The dust has settled, the queues have cleared, and what we're left with is a new iPad with an old name. Does that make for enough of a difference to make it an essential tablet? This week's Mobile Monday ponders whether Apple's delivered a must-buy product. Before I start, one quick note: There's one area I've not assessed as part of this review, and that's the dual channel HSPA+ capabilities of the new iPad. As I've noted many times before, despite the 4G branding on the iPad box, this particular model won't connect to Telstra's 4G network, or for that matter Optus' incoming 4G network. Whether it'll do so with the 700MHz network Optus is testing is an interesting but somewhat moot point; that won't become a public facing network for a couple of years at least.
In any case, expect a full in-depth examination of the new iPad's data speeds in real world use directly — but not in this review.
Why It Matters
Like it or not, Apple's in the commanding position in the tablet market, so any new iPad is worthy of evaluation. Apple's launched the new iPad on the back of upgraded features; while the 4G here is a non-factor, it's still got improved internals, a better camera and that "resolutionary" screen.
I promise you, that's the last time I'll use that phrase in this review, because it makes my skin crawl.
What We Like
There's no denying that the screen on the new iPad is an improvement over the older iPad and iPad 2 — to an extent, and with the right material. That's an important caveat to throw out there, because your choice of tablet app or content will affect how well the screen represents that content.
To take one example, the updated version of the Kindle app renders text in a much crisper fashion than on the older devices. The screens on the first two iPad generations weren't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but put them side by side and anybody would be able to pick the new iPad in an instant.
In games that support it, the new iPad also looks lush; putting Infinity Blade II side by side again allows the new iPad's screen to really stand out. Video's a slightly more mixed bag. With the SD iTunes store version of X-Men: First Class, it was quickly clear which iPad was which as the new iPad's screen displayed a richer colour depth across even SD material.
The camera's a great improvement over the iPad 2, but that wasn't a particularly tough thing for Apple to improve. It's been said endlessly, but tablets make awkward cameras; hard to hold and socially inept in one. It does fall somewhat in within the well-worn theme of "the best camera is the one that you've got with you", in that if you were stuck with only the new iPad, you could take some decent shots with it — but it'd be awkward to do so, as it was taking the shot above. Good result (given the weather), but not something I'd want to do on a regular basis.
App performance is equally a little mixed. Apple made a lot of noise about the new iPad being "4x" faster than an equivalent Tegra processor, which could lead you to think that it'll be a massive boost over the existing iPad 2. It's not, and it does vary from app to app.
For straight loading times of a given app there's not much difference, but certain apps — notably iPhoto and iMovie — that shuffle a lot of data around do work with more zip than they used to. Again, this is something that may become more apparent when and if apps are optimised for it. When that happens, we may also see a decrease in performance for older original generation iPads, though.
What We Don't Like
It's heavier. That's clearly a matter of battery density to ensure battery life remains constant, but if you're used to the weight of the iPad 2, it is a noticeable extra bit of heft. Put it in context with the rest of the tablet pack and it's not a giant, but it's still heavier.
Apple's big refrain for the new iPad centres around larger data, whether it's the 4G we don't get, or the higher definition screen. So the fact that Apple's done nothing whatsoever to change the storage sizes on the new iPad is galling. It'd be great to have a 128GB version if we're meant to store 1080p content on it all the time, but no such thing exists. It'd be even better to have removable storage capabilities, but again that's not part of the current iPad strategy. I'd steer clear of the 16GB model for that exact reason.
The new screen is great, as long as the quality of the content you're throwing at it is up to the task. Running an episode of Red Dwarf through the BBC iPlayer app made the new iPad stand out, but not entirely in a good way. Because the iPlayer content is compressed, a higher resolution screen makes the compression that much more obvious — in the same way that throwing an old VHS tape up onto a Full HD LCD screen makes you wonder how you ever put up with that level of clarity. It's not unwatchable, but it is distracting. That is something of a garbage in, garbage out kind of problem, though; not a flaw with the screen but the content, and it'll be in the content designed for the new display that the new iPad either shines or fails.
Should You Buy It?
There's a clear segment of the Gizmodo audience that would never buy an Apple product under any circumstances; you'll never buy one, so I'm not addressing this at you.
What then of the rest of the market? In one sense, Apple's a victim of its own success. The new iPad is undeniably better than the previous two generations of iPad tablets, but it's only a slow evolutionary change while we await more retina-specific applications. That doesn't mean that the new iPad is a bad buy, but if you're one of the many that owns an iPad 2, it's a less compelling upgrade option than Apple's marketing might have you believe. Apple's rather good at hype marketing, something I've noted before, but those with iPad 2 models shouldn't rush to upgrade.
If you're a totally new iPad buyer, whether a first time tablet buyer or an Android switcher, the new iPad retains the features that gave the original models allure — including an unmatched library of tablet-specific applications — along with the best screen currently available on a tablet, and should definitely be at the top of your shopping list. An excellent tablet is still an excellent tablet, even if it's not quite the revolution that some were hoping for.