With lines starting to form around the world for the launch of the new iPad, journalists with access to review units of the device have been given the go-ahead by Apple to publish their impressions of the device. With a Retina display described as “glowing paper”, same 10 hours of battery life and faster 4G connectivity, the new iPad is off to very positive reviews.
Below, we’ve collected some key points from the reviews that have been published today. Make sure to follow the source links, and look for more coverage of the new iPad on MacStories later this week.
On the Retina display
The Retina display is, quite possibly, the biggest reason to consider an upgrade to the new iPad. Reviews focus on the incredible quality of the display, which makes for sharper text, more vibrant colors, and an overall better visual experience when compared to the iPad 2.
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 effect is even more dramatic with photos and video. Pictures reveal small details that simply weren’t there before. A photo that looks just fine on an iPad 2 looks almost undefinably better on the new iPad. It’s the same image, but all of a sudden, there’s much more information there—small textures and tiny details that were previously omitted.
My epiphany came when I placed my iPad 2 next to the new model, with the same text on the screen. Letters and words that had seemed sharp on the older model five minutes earlier suddenly looked fuzzier.
Even if you have perfect vision, indulge me here for a second. You know when you go in for an eye exam and you’re asked to look at a combination of letters and numbers on a chart against a far wall? You read the first few lines, then realize you actually can’t go any further. Then you get prescribed glasses (or contacts) and you can all of a sudden read every letter and number. And even the ones you could read before are now so much clearer.
That’s what it’s like looking at the new iPad versus the older iPads.
On the A5X processor
The new iPad’s dual-core A5X isn’t a revolution coming from the iPad 2’s dual-core A5, at least in terms of initial impressions with apps that haven’t been updated to take advantage of it. With quad-core graphics, however, expect a lot more games and apps to gain powerful new functionalities soon.
That power comes from the X factor in the A5X processor—a new quad-core graphics engine. And sure enough, the third-generation iPad blows away every other iOS device in terms of graphics performance. In our tests using the GLBench 3D graphics testing app, the third-generation iPad could draw a complex 3D scene at the full frame rate of its display, 60 frames per second, without breaking a sweat. And in GLBench offscreen tests, which aren’t constrained by the display’s frame rate, the third-generation iPad had a frame rate 1.6 times that of the iPad 2 (and 13 times that of the original iPad).
The fact that the new iPad touts an A5X SoC versus a completely new generation of chip may give some buyers pause, but in my testing I see no evidence that the processor in the iPad isn’t every bit as powerful as it should be. While there’s not some obvious speed boost in comparison to the previous generation iPad, there’s certainly no stutter, stagger, or delay when using the tablet. Apps opened and closed quickly and without issue, app switching was efficient, and graphically-intensive games played smoothly on the device.
The new iPad shoots better pictures, but don’t expect 4S-quality photos. The front-facing camera is still VGA.
Apple says it has borrowed the camera technology and optics from the iPhone 4S for the new iPad, though still the 5-megapixel images the tablet is capable of do lag behind the 8-megapixel examples from the smartphone. There’s more visible noise and chromatic aberrations at full zoom, though the quality is far, far better than any stills the iPad 2 can achieve. You also get face recognition for up to ten people per frame, automatically adjusting focus and exposure, but the camera app UI itself is no more complex than before.
From the reviews, LTE seems fast, at least for those who have been able to try it in the US.
Yesterday, I clocked the new iPad using LTE at over 40 mbps down and 20 up on Verizon’s network. That’s about twice as fast as my current home cable broadband. For good measure, I tethered the new iPad to my iPhone 4S to compare it to Verizon’s 3G speeds. It’s about 40x faster for downloading.
One other slight downside which I have to assume is related to either the battery or the LTE functionality is that unlike previous iPad models, the new iPad does get noticeably warm in the lower left corner after prolonged use. It’s never hot, just warm. But again, I never noticed this on other models.
In terms of raw speeds, I saw downloads hit more than 22Mbps, while upstream data topped out around an outrageous 21Mbps — and that was in mid-town Manhattan. Of course, a lot of this depends on your coverage and how many people around you are on the network. One other small thing: I did notice the device getting a bit warm when I was using LTE for extended periods of time, but that’s pretty common for most 4G products I’ve tested.
On iPhone apps in 2x mode
It appears iPhone apps running in “1x mode” on the new iPad can use Retina assets, but they still look pixelated if brought in 2x mode.
Interestingly, it’s not just native third-party iPad apps that are improved with the Retina Display technology. iPhone titles used in the “2x doubling” mode look considerably better than on either of the previous iPad versions, with the new smoothing technology being brought to bear to make them feel less obviously magnified.
If you’re running an iPhone app on the new iPad, it will display it in high-resolution Retina detail—but in a small compatibility window in the center of the iPad screen. (You can, as always, tap a 2x button to make iPhone apps bigger but more pixelated.)
The new iPad goes on sale on Friday, March 16th, at 8 A.M. local time in 10 countries.