iPad 3 Review: Setting a new bar

Keeping with their yearly cycle, Apple released the new iPad (third generation), looking to further their lead in a tablet market they have been dominating. Having over 200,000 applications optimized for the iPad, not to mention a good number of universal apps that help buyers utilize apps purchased for the iPhone, the ecosystem is incredibly strong. Also of note are the advances in iOS 5.1, the software that manages to deliver extremely powerful functionality with incredible ease of use. In March of 2012, the conversation switches back to hardware, squarely on the new iPad. Join us for our comprehensive iPad 3 review as we put it through the paces.

What makes this new iPad better
When talking about the new iPad, the feature that is front and center is the new retina display. For those who enjoy raw specifications, the display provides a resolution of 2048 x 1536, or as Apple would call it resolutionary. It boasts 44 percent greater color saturation and pushes 3.1 million pixels within a 9.7-inch space. That’s a lot of numbers that basically translates to the most beautiful display ever on a mobile device, including the iPhone 4S, simply due to the larger 9.7-inch screen.

ipad 3 review

How good are the retina display graphics on the new iPad?
The one consistent throughout my use of the new iPad was the level of clarity when it comes to text. Web browsing, email and other daily use tasks are immediately elevated by the quality of the display. Try as you might, you would be hard pressed to see any pixelation when reading type. Most every task or activity outside of games often includes interaction with typography, so you’ll have immense appreciation for type that almost looks like a printed page.

Type on iPad

If you pinch and zoom, the comparison between the new iPad and the iPad 2 isn’t as drastic as one would expect. Type appears crisper in comparison when there is no zoom. This is significant because most of us are not constantly zooming in on type. There is less of a need for zooming, due to clarity of the type.

New iPad retina

When viewing your homescreen, app icons are more detailed, vibrant and rich with color. Some applications are better served by the inclusion of text, then by the included retina graphics. TweetBot is a graphically rich app, but the retina display version is not leaps and bounds ahead of the iPad 2. Having such high resolution graphics on a device does change some things when it comes to usability. Take TweetBot for example, where inline images pop up and take a quarter of the screen as compared to a full screen image. Workarounds include pinch and zoom, but here’s where you might meet the dreaded pixelization, since not everyone on the Internet is delivering retina display graphics. With the cost of bandwidth, this is not simply a matter of web designers creating retina friendly images, so expect disappointment with regards to images on most websites. In some ways, the Internet is not ready for such an advanced display of this size.

When it comes to movies and videos, iTunes has started to offer movies and TV shows in 1080p. While the clarity of the picture is appreciable, it’s not as if I were in a dark room and something had just turned on the lights. For me, the last one was very good, but this one is better.

“While an impressive upgrade, this is by no means as major as when televisions went from standard definition to HD. I think it’s more in line with the move from DVD to Blu-Ray. Both great quality, but the difference is magnified depending upon the content.”

The genre of apps that stands to gain the most benefit from retina graphics are games. When you play games like Real Racing 2 HD, the level of detail each pixel is apparent. Retina-display capable games like Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation provide for a 3D experience without the glasses. When you combine the ultra-realistic visuals with the excellent gameplay we’ve come to expect, the new iPad is among other things, a console-game quality device in your hands. The only difference being the large number of insanely good games at low prices. Modern Combat 3 is a universal app and it’s only $0.99.

Modern Combat 3 on iPad

Real Racing 2 HD on new iPad

How’s the battery life on the new iPad
If you’ve used an iPad previously, then you were initially aghast at how long they last in between charges. This is most certainly one of the reasons why some folks have ditched their laptops while traveling. Apple rates the new iPad as having up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music. This number takes a slight hit to 9 hours if utilizing the 4G LTE network. These are the same numbers associated with the iPad 2. Apple includes a larger 42.5-watt rechargeable battery in the new iPad as compared to 25-watts in the iPad 2.

iPad 3

In my non-scientific testing, I found no major difference between the two. I charged both and played an hour long episode of Smash. My aim was to see if the retina display of the new iPad caused any hit to the battery during playback. I was pleasantly surprised that the newer model edged out the old by an additional 3% of battery life. Normal use also seemed to return familiar findings of terrific battery life.

If there is a negative on the battery, it’s the extended charging time required to get a full charge. The iPad has always had a history of charging very quickly, no different than an iPhone. That’s not the case with this new iPad. Using USB to my Mac Pro, I started at 4:52 pm with 50%. At 10:17, it was still at only 92%. The excellent battery life of the device can easily offset this drawback, if you are diligent about plugging it in on a regular basis.

How hot does the new iPad get?
For some reason, this device has become the piñata of consumer electronics. If anyone suspects a chink in the armor of new Apple product, it’s big news. Does the new iPad get warm? Yes, it does with extended gameplay, watching 1080p HD movies or other activities that will push the limits of the graphics, battery and so forth. Would most people prefer that it stayed cool to the touch?Yes. Is it a deal breaker that it gets warm?

For most people, it should not affect your decision one way or the other. If for some reason this is troubling to you in any way, then opt for the iPad 2, which does not experience any noticeable change in temperature.

new iPad headphone jack

Bluetooth 4.0 Is A Pretty Big Deal
Bluetooth 4.0 is supported on the new iPad. In fact, it’s the only tablet that supports the new standard which allows for power efficient accessories. The new technology is expected to be included on most new smartphones coming out by the end of this year. That should mean an increase in Bluetooth 4.0 accessories. Imagine adding a Bluetooth keyboard with battery that will last a year. That’s a pretty big deal, so this is a major addition that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Faster Processor, More RAM
Apple touts a number of internal changes. First up, the processor has been bumped from the dual-core A5 to a dual-core A5X, bringing with it quad-core graphics necessary to push all those beautiful pixels around the 9.7-inch screen. I did a number of side by side app launches, with a slight advantage to the newer A5X powered tablet. Apple doesn’t specify RAM numbers, but it’s been doubled from 512MB to 1GB. These are very capable specs, keeping performance in line with its predecessor while adding improved graphics.

iPad 3 review

Slightly Thicker, Heavier
The new iPad measures 0.37 inches in depth, with a weight of 1.44 pounds compared to 0.34 inches and 1.33 pounds on the 2. I’ve seen people mention that the difference is so minimal that you wouldn’t notice. That’s wasn’t my experience. While sitting up in bed late on my first night reading an iBook, I noticed the additional heft. Over time, my opinion might change, but I longed for the svelte super model thinness accomplished by shaving 0.03 in depth and 0.11 pounds.

iPad 3 vs iPad 2

If the roles were reversed and this new iPad had cut down the dimensions, Apple and the media would be raving about the triumph of thin. Instead, this feels like a compromise for the added graphics.

I’d encourage those considering an upgrade to compare them in-hand. That’s the absolute best way to know if you find the changes slight or like myself, you need to find a wrist-training class at your local gym.

What are the storage capacities?
You can select (3) storage configurations. 16GB, 32GB, 64GB in either black or white.

Buyer’s Tip: Applications will increase in size due to the inclusion of new graphics, thus having a direct impact on storage. Select a storage capacity that’s comfortable for you and allows room for comfortably adding apps, movies and music.

Faster wireless networking with 4G LTE
For an additional $129, customers can opt for either an AT&T or Verizon 4G LTE compatible new iPad. This will allow you to use your new iPad outside of a WiFi network, provided you have an associated wireless plan with your preferred carrier. The maximum download speeds are 42 Mbps with DC-HSDPA and up to 21.1 Mbps with HSPA+. We are using a WiFi only version for the purpose of this review, so will not be able to directly provide an opinion on download speeds. Speeds are directly related to coverage in your area along with signal. This forum thread shows speeds that some our members are seeing and everythingiCafe writer Michael Baturin has seen speeds of up to 40.49 Mbps download and 11.81 Mbps upload.

iPad 4G LTE Speed Test

With affordable plans and ultra-fast speeds, this enables you to push the capabilities of your new iPad without needing a WiFi connection. You should note that while these speeds are quite good, Facetime is not supported over 4G LTE. What is supported is the ability to utilize your new iPad as a personal hotspot. This enables other devices, including a laptop to utilize the data connection on your tablet.

Buyer’s Tip: Make sure you check the wireless coverage in your area. Carriers have excellent 3G coverage, but their rollout of 4G LTE is still far from complete.

Buying Into the iOS Ecosystem
If you are comparison shopping, there really is no comparison when it comes to ecosystems. Apple’s App Store has over 200,000 applications that have been optimized for their tablet. A good number of apps are universal, meaning that you purchase them once and can utilize them on both an iPhone or iPad. That means that current iPhone owners likely have a stable of apps that will be compatible with the new iPad.

iPad 2012 apps

Dictation offers Siri-like features
Apple injects the familiar ‘Siri’ icon into the keyboard within apps. Tapping it allows you to speak and allow your spoken words to become written words. Unlike Siri, this doesn’t act as a personal assistant. You cannot set reminders by voice or find a restaurant, etc. I’ve been critical of Siri on our podcasts, for it’s failure to work properly and the speed required to process simple tasks. It pings Apple’s servers before being able to answer a request. I was pleasantly surprised by the speed and accuracy of dictation.

Siri-like Dictation on iPad

Improved camera optics
Taking pictures with a tablet is awkward at best. The 5-megapixel camera has improved optics and the photos are much improved. It won’t replace your point and shoot, but it’s the first capable camera we’ve seen on an iPad. With front and rear-facing cameras, this makes it ready for Apple’s free Facetime video chat, which works like a charm. We weren’t able to test video between two new iPads, but did not notice any improvement in video quality when conducting a Facetime call with an iPad 2.

iPad 3 camera
Sample photo from third generation iPad 3
iPad 2 camera
Sample photo from iPad 2 camera

Should I upgrade from the iPad 2 to the new iPad?
The new iPad is the best tablet available by far, but the feature upgrades led by the impressive retina display graphics are simply not enough to justify moving up from a thinner, lighter and still extremely capable iPad 2.

iPad 3 Review: Pros & Cons


  • Stunning display
  • Siri-like Dictation
  • 4G LTE
  • Fast UI and experience
  • Nice stable of included apps
  • iOS Ecosystem
  • Improved optics
  • Support for Bluetooth 4.0
  • Works with *most* existing iPad accessories


  • Slightly thicker, heavier
  • Increased time required for charging
the new iPad

With an advanced easy-to-use operating system in iOS 5.1, a vast array of applications, Apple continues to lead the way in both software and hardware. The slight increase in depth and weight are still relatively minor when compared to the stunningly beautiful pixel density of the retina display, which ultimately will make you want to use your iPad more. For most, it becomes the best looking display in your house. You will want to use the new iPad to view your photos, play games, watch movies, read books, check email and surf the web. Your every encounter with text, be it on the web or in books, will leave you amazed at the clarity. With the optional 4G LTE version, it brings with it ultra-fast connections, allowing you to do more on the go. The improvements continue throughout with improved camera optics, support for Bluetooth 4.0 and the Siri-like dictation feature.

This year’s iPad (2012) sets the bar by which other tablets will be judged and that bar right now is incredibly high.

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