Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Apple iPad (2012)

The bottom line: The new iPad features mostly incremental upgrades that are completely overshadowed by its high-resolution Retina Display. The best tablet in the market just got better.

Seeing is believing. Yes, it's a cliche, but one that applies to the new Apple iPad. This is a gadget that makes its case every single time you turn that stunning display on. If you're one to obsess over technical details--the latest iPad is a mostly incremental upgrade over the iPad 2--you need to stop doing that and try the iPad out at a store.

The new iPad isn't perfect. It's a bit heavier than the iPad 2 and if you're living outside North America, you won't be getting the touted 4G experience. It also didn't quite get the quad-core processor upgrade that some of us were hoping for. None of this should detract from the fact that the third iteration of Apple's iPad is by far the best tablet you can get now.

iPad 2 owners should note that the new iPad's Retina Display is likely to spoil your current tablet experience. So unless you're thinking of upgrading, we recommend that you avoid all contact. As for those who have been considering a tablet, the latest iPad has a screen that's unmatched on any consumer device now, improved graphics and a better rear camera. More importantly, the iPad also gives you access to a veritable hoard of tablet-optimized apps. And all that for the same price.

The new iPad (available in either black or white) comes with iOS 5.1 preloaded. It's currently available in the list of countries mentioned here, but Apple will be launching the slate in more countries by the end of the month. The Wi-Fi version starts from US$499 and the Wi-Fi and 4G model from US$629. We are still in the midst of testing the battery life on the new iPad, but given Apple's track record, we're giving it an '8' for now. We'll update the article and the score once it's done. The design of the new iPad remains unchanged from the previous version. This means you'll get a smooth aluminum back with rounded corners. Despite earlier speculation, the Home button is where it should be and so are the front and rear cameras. This is good news for those who have an iPad 2--your case and other accessories should work with the new model, though we did encounter an issue with a tight-fitting case.

Frankly, we can't think of a reason for Apple to change the design. A tablet is all about the touchscreen. When one has such an impressive high-resolution display, distracting users with superficial design tweaks is not a good idea. Having said that, we wouldn't have minded if Apple suddenly did a U-turn and allowed expandable memory options such as a microSD card. Even if every manufacturer is doing something similar, paying US$100 to upgrade from a 16GB iPad to a 32GB model feels like a rip-off.

The only connectors you'll find on the iPad are the universal dock connector at the bottom and the headphone jack at the top corner. The volume rocker and the orientation lock button are in their usual locations.

Apple A5X dual-core processor (1GHz)9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536-pixel) touchscreen
The new iPad is slightly thicker than its predecessor by around 0.6mm and weighs about 50g more. It's not something that you will immediately notice when comparing the new iPad and the iPad 2, but once you add a Smart Cover or case, it all starts to add up. Android tablets are winning on this front--the Toshiba Regza AT200 measures 7.7mm thick and weighs 558g.
The highlight of the new iPad is its 2,048 x 1,536-pixel display. According to Apple, this translates to 3.1 million pixels on the iPad's 9.7-inch screen, which is more than what you'll find on an HDTV (though you won't be staring at your HDTV at the same distance as the iPad). It also results in a pixel density of 264 ppi (pixels-per-inch), which despite being lower than that on the iPhone 4 (326 ppi), is deemed good enough to deserve the Retina Display branding.

So what do you get exactly from such a high-resolution screen? The short answer is that it's guaranteed to make you wince when you look at any other screen (except the iPhone 4/4S or the Sony Xperia S). Apps that have been adapted to the new Retina Display, such as the preloaded ones from Apple, look stunning. You can hardly see the pixels on them and you would have to inspect text up-close to spot their jagged edges. The iPad 2's screen instantly becomes second-class.

Only a company with Apple's clout is able to introduce these high-resolution screens at an affordable price point. The Retina Display is a massive improvement over the typical 1,366 x 768-pixel screens found on laptops, including the latest Ultrabooks. Although Samsung is reportedly the only supplier of the iPad's screen, we really hope to see more devices sporting such high-resolution displays soon.

Early adopters of the iPad may find little or no improvement for their favorite apps, as it will take some time for developers to update their apps for the Retina Display. Another potential issue is that the file size of Retina Display-ready apps are likely to be larger so those with a 16GB iPad may face a storage crunch. This will also hit owners of the original iPad and the iPad 2 since developers generally create a single version of its apps for all iPads.

To drive that huge number of pixels on the new screen, Apple needed to upgrade the A5 processor on the iPad 2. The rumors before the iPad announcement were that Apple was either going to introduce a quad-core processor or increase the speed of the A5. Instead, the company beefed up the graphics portion of the A5, calling the new chip A5X.

On hindsight, Apple has little reason to move to a quad-core processor yet. Few apps are able to use the extra cores and multitasking on iOS isn't the same as that on your PC. With the A5X chip, Apple claims to have twice the graphical horsepower as the iPad 2, though users may not be able to tell the difference.

The other major upgrade on the iPad--support for 4G or LTE--is anti-climactic if you live outside North America. The 4G networks in Europe and Asia are incompatible with the wireless radio on the new iPad. However, the tablet does have 3G connectivity and will default to these networks in the absence of 4G. On a related note, Apple has allowed users to share their bandwidth with other devices--you can now use the iPad as a personal hotspot for up to five devices.

Rounding up the internal hardware improvements, the new iPad gets 1GB of system memory, twice that of the iPad 2. This should result in slightly faster loading times for apps. The tablet also supports the latest Bluetooth 4.0 standard, which claims to be optimized for longer battery life.
802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 4G802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HSDPA VGA (front), 5 megapixels (rear)Accelerometer, light sensor, gyroscope, E-compass
We said it before but we'll say it again: Taking pictures with an iPad is just plain silly. But if you insist on doing so, the new iPad now has a competent rear camera. Apple claims that this new iSight camera uses the same optics technology as the one on the iPhone 4S, but the megapixel count has fallen from eight to five. New to the iSight camera: Autofocus and face detection. It also supports 1080p video recording.

However, the FaceTime camera at the front doesn't appear to have gotten an upgrade--Apple still states that it takes VGA quality images. 

Disappointingly, Siri doesn't make its debut on the iPad, but Apple has tossed us a bone with a new voice dictation feature. You press the microphone icon on the virtual keyboard to activate this feature and it works just like Siri, except that it won't do any of the cool stuff, such as setting your alarms or finding the nearest Italian restaurant. It's useful and pretty accurate if you can't get used to typing on the screen.

Apple has brought the iPhoto app over to the new iPad and this is a powerful photo-editing that makes manipulating images easy with touchscreen controls. There's also a new Journal feature, which compiles your images into a custom album (along with your notes and other annotations) which can be shared with others.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
Such is the state of Apple's tablet rivals that the biggest competitor to the new iPad is the iPad 2, especially now that it has become more affordable. The quad-core Asus Transformer Prime, hailed as one of the best Android slates in the market, costs the same as the iPad and comes with expandable memory (on top of having 32GB internal storage). However, its screen doesn't come close to the Retina Display and Apple also claims that its quad-core graphics is up to four times faster than the Tegra 3 chip on the Transformer Prime.

Since there's no support for the 4G network in Singapore, we tried a speed test on the SingTel 3G network. The speeds seem typical of the network, but we'll update this result once we get hold of SIM cards from other telcos that boast a maximum 21Mbps speed.

Infinity Blade 2 started up slightly faster on the new iPad than the iPad 2. We aren't sure if this is due to the 1GB of system memory (the iPad 2 only has 512MB) or the improved graphics, but we'll take it. In terms of general use, we didn't find any noticeable difference between the two generations of iPads. 

Compared with the iPad 2, the rear camera is a significant upgrade in terms of usability and image quality. You're still better off with the camera on the iPhone 4S, but while we aren't converted to the idea of taking pictures with a bulky tablet, the option is there.

According to Apple, the iPad lasts 10 hours on Wi-Fi and 9 hours on 4G. Despite the higher-resolution screen and the presence of an additional 4G radio, the uptime on the new iPad is expected to remain similar to its predecessor. Apple achieves this by slapping a larger 42.5kWh battery (the iPad 2 only has a 25kWh battery). We suspect that switching to the more power-efficient Bluetooth 4.0 also plays a part. We'll update this review with our battery test results once they are done.
Apple includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, along with 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a two-year AppleCare plan will cost an extra S$118 and telephone support is included for the entire duration. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials and email with customer service.

View the original article here

Source From CNET

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