Resolutionary? A review of the third-generation iPad 

In two short years, the iPad has defined an entire category of products, and redefined the personal computer industry. There is no way to overstate the importance of what Apple has done with its tablet. I can’t think of another product — including the iPod and iPhone — that has made such an impact in such a short period of time.

This new iPad comes at a moment when Apple is ruling the market, in a way that is almost hard to believe. Apple is on top of the world. It’s the most profitable company on the planet, and has made it there on the back of products like the iPad.

So now, with every other company in the world seeing its tail lights, and every other tech company struggling to stay relevant, Apple has released the third revision of the iPad.

But does it live up to the hype?

iOS 5.1

The new iPad ships with iOS 5.1. It’s important to remember that even the first iPad, released two years ago, can run the latest iOS update. The iPhone and iPod touch also run the new version.

As Apple continues to release new products and drop support for older ones, iOS becomes more fragmented.

Ah, there it is. The F word that plagues Android and its users. Unlike Android, however, the fragmentation found in iOS revolves around features, not version numbers or UI changes.

For example, the new iPad has voice dictation, but no Siri. While some might complain about this, I have no issues with Apple’s choice here. I think the company sees Siri as an iPhone feature, not an iOS feature. I haven’t missed it in my time with the new iPad.

Dictation is great on the iPad. In a few short days, I’ve already fallen in love with it. Like on the iPhone, Apple has added has microphone to the keyboard to the left of the space bar. Simply tap it and talk. iOS takes care of the rest.

…as long as you have a data connection.

To make it clear when the service is unavailable, iOS hides the microphone button when a data connection is not available. Apple’s made it where anyone can understand what’s going on. There’s nothing confusing about it, in my opinion.

Besides the voice features, iOS on this new iPad is the same iOS everyone knows.

That Screen

This release is all about the hardware.

The iPad is basically a screen, a battery and network connectivity. With this release, Apple improved all three.

If you haven’t seen the new iPad in person, it’s worth a drive to the Apple Store to see the screen. Seriously, it’s hard to describe it, and hard to shoot photos that truly give it justice. Content, apps and more look so rich, it’s hard to believe the screen is on a device that costs as little as $500. It’s bright and crisp. Viewing angles are as good as they were on the previous model, but colors are even more vivid and accurate. The pixels appear closer to the glass than the old iPad, but not as close as they do on the iPhone.

The thing is simply stunning.

Like with the iPhone 4, there will be a period of awkwardness while developers scramble to get their apps updated to support the new resolution. Until then, a lot of apps, including some magazines, look fuzzy.

It’s hard to understand just how big the screen is, so I’ve posted full-sized screenshot, weighing in at 4.2 MB.

Likewise, there are some websites that I frequent that have slightly-blurry graphics when zoomed in. Here on 512 Pixels, I’ve been updating the main graphics to look better on these sharp displays, and it’s really paid off, especially after launching the responsive version of the site.

One downside of the new screen is that apps take up a lot more space than they used to. For the first time, I’m bumping up to the 16 GB limit on the low-end iPad. I may end up wishing I had gone up to the 32 GB model.

I think the new iPad is going to push content providers to hosting and providing higher resolution versions of just about everything. When using apps like Tweetbot and Reeder that open iPhone-targeted images from websites and services, they can be comically small. I think things will improve on this front soon, though.

Data & Power

Battery-wise, this new iPad is on par with the iPad 2, which was on par with the original version.

This year, I purchased the same model I always have: the 16 GB Wi-Fi model in black. However, I have spent time with the 4G model and am impressed with just how fast the data is. While I don’t regret (yet) my choice, I think that the 4G models will do much better than the previous 3G models.

It’s important to note that the battery life on 4G is one hour less than when on Wi-Fi.

According to iFixit, the new iPad boasts a 42.5 watt-hour battery, up from the 25 watt-hour unit found in the iPad 2.

On my Wi-Fi model, I’m still getting “just” ten hours or so, not 13 or 14 as one might expect, thinking that the new iPad’s bigger battery is all about the LTE chipsets. Clearly, the big power draw in this model is the screen and GPU, which gives me hope to see a 4G/LTE iPhone this fall.

Speaking of the battery, some have made a big deal about the fact that this iPad is not only slightly thicker, but slightly heavier than the iPad 2. While I can say I’ve noticed it, it’s not a big deal at all, especially when compared to the debut model two years ago. It’s also the first iPad I’ve had that has ever gotten warm during use.

I do hope that Apple improves the speaker on the iPad in the future. (I wouldn’t mind it on the iPhone, either, honestly.) While plenty loud, I would love to see a product so perfect for video watching sound clearer. And — heaven forbid — have true stereo sound.

The Cameras

In addition to what I consider the “core” components, the new iPad also got an upgraded camera system.

The rear camera boasts the same optics package as the iPhone 4S, but clocks in at 5 MP, lower than the 8 MP found on the phone. I’ve posted some full-sized examples:

As you can see, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but overall does a decent job. It feels like the iPhone 3GS camera, in many ways. It performs much better outside in daylight, and offers fairly decent depth of focus.

The lock screen on the iPad doesn’t include a shortcut to the camera. It does, however, keep the shortcut for the slideshow feature. While the option would be nice, I don’t think many users will miss a shot because they can’t access the camera form the lock screen.

On the video end of things, the new iPad does a spectacular job. The built-in, always-on image stabilization does a great job at evening out the image, but not in a way that seems unnatural. Here’s a brief sample, in full 1080p. I shot this video in my front yard, barefoot, across damp ground. The iPad kept everything nice and smooth, despite my uneven hand.

While I won’t be shooting with my iPad very often, it’s nice to know I could if I needed to. You still feel like a goofus doing it, though. I felt embarrassed in my own backyard taking photos with it.

Wrap-Up

The new iPad is like the iPad 2, just better. Some things that bothered users about the previous model are resolved here, but others remain.

The screen is the big story here, and for good reason. It really is something to behold. It’s hard to understand how it’s possible to have such a sharp display.

Like the models before it, though, the new iPad is much more than the sum of its parts. While the parts have all gotten better this time around, the ecosystem of apps, content and accessories is what makes Apple’s iOS devices so attractive and so powerful.

So, does the iPad live up to the “revolutionary” hype? While I think I’ve made it clear this is an evolutionary update, it’s a very, very good one. It’s not a revolution, but it’s worth the cash, even if you have an iPad 2.

Photo via iFixit