Apple iPad Review

We honestly expected the iPad 3 to arrive in late 2011 but, here we are in March 2012 and we still have not got an 'iPad 3'. Instead we now have the 'iPad'. Apple have defied convention and and decided to end the perpetual marketing cycle of ever increasing numbers. The 'new iPad' as it was referred to throughout the launch event is Apple trying to be unpredictable. So the next iPhone may or may not be called the iPhone 5.

The new iPad was also made available for pre-order on the 7th March with orders from 16th March. The price remains the same at £399 for the 16Gb model ($499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB).

The New TV Advert

iPad 2 Limitations

The iPad 2 was announced on 2nd March 2011 and provided some minor updates and improvements to the original iPad but, it didn't address our main concerns with this tablet. Overall it wasn't the device we were hoping for. Despite this we still bought one but, after less than a month of ownership decided to sell it on. Some notable exclusions still remain. For us, the main deficiencies of the iPad 2 are:

  1. Low resolution display - when you use an iPhone 4 or 4S on a regular basis the 1024 × 768 pixel screen of the iPad 2 just feels old and blurry in comparision.
  2. Aspect ratio - the iPad and iPad 2 have an aspect ratio of about 4:3 and this is far from ideal for video content. The iPad 3 / HD does not fix this but, the additional pixels go some way to minimising this limitation.
  3. Lack of connectivity - a device like this needs to be able to play video recorded onto memory cards, so that it can be used on holiday, etc. Ideally, we would like to be able to view and edit video footage captured on devices like our Contour HD headcam.

To be honest we are amazed it has taken Apple so long to update the iPad again and an upgrade in late 2011 would have been a better fit with Apple's stated plan to make more frequent product updates. We viewed the iPad 2 as a bit of a 'stop gap' product, aimed at taking the wind from some of Apple's competitor's sails but, here we are looking at the third iteration and there are still no real competitors in the market place. The user experience, the pricing and the supporting eco-system are still a long way ahead of any rivals and Apple still retains a huge lead in the tablet market space but, this is reducing. The competition in this market is now much greater and there are some very significant alternatives, discussed later in this article. It will be interesting to see how this new version affects Apple's market share going forward.

What's New?

The new iPad
The iPad 2 and this new variant are to be sold in parallel for some time, much like the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. The iPad 2 has been reduced in price, now starting at £329 in the UK.

iOS 5 was announced at the WWDC in early June 2011 and the beta software release contained references to new iPad variants. In the same press conference iOS 5.1 was also announced. The main additions are support for 1080p video across the Apple product range.

Case & Form Factor

The iPad 2 was thinner (8.8mm thick) and 15% lighter than the first model. The new case design and layout is beautiful and this new model is not much different. Apple put a lot of effort into this new case design and also developed an interesting new 'Smart Cover'. The new model is now slightly thicker at 9.4mm thick and weighs in at 635g or 1.4 pounds.

A5X Processor

The new A5 1Ghz dual-core processor that made its debut in the iPad 2 has been updated to an A5X dual-core processor. It is supported by a new quad-core graphics processor. It is claimed to have four times the performance of Tegra 3 but, that has created a bit of a row and Apple have been asked to prove this figure.

Benchmarking done so far show it is only a fraction faster than the A5 processor used in the iPad 2 when used for pure computation work. The main improvements are when graphics are involved.

Memory

Our thinking was that there would be a RAM increase in the iPad 2 to at least 512Mb, to match the iPhone 4 and Apple TV. It has yet to be confirmed (and it won't be by apple) but, the new iPad appears to now have 1Gb of RAM, to better handle multi-tasking and video playback on the higher resolution display.

Display

The iPad HD does not feature a pixel density to match the iPhone 4 but is claiming to have a retina display. It simply does not make sense to match the pixel density of the iPhone 4 and 4S screens and the costs would be prohibitive. The iPad is held further away from the face than an iPhone, so the pixel density doesn't need to be as high to achieve the same effect.

It does feature a 9.7" display with a resolution that is double that of the current iPad, up from 1024 × 768 to 2048 × 1536 pixels. This is very high, higher than an HD TV (at 1920 × 1280) in fact, and equates to 260dpi. This also makes sense from an app developers perspective and Apple did this with the original iPhone, doubling the size from 320 × 480 to 640 × 960 pixels. This new display also features 44% greater colour saturation.

Many people will argue that developers won't like yet another display resolution from Apple, against which they will have to build apps. The iPad showed that this is simply not the case and the potential market is big enough, to justify any developer pain with suitable rewards. iPad apps have also been priced at a premium to there iPhone equivalents and this trend is likely to continue with the next version. This now brings the iOS screen resolutions to four (iPod & iPhone 3G/3GS = 320 × 480, iPhone 4/5 = 640 × 960, iPad 1 & 2 = 1024 × 768, iPad 3 = 2048 × 1536) screen sizes but, these new challenges facing iOS developers are nothing compared to the huge number of screen formats that Android apps developers currently face. And that first one appears to be not long for this world with no devices in the product current line up using it now.

This still doesn't address the rather annoying aspect ratio issue in our view. When viewing 'standard' 16:9 film content, there is a lot of wasted space on a screen with this aspect ratio.

By way of comparison, the iPad 2 screen is 9.3" at 1024 × 768 pixels. This is a relatively large and square screen, so when compared to the Samsung Galaxy tab, with its 7" widescree at 1024 x 600 pixels, the pixel density is signifcantly lower. The Samsung Tab 10 tablet has a 10.1" display at 1280 x 800 pixels, again at a wider screen aspect ratio. This is also ahead of the iPad 2.

The display is the weakest part of the iPad. You don't want to drop one!

Cameras

The iPad 2 introduced dual cameras front and rear like the iPhone 4. With this comes FaceTime support and the ability to support some interesting communications and gaming apps. The iPad 2 rear camera supports video recording at 720p @ 30fps and the still camera features a 5x digital zoom. The front camera supports video recording at VGA resolution @ 30fps. It is a VGA-quality still camera. There a very few scenarios that justify upgrading these but, we do expect to see some kind of a flash added to the rear camera. This was omitted in the iPad 2 due to light leakage through the white cases.

This new iPad has a new sensoriSight camera with a 5-megapixel backside illuminated sensor, 5-element lens, IR filter, and ISP built into the A5X chip. It also includes face detection capability. The iPad HD also enables HD video recording in 1080p, like the iPhone 4S. Although its not an 8-megapixel sensor as some might have hoped, the upgraded optics, which are similar to whats on the iPhone 4S should provide the more than satisfying image quality.

Networking

The iPad HD features 4G LTE networking but, here in the UK we can't make proper use of this technology yet as we are still waiting for the the auction process to complete. It could handle wireless networking at speeds up to 72Mbps but even when LTE is rolled out in the UK, the new iPad won't work on the chosen UK 4G LTE frequencies and this is also true for all of Europe too.

The new iPad supports Internet tethering, with the 'personal hostpot' being capable of supporting 5 devices at any one time.

Battery

Battery technology is moving on, though relatively slowly. Apple did really well to keep the battery life of the iPad 2 similar to the iPad, despite the faster processor. The new iPad provides the 10 hours of video playback and 9 hours on LTE but, it only manages this by using a bigger battery with 70% more storage capacity (42.5W verses 25W in the iPad 2).

Speaking of the battery, in the first week following the launch there have been many complaints about the temperatures that the battery appears to be reaching. Apple was forced to make a public statement, saying that all was within specification.

What's Unchanged?

Gyroscope, Accelerometers & GPS

The gyroscope was a welcome inclusion but the iPad is not a true mobile device and it may have less uses than those in the iPhone 4. All models feature the accelerometer as before but only the 4G version gets GPS.

Speakers

It was un-realistic to expect Apple to further change the design and speaker layout, especially to incorporate stereo speakers. There is no simple solution to the problem that they would need to be left and right when in landscape mode and would then not be in portrait mode.

Digital AV Adapter

The digital adaptor will enable full 1080p output and mirroring. iOS 5 has also introduced full screen mirroring via AirPlay.

iPad Dock

It was hoped this would be changed by Apple to support the Thunderbolt connector but this did not happen. There are also rumours of a mini 30-pin connector which might debut on the iPhone 5. A lot of people thought the new iPad might also get two dock connectors, to enable it to dock in both landscape and portrait modes. The lack of landscape docking is a real drop-off in out view.

SD-Card Slot

A lot of the rumours suggested that the iPad 2 would get an SD-card slot but it didn't happen. If it ever is included, it will almost certainly limited to content and data transfer and not for expanding the total memory on the device. With a better screen resolution, there will be an even bigger requirement from users to want to look at photos and video footage taken on other devices (e.g. a DSLR camera).

This feature is of maximum benefit if the apps are in place to support different media formats (i.e. non-Apple ones). Apps like VLC are good at this and the added processing power should make this a much better experience too. The iPad 3 could finally become the media player that we've been waiting a long time for.

The Alternatives

The bottom line is that if you don't buy an iPad, you will most likely end up with an Android tablet and whilst the hardware addresses a lot of the above issue, we use Android devices and find them far from perfect. The lack of a quality eco-system and the inability to upgrade to the latest OS version is also a huge limitation. Just 1% of Android devices are using Android 4.0 as we write this.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
This device was released in Jan 2012 and has a fantastic specification. It is now available with Android 4.0 and it features an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU and a 10.1-inch capacitive display at 1280 × 800 pixels. Importantly, this offers a much better aspect ratio than the iPad. It also comes with a detachable keyboard dock with internal battery. Connectivity is good with micoSD card reader and HDMI-out. It also has an 8MP rear-facing camera and a front facing 1.2MP camera. The dock has its own battery too, and passes charge over to the tablet when connected, giving up to 17 hours of battery life. It is very fast and powerful costs £499.

It is rumoured that an HD version of this will be launched later in 2012.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
T.B.C.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7
The new Galaxy Tab 7.7 may not seem an obvious competitor at first but, it features a nicer screen aspect ratio (16:10) and an amazing super AMOLED display with WXGA (1280 × 768 pixels). It is also only 7.89mm thick and weighs just 340g. Unlike the iPad, it is designed to fit in a coat pocket and it is comfortable to hold whilst sitting, walking or lying down. It features a 1.4GHz Dual-core processor with micro-SD card support (up to 32Gb) and comes with built-in memory of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB.

Available now on amazon for about £410 (16Gb version). whilst this might sound a bit expensive, it comes with a SIM slor and a lot of features only found on the new iPad 4G LTE model.

Summary

So are we going to buy one? With an iPhone 4 and 4S, we have never really missed having an iPad. We have found more and more apps and use cases where the big screen makes more sense but, this still hasn't justified it in our view. We really do think the super high resolution screen is stunning and will prove to have some amazing applications but, taking all of the above points into consideration we still can't justify it. We are currently holding out for the iPhone 5 and hoping an HD Transformer Prime with Android 5.0 meets more of our needs.

Things might change when we get our hands on a new iPad though :-)

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