There are many things the new iPad is: A lovely object, a spec bump, the future of home computing, the best tablet on the market. And there are many things the iPad New is not. But we're going to skip right to the end of that list and hit you with the main point -- it is not worthy of a press conference.
We've spent more than a week with this thing, and yes, the screen is lovely. That A5X processor is a tab-loading, game-rendering beast. Yes, the optional 3G (or 4G, if you're in the States) is worth purchasing (we used one loaded with an Orange SIM). And yes: It is pretty. But if you've owned—or even played with—an iPad before, Cupertino's new hotness will leave you cold. It's an upgrade. It feels like an optional configuration rather than something, shall we say... resolutionary. And that, frankly, is a bummer.
Why it Matters
Make no mistake: This is the best tablet any amount of money can buy: the successor to the best tablet money could buy, which was, in turn, the successor to the best tablet money could buy way back when Steve Jobs was alive and Palm was alive and Android was still a scrappy upstart. But Palm and Steve Jobs are both dead, and Android is a no-foolin' juggernaut now. There are more expensive and more powerful and faster tablets to be bought. But they're substandard.
Another year has passed; a hundred trillion zillion Android devices have come and gone, and the iPad remains comfortably at the top of an ever-growing hill by virtue of the most refined mobile operating system on the planet and an industrial design that even looks decent when it's poorly copied.
But here's the thing: This iPad is cruising. It's still living off its predecessors' reps and some seriously excellent inherited software. Its design isn't new, and, in fact, it violates one of Jobs's Laws by getting thicker instead of thinner. And on the OS side, Apple seems to have stopped innovating. The opportunity for a competitor to crash Apple's party is now.
Swipe. Tap. Play. Watch. You know how a tablet works. In this case, it's wonderful. iOS 5.1 is incredibly refined and mature. Touch-events are instantaneous, and everything loads with a dual-core spring in its step. The extra RAM keeps even complicated Web pages at the ready during a multi-tab browsing sesh. And we never thought we'd say this, but choosing a 4G model (which basically gives you 3G speeds in the UK) is a smart move -- we really enjoyed being able to use the new iPad on the move, loading web-pages and watching videos speedily thanks to the Orange UK microSIM.
The difference in power between an iPad 1 and a new iPad is dramatic; but when you compare Apple's latest tablet to the one that came right before it, the difference is imperceptible unless you're running a seriously heavy app. Real Racing 2 HD, for example, loaded an average of 6 seconds faster on the iPad New than the iPad 2. But in races to run image-heavy websites like Gizmodo or must-have apps like Netflix, the discrepancy is negligible—if you pick it up at all.
The 2048 x 1536 pixel Retina display is positively lickable, bursting with colour and sharpness and saturation that make comics and high-res photographs look impossibly good. Text looks sharper on the new iPad than on any other electronic device; an e-reader is still easier on the eyes, but that's because light coming off a screen can wear out your peepers. In terms of glowing electronic displays, there is none better than on this device. Anywhere. There are a million more pixels in the new iPad than in a 1920 x 1080 HDTV. Think about that: This little 9.5-inch slate has more dots than the 50-inch flat screen you ooh and aah over. The effect is dramatic—sometimes.
Other times, frankly, you don't notice it. Because it's not like the iPad 2's display is bad. It isn't, not by any stretch. And most of the time, you aren't close enough to your tablet's screen to pick up the pixels anyway. Yes, the Retina display is an unquestionable upgrade. But it is an upgrade you can live without.
Thanks to that bigger battery, the iPad New lasts just as long as the iPad 2—an exactly-as-advertised 10 hours of real-world use and days upon days of standby time. But the differences end when charging time comes around. In our tests, it took up to twice as long to charge new 'Pad's 42.5-watt-hour battery—as many as nine hours of plug time. That means that an average sleeper could plug his iPad in at night and wake up to one that's still not fully juiced. That sucks.
You know what else kinda sucks? The new iPad gets warm—a well-documented 46 degrees. No, it's not gonna burn you. But it does make you want to put the thing down. That is a problem for a device that's meant to be held.
One way you shouldn't hold the new iPad is like a camera. Even though Apple wants you to. This is messed up: Apple's engineers worked some serious magic on the rear-facing "iSight" camera, bumping it up to 5 megapizzles and outfitting it with an infrared filter and side illumination tricks like you'll find on the iPhone 4S. Congratulations: You have a capable digital camera the size of a magazine. But while the iSighter got all fixed up, the front-facing "Facetime" camera remains VGA. Which is stupid. Because video-chatting on an iPad is really wonderful. Talking with far-off friends or family members and actually seeing them react to the conversations is one of those legitimately magical moments when you realise that yes, technology can make your life better. But not any better than it can with an iPad 2.
But the biggest issue with the new iPad is buyer's remorse. If you own an iPad 2 and buy an iPad 3, you will feel it: that sightly nauseous sensation that you just spent £400 on something that isn't much better than what you already had. If you took all the hype around this thing at face value—yes, we were part of it, but nothing compared with the breathless pomp and braggadocio of Apple itself—you'd think the new iPad was a miracle. It's not. It's little more than marketing, and that's a change for Cupertino, which has a long history of delivering on huge promises. Fortunately, Apple has a 30-day return policy.
Should You Buy This?
If you don't have a tablet and you want to buy a tablet, buy this tablet. It's excellent. But unless you are a comic book fanatic or do a ton of reading on your previous-gen 'Pad, there is no reason to upgrade from an iPad 2. It's simply not that much of a difference. Yes, it's better brighter faster stronger, but the hard truth of this new iPad is, it's not very new.
Price: £399 - £560 Wi-Fi; £500 - £660 "4G"
Screen: 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 pixels
Processor and RAM: Dual Core Apple A5X; 1 GB of RAM
Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64 GB
Cameras: VGA front-facing; 5 megapixel rear
Dimensions: 9.5 x 7.3 x 0.37 inches
Weight: 1.43 pounds