Review: iPad third generation

When Apple’s iPad event ended last week, I walked out of the venue, spoke to Phil Schiller for a couple of minutes and went into a meeting with Apple executives. That’s where I picked up my new iPad and Apple TV.

I know everyone will be speed testing the processors and graphics chips, but I’d like to take a different approach and give you some information on how I actually use the iPad. My testing lab is my life, and how a device fits into that determines if I continue to use it or not.

I’ve been using the iPad for a week now and I’m so impressed. From the first time I turned it on and saw the Retina display, I was in awe of how good it was. Trust me, even if you watched the introduction video, you still have no idea how good this display is. You really do have to see it to believe it.

I struggled after the event to put the right words together to describe the display and a week later I’m still lost for the proper analogy. The only thing I can think of that comes close is comparing it to the first time you ever saw an HDTV. Remember how startling it was to go from one of those giant standard definition projector TVs to an HDTV? That’s what this is like.

The Retina display will make you do a double-take the first time you see it. Even on the home screen, it’s crisp and clear — you can notice a huge difference, even from the iPad 2.

So what does that mean in practical terms for me as a user? Plenty. Especially for the way people use the iPad. Granted, I’m not much of a photographer, but when I’m editing pictures in iPhoto I like to be able to see what I’m doing. I want those edits to properly reflect what I’m seeing on the screen. With the Retina display, they do.

Movies are the same — crystal clear and the colors are so vibrant. I can’t think of any reason I wouldn’t watch a movie on the iPad, especially when I’m traveling. I have my iTunes account and Netflix on the device, so movies are only a tap away.

For me, the real benefit comes with the clarity of text. I know that may sound strange, but I use the iPad to read quite a bit of text everyday. Crispness of the text matters to me.

If a device is a pleasure to use, you will keep using it. That’s a simple theory, but also very true. If the words on an iPad are fuzzy or difficult to read, you probably won’t use it that often.

The iPad makes it a pleasure to read whether you zoom in or use it in its normal mode.

I actually don’t read many books on my iPad. I read for my job all day, so I play guitar to relax — the last thing I want to do is read more. (Although my wife said she planned on buying a book and reading on the iPad. I think I’m about to lose this iPad).

I read my RSS feeds on Reeder, look through my saved articles on Instapaper, read Web sites and sometimes even post stories to The Loop. The iPad 2 did a fine job allowing me to do all these things, but the new iPad is just that much better.

Of course the iPad isn’t just about the Retina display. It also has 4G LTE, which is amazingly fast connection to have on a mobile device, a 5-megapixel iSight camera and the ability to record 1080p video.

I love having the ability to capture quality content on the iPad. Having a camera to take pictures and video is one thing, but having a quality camera is quite another. Knowing that the media you take home will be so good that you can make an HD movie or produce a slideshow is a huge plus. It’s the person with the iPad that won’t be saying, “excuse the quality, I didn’t have my good camera with me.”

I also really like AirPlay. This gives you the ability to play content from the iPad on your HDTV through the Apple TV. I played music, videos, trailers and all kinds of things on my TV directly from the iPad.

When you do this with iTunes Store movies, the screen goes blank on the iPad, so it’s not possible to watch it on both, but I don’t care about that, I want it on my TV anyway.

When you play media on your TV from the iPad, you can control the volume and playhead from the iPad. It’s like the iPad becomes your remote control. It really was cool to use.

One of my favorite features of the iPad isn’t really a feature of the device itself — iCloud. Setting up an Apple device is so easy these days with iCloud.

Apple walks you through all of the main settings when you start the iPad and then you just enter in your iCloud ID. Like magic, all of your contacts, iCloud email and calendars are there waiting for you. What’s more, they will automatically sync if you make a change on your Mac, iPhone or other iOS device.

iCloud goes even deeper than that. It’s my login for the iTunes Store and the App Store accounts. After logging in, you can browse through all of the apps that you bought and download the ones you want all at once. You can do the same for music, but I use iTunes Match, so it’s even better.

With iTunes Match, I don’t sync music to my iPad, I have access to all of my music. Thousands of songs and videos, instantly. Anytime, anywhere. That’s the way a service should be.

So, what did I like about the iPad? Simple — the experience. Nobody in the market today can touch the Apple experience.

  • Matt

    Jim, could you possibly comment on your experience with the storage capacity? I have a 64 gb iPad (1) and I never came close to filling it, so I went with a 16 gb new iPad. I failed to consider, however, the increased footprint of retina display apps and am now worried a bit about my choice.

    • I have all my apps installed, iTunes Match music, etc. and I’m using 5GB.

      • Guest

        But that’s because you’re using all the old apps intended for standard def iOS devices. Once the apps all start being redesigned with the expanded resolution of the new iPad in mind, they’re going to blow out sizewise.

        • Guest

          No, most apps have more code than images. They’ll get bigger, but not a lot.

          Games will get quite a bit bigger, but even then, GL games are made up of smaller textures projected on objects. They’re not all full screen images.

          • You got it backwards.  Code is tiny compared to images.  Even in my own pretty lame apps which don’t use very many custom graphics, the graphics still outweigh the code by a huge margin.

        • lucascott

          Or not. Not all apps are slapped together from tons of images and nothing else like the magazine apps often are. And not all of them decided to add tons more music etc like the Apple ones did. 

          I think the rest of my apps that have updated went up perhaps 5-10 MB, 20MB tops

      • Kevin

        To be frank, the insinuation by that article that retina graphics will make apps five times larger is completely false. The display has four times the number of pixels. That means the only way an app could be five times the size is if it was composed of absolutely no code whatsoever, and used uncompressed images. Neither of those two things are true.

        If I make a 2x version of an image, and then save it as a lossless compressed format – e.g. png – most images in iPad apps are pngs, then they will not be 4 times the size of the original. If I used uncompressed TIFFs, then they would be. But only a fool would do that.

        Also, for most apps, there are not code changes required to make an app Retina-capable. For some apps, there may be a small amount of extra code.

        So take into account compressed images, and the fact that code, which does not get significantly larger, there is no way an app can get five times larger just by supporting a Retina display.

        Notice the apps used in the example – Keynote, Numbers, and the largest, iMovie. These apps got new features and new assets – Keynote got more themes, iMovie got more theme video (that’s why it saw the largest increase). All got more features. That’s why they got bigger.

        Yes, you will see some apps get bigger, depending on how much images they use, but other than say, a desktop photo catalogue or similar, you won’t see an app size increase of anywhere near 5 times.

    • benjitek

      Don’t open it — sell it on eBay and get a better one.  If you don’t, you’ll always wish you did 🙁

    • lucascott

      Whether it will be an issue depends on the apps you use. Many of them are vector graphics and will be adjusted on the fly. Others are many text and there’s little data size difference between this or that font. 

      it’s the high image stuff that might catch you up. And the Apple creative apps. They used this time to add a bunch more features like the trailers in iMovie and that is bloating up the apps a bit. A few of the magazine apps just pasted together big images so they will be bloated if they keep up that trick rather doing proper text and image files. 

      I would take a few minutes and look at the apps you use and what their size on your current iPad is versus the size listed on the store (if they have been updated). If you are still worried, return it. 

  • Excellent review, Jim; it was very concise and answers the “What can it do?” question a lot of people might have if they’ve been contemplating buying the new iPad and have never owned an iPad (or any tablet) before. The practicality of your review definitely makes it better than some of the other pieces that’re being published.

  • VGISoftware

    You’re a good writer, Jim. You shoot from the hip, whether you like or dislike the subject. That’s what I like and it’s what I read The Loop for everyday.

    Thanks for describing the new iPad from your own point of view as a happy user. I don’t miss the techno-babble.

    I’m anxious to get one–not that the previous models weren’t worth it. My wife has an iPad2, and I like it a lot. But, hopefully she’ll let me use the new one from time to time. 😉

  • MysteriousRacerX

    Good stuff Jim!

    The benchmarks have been circulating on some sites (with the expected “wah way this doesn’t have a faster CPU [than the iPad 2]), so this is really refreshing and more meaningful take on the product.  I’m also a huge consumer of text based content on our iPad, and shoot a ton of photos, so the display improvement sounds perfect for my use.

    I think my amazing wife has one on the way for my BDay this month, plus our 4 year old has kind of taken over the current iPad so she knows I’m missing some “pad time” 🙂  Coming from a 16GB 1st gen, this should be a really serious upgrade!  I already bought iPhoto for iOS but have only been able to use it on my 4S so far, can’t wait to see it on the new iPad.

    BTW, enjoyed the heck out of your guest appearance (er, guest audio?) on The Talk Show.

  • Frank

    Damn I hate reviews like this one! Why? ’cause it makes me want the new iPad that much more  🙂 Jim, can I ask you which of the big 3 you’re connected to for LTE? How stable is the connection and do you see tangible speed increases?

  • Manish Bansal

    Hi Jim, can we turn off the LTE? If so, how much better is the battery life? I am assuming it would be substantial since the battery itself is now of much larger capacity.

    • Manish Bansal

      Sorry. I just remembered. It’s 10 hours only with LTE turned off. But still, it’s weird how much battery that retina display takes.

      • It has twice the number of LED backlights plus needs to power the new GPU, so LTE actually doesn’t make that much of a difference compared to WiFi. I also suspect that they are far more aggressive about turning the LTE chip off compared to phones since it’s only used for data and not voice.

    • yes there’s a toggle for LTE in the

  • wish they would release higher capacity as my 64GB is always full :'(

    • Austin M James .com

      stop downloading porn then.

  • Great review Jim, a much different look from jumping into a bunch of technical nonsense that means nothing to most folks. Now, I can’t wait to go stand in line at Dartmouth Crossing, lol.

  • Wouldn’t it be great if some of that 70% bigger battery could’ve been “reallocated” to increasing battery life to say 12-15 hours, perhaps on an aggressive powersave setting that dropped processor speeds and resolution to iPad2 levels (letting you go back up to power-guzzle-mode when on mains power, etc?)

    • Walt French

      Yeah: Real World Engineering is all about tradeoffs. Apple looked at more life, bigger battery, better resolution and chose #3.

      Makes sense in that the latter will please users every minute they use the device, while the latter will be minor nuisances at best (especially, since nobody else will be out there bragging about their 16 hour, but crappier display, life).

      Yes, some people will notice the heavier design, too. Suppose that we go out on a limb and forecast that Apple will produce a Kindle-Killer 8″ device, and that part of that will be a lesser battery life and less-than-fabulous screen. It’ll pose a conundrum for would-be Kindle buyers, but once people settle on an Apple, would they actually opt for the lighter weight device? We’ll see. I think.

      We all have different needs, but I’m hard-pressed to figure out why Apple should’ve chosen differently, even for somebody on vacation who’ll be off the grid for many hours.

  • Mark Bare

    Another Applehead… there is nothing Apple has put out that wasn’t already available. Smart marketing and a flashy package do not make for the best technology… especially when it comes as such a high cost.

    • Please tell me where I can buy a tablet with a comparable resolution.

    • Another Applehater… spewing out nonsense, pretending to be fact. Stupid comments posted on random websites don’t change the facts… Unless you care to provide some actual data for what you consider to be better technology at a better price.

      Please inform us. We’re waiting.

      Unless you’re just some fly-by who likes to troll Apple-related websites.

    • Citation needed.

      Seriously. Tell us what you think is better technology which is available for a cheaper price.

      Or pack your shit up and head back to Trollville.

  • Martin Tyler

    Great review, until I got to this bit..

    “With iTunes Match, I don’t sync music to my iPad, I have access to all of my music. Thousands of songs and videos, instantly. Anytime, anywhere. That’s the way a service should be.”

    Do you live in a world of wifi everywhere and/or perfect 3G/4G reception and no data cap? Maybe you do, but I don’t think that is very common.

  • Great review Jim. I’m counting hours until our new iPad arrives tomorrow.

    After comparing coverage maps, we decided to go with Verizon for the greater LTE footprint. But it is a close call – AT&T’s “4G” is in practice is often nearly as fast, and if we can move the unlimited SIM over from our iPad 2 that would be amazing.

    We did a blog post yesterday using our app ‘Coverage?’ to directly overlay and compare AT&T and Verizon’s LTE and “4G” coverage maps. Screenshots posted here:

    FYI – if you want to do your own coverage map comparisons, you can get the app here:

  • dvdphn

    So, now all they have to do is improve the audio to go with that amazing display right? 😉

    Even though Apple never focuses on the speakers. 🙁

    It took me a while to figure out what needs improvement,

    since pretty much everything else seems top of the line… And/or will obviously get better as technology gets more affordable, (processor, storage capacity, RAM, camera quality).

    Sorry to be looking into the future, but I like weighing the possibilities, (like when I bought my 2nd gen iPod Shuffle, much better form factor than the 1st gen, still has the play controls vs the tie-clip 3rd gen, and in my opinion, has better ergonomics than the 4th gen).

    I’m hoping next year’s iPad will have A6 processor, (even though it’s not really important), increased storage capacity to 128 GB, the iPhone 4S’ 8 MP camera. All the while keeping the 10 hour battery life, probably sticking with 1 GB of RAM, and similar form factor, (there really isn’t much you can change about a slab of glass, hope Sir Jonathan Ive proves me wrong).

    And for USA people, probably have some type of unified 4G LTE antenna/chip/whatever so it’ll make for easier production, (like what they did with the iPhone 4S). Doesn’t affect me though, I live in Canada. 😀

    Optional extras being… LED flash for rear camera, and noise cancelling microphone, (not likely).

    Maybe Apple will surprise us, but it’s definitely way too early to tell. (Didn’t mention anything about software because there will always be new apps.)

    It’s just nice to speculate where Apple is going, and how much better the iPad can get.

    • lucascott

      I picked up my preorder on the way to work today and noticed that the speaker is actually very loud compared to the previous ones. My only wish is that it was stereo. Or could at least push out stereo to external speakers that aren’t going through the headphone jack. 

      • dvdphn

        Glad to hear that. Hope to get the chance to try one out on display this weekend. 🙂

  • I can’t wait to see the new display.

    While the new iPad may not be a huge jump from the iPad 2, if you own an original version, it will definitely be worth it.

  • m13

    I worry about storage, a lot. I hate to stuff my iPhone and iPad 2 with bloated universal (and iPad) apps after the updates.

  • Titwank

    FYI The opening paragraph makes you sound like a huge cunt.

    • lucascott

      And your language in your comment makes you sound like a bigger one. 

  • Dgershuny123

    Love to hear more about you thoughts on Apple TV… Will it offer options to disconnect from the cable monopolies? Please?

  • Damon Aldora

    I am very happy with my new iPad. I had upgraded from a first generation iPad, so there was a huge improvement. I have the white 16GB LTE iPad, and it does fine for me. Having LTE has been great. I was at the airport a few hours early last week, and I just brought out my iPad and started watching live TV using the DISH Remote Access app. I use this app a lot, and it comes in handy. I usually use it while on lunch at DISH where I work, and it was nice being able to catch up on my shows while waiting for my flight. The Retina Display makes everything look crisp and clear, and I’m very happy with my purchase!