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

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Display & Camera

You've undoubtedly heard Apple throw around the term "Retina display" to describe its iPhone 4/4S and now the new iPad. The term doesn't refer to a specific technology, it's Apple's marketing speak for a display with such a high resolution that the human eye can't make out individual pixels when viewed from a normal distance.

In the new iPad, there are 3.1 million pixels crammed into a 9.7-inch IPS display with a 2048x1536 resolution, the highest of any tablet to date. That works out to 264 pixels per inch, twice that of the iPad 2, resulting in a stunningly gorgeous screen that mostly lives up to the hype. The display on the iPad 2 was very good and the new iPad takes things to a new level. Images appear crisp and vibrant. Plain and simple, everything simply looks better on the new iPad, including text and icons, which are now incredibly sharp and smooth without any noticeable jaggies. Apple hit a home run with this one.

To put the baseball analogy in perspective, I would rate the iPad 2's display at least a ground rule double. The difference in quality isn't going to sock you in the gut when you first turn it on, but once you start looking at high resolution photos and reading text, you quickly discover why Apple calls this a "resolutionary" upgrade.

One of the upgrades I'm most excited about is the 5MP rear-facing camera. The iPad 2 shipped with crappy front- and rear-facing cameras, and only one of them is still junk on the new iPad. On the back is an upgraded 5MP iSight camera with all new optics. Apple describes it like this:
"Megapixels matter. But the quality of a photo is determined by other things, too — like the camera’s optics, image signal processor, and software. The iSight camera uses advanced optics to give you the best picture possible. With an ƒ/2.4 aperture and a five-element lens, it captures light efficiently to produce a sharper overall image. And the hybrid infrared filter — typically reserved for expensive SLR cameras — keeps out harmful IR light for more accurate, uniform colors."

Now let's not get carried away here. The iSight camera isn't anywhere near as capable as an "expensive SLR" camera, nor is it as good as the one found on the iPhone 4S. But I found it capable of taking photos I wouldn't be embarrassed to upload to Facebook or Google+, something I couldn't have said about the iPad 2's camera. In addition to a higher megapixel count and improved optics, the iSight camera on the new IPad supports autofocus, tap to focus, and built-in face detection capable of detecting up to 10 mugs. Let's take a look at some sample shots:

The top left photo shows what the iSight camera can with a brightly lit environment. There's definitely room for improvement, but for an impromptu photo you plan to share on social media sites, the camera is serviceable. On the top right is an indoors photo with average lighting. One thing I found frustrating is the iSight camera's extreme sensitivity to light. Even when sunshine isn't directly beaming through a window, the iSight camera overreacts to the outside light and creates a nasty white effect in response, which you can see in my photo of Lady Morgan. If she were sitting right below the window, the photo would have been completely ruined.

In the bottom two photos you can see how the iSight camera handles closeup shots. These are not zoomed photographs, just up-close-and-personal pictures of flowers and rocks.

FaceTime photos still look grainy and mostly horrible, the result of Apple deciding not to upgrade the front-facing camera. A sexy mug like that deserves a higher quality camera, am I right ladies? Ladies? Hellooooo!? Screw it, on to the benchmarks.

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