Five non-surprises from first 'new iPad' reviews

Ahead of Friday's third-generation iPad release, the first group of reviews is out. CNET rounds down five not-so-surprising findings among them.

Apple's third-generation iPad.
Apple's third-generation iPad. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Ahead of the release of the third-generation iPad on Friday, the first crop of reviews has arrived.

The overwhelming consensus is positive: most say that if you liked the iPad 2, you'll like the new iPad even more. Reviewers also heralded the new device's screen, improved camera, and performance with 4G networks.

After culling through all of them, here are five unsurprising conclusions to chew on ahead of making a purchasing decision.

The new iPad's "Retina Display"
The new iPad's "Retina Display" Josh Lowensohn/CNET

1. The new screen looks good
Joshua Topolsky over at The Verge called the new display "outrageous":

"It's stunning. It's incredible. I'm not being hyperbolic or exaggerative when I say it is easily the most beautiful computer display I have ever looked at. "

Walt Mossberg at AllThingsD compared it to a medical exam--a good one that is:

"Using the new display is like getting a new eyeglasses prescription--you suddenly realize what you thought looked sharp before wasn't nearly as sharp as it could be."

M.G. Siegler at TechCrunch made a similar comparison, saying the new screen will make you "cringe" when looking at older models:

"Perhaps it's unfair to say the older iPad screens look 'blurry' compared to the new iPad. It's more along the lines of 'fuzzy'. After using the new iPad for an extended period of time then switching back to an iPad 2 (or 1, for that matter), you'll cringe at the pixelated cloud the appears to surround every app icon. Text will look murky. Colors will look muted."

That's not to say everything was peachy. Mossberg dinged the display for still being glossy and performing poorly in direct sunlight.

The new camera.
The new camera. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

2. The new camera takes better photos
Vincent Nguyen of Slashgear found the rear camera to be considerably better than the one from the iPad 2 but not as good as the one in the iPhone 4S on something beyond the megapixel level:

"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."

USA Today's Ed Baig noted that while the shots turned out "generally pleasing, despite the absence of a flash," it can still a little awkward to use as a camera because the lens is near where you'd hold it on the side:

"Taking a lot of pictures or videos with the iPad is a matter of preference. It's not exactly a point-and-shoot replacement and is a little awkward for shooting. Held a certain way, you can sometimes inadvertently cover the lens when pressing the onscreen shutter button. The alternative is to take pictures by pressing a volume button on the side....but the still images and video shot are generally pleasing, despite the absence of a flash. "

Topolsky at The Verge called the camera results "pretty favorable," while adding a general disdain for using tablets to take photos:

"...the idea of taking this device out into the real world and attempting to snap photos with it is utterly laughable--something I discovered when I took the new iPad out into the world to snap photos with it. I don't care who you are, what you do for a living, or where you come from: it's impossible not to look like a total nerd when you're in public snapping pictures with something that is literally the surface size of four point and shoot cameras."
The A5X chip inside the new iPad.
The A5X chip inside the new iPad. Apple

3. The faster chip does not make everything faster
In its testing MacWorld's Jason Snell said that the new iPad's processor was "about as fast" as the iPad 2:

"...The A5X processor that powers the third-generation iPad doesn't really offer more processing power than its predecessor. In all our processor-based tests, the new iPad ran about as fast as the iPad 2. (Which is not to say it's slow--they're the two fastest iOS devices ever.)"

MacWorld's review notes that Apple's own apps ran smoothly but that "several third-party apps had glitches, including unresponsive interfaces and stuttering scrolling."

Besides Retina Display-ready games, which many of the reviews note are not yet out, there were some notable speed improvements in some processor-intensive tasks, Slashgear said. The site pitted the new iPad with the iPad 2 to see how the two devices performed when exporting video and found noticeable differences with longer clips:

"We shot a selection of videos using the new iPad and the iPad 2, and processed them in iMovie to see how the old and new graphics chips compared. With a one minute clip, a 720p HD clip recorded on the iPad 2 took 1 minute 2 seconds to export, while a 720p HD clip recorded on the new iPad took 52 seconds to export. A one minute 1080p clip recorded on the new iPad took 52.6 seconds to export."

That's not all that much of a difference, but pushing to longer length clips, and clips that were 1080p versus 720p quality, the difference widened a bit:

"For a five minute 720p HD clip, the iPad 2 took 5 minutes 11 seconds, whereas the new iPad took 3 minutes 39 seconds. A five minute 1080p HD clip on the new iPad took 4 minutes 20 seconds to export, still comfortably under the iPad 2 despite the higher resolution.

Finally for an eight minute 720p HD clip, the iPad 2 took 8 minutes 10 seconds to export, while the new iPad took 5 minutes 45 seconds."

CNET

4. The 16GB model might not cut it anymore

TechCrunch noted that with great screen resolution comes some great file sizes, great being not so good it turns out.

"On the iPad I'm testing out, I have three pages of apps, a few hundred photos, one HD movie, and one music album. It's really not that much stuff, but it takes up over 20 GB of storage. The apps alone are over 10 GB of that."

In his review, Pocket Lint's David Phelan suggests the 64GB ceiling that's been around since the first generation model could use a "boost":

"It's also worth remembering that new, high resolution apps will take up more space on your iPad. Apple still hasn't moved beyond the 64GB maximum storage capacity yet, and we really think this new iPad could use a storage boost. Especially if you factor in new, 1080p videos coming to iTunes."
iPad 2 launch day in San Francisco last year.
iPad 2 launch day in San Francisco last year. James Martin/CNET

5. iPad 2 owners don't necessarily need to upgrade
And of course, the question that concludes most of these reviews is whether you should buy one. David Pogue at The New York Times seems to think it's not as big of a jump for iPad 2 owners:

"If you're in the market for a tablet, here's the bright side: For the same price as before, you can now get an updated iPad that's still better-looking, better integrated and more consistently designed than any of its rivals.

And if you already have the iPad 2, here's an even brighter side: At least this time around, you don't have to feel quite as obsolete as usual. "

Mossberg reached a similar conclusion, adding that the upgrade is more worth it for heavy readers and travelers:

"If you already own an iPad 2, and like it, you shouldn't feel like you have to rush out to buy the new one. However, for those who use their iPads as their main e-readers, and those who use it frequently while away from Wi-Fi coverage, this new model could make a big difference."

Snell at MacWorld offered a slightly different opinion:

"Users of the iPad 2 shouldn't fret: Their iPad investment is certainly good for another year. But they might not want to look too closely at the new iPad's screen. Once you get a load of that Retina display, it's hard to go back to anything else."

Apple's third-generation iPad goes on sale this Friday. CNET will be on the scene to cover the launch at a number of Apple's flagship stores, as well as at third-party retailers, with a full review to come.

 

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