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What you need to know about the third-generation iPad (FAQ)

CNET answers readers' burning questions about Apple's new iPad, set to debut March 16.


Apple debuted its third-generation Apple iPad yesterday, and many CNET readers still have some unanswered questions about the device.

The new tablet is set to hit store shelves on March 16. Apple has already outlined the basic new specs of the device. But there is still some confusion around what some of these new features are and how they can be used.

In this FAQ, CNET answers some of these questions and provides a basic primer on what Apple is calling simply, the new iPad. If you've got more questions regarding the third-generation iPad, let us know and we will update the FAQ.

What's different about the new iPad compared to the iPad 2 introduced last year?

  • There are several key differentiators.
  • Higher resolution high-definition screen.
  • 4G LTE wide area network connectivity.
  • Faster processor A5X chip.
  • Upgraded 5 megapixel camera with 1080-resolution for video with image stabilization.
  • New apps, such as iPhoto and updates to Garageband and iMovie. iPhoto is $4.99, while GarageBand and iMovie remain $9.99 each.

Is there anything that has stayed the same between the iPad 2 and the third generation model of the device?

  • The basic design and dimensions of the iPad are the same. The new iPad is less than a millimeter thicker than the iPad 2, which means most of the existing iPad 2 cases will fit the new iPad.
  • Battery life is consistent, with the iPad giving users 10 hours when on Wi-Fi and about 9 hours of use on a 4G LTE network.
  • Pricing and memory configurations are the same for the new iPad as they were for the iPad. The base model with Wi-Fi connectivity and 16GB of storage will cost $499, while the most expensive 4G version, with 64GB, will cost $829.

I keep hearing that the screen resolution is really impressive for the new iPad. How incredible is it?
The new iPad boasts a screen resolution of 2,048x1,536, or 3.1 million pixels. That better than any other tablet or laptop on the market today. And it may be even better than some HDTVs.

CNET's tablet reviewer Donald Bell called it a "stunner" in his hands-on take with the new device.

"Remember the first time you saw an HD television? You were probably excited about the future but also a little sad that your current TV's days were numbered. For tablet fans, a glance at the iPad's new screen may offer this same emotional cocktail of envy and loss," he writes in his post about the device after seeing it in person at Apple's event in San Francisco yesterday.

If that wasn't a strong enough endorsement for you, Bell went on to say, "Let's be clear, here. Not only does the new iPad's QXGA screen wreck your expectations for tablet screens, but your laptop or desktop computer screen will also look shabby by comparison."

You said that the third generation iPad supports 4G LTE. What does that mean exactly?

Apple offers two basic versions of the iPad. One version has only a Wi-Fi radio for Internet connectivity. This lets people connect to the Net to check e-mail, surf the Web, stream video, play games, or whatever else they want to do with the device over a Wi-Fi connection. The other version of the iPad also has a carrier network radio so that users can connect to the Internet even when they aren't in a Wi-Fi hotspot. Previous iPads had cellular 3G radios in them. For AT&T this was a GSM/HSPA radio and for Verizon Wireless is was a CDMA/EV-DO radio.

The latest version of the iPad will now connect to a carrier's network via 4G LTE. AT&T and Verizon are building these 4G LTE networks. Verizon can offer its service to more than 200 million people in the U.S. And AT&T's network can serve more than 70 million customers today. Both carriers are continuing to expand their network footprints. So if the iPad is being used where 4G is not available, it can still use the 3G network of AT&T or Verizon, depending on which carrier is supported.

Will it cost me extra to get an iPad that works on a carrier network?

Yes, it will cost you more to buy a 4G LTE version of the iPad. How much more? About $130. This means that if the basic 16GB iPad costs $499, it will cost $629 with 4G LTE access from either AT&T or Verizon.

How much is the service from the carrier? And do I have to sign a contract?

Apple released information on Thursday regarding the service plans from carriers for the new iPad. As was available for the iPad, people who purchase the third-generation iPad can get a data service from AT&T that starts at $14.99 for 250 MB of data per month. AT&T also offers a 3GB and 5GB monthly data plan that costs $30 or $50, respectively. Verizon's least expensive plan starts at $20, which gives users 1GB of data per month. The carrier's 2GB and 5GB options are $30 and $50, respectively.

You do not need to sign up for a data plan. You can use it month to month with either carrier. That said, Verizon charges a $35 activation fee when you sign up for service. But this fee is waived if you activate your device using a credit card and pre-pay for the monthly service, according to a Verizon spokeswoman.

Since AT&T and Verizon each offer 4G LTE networks, does this mean that if I buy an AT&T iPad I could use it on Verizon's network and vice versa?

Unfortunately, the carrier versions of the iPad are locked to specific carriers. This means that the AT&T version will only work on AT&T's network and the Verizon version will work only on Verizon's network. This is also true of other LTE devices. Part of the reason why the devices can't be used interchangeably is that the carriers use slightly different spectrum bands. But it's also because they don't want you switching up devices to be used on one network or the other.

What about roaming? When I go abroad will I be able to roam onto an LTE network in Europe?

The answer to this question is "no." For one, there are few LTE deployments outside the U.S. today, so you'd be hard pressed to find an LTE network to roam onto. But even once LTE gets deployed in other places, neither the AT&T nor the Verizon version of the iPad will be able to roam onto other LTE networks.

The reason is that the spectrum bands used in the U.S. are not the same ones used in other parts of the world for LTE service. That said, it doesn't mean that roaming is not permitted at all. Instead, your iPad will roam onto an GSM/UMTS or HSPA/HSPA+ network while you're traveling, just as the iPhone 4S is able to roam onto other carriers.

AT&T and Verizon have not confirmed this is the case. AT&T's representative Mark Siegel said he was unable to answer any questions about the device's capabilities. But judging from Apple's Web site where it describes the connectivity technology available on the device, this makes sense.

What about the Wi-Fi hot spot capability? Will both AT&T and Verizon allow the iPad to turn into a Wi-Fi hot spot?

The Wi-Fi hot spot capability essentially turns the iPad into a wireless modem and it allows up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices to be connected to the iPad and use the 4G LTE connection. Apple said yesterday that the functionality may not be offered by every carrier.

My CNET colleague Jessica Dolcourt did some digging on this question to find out if AT&T and Verizon will offer this functionality when the device launches later this month. She asked Verizon and AT&T this very question. What she found is that Verizon will support the feature for the 4G LTE iPads it starts selling on March 16, and AT&T won't.

"Yes, we currently have hotspots on other tablets, and we will continue to support it," Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney told CNET. "We will support the iPad mobile hotspot at launch."

AT&T confirmed that it won't have the hotspot feature initially. But eventually it will turn on the feature.

"We are working with Apple to enable this feature in the future, but we currently do not offer it," AT&T's Siegel told Dolcourt.

Is the new A5X chip, which Apple just announced for the new iPad, a quad-core processor? Apple says it has quad-core graphics, but is quad-core graphics the same thing as a quad-core processor?

The A5X is not a quad-core processor. That said it integrates a dual-core processor with "quad-core" graphics. And Apple say this gives the A5X offers "four times the performance" of Nvidia's Tegra 3 chip. It also claims the performance of the third generation iPad is twice that of the iPad 2.

CNET blogger and chip guru Brooke Crothers explained in his post:

"The new iPad's graphics chip--which is based on Imagination's PowerVR tech--is basically a quad-core version of the dual-core graphics chip in the iPad 2. That's where Apple gets the two-fold performance increase.

The upshot is that Apple is focusing on the GPU because it needs to devote all of the chip real estate it can to transistors that push around an amazingly pixel-dense display--which crams a resolution of 2,048x1,536 into a 9.7-inch display.

A rough analogy could be made to a high-end gaming rig. If you're playing Crysis:Warhead on, let's say, a 2,560x1,600 display, you need a powerful graphics chip like Nvidia's GeForce GT 500 series. Without it, everything slows to a crawl."

To see how the new iPad stacks up to the rest of the tablet competition check out CNET's comparison.