet room, and larger edge in noisier environments. While the error rate was roughly one word per sentence in our iPad testing, higher than the iPhone 4S, the time that errors required to correct was still generally less than what we would have spent typing the text properly in the first place.
Apple also leverages information in your contacts database to improve the feature’s accuracy, so we found that known street addresses, city names, and even contact names were more often than not deduced correctly; in fact, we tested Dictation by giving it a paragraph of little more than connected names and addresses, and it not only got all of them correct, but properly capitalized each proper noun, clearly based on the contact details.
Voice Dictation is enabled or disabled during initial setup of the new iPad using a new Siri-like screen, and a Dictation switch within the Settings > General > Keyboard options turns it on or off. Like Siri, it depends upon an active Internet connection at all times; the microphone key just disappears from the keyboard whenever the iPad goes into Airplane Mode or otherwise loses all wireless connections; certain context-specific activations of the virtual keyboard currently do not bring up Dictation at all. Dictation requests require roughly 200KB of data usage per long paragraph, which is to say 1MB per five paragraphs, so budget data plan users may want to stick to Wi-Fi when using the feature.