The new iPad 3 is here: with Apple promising this to be another revolutionary device, we're wondering if the brand can really keep exciting users with its new devices. Can a sharper screen and improved innards entice enough people to make the jump?
Confusingly, Apple's latest model has no number in its name this time around – a sure sign that it's here to stay, like the iPod and MacBook Pro.
The main upgrades over the iPad 2 come in the form of a much higher resolution screen (Apple's calling it a Retina Display, although it lacks the sharpness of the iPhone 4S) and the slight spec boost to an A5X CPU.
We've also got a new level of connectivity to bring faster on-the-go speeds than ever before, plus an improved camera that's been increased to 5MP.
Is it enough to warrant an upgrade? Will it bring the same wow-factor Apple is so well-known for? TechRadar's had a good ol' play with the new iPad 3, so let's dive in and find out:
You know the iPad 2? That's what this looks like. We mean, it's identical but for an extra 0.6mm thickness (up to 9.4mm) and around 50g of weight (650g for Wi-Fi only, 662g for the 4G model). Last year's cases will mostly still fit, though those with magnets to lock the screen may not work.
If you don't know what the iPad 2 looks like (and, really, where have you been?) it's a 9.7in glass screen with chic aluminium back. It's well-built with an exceptionally classy feel to it.
The new iPad 3's extra heft and thickness might put some people off – but it's only in side by side comparisons that the difference is noticeable. If you walked into an Apple store and picked it up, you wouldn't think it was a heavy tablet at all – although it is nearly 100g heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
As before, the new iPad 3 has a home button on the front so you can easily wake the screen. There's the rocker switch on the right edge to either mute the sound or lock the orientation – you choose, which is something users haven't been offered much from Apple in the past.
The Apple 30-pin connector remains the only physical socket on the iPad, besides the 3.5mm headphone jack. This means you need adaptors to connect a USB stick or camera's SD memory card, but then again we never really expected the Cupertino lot to make a huge jump to new connectivity options here.
Adaptors will work fine to move images or documents onto the iPad, but getting them off is a whole other matter if you don't have Wi-Fi. It's not impossible but is annoyingly difficult, and remains a bugbear for many iPad users – especially when Android offerings are so much more adept at such things.
New iPad 3: Retina Display
With the new iPad 3, Apple has decided the time is ripe for a brighter, sharper screen with a much higher resolution, and the impact is clear to see.
That higher resolution is 2,048 x 1,536 – lower PPI than the Retina screen on an iPhone 4S (264 compared to the 330 on offer with the smartphone), but designed to be held at 15 inches from your eyes (rather than 10), so Apple has plumped to keep the Retina name because you cannot, in its words, see the pixels at that distance.
A tablet like the iPad is mostly made up of the screen and this time around, what a screen it is. It's stunning, though the real surprise is how subtle it is.
The actual real-life impact of the improved display is the standout feature of the new iPad 3; it's crisper, sharper and a genuine and immediate pleasure to use because of this.
Last year's iPad 2 had a great display, but when you peer closely at letters or curved lines you can just pick out jagged edges. There are none of those on iPad 2012. Sometimes people ask about a new Apple product: is it really that much better? This time, it really is.
Just browsing through photos in the new iPhoto app is enough to leave the most hardened of screen nuts smiling.
It's genuinely beautiful – and a huge step on from not only its now cut-price predecessor, but also many of its Android rivals.
The impact of a new screen even on everyday tasks like browsing is impressive. The resolution shift makes websites sharper and easier to read, and lessens the need to zoom in on text.
Even with the full TechRadar site on screen the words are clear, making the whole experience nicer.
Of course, right now, not every app has been Retina-upgraded. Those that have look spectacular, though the rest still look more than fine thanks to upscaling, whether you're playing Infinity Blade or Angry Birds.
Not only has the resolution been increased, the colour saturation is boosted here, too. Not to the brash gaudiness that can bedevil AMOLED screens, but noticeably brighter than before.
There will be that darned crossover period as applications get re-tooled to take advantage of the higher resolution (such as Sky Sports' new application, which was confirmed to TechRadar as being developed to take advantage of the new Retina Display) but in two or three months' time, we'll be seeing some truly glorious applications that really look stunning at the larger screen size.
New iPad 3: Interface, media and gaming
Those of you that are playing around with an iPad 2 won't notice very much of an update with iOS 5.1 under the hood – it's not much of an update from iOS 5.
The A5 CPU at the heart of the iPad 2 is in some ways unchanged this time around. It's only the graphical part which has been upgraded, to quad-core, Apple says. This gives it the new moniker of A5X.
Well, although a faster CPU would have been nice, it's not that the iPad 2 was a slowcoach. With so many more pixels to deal with, the focus had to be on the graphics processor, and it's a great success.
In our highly scientific under-the-finger tests, the new iPad 3 performed admirably. We couldn't fault it for response time or ability to register an input, and no matter how many applications we fired up and shut down, there was nary a hint of slowdown – although on occasion the app itself takes its time to be ready to use.
Apple doesn't state how much RAM its iPads have, but the rumour is that the new iPad 3 has been doubled from 512MB to 1GB, which would also explain its nimbleness.
One point to note: the new iPad 3 decided to get pretty hot on more than one occasion; not so scalding that it couldn't be held, but enough to provide a touch of consternation when there was no obvious reason for the device to be working so hard.
The real test will come with those new Retina-friendly apps we're looking forward to come streaming through the App Store, though movies are spectacular on the new iPad 3: a 1080p movie downloaded from iTunes gleamed and played with buttery smoothness.
The Retina Display and the quad-core graphical processor combined offer up a real chance for Apple to come out with a heavyweight in the portable gaming market, and we think it's gone a long way to being a real contender.
We spent a little time with the dreadfully named, but beautifully visual, Sky Gamblers Air Supremacy. You can swoop through the air in stunning visuals and the processor is powerful enough to manage it with not even a hint of stutter.
Apple suggested in the launch that people said they preferred gaming in an iPad. While we don't agree with this, the enhanced resolution means that this won't disappoint those used to the visuals on a PS3 or Xbox 360.
It's games like that this that best show the progression of the new iPad 3 over the iPad 2 – the changes may have been predicted, but the overall impact on the device is genuinely impressive when you actually get the new tablet in your hands.
New iPad 3: Camera and Apps
The camera is a big upgrade – from a less-than-1MP sensor in the iPad 2 before to 5MP sensor now. There's still no flash, but then this is hardly the shape, weight or size to make it a natural replacement for your DSLR.
And anyway, this camera just sucks in the light thanks to a wide-open aperture (f/2.4), a backside-illuminated sensor and a lens structure borrowed from the iPhone 4S.
CAMERA FOOL: Look at the camera app, now back to me, then back at the camera app, then back to ME
Video recording was the priority last year, and this is now upgraded to 1080p capture.
Quality is very strong and the built-in image stabilisation is deeply impressive – our best bouncy walk should have made for unwatchable footage but the new iPad shrugged it off.
Stills are decent, with great detail – and we were massively impressed with the speed with which the new iPad 3 was able to move from snap to snap, although it's nowhere near the speed of the iPhone 4S when it comes to photography on the go.
The lack of manual options to change elements like resolution will frustrate many though, despite the new iPad 3 not really being a device for photography. The camera decides how much detail you need and you can't affect this. Still, you get the option to downsize when you email images.
PHOTO BOOTH: Look at this face. And all the ways you can play with the photo...
The front facing camera is a decent option for stills – we think that it should, in some ways, be as powerful as the primary camera as so many portrait shots will be taken on the new iPad 3 that the same clarity would be beneficial.
Is the new iPad 3 camera a real selling point for the tablet? In our opinion, no; and neither should it be when it comes to this kind of device. Apple has made the iPad camera as good as it needs to be, so should you need to take video or a photo on the go with your tablet, the results will rarely disappoint.
Apps and storage
The onboard applications are still fairly sparse with the new iPad 3, which is understandable when there are over 200,000 available to download on the App Store.
There are some new options on offer here: for instance, Dictation for helping transcription when you're at a busy conference or can't be bothered with all that tapping on the screen business to input messages.
It works very well in practice – the sad news that Siri is (inexplicably) not present on the new iPad 3 is somewhat offset here, as the accuracy is high enough for us to give it a big tick.
However, there's another, darker, side to apps on the new iPad 3 that we think will give you pause for thought; especially if you're considering only buying a 16GB new iPad 3 variant…
Downloads are going to be a big part of life with the iPad. There are already 1080p movies available on iTunes, with more titles being upgraded daily.
The who-was-Shakespeare movie, Anonymous turned out to be a 4.4GB download. Since the maximum capacity iPad is still 64GB, it'll be easy to fill up the iPad fast. The clamour for a 128GB iPad is likely to start now.
Big downloads can only occur over Wi-Fi and if you have a 2GB download cap from your broadband provider you're likely to bust it with one TV show.
And remember that although the box may say Wi-Fi + 4G, in the UK you're only going to have 3G speeds.
In the right place, you could find 21Mbps, or even more, which is great, but 4G LTE isn't here yet and when it arrives in the UK won't be compatible with this iPad.
Take heart from the fact that routinely fast 4G LTE signals are still far from the norm across the US.
New iPad 3: Verdict
It would have been nice to have more new features, a faster CPU and Siri (which is surprisingly absent, though the best bit of it, Dictation, is present and works extremely well for a number of tasks).
But more hardware upgrades in addition to the Retina Display would have made it impossible to keep the price the same as last year's. In fact, it's surprising Apple has managed to stabilise the price with such an expensive extra component as the new screen.
The new display is enough to take your breath away. The improved camera is a bonus, as are software programs like iPhoto – which makes use of the display and the camera effectively.
The connection speeds will prove useful as networks have more super-fast masts in place, though incompatible 4G will be disappointing in a year or two for all UK dwellers. Overall, though, this is far and away the best iPad Apple has made.
The thickness increase, as well as the weight, is an odd choice for a company that prides itself on design in the way that Apple does.
The 64GB model is quickly becoming the must-have version of the new iPad 3, as the app sizes are going to start swallowing up swathes of storage thanks to that HD-level screen. And at that capacity, you're going to need to part with £659 if you want to play it safe.
And that's before the contract price too: you'll be forking out £25 a month for two years, plus an extra £350-odd upfront, to own the larger capacity new iPad 3.
The heat issue was also slightly disconcerting on occasion – we've seen it before but it can really affect battery life if left unchecked.
With a wealth of wonderful apps, a more powerful processor, far superior connectivity and a better camera, this is already a step up.
But it is that display that makes the new iPad stand out from the crowd. It's a beautiful, welcome addition that takes this device back to the top of the tablet tree, and it is likely to bring a massive slice of business to an Apple store near you.
It feels futile to berate any Apple product for having an eye-watering price – if users are going to buy something in record numbers, surely the cost is spot on.
We do feel there should be a touch more awesome for a 64GB device at that price tag, but in the burgeoning tablet market Apple is nowhere near as out of touch as it is in the smartphone arena.
In short: if you've got an iPad 2, or don't really care about visuals, then you should stick with / purchase the now much cheaper pad.
But we recommend you probably don't look at the upgraded model – once you've gazed adoringly into the Retina Display, played any of the high-power games or watched a Full HD movie in your hands, you'll struggle to not hate any tablet that isn't the new iPad 3.