First review: The new Apple iPad for 2012
4.6Overall Score
Price (RRP): $539 (starting from) to $899 Manufacturer: Apple

Apple’s new iPad may not be the most revolutionary change the company has produced, but it’s certainly an evolutionary update that will please anyone buying a tablet.

Features

The latest refresh of Apple’s famed iPad line, “The new iPad” (as Apple is calling it) leaves most of what people love, while offering some much needed updates.

First up is the first thing that potential customers see: the screen.

Up to this point, all iPad screens have been 9.7 inch 1024 x 768 panels, but in the new iPad, Apple has quadrupled the pixels, increasing the clarity of the display dramatically. Here in the new iPad, you’ll find a 2048 x 1536 “Retina” screen, which with greater than 3.1 million pixels provides higher resolution than the two million-ish pixels offered by Full HD (1920 x 1080) televisions.

iPad 2 on the left, new iPad on the right: the difference under a microscope is very noticeable.

For the iPad, twice the horizontal and twice the vertical resolution means up to four times the pixels of the iPad 2 and many competitors. While the numbers may be confusing, all you really need to know is that there is a lot more visible detail on display, which has great benefits for ebooks and digital magazines. On-screen text is pin-sharp, even on web pages where you would normally need to zoom in to make the text legible.

Then there are the innards, with Apple moving from the dual-core A5 in the iPad 2 to the newer A5X, a processor featuring a dual-core CPU and quad-core GPU.

Wireless connectivity has been upgraded too, with WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n brought over from the previous generation, but Bluetooth moved to the new high-speed 4.0 standard. The top-tier iPad has also shifted from a 3G to a 4G modem, although in Australia, only dual-channel 3G (DC-HSDPA) is currently supported.

The much-criticised 720p rear camera that appears in the iPad 2 has been updated to a 5 megapixel camera with support for Full HD 1080p video capture. The front camera is the same VGA FaceTime camera from the previous model. The optics for the rear camera have been improved too, with an f/2.4 lens and a new infrared filter for more accurate colours.

New camera for the new iPad on the right, featuring a wider aperture than the camera on the iPad 2 (left).

Apple has pretty much kept the design the same, which should mean that most of the accessories will work on the new unit. This includes Apple’s magnetic Smart Covers and quite a few of the cases, provided they’re not form-hugging.

Size and weight are still roughly the same, with only 0.6mm and 50 grams added to the new model iPads, bringing the thickness to 9.4mm across the range and the weight to 652 grams (WiFi model) and 662 grams (WiFi/3G).

On the new iPad, you’ll still find the ports and singular button of the iPad2.  From the single home button on the front face to the volume button, mute/lock switch, 3.5mm headphone jack, and 30 pin iPod connector, it’s all here. The same rear speaker is also present on the new iPad.

Like past generations, Apple is releasing the new iPad in six variations: 16/32/64GB WiFi, and 16/32/64GB WiFi/3G.

A close-up of the screen difference seen on the iPad 2 and new iPad when looking at a still from The Lorax.

 

Performance

While Apple has updated the iPad, the feel, design, and usability hasn’t been changed whatsoever. In fact, it’s still one of the easiest tablets to use; you just pick it up, turn it on, and start tapping and swiping the screen. You might notice that when you pick it up for the first time there’s slightly more heft to this new one, but the extra 50 grams is hardly an issue.

The addition of a high resolution screen is easily noticed once you begin surfing web pages or reading books. Movies add to this, with Full 1080p HD content looking absolutely astonishing on the high resolution screen. There’s just so much visible detail that it’s almost surreal.

The only downside to this is that full HD movies display in letterbox format, meaning there are black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. This is because the new iPad’s screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than the 16:9 of many movies so it can’t fill up the entire display. However, you can still zoom into the movie to fill more of the screen, but this does crop a bit of detail from the left and right of the movie.

One of the key additions to the new iPad is the inclusion of 4G ‘LTE’ connectivity, a form of mobile broadband that can achieve very high upload and download speeds in excess of what most home wired broadband connections can manage.

Sure, it's not 4G LTE, but dual-channel 3G is nothing to whinge about.

For Australia, however, the new iPad uses 4G LTE only on specific spectrums, and none of these are currently on offer with Australia’s sole 4G offering provided by Telstra.

While this means there’s no 4G LTE connection available to the new iPad in Australia at the moment, the new tablet does feature dual-channel 3G (DC-HSDPA) connectivity, which is still an improvement over the 3G speeds the iPad 2 is capable of.

When we tested how fast the new iPad could transfer information from Telstra’s NextG network, we were very impressed with the 21Mbps maximum downlink speed achievable from our Woolloomooloo office – and this is actually faster than our office’s ADSL2+ wired connection. All we needed to do was take an existing Telstra 3G iPad micro-sim and plug it into the new iPad, and the new speeds were instantly achievable, with no need to contact Telstra and sign up for a different plan.

So while the new iPad doesn’t take advantage of current Australian 4G standards, performance is certainly not poor. Also, at some point, one or more of the Australian telcos may offer a 4G LTE service that is compatible with the new iPad.

Sure, it's not 4G, but dual-channel 3G is nothing to whinge about.

The new iPad’s rear camera captures high-resolution still photos and 1080p Full HD video, which greatly improves on standards in the iPad 2. The optics have been notably ramped up here, with a wider lens capable of shots in lower light, a requirement no doubt thanks to Apple’s lack of an LED flash on the back of the iPad.

Photos taken on the new iPad demonstrate much higher quality than the previous model. The quality is closer to what a premium smartphone is capable of, and a real contrast to the lower quality images captured via the iPad 2’s rear-facing camera. Also, with the combination of its Retina display – and new or upgraded iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band and iWork applications – the new iPad is fast becoming an excellent device for creating content, not just viewing it.

iPhoto for iPad is a great way to manage, view and edit your photos.

While we were hesitant at first to see what the new iPad would do to older apps, what we found surprised us: iPhone apps that normally looked pixelated when the “2x” button was pressed on the iPad 2 actually looked better on the new iPad’s higher resolution display.

The new iPad screen presumably is the factor here, packing in more pixels and making low resolution apps look better.

Images from the new iPad (right) are sharper and feature better contrast than the iPad 2 (left).

You’ll also be pleasantly surprised to learn that the new iPad appears to fit into most existing iPad 2 cases. We tested Apple’s magnetic Smart Covers, a Logitech keyboard case, a Belkin keyboard case, and even the form-hugging Wallee case, which is capable of wall- and wrist-pad mounting. In some of instances, you need a little more strength to push the tablet out of the case, no doubt due to the slight increase in body thickness.

It’s all looks good for the new iPad, but good isn’t perfect.

Apple may have updated the chip, but the performance in all apps doesn’t seem to have been increased substantially. Like the iPad 2, the CPU is dual-core, but unlike the second-generation iPad, the graphics have been pushed to a quad-core chip.

iPad 2 display on the left, new iPad on the right: the difference under a microscope is very noticeable.

While we see that this will no doubt make the new iPad a more than capable gaming machine, we did experience some minor stuttering when scrolling through website pages and while zooming in and out of large photos with the new iPhoto app. At this early stage, however, it’s difficult to determine if this is software related or evidence that the iPad is struggling to keep pace with the huge amount of visual information required by the high-resolution display.

There’s also a touch of heat on the new iPad, which seems slightly more than what we experienced on the iPad 2. The aluminium on the back doesn’t get hot enough to burn your hand – it’s nothing like some of the laptops we’ve experienced in the past – but the warmth is certainly noticeable.

We would have also liked to see a better quality FaceTime camera for the front of the new iPad. A VGA camera hardly seems like a technology fitting on such a high resolution device.

The new iPad fits into quite a few iPad 2 cases, including the Fold-Up Keyboard Case.

Conclusion

Apple has done it again with the new iPad, creating a tablet that sets the benchmark for all other brands. If a high-definition screen, a decent camera and fast data connectivity are all on your short list, then this is certainly the tablet for you.

First review: The new Apple iPad for 2012
Price (RRP): $539 (starting from) to $899 Manufacturer: Apple
Astoundingly clear screen; Dual-channel 3G is faster than you realise; Compatible with quite a few of the iPad 2 cases; Much improved camera
No LED flash for the rear camera; FaceTime front camera is still VGA; Can get a little warm
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Design
4.6Overall Score
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