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Predictably Remarkable. The best tablet in its 10" class.
on March 16, 2012
I was able to secure the new iPad at our local Apple store, but I also got to spend some time with a review model beforehand. In any case, I'll take you hands-on with the new model, plus I'll share my experience from my past two years of iPad ownership altogether, especially for those who haven't yet had an iPad to call their own. I'll also reveal a treasure trove of info on how you can legitimately download tons of quality apps and games for free, in hopes of making this the most helpful iPad review on Amazon!
For those interested, I've also compiled two iPad listmania lists:
Must-Have iPad Accessories: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R1M3AJDBR2BCA7?tag=1pad-20&ie=UTF8
iPad vs. Other Tablets: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R3QLZ307253XU6?tag=1pad-20&ie=UTF8
My review tends to run long, so I've organized information by section, with headings, to make it more helpful for those just looking for specific info. For example, see the heading "Downloading Apps and Games" for the info on obtaining free apps and games!
First, let's quickly cover what's new, and what each means for you:
+ Retina Display - twice the resolution of the iPad 2, at 2048 x 1536 pixels (264px/in)
+ 5 megapixel rear-facing camera - take photos with over 8x higher resolution and quality than the iPad 2 (but still no flash)
+ Dual-core 1GHz A5X processor with quad-core graphics - better multitasking and flawless high-res graphics performance
+ 4G LTE capable - faster mobile connections on AT&T and Verizon when in 4G-LTE-covered network area
If you're considering the now-cheaper iPad 2, here's a quick recap of what was new last year:
+ Dual-core 1GHz A5 Processor - better multitasking, 9-times faster graphics
+ 3-Axis Gyroscope - allows for higher precision and more motion gestures
+ Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through with Apple Digital AV Adapter (sold separately)
+ Rear-facing camera - supports 960 x 720 sized photos (0.6 megapixels), plus 720p HD videos
+ Front-facing VGA-quality camera - VGA-quality is a resolution of 640 x 480 (0.3 megapixels)
+ Verizon 3G model now available - no longer limited to just AT&T for the WiFi+3G model
+ Thinner, lighter and smoother with contoured back - feels more comfortable in your hands
The iPad 2 brought a lot more new features to the iPad lineup, but the 3rd generation iPad still brings us some welcome new features. First, it sports the new A5X processor. Don't be confused though, it's not really that much better than the iPad 2's, and it's not technically a quad-core processor. The CPU itself remains dual-core, but the graphics processor built-into the CPU chip can compute 4 streams of graphics information, thus making the graphics aspect of the A5X processor quad-core. It's confusing, I know. To be honest, there was no noticeable improvement in performance over the iPad 2, except maybe behind the scenes where it handles 4x more pixels. In general, everything on the new iPad runs just as smooth as it always has, which is as to be expected from Apple! But I imagine the new processor has particularly been used to speed up image processing for the new 5 megapixel camera, making photography just about as snappy as it is on the iPhone 4S, which I own as well. 4G support was also a nice surprise that had been rumored.
On the other hand, other rumors didn't exactly pan-out, including an SD card slot for photos and file storage, nor the possibility of a smaller, more manageable 7" iPad model, but I'm still holding out hope for one in the future (UPDATE: a 7.9" iPad Mini has now been released, and you can now read my review of it too: http://www.amazon.com/review/R18KRNCDSS963I?tag=1pad-20&ie=UTF8). Thankfully, the price stays the same for these new models, but that is as to be expected. As a boon for those who don't really plan to use the new high-res camera nor need the Retina display or 4G speed, the iPad 2 is going to stick around for a while longer, with a new lower price for those in the market!
===== My Background =====
I'm a website and mobile app developer who's created a few apps and games for iOS devices, including the iPad. I also develop websites, so I like to ensure that those sites look and perform well on the device too, since it's continually growing in popularity for surfing the Web with over the past two years. I've spent lots of time with both the iPad and various Android-based tablets, and I have to be honest... apps are what make the iPad (and other iDevices) so great. Android tablets have the benefit of price and size, but Android apps available for tablets are terribly mediocre! They're also not as responsive as the iPad, at least not after you load them up with apps, games and other junk.
I'm no Apple fanboy, but I can recognize quality hardware and software when I see it, and as far as 10" tablets are concerned, the new iPad simply can't be beat, but that's mostly due to Apple's knack for high-end hardware, plus the ridiculously huge following of quality app developers that Apple can boast about. With over 200,000 apps just for the iPad alone, there's more than enough to keep you busy!
===== First Impression =====
Unboxing any new device certainly has its appeal, but the iPad has an allure all its own, and the new model is just as touch-worthy as its older siblings, especially when it's fresh out of the box and accompanied by that scent synonymous with new electronics. But when you turn it on for the first time it becomes clear: there's something different about this new model, especially if you've been using the iPad 2 for a while. There's a rich, vibrant crispness to the image that wasn't there before. It's almost like the screen isn't there at all, as if the silky-smooth graphics are just floating there.
===== Interaction Experience =====
Thanks to the powerful processor, animations and transitions remain smooth on the new iPad, even on a Retina screen with 4-times more pixels! Plus, text on the new model is crisper than ever, even in apps that haven't been retweeked for the new Retina display. Meanwhile, where the iPad really shines is with its continuation of a phenomenal multi-touch interface that is second to none, seriously. Android tablets and other devices may tout "multi-touch" support, but usually this just means they support 2-finger gestures like pinch-style zooming. The iPad touch-screen, on the other hand, supports up to ten simultaneous touches. Nothing new here, but still worth mentioning, especially for tablet newcomers. So if an iPad app ever needs to support that many touches, the iPad is ready. For example, the most common app supporting ten simultaneous touches is the piano app.
===== So What Can the iPad Actually Do? =====
Naturally, there are things you can do with the iPad right out of the box. You can browse the Web with Safari, set up your email, download your photos and videos to your iPad via iTunes, as well as shoot new photos and videos using either of the two built in cameras. You can also surf YouTube and watch your favorite videos via Apple's built-in YouTube app. There's also an iPod built in, so you can listen to your favorite tunes via the Music app, or download new music via the iTunes app. Another popular iPad app is iBooks, which lets you download and read e-books on your iPad. You can also jot notes, manage your calendar and contacts. You can even chat with other Apple-device users via FaceTime (over WiFi only). Of course, the fun and usefulness of the iPad doesn't stop there. The App Store app is your portal to unending games and utilities. One thing Apple has been really good at is showing off just what you can do with the iPad. App developers have undoubtedly been busy creating unique experiences through their iPad apps, most of which have yet to be rivaled by (or ported to) Android and other tablets.
You can also download two additional Apple-made apps: iBooks, which lets you download and read ebooks easily on your device, and iWork, Apple's office-document editing suite, a trilogy of apps which consists of: Pages (for editing word processing documents), Numbers (for editing spreadsheets) and Keynote (for editing PowerPoint-like slideshows); Each of the three apps can be downloaded separately for $9.99 each. Completely reworked for the iPad, the complete iWork suite will set you back a whole thirty bucks. So be aware of that before you go ahead and grab the iPad for use with work-related document editing, and so forth.
Also note that if you do intend to use the iPad for heavy writing or word-processing purposes, you'll find that your ability to type quickly will be greatly inhibited by the virtual keyboard. Thus, you should snag the external keyboard as well, but I'll explain a few typing techniques below. Either way, be prepared to pay more than merely the price for the iPad alone if you intend to transform the iPad into something a little more productive than it might be for you out of the box.
===== Downloading Apps and Games =====
Downloading apps on your iPad couldn't be easier. Once you set up your iTunes account with a password and credit card, all you need to do is find the app you want from the App Store, tap the button at the top with the app's price, then tap again to confirm. Enter your password (once per session), and voila, you just bought an app. Behind the scenes, Apple charges your card for the amount of the app plus tax, while you're already off enjoying your new app. This ease of access is a blessing and a curse, because you can easily empty your wallet if you're not carefully considering each purchase.
All apps in the App Store range in price from Free and 99 cents on up, always incrementing in whole dollar amounts (1.99, 2.99, 3.99, etc). The maximum price for an app is set to $999.99, of which there are only eight currently priced so outrageously. And don't even think of toying with them. Apple does not allow refunds on apps you have purchased--all sales are final!
Now for the juicy money-saving secrets of the App Store! With the proper resources, you can legitimately download thousands of high quality apps for free. I do it all the time and it is perfectly legal. You see, Apple allows developers to temporarily put their apps on sale (and even drop the price to free). Usually they do this to get you to write some rave reviews for their apps. The secret to success is having the resources to help you spot these special app sales--so you know when and where to get them during these often extremely-limited-time promotions.
There are several resources you can use, both on the Web and on the iPad itself. I prefer to use an app called "AppShopper" that lists all apps that recently went on sale or dropped to free. You can filter just iPad apps, or show iPhone apps as well, and you can also filter just the free products or just the sale apps. But so many apps go on sale, making it hard to cut through the clutter, which is where AppShopper truly shines: the "popular" tab shows only the most popularly downloaded sale apps. If several other people aren't downloading an app, you won't see it listed there! AppShopper is a phenomenal little gem, and it has gotten me tons of apps FREE! It also has a companion website that lists the same apps. You can even create an account and track the apps you own, so you don't end up trying to redownload them if they go on sale again! It also supports watch lists (via your account) with push notifications, and can alert you whenever an app you're interested in goes on sale. It's a real thing of beauty! There are other apps such as AppZappPush, AppSniper, AppAdvice, Apps Gone Free, and more, but none of them leverage the power of the masses to help you filter out the unwanted apps. Feel free to check them out if you like, though!
===== Typing on the iPad =====
Typing on the iPad can be annoying at times, but I mostly chalk that up to it being 10-inches. Being touted more as a Web browser and email device than an e-book reader, with the added potential that you'll be using it to edit office documents, typing on the device can quickly become a concern. First, realize that the iPad's no laptop--you won't be speed-typing, so it may not be conducive for heavy usage like typing lengthy emails or blogging, let alone writing this review. With that in mind, there are a couple approaches you can try to determine what typing method is right for you. The ideal method might also change depending on where you are and how the iPad is oriented when using it.
Typing Method #1: Thumbs
The most flexible approach is to type with your thumbs, which can be done whether sitting or standing. In portrait mode: grasp the bottom of your iPad with your palms facing each other, and your pinky fingers towards you for the iPad to rest on. To stabilize the iPad and prevent it from flopping over and falling out of your hands, stretch both of your index fingers upwards towards the top of the iPad as much as is comfortable. Using your thumbs, hunt & peck the keys on the virtual keyboard to your heart's content. Alternately, thanks to iOS 5, thumb-typing in landscape mode has now become painless. Normally, the keyboard is still docked to the bottom of the screen, and can be hard to reach the center of the keyboard with thumbs. However, if you press and hold the show/hide button on the bottom right corner of the keyboard. You can then choose to split the keyboard, with makes it easier for your thumbs to reach all keys, when the iPad is in landscape mode. You can also choose to undock the keyboard, which centers it vertically on the screen, instead of at the bottom.
Typing Method #2: Full Fingers
I've found this next method to be even more useful, though it requires you to be is best used while seated, with the iPad in resting in your lap, or on something soft, preferably with the iPad in landscape mode. With the iPad situated securely on your legs, you'll find it becomes easier to type with your full range of digits (fingers), like you would on a full sized physical keyboard. I find it slightly awkward, though, to hit the spacebar frequently with the side of my thumbs as you typically would on a physical keyboard. Still, whether you use your thumbs for the spacebar, or decide to use your fingers instead, you'll still find yourself typing slightly faster than with the thumbs-only hunt-and-peck method. Also, this typing method doesn't work well with the iPad resting any anything hard and flat like a desk or table, as the rounded backside of the iPad causes it to wobble uncontrollably while trying to type. However, if placement on a hard surface is a must, you might try putting something soft under the iPad to stabilize it.
Typing Method #3: Speech to Text
Now, Apple has brought us an even more convenient way to type, thanks to Siri! Just hit the microphone icon on the lower-left side of the keyboard, and start speaking. In most cases, your words will be transcribed into the currently active text field, with potentially mis-interpreted words underlined in blue. Just select any such word, and a list of possible alternates will pop up for your choosing. You can also speak most punctuation, such as 'period', 'open-paren', 'close-paren', 'hyphen' and more. At times though, network congestion does hinder the ability for this feature to work properly, so hopefully that will improve over time.
Other methods of typing on the iPad include the external keyboard, as well as third party speech-to-text transcription apps, but with Siri's voice transcription feature built in, the latter is no longer necessary.
===== Web Browsing =====
Alongside email, and spending money in the app store, Web browsing is one of Apple's biggest suggestions for using the device. The iPad was born to surf the Web, but content on the Web is often best viewed vertically, and the new Retina display's 2048x1536 resolution renders that content more crisply than ever, especially in portrait orientation (vertical). Working within the Safari Web-browsing app, the interface is swift and responsive.
However, not all your sites will work desirably on the iPad. Apple closed-mindedly refuses to support Adobe Flash on the iPad (as it has with the iPhone/iPod Touch). However, regardless of whether Apple likes it or not, Flash is being used around the Web, not only for advertising and video but for many other uses from graphs to product comparisons, but they don't seem to care anyway. The same lack of support is true of Java, AIR, Silverlight and others though. So expect some of your sites to only be supported to a certain degree, if not entirely in some cases. This can be a bit of a bummer until Flash starts being replaced with other technologies like HTML5's canvas technology, which is poised to take on some of Flash's most familiar capabilities. Alternately, you can jailbreak your iPad (when a jailbreak is released for the new model), which would allow you to circumvent the Flash limitation.
Granted, I don't often actually find myself surfing the web with the iPad for a few reasons. First of all, I prefer the display to be parallel with my face, but for the iPad that means craning my neck downwards and after a while that gets tiring. I also tend to do a lot of typing on the sites I use, and typing a lot on the iPad isn't really an enjoyable experience. There are however some keyboard alternatives if you decide that on-screen typing isn't for you. I just find it easier to work from a laptop when I'm on the go, and the 11" MacBook Air fits that bill simply enough for me. Finally, when I browse the Web (on my computer), I typically have more than 9 tabs open at any given time. I say that because the iPad's browser limits you to 9 tabs. If you rarely use more than 9 tabs when browsing the Web though, the iPad may be right for you.
===== Email, IM and Social Networking =====
Email on the iPad's Mail app is best viewed in landscape mode, as it allows you to see both your list of messages on the left as well as the selected message itself on the right. It also makes managing emails easier, such as moving messages to other folders (or to the trash). Another reason for landscape mode is to make typing those lengthy emails easier (using typing-method #2 mentioned above).
You can have multiple email accounts, including Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, MobileMe, Microsoft Exchange and other custom POP3 and IMAP accounts.
Important Note: With the growing number of portable web connecting devices, there is one concern I want to express on your behalf. When you close the Mail app, it continues running in the background, even after disconnecting from one WiFi hotspot and reconnecting to another. My concern with this is that if haven't set up your e-mail with a secure connection, and you connect to a public WiFi hotspot that a malicious user is monitoring, then the instant your mail app connects to the hotspot to check your e-mail, your e-mail credentials may be suddenly compromised. To avoid this you definitely want to be using some kind of secure connection for your e-mail if at all possible. Web-based email such as Gmail typically support this out of the box, and Gmail accounts are the easiest to setup on the iPad.
===== Media =====
If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, it's comforting to know that you audio/video experience will be similar on the iPad. You can watch videos via the YouTube app, which has been updated for the iPad to show YouTube HD videos beautifully. While the 2048x1536 resolution of the iPad is a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, not a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, the HD videos as well as other video (including downloads from the iTunes store) display just fine, albeit with black bars. Some may not like that though, but I don't see a wide-screen iPad coming to market for a while.
The Netflix and Hulu+ apps are great for members of those online video streaming services. Netflix videos stream quickly and even moving the play position back and forth in the timeline, the movie starts playing very quick without much time rebuffering the video. For those who want to watch live TV, I also recommend getting yourself a Slingbox and snagging the SlingPlayer app to stream live TV to your iPad. I do that, and it works quite well!
===== Photography and Video =====
The new iPad brings a phenomenal new high-quality 5MP camera to market that picks up where the iPad 2's half-megapixel camera left off. 5 lenses inside the aperture, and the more powerful processor, combine to create the sharpest iPad image yet. Even low-light pictures are better than ever, though there's still room for improvement there. There's also a new iPhoto app from Apple (for five bucks) that lets you organize, edit and share your photos right on the iPad!
As if that's not enough, there's built-in Picture Frame mode that lets you use the iPad's gorgeous Retina display to showcase your favorite photos, using clever transition effects like "Dissolve" with "Zoom in on Faces", or the nifty multi-photo "Origami" effect. In this review's comments, I'll include a helpful link to an article that shows you how to set up and use this mode.
Plus, you can now record full-HD (1080p) videos, instead of just the previous 720p videos. Though I must warn you, in you plan to shoot a lot of video with the iPad (or even the iPhone 4S), you'll want to go with a 32GB or 64GB model! These incredibly high-quality videos take up an incredibly large amount of storage space!
===== Productivity =====
Productivity carries numerous definitions. Usually its "getting something done" though some people tend to believe that it's the ability to focus without being distracted, which I see as one of the iPad's strengths because of its one-app-seen-at-a-time multitasking approach.
In the context of software though, applications that allow you to edit office documents are commonly referred to as productivity software. Apple's own suite of productivity apps, collectively called "iWork", has been re-created from the ground up just for the iPad. (Previously it was only available for Macs.) For work-minded individuals, it will probably one of the most popular uses of the iPad. There are three apps in all: Pages is a word processing app that allows you to create and edit word processing documents. Then there's Numbers, which allows you to create and edit spreadsheets. Finally there's Keynote, which lets you create or edit presentations and slideshows (including PowerPoint files). So far, I've found the latter to be pretty invaluable in giving personal presentations within small groups or one-on-one meetings.
However, there is a whole category of iPhone and iPad-specific apps dedicated to productivity, and they're naturally located under the category titled "productivity" in the categories section of the app store. Remember, any app that works for the iPhone will run on the iPad, but do note that there are some exceptional productivity apps made or updated for the iPad specifically. Some notable iPad-specific productivity apps include Bento (personal organization/information management), Things (project management), iTeleport (remote desktop/VNC), Layers (drawing/painting), and GoodReader (best PDF+ reader around).
===== Gaming =====
If you're like me, you probably don't have time for games. Ultimately, I still see the iPad as a productivity device more than as a gaming console. Regardless, the iPhone and iPad changed the game on that. Millions of people use their computers for gaming, and with the iPhone and iPod Touch having taken on a clear role as a gaming console that has been as revolutionary for mobile gaming as the Wii was for living-room gaming, it goes without saying that the iPad is, and will continue to be, a decent platform for playing games. Most Android games look terrible on tablet-sized screens, but iPad game developers have taken care of us with good quality iPad versions of most iPhone games. Board games and lap-friendly games are also perfect for the iPad. Meanwhile, I suspect that games heavily dependent on device-rotation and other accelerometer-based interaction may quickly wear you out do to the weight of the iPad. I got tired of playing EA's Need For Speed: Shift after about 5 minutes. Resting the iPad on my knee didn't help much.
===== Printing =====
Printing with the iPad is really hit-or-miss. The ability to print documents right from your iPad came along last year, with the iOS 4 update, but there are some caveats. Your printer must support "AirPrint" or, if yours doesn't, you might have some success working with some software called Printopia (if you have a Mac with a shared printer). Google AirPrint or Printopia for more info and device compatibility. From there, printing is easy. The iPad will walk you through the process of locating the printer and setting up the printing options the first time around. For more information about printing with your iPad, I'll linked to some informative off-site pages in the first comment for this review.
===== Security =====
With portable devices, there should always be some level of concern regarding the safety and protection of your data. The iPad deliver surprisingly well in the area, providing several layers of security to protect your data. You can require complex passcodes to securely access important information, encrypt data whether stored or transferred over WiFi, and even remotely wipe everything from your iPad instantly in the event of theft or loss (with subscription to Apple's MobileMe service).
===== Praise =====
+ Apple continues its trend of creating the best multi-touch experience around. Android doesn't even come close
+ The Retina Display - Phenomenal! Kudos for bringing it to the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod touch
+ High performance 1GHz A5X processor - provides performance power for cutting-edge gaming and multitasking
+ Multitasks like a dream with iOS 5 and the powerful dual-core central processor
+ Rear camera - 5 megapixel photography goodness, plus it can do 1080p HD video (up from 720p)
+ 4G LTE option - It's clearly the next big thing for improving connection speed when away from WiFi
===== Dissappointments =====
+ The 10" model is not very portable, it's often just too bulky and heavy to tote around or hold up for long durations
» UPDATE: a 7.9" iPad Mini has now been released, see my in-depth review of it here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R18KRNCDSS963I?tag=1pad-20&ie=UTF8
+ No true GPS - IP-based location just doesn't cut it, and GPS has no subscription fee or contract to use like assisted (cellular) GPS does
+ No 128GB model - would have been useful for high-res videos that look great on the Retina display, or hold more of those huge 1080p videos
+ No USB or SD card slot - for storage expansion, or more importantly, importing pics from your external camera to the new iPhoto app
+ Front facing camera - great for FaceTime communication, but it only works over WiFi, Apple isn't even letting it work over 4G!
===== The Bottom Line =====
If you already have an iPad 2, perhaps there isn't enough new to warrant purchasing the new model, unless you really want the Retina display. If you have the original iPad, it's probably worth getting though, seeing all the new additions that have carried over from the iPad 2.
Overall, the iPad still sets the pace for most other tablets in its 10" class, but I personally find all 10" tablets to be a bit bulky and somewhat unwieldy. Particularly, I find it awkward to use the iPad where I want to use it most: lying in bed, or sitting on the couch with it in my lap. On the couch, where a laptop is comfortable resting on your lap, with the screen parallel to your face, whereas the iPad needs to be angled up, and your head angled downward. This can be tiring after a while. In bed, it's just too heavy and bulky, and I've dropped the thing square on my face several times.
The solution? I started bugging Apple for a 7" model since the iPad was first released in 2010. Jobs said no, but, with all due respect, he's no longer calling the shots. UPDATE: Thankfully, Tim Cook saw the light and cooked up the iPad mini! The iPad mini is on par with other 7" tablets in size, but uses screen real estate more efficiently and thus sports a screen that's closer to 8" than 7". If 10" is comfortable for you, then the 3rd-gen iPad is definitely worth 5 stars. Personally though, I've found the iPad mini more to my liking. I've posted a more in-depth review of the iPad mini: http://www.amazon.com/review/R18KRNCDSS963I?tag=1pad-20&ie=UTF8 so feel free to browse on over to it and have a read. Some content from this review applies to the other, and vice versa, but there are plenty of differences.
In all honesty, the iPad really is the best 10" tablet around, and I would give no other tablet more than 3 stars. I'll continue to keep mine around simply because it does have it's uses, especially for Web and app development, and when not in use, it still makes a great digital picture frame with the aforementioned Picture Frame mode! (See the Photography and Video section)
However, for reading, surfing and all other entertainment and gaming uses, I've now transitioned over to using the iPad mini most of the time.
I hope you've found my hands-on review helpful. Feel free to keep the discussion going via the comments! :)