March 16th, a day that saw huge lines of hungry techies, shuffling towards the bright glowing light of Apple Store Signs around the world.
I was one such creature. Rising early to reserve my spot in the line. Fuelled by free tea, coffee and cookies from the overly friendly Apple staff.
Four hours later, I was finally chosen by a man in blue, and guided towards the light. I tentatively handed over my tickets (that were handed to me two hours earlier) and after a few minutes, there they were. Two white caskets of wonder.
I hastily pushed them into my knapsack, and left the store. Shielding my identity with my hoodie, I scurried through the shopping mall back to my car like a man on the run.
The journey back to my house seemed like an eternity. Every red light was against me. I imagined the sound of Angel song and beams of rainbow light being unleashed from the white caskets. Then paranoia set in – that black Mercedes has been following me for miles!
After shaking the Mercedes, I finally rounded the corner to my street, parked up in the drive and sprinted to the door.
I took a carving knife from the knife block in the Kitchen, and with the care of a surgeon I free’d the white casket of its clear film. I was moments away. This was it. My life flashed before me. My heart was racing. I lifted the lid…
The ‘new’ iPad Review
Of course, there were no rainbows, and no Angel song. In fact what lay there inside its box was – on the face of it – a carbon copy of the iPad 2. Anyone expecting a radical design will be disappointed. But, we all new this. What we all want to know is ‘what is under the hood?’, and ‘how good is that new display?’
After migrating my settings and Apps from my iPad 2 through iTunes, I was ready to put it to the test.
Naturally, the first of these had to be the new ‘retina’ display. Could it really be that good? Well, the short answer is yes, it’s fantastic.
I was worried that after having the iPhone 4 and 4S, the retina display on the new iPad would have lost its wow factor… but boy I was wrong.
If anything it’s better and more obvious on the bigger screen. Fire up an iBook or a web page and it’s immediately apparent. Shown side-by-side with the same page on an iPad 2 the difference is as clear as day.
This example shows a cropped section of our website viewed on the iPad 2 (left side) and the new iPad (right side). The screenshot from the new iPad is captured at the new resolution of 2048 x 1536, while the iPad 2 is captured at 1024×768. To compare them side-by-side I scaled up the iPad 2 version to match that of the new iPad and, as you can see, there is quite a bit of detail lost.
It is of course still readable on the iPad 2, but I know which one I’d rather read.
Photographs look great on the new iPad. While we can’t all take shots like those demoed by Apple at the keynote last week, as long as you have decent 5 Megapixel and up camera, and shoot in good light then they will look better on the iPad screen than a photographic print. The new screen also seems to have an improved colour range, adding more saturation to photographs. It seems their were rainbows after all!
Powering this new retina screen is a beefed up version of the iPad 2 GPU. Now sporting 4 processors instead of 2, it allows everything you view on the screen to be at the new 2048 x 1536 resolution, without a hit on performance.
3D Games benefit the most from the new GPU. Allowing for not only a sharper more realistic image, but also to drive more shaders, lighting effects and increased polygon rendering.
Many existing titles have been updated to support the new iPad. These included ChAIR’s ‘Infinity Blade 2′, Firemint’s ‘Real Racing 2′ and Gameloft’s ‘Modern Combat 3′.
These all benefit from a far sharper image, and in the case of Real Racing 2 a few extra graphical effects – including a new photo mode a la the PGR series.
However, it will be new games built for the new device from the ground up that will make the most of the increase in graphical horsepower. EPIC games demoed ‘Infinity Blade Dungeons’ at the APple keynote last week which showed a tonne of effects such as depth of filed and bloom lighting, all while rendering in realtime at the increased resolution.
Namco’s ‘Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy’ was also on show. Released today to coincide with the iPad launch, it too makes most of the new GPU, delivering crisp and detailed terrain, and enhanced lighting effects over that of the iPad 2.
Above are three examples showing the difference between the visual fidelity of each game when compared side-by-side on the new iPad and iPad 2.
Supporting the GPU is an upgraded memory chip. Now at a full 1GB it’s exactly double that of the iPad 2, and no doubt allows the same amount of apps to multitask, despite the increase in resolution.
While the new GPU and increased memory impresses, it’s a little disappointing to find that the CPU as been left untouched. Clocked at 1GHz with two cores, it’s exactly the same as the iPad 2. Many were expecting a quad core setup like the GPU. But I guess we’ll just have to wait for the A6 chip for that.
Rounding off the new iPad in the power stakes is the new battery. Driving that retina display takes some serious grunt, and so you’d expect the battery life to take a hit. However, Apple have managed to cram a battery that holds much more juice than the previous iPad 2 battery, and into the same space. Giving you the same 10 hour performance as before.
Like an iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 though, there is some noticeable heat coming from the back of the new iPad, particularly after playing graphics intensive games. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something that the iPad 1 and 2 did not suffer from at all.
To take advantage of the new sharper, more colourful and brighter retina display, Apple have upgraded the rear facing camera. Now called an iSight camera, it boasts a much improved 5.0 Megapixels and a better overall lens for higher quality photographs. Quite why they called it iSight is anyones guess. It has nothing to do with the old iSight cameras for the Mac.
Low light/indoor shots are much improved, and it behaves very much like the camera in the iPhone 4. The example below shows the same subject shot indoors with no natural light, with both the iPad 2 and new iPad cameras.
My biggest gripe with the camera is the front facing ‘FaceTime’ camera. It hasn’t been updated over the iPad 2 version, and even for FaceTime calls looks terrible. Not only does the lens make those that gaze into it slightly distorted, but it is no better than a run-of-the-mill webcam from the last decade.
For me – and if they could only choose one – then they upgraded the wrong camera. I really can’t see anyone using a cumbersome iPad to take photographs (unless they really have no phone or camera to hand – which I doubt) and so the main use of a camera will be for FaceTime calls.
Video is improved too, this time allowing for full 1080p video. The iPad and iMovie App are great for on the go editing, but once again I doubt many people will use it as their main device for filming video.
It’s rare that you will ever use the device to listen to music or other audio intensive apps – such as games – with anything less than a good pair of headphones. However, whilst playing Sky Gamblers on both an iPad 2 and the new iPad, I noticed that the speaker in the new iPad exhibited a more basier and throatier mix, unlike the more tin-like sound on the iPad 2.
Beside the retina display and upgraded GPU. The final big feature of the new iPad is 4G (LTE) support. In the UK, and much or Europe, 4G won’t roll out fully for another year. Bearing that in mind I didn’t bother picking up a 4G unit, and opted for the WiFi model instead (Many 3G services in the UK offer free tethering to your smartphone).
However, I hear that the new 4G flies along at 20-30 Mbps speeds in main cities in America (that’s faster than the average home broadband speed).
Which ever device you choose – be it WiFi or 4G – I still believe that the iPad is the best device for web browsing – giving desktops, laptops and smartphones a large punch to the face. And don’t give me that flash argument either, because the majority of video content is available in h.264 and the best sites out there use HTML5 for smoother and more interactive web experiences (Adobe are phasing out flash in favour of HTML5).
So, is the new iPad everything we had hoped for and more? Well, yes and no. In a way it’s everything the iPad 2 should have been. The jump from iPad 1 to 2 seemed a big one, mainly due to the new design. If the iPad 2 had been the same form factor it might not have provoked so many existing users to upgrade. With the new iPad though – and at a quick glance – it’s less clear what’s so new about it. The screen obviously speaks for itself, but for the uninitiated it looks the same when in a box on a store shelf.
I remember hearing rumbles that this could have been called the iPad pro. In a way that is what this new iPad is. For the majority of people, the iPad 2 will be more than enough power and functionality for their needs, and leaving the new iPad to appeal to the hardcore. People such as artists and photographers, where the quality of the image is paramount. Or, hardcore gamers, where increased realism can be just as important to them as the gameplay. It’s here where the new iPad shines. That retina screen is truly mesmerising. Like the move from 3GS to iPhone 4, I won’t be able to look back!