Apple iPad (3rd gen) review

19 Mar 2012

Faster graphics and a good camera at last, but the groundbreaking screen alone is reason to splash out – it’s a genuine leap forward

Price when reviewed: 
333(£399 inc VAT)
Buy it now for 
5

The most important part of any tablet, whatever the quad-core brigade may try to persuade you, is the screen. Unlike any internal component, the screen is what you’ll still be noticing a week after your purchase, the part upon which all of your attention is focused. Upgrading it is the most effective way to improve any tablet.

We’re sure all manufacturers understand this, yet few are in the position to make such bold strides as Apple. Following the iPhone 4’s leap with its “Retina” display, the new iPad (not, confusingly, the iPad 3) has a similarly groundbreaking 1,536 x 2,048 panel – that’s four times the iPad 2’s 768 x 1,024 resolution in exactly the same 9.7in diagonal, and it’s higher even than many 27in TFTs. Apple calls it “resolutionary”, a word that makes us queasy, but the sentiment is spot on.

Retina, take two

The quadrupled pixel count doesn’t quite give the same pixel density as the iPhone 4 – it’s 246ppi compared to the smaller screen’s 326ppi – but it puts it way ahead of any other tablet on the market. Asus will soon release its 10in Transformer Pad Infinity, with a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, but that’s as close as we’ve seen.

Apple iPad (3rd gen)

The biggest beneficiary is text, which is so sharp that you genuinely can’t see the pixels any more, and provided the originals are of suitable quality, the same applies to images as well. In fact, the new iPad acts like a magnifying glass on every medium-resolution logo or banner ad you may have hoped no-one would notice, which may have web developers scrambling to update their assets.

There were only a handful of Retina-optimised apps at launch. Apple has curated a section of the App Store to highlight them, and those we tested did a fine job of showing off the improvement. Flight Control Rocket and Real Racing HD 2 look superb, and the updated Kindle app shows the new iPad is a very capable ebook reader too.

Colour saturation is also superb, and our subjective opinions were backed up by the figures: we measured brightness at 426cd/m[sup]2[/sup], with an excellent contrast ratio of 906:1. Put simply, the new screen is a revelation, and if you find you’ve stopped actively marvelling at it after an hour or so, a trip back to an iPad 2 will be a shock to the system – it’s a lot like watching standard-definition video on a Full HD television.

Apple iPad (3rd gen)

Keeping its looks

Beyond the screen, you’d be hard-pressed to notice anything physically different from the iPad 2. The case is a millimetre or so thicker, and its 652g weight is 50g heavier than before – just about noticeable when you hold the two versions in each hand, but the extra weight is for a good reason, as we’ll see later. The new iPad also gets noticeably warmer in the hand than its predecessor did when running demanding 3D apps or video.

Everything else is in the same place, so the volume rocker and rotation lock are still on the right edge as you hold it in portrait mode, and the headphone socket and power button are on the top edge.

The bigger changes are inside, but they aren’t earth-shattering. The new Apple A5X chip remains dual-core and clocked at 1GHz, but it now features a quad-core GPU. Teardowns have revealed 1GB of DDR2 RAM, up from 512MB last time.

If that sounds unimpressive, we should make clear that even with the higher resolution, the new iPad is every bit as responsive as its predecessor. It ran the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark in 1,803ms, a decent score. Infinity Blade II and Real Racing HD, two of the most graphically impressive optimised apps, ran smoothly even with a lot of action onscreen. Only a few times did it stutter very slightly under pressure, but never seriously enough to affect gameplay.

Detail

Price ex VAT From £333
Price inc VAT £400
Overall rating 5
Performance 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4

Physical

Dimensions 186 x 241 x 9.7mm (WDH)
Weight 652g

Display

Primary keyboard On-screen
Screen size 9.7in
Resolution screen horizontal 2,560
Resolution screen vertical 1,536
Display type Colour touchscreen LCD
Panel technology IPS

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz 1,000MHz
Integrated memory 16.0GB
RAM capacity 1.00GB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating 5.0mp
Focus type Autofocus
Built-in flash? no
Built-in flash type N/A
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Other

WiFi standard 802.11n
Bluetooth support yes
HDMI output? no
Video/TV output? no

Software

Mobile operating system iOS 5.1

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