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

Design & Build Quality

A little bit thicker and a tad heavier, the new iPad feels no more or less sturdy than the previous generation iPad tablets. It's been reported the third generation iPad uses a new version of Corning's aluminosilicate Gorilla Glass, and while that hasn't been confirmed, Apple recently let it be known that "Corning employees in Kentucky and New York...create the majority of the glass for the iPhone." It still has the same aluminum backing, black or white bezel, and is incredibly difficult to service at home, earning a miserable 2/10 Reparability Score during iFixIt's teardown analysis.

The bundle is completely unchanged from before. Apple still includes the tablet itself (kind of an essential ingredient to this recipe, don't you think?), AC power adapter, USB sync cable, some paperwork, and a pair of Apple decals (because temporary tattoos would be too tacky, I suppose). I griped about Apple's decision not to include a pair of earphones with the iPad 2 (nor were they included with the original iPad), and I'm once again disappointed (but not surprised) to find there isn't a pair shipping with the new iPad, either. Apple may be trying a little too hard here to convince people the iPad isn't simply a giant iPod touch (which it both is and isn't).

One advantage the iPad has over competing Android tablets is familiarity. The new iPad looks and feels just like an iPad 2 and iPad 1, as well as an iPod touch and iPhone. If you're familiar with how to use one, you know how to use them all, with only minor design discrepancies (size notwithstanding). The home button is still on the bottom, the FaceTime camera is still up top, the speaker is still on the back, the power button is still on top, and the volume rocker and lock switch both still reside on the top-right. There's no learning curve like you might have if you switch from, say, a Motorola Xoom to a Sony Tablet S, both of which run Android but sport drastically different designs.

I picked up the white bezel version this time around, gambling that it wouldn't distract my eyes from the screen and make it appear less bright than it really is, the exact reason TV makers don't use white bezels. I haven't noticed that at all, and after going with a black bezel for the past two generations, I find I actually prefer the clean look of the white model, which will stay clean since Apple uses edge-to-edge glass on the front.

From a physical design standpoint, if you've owned one iPad, you've owned them all. Once again, you won't find a USB port, a microSD card slot, or even a Thunderbolt interface. On that note, choose your storage wisely because there's no seamless way to add more space. Just as before, your options are 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. Why not up the ante to 128GB or 256GB? I'll give you two reasons. First, limiting the amount of storage to the same as before might be part of Apple's 'Planned Obsolescence' model, a strategy I'm convinced the company knowingly and actively promotes. It's brilliant marketing, really. Leave out or limit certain features that could have easily been implemented and then tout them as great new additions to the next product iteration. Secondly, what better way to create a need for iCloud? Apple gives iOS users 5GB of free iCloud storage; after that, you'll have to pony up $20/year for 10GB, $40/year for 20GB, or $100/year for 50GB (these are storage fees, not data plans). The upside is that for many users, 16GB of internal storage and 5GB of iCloud storage will be more than enough. If you like to carry around a bunch of high definition movies, a near endless amount of MP3s, and albums full of high resolution photos, you should consider purchasing a 32GB or 64GB model instead.

What the new iPad does have are the same pieces as before, which we touched on above. Power button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top, volume rocker and lock switch on the side, and a proprietary dock connector on bottom. There are a number of accessories available to purchase that plug into the dock, such as a digital A/V adapter and camera connection kit, to name just two.

If you choose one of the 4G LTE models, there will be a black band across the top. There are separate versions for AT&T and Verizon, each of which runs $130 more than the equivalent Wi-Fi only model, though data fees vary by carrier:
  • AT&T 250MB: $15/month ($15 per 250MB overage fee); no mobile hotspot
  • AT&T 3GB: $30/month ($10 per 1GB overage fee); no mobile hotspot
  • AT&T 5GB: $50/month ($10 per 1GB overage fee); no mobile hotspot
  • Verizon 1GB: $20/month ($20 per 1GB overage fee); mobile hotspot included
  • Verizon 2GB: $30/month ($10 per 1GB overage fee); mobile hotspot included
  • Verizon 5GB: $50/month ($10 per 1GB overage fee); mobile hotspot included
  • Verizon 10GB: $80/month ($10 per 1GB overage fee); mobile hotspot included
Apple's pretty excited about supporting 4G LTE, a feature that a number of Android smartphones (but not the iPhone) and tablets already support. I see it more as a logical evolution of the iPad than something to jump for joy about, unless you're stoked about paying a monthly data fee. When/if carriers moved to shared data plans, my feelings might change, and so may yours if you're as indifferent as I am about this.

In addition to familiarity, another advantage to leaving the design mostly unchanged is that most of your iPad 2 accessories should work with the new iPad, including Apple's SmartCover. If he were still alive, Steve Jobs would be delighted to know the iPad still sports a 9.7-inch screen, and for consumers, that means not having to wade through different size screen protectors and cases when shopping iPad accessories.

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