A No Holds Barred Review of the (3rd Gen) iPad (2012)


Apple called its first iPad tablet "magical," as if owning one would turn flatulence into a flowery fragrance and unlock the mystery of double complete rainbows. Instead it entranced millions of people into buying one, even though it lacked basic amenities like expandable storage, built-in cameras, and Flash support (back when people still cared about Flash). In that way, it truly was magical. A year later, a feeble-looking Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad 2 with a "completely new design" and several upgraded parts, including a dual-core A5 processor and both front- and rear-facing cameras, which were sorely missed on the first iPad. It would turn out to be his swan song. This year it was Tim Cook who took to the stage to introduce the world to Apple's "new iPad" -- not the iPad 2S, iPad 3, or iPad HD, just iPad -- with what Apple is billing as a "resolutionary" upgrade.

Let's talk a moment about Apple's decision to drop the numerical moniker from its third generation iPad, which has caused a bit of angst in the blogosphere and in social media circles. The prevailing wisdom is that it's a pompous move by Apple that will ultimately lead to customer confusion, as if someone's actually going to stroll into Best Buy and pick up a discounted iPad 1 or 2 thinking it's the new iPad. Forgetting for a moment that return policies are the ultimate safety net in these situations, it's just not going to play out that way, just as no reasonably intelligent person buys the wrong Kindle e-book reader, which is still called the Kindle after four generations dating back to the original release in 2007. Stores just aren't set up that way.

As to the actual hardware, one of Apple's big reveals is the Retina display. It was long rumored the new iPad would ship with a higher resolution display, and Apple made it happen by packing 3.1 million pixels into the same 9.7-inch panel, now with a 2048x1536 screen resolution, a big upgrade from the iPad 2's 1024x768 display and even beyond the boundaries of your Full HD 1080p giant screen TV. No small feat, it takes quite a bit of engineering ingenuity to cram four times as many pixels as the iPad 2 into the same screen real estate while ensuring pixel signals don't get crossed, which can lead to distorted colors and fuzzy images. Pushing all those pixels is an Apple A5X SoC, still a dual-core 1GHz chip but now with a quad-core graphics engine that Apple claims is four times faster than NVIDIA's Tegra 3 processor. That's a mighty big claim we'll put to the test, but first, a rundown of the spec sheet.

Apple iPad (third generation) Specifications
Specifications & Features
  • Apple iOS 5.1
  • 1GHz dual-core A5X processor
  • PowerVR SGX543MP4 quad-core graphics
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB/32GB/64GB storage
  • Optional 4G LTE radio
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Front FaceTime (VGA) and rear (5MP) facing cameras
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 9.7-Inch 2048x1536 Retina display (IPS)
  • Capacitive Multi-Touch
  • Non-replaceable 42.5W-hour Lithium-Polymer battery
  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the Web on Wi-Fi-, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours using cellular data network
  • Charging via power adapter or USB to computer system
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Gyro, Accelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Access to Apple App Store
  • Digital Compass
  • 9.5 (H) x 7.31 (W) x 0.37 (D) inches
  • 1.44 pounds (Wi-Fi); 1.46 pounds (Wi-Fi + 4G)

In addition to quad-core graphics, Apple loaded up the new iPad with 1GB of RAM, which is twice as much as the iPad 2 and four times the amount in the original. There's also the option of a 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) radio with separate versions for AT&T and Verizon, a much improved 5MP rear-facing camera that's capable of shooting 1080p videos, and a much beefier battery rated at 42.5W-hours compared to 25W-hours, though overall battery life is nearly identical to the iPad 2.

Interestingly, the new iPad is slightly thicker than the iPad 2, measuring 0.37 inches (9.4mm) versus 0.34 inches (8.8mm) and weighing 1.44 pounds (652g) for Wi-Fi and 1.46 pounds (662g) for Wi-Fi + 4G, compared to 1.33 pounds (601g) for Wi-Fi and 1.35 pounds (610g) for Wi-Fi + 3G. This is the snowball effect of adding a Retina-class display, which required upgrading the graphics to drive all those additional pixels, which in turn required a bigger and heavier battery to maintain the same uptime as the iPad 2. It's a worthwhile tradeoff for an incredibly sharper screen, but it also means conceding bragging rights to lighter, thinner tablets like the Transformer Prime from Asus, which is 0.32 inches thick (8.3mm) and weighs 1.29 pounds (586g).

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