Review: Apple iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G (16GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: An impressively built tablet computer, featuring a clean industrial design borrowed from Apple’s MacBook Pro computers, internal components derived largely from its iPod touch and iPhone pocket devices, and stable, multi-touch software. Runs over 150,000 applications, thousands of which have been optimized for this device, offering iPod-equivalent sonic performance, better than iPod- and iPhone-quality visual performance, and 10+ hour video/Wi-Fi battery life unmatched by any current-generation Apple product, or most competitors. Superb for book and periodical reading, strong for web and video viewing, more capable of content creation than iPods and iPhones. Supports 720p HD video playback. Unlike standard Wi-Fi version, connects to 3G cellular networks and requires no long-term contract. Achieves nearly 9-hour battery life under 3G torture test conditions, and offers assisted GPS for enhanced navigation capabilities.
Cons: Cannot serve as a standalone computer; in addition to iTunes dependence, horsepower is presently shortchanged by limited, iPhone-class multitasking that forces all third-party applications to occupy and waste entire screen; lack of camera similarly limits value for video communications. Screen dimensions are sub-optimal for movies, including HD content. Confusing battery charging requirements and slow iTunes synchronization. Initial iPad-optimized applications, as well as Apple’s strategy for performing and selling color digital publications on the device, need additional work. In addition to anti-glare, anti-fingerprint screen film, most users will need new in-car, docking, and/or speaker accessories. AT&T network substantially underperforms relative to device’s speed capabilities, making uploading sluggish and limiting data capabilities for both audio and video streaming purposes. Rather than supporting inbound or outbound tethering, cellular data plans are sold separately from iPhone data services, forcing most iPhone users to choose between one device or the other.
As noted above, the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G is physically very similar to the original iPad with Wi-Fi, which is discussed in our prior review’s second page, Introducing the iPad: The Body, Screen, and Pack-Ins. Though Apple documents have suggested modest dimensional differences between the two versions, the company’s official measurements list them both at 9.56” high, 7.47” wide, and 0.5” deep at the thickest point of their tapered backs, with the Wi-Fi model weighing 1.5 pounds and the Wi-Fi + 3G model coming in at 1.6 pounds. From a user’s standpoint, the differences are imperceptible, and cases we’ve tested thus far work equally well on both versions. The iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G retains its predecessor’s top-mounted headphone port, microphone, and Sleep/Wake switch, right side-mounted screen lock and volume buttons, and bottom-mounted Dock Connector port and speakers.
Every time Apple releases a device with cellular wireless antennas, it needs to include a plastic housing that lets those antennas radiate in a way that they can’t through metal—the reason the original iPhone had a black plastic compartment on its rear bottom. The iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G parallels that design, retaining the all-glass screen and largely aluminum body of the original iPad, while adding a large matte black plastic panel that interrupts the 3G unit’s otherwise silver metal back, top, and front bezel between the headphone port and Sleep/Wake switch. This compartment measures roughly 4.63” by 0.63”, and isn’t designed to be opened by the user. Apple’s 3G hardware provides access to UMTS/HSDPA 3G networks running at 850, 1900, and 2100 MHz, as well as older, slower GSM/EDGE networks running at 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz, leveraging its antennas and dedicated GPS hardware to offer both assisted GPS and cellular location services.
Unlike the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS, which all had SIM card slots on their top surfaces, the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G has a “micro-SIM” card slot on the lower half of its otherwise bare left side. The micro-SIM is a newer and smaller version of the SIM cards that have been used in iPhones to date, and both its size and side-mounted location parallel changes noted in a prototype fourth-generation iPhone earlier this month. A micro-SIM from AT&T is pre-installed in the American iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G, and needn’t be removed unless you want to switch providers.
The micro-SIM slot can be opened either by inserting a paper clip into a small hole on its edge, or by using a SIM tray removal tool included in the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G package. This glossy silver metal tool, the tray, and the micro-SIM card are the only significant differences in pack-ins between iPad models; they otherwise include the same two large Apple logo stickers, a sparing one-page instruction card, warranty book, wall adapter, and USB cable.
One surprise regarding the two iPad models is the similarity of their packages. Despite the fact that the iPads actually look a little different from the front due to the black plastic interruption in the bezel, both are packaged in white boxes that depict the fully silver-bezeled iPad with Wi-Fi—the sort of little detail that Apple normally doesn’t let slide. The boxes’ fronts and sides are the same, and their backs look almost identical from a distance.
Only a close inspection of two stickers on the back of each box distinguishes them from one another: the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G stickers include both capacity and “3G” badges, a reference to the UMTS, HSDPA, GSM and EDGE cellular support in the 3G model, plus IMEI and ICCID identifier numbers that aren’t on the Wi-Fi-only box. Apple may update the pictures on the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G boxes in the future, but for now, the stickers are the only way to tell the boxes apart.