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 disclosed but generally untested feature of the third-generation iPad is its shift from the well-established, popular and highly compatible Bluetooth 2.1 wireless protocol to the cutting-edge, unestablished and currently unsupported Bluetooth 4.0—also known as Bluetooth Smart, which promises incredible power savings for future accessories. While we’d love to be able to confirm that the new iPad’s Bluetooth 4 performance is as excellent as its prior Bluetooth 2 performance, there are still no accessories that actually use Bluetooth 4, and very few that used its short-lived predecessor Bluetooth 3. As a result, we tested Bluetooth 2 and 3 accessories.
Performance with both types of accessories was exactly as expected. Bluetooth 3 accessories such as Bluetrek’s Carbon headset benefit from rapid pairing, such that the iPad almost immediately knows that they’re disconnected and re-pairs with devices within a second or so of powering on.
While Bluetooth 2 accessories take a little longer to pair, they continue to make rapid connections with the new iPad for audio streaming, and as was the case before, the iPad remains a champ for broadcasting distance, often enabling devices rated for 33-foot performance to work at 60-foot distances thanks to the strength of its wireless signal. Bluetooth remains a reliable tool for streaming data and audio to and from the new iPad; when Bluetooth 4/Smart accessories become available, it should be even better.
Digital AV Adapter. Without any explanation, Apple quietly updated the Digital AV Adapter alongside the new iPad, making a collection of small cosmetic changes that improved its case compatibility, slightly lengthened it, and seemingly had no affect on performance with old iPads and iPhones. Yet it turns out that the 2012 version is also electronically different: the old version triggers a surprising notice that “This Accessory is Not Supported,” and though it works with the third-generation iPad, video output appears to be slightly softer than with the updated accessory. No objection is raised when the Apple VGA Adapter is connected.
iPad Camera Connection Kit. Introduced alongside the original iPad, this set of two Dock Connector accessories enables iPads to read SD memory cards and connect to cameras using self-supplied USB cables, transferring photos using the Photos application. These accessories continue to work without complaint when connected to the new iPad, and transferring is at least as fast as it was with the iPad 2, perhaps a little faster.
iPad Docks. The third-generation iPad fits on and works in the iPad Keyboard Dock, as well as the iPad 2 Dock. Apple has renamed the latter accessory to “iPad Dock”—a resolution of a very odd difference between its box, its instruction manual, and Apple’s web site, but a new point of confusion given that there was a different first-generation iPad accessory with the same name.
Battery Accessories. Due to the third-generation iPad’s tremendous increase in battery capacity, battery packs that were previously capable of recharging the first- and second-generation models either to a 50% or 100% level will generally refuel only half as much of the new iPad’s power. Just Mobile’s 2.1-Amp, 5,200mAh version of Gum Plus offers a roughly 50% recharge for the iPad 2, but in our testing, the same accessory only refueled 25% of the third-generation iPad’s battery before running out, and took roughly the same amount of time.
Apple TV and Third-Party AirPlay Accessories. The second- and third-generation Apple TV are impressive wireless receivers for music, photos, and videos streamed from iPads and other iOS devices. In our testing, Apple-mastered videos streamed to Apple TVs without issues, regardless of whether they were 1080p streaming to the third-generation Apple TV, 720p streaming to the second-generation Apple TV, or the converses; the third-generation iPad even delivers a respectable 720p stream of 1080p videos that can be watched on a second-generation Apple TV.
However, we did notice some major frame rate problems in Real Racing 2 HD over AirPlay using the Apple TV that were not present when the same iPad was connected with the Digital AV Adapter to the same display; at times, the video signal degraded, with obvious macroblocking at the center of the screen. Additionally, a 1080p-encoded home movie we tested would not stream properly from the new iPad 3 to the third-generation Apple TV, even though it played back perfectly on the iPad’s own screen. Our suspicion is that issues like these will be resolved when developers fine-tune their iPad code, and when Apple releases video encoding tools with third-generation iPad/Apple TV presets.
Third-party AirPlay speakers appear to have the same sorts of issues with the third-generation iPad that we’ve noted with other iOS devices, including less than completely reliable connectivity, here sometimes requiring multiple presses of the “AirPlay” button before music streams. As AirPlay streaming of even high-definition video continues to be stable between the new iPad and Apple TV, we continue to suspect that other software issues—including firmware for the other AirPlay accessories and routers—are to blame for anything other than smooth streaming. Except under unusual circumstances, we continue to prefer Bluetooth speakers over AirPlay alternatives for quick, good-sounding wireless connectivity with the new iPad.
Cases and Screen Film. If you’re upgrading from an iPad 2 to a third-generation iPad, or hoping to use an iPad 2 case with the new iPad, good news: most of the cases we’ve tested for the iPad 2 will work with the slightly thicker iPad. That’s “most,” not all—any claim that “every” iPad 2 case works on the new iPad is demonstrably false. You’ll only need to be concerned about two types of cases, specifically hard cases that were designed to tightly hug the iPad 2’s corners or back, and certain third-party alternatives to Apple’s magnetic iPad Smart Cover lids. Sleeves, soft-material cases, and even hard designs with a millimeter of tolerance generally accommodate the new iPad without any issue; similarly, Apple’s iPad Smart Cover—magnetically attached to the iPad 2’s and new iPad’s side, without any rear protection—appears to have been designed with the future model in mind, or vice-versa. Apple has slightly changed the positions of magnets inside the new iPad in a manner that will stop some Smart Cover-alikes from working properly, while others will work just fine.
In any case, new form-fitting cases are already on their way, and many iPad 2 cases are being checked and re-certified by their designers for third-generation iPad compatibility. As we’ve noted in the past, we very strongly recommend third-party alternatives over the Smart Cover, as they will mitigate or prevent scratches, dents, and other damage that Apple’s front lid completely ignores. These sorts of marks reduce the iPad’s resale value, and in some cases may lead to repair and warranty issues.
We believe that protective film remains a highly desirable iPad accessory, particularly screen film that can reduce the appearance of smudges and glare on the tablet’s front glass. Unfortunately, matte-finished films almost all blur the screen to achieve their anti-glare effects, which while sometimes tolerable on the first two iPads will not be desirable on a higher-resolution device. Some matte films were better than others, particularly Power Support’s Japanese-developed screen protectors, and Korean-developed alternatives from companies such as SGP. We will be re-testing past top options to determine their suitability for the new high-resolution display.