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Apple's new iPad review: Apple's new iPad

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Typical Price: £399.00
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The Good High-resolution display is crisp and colourful; Excellent selection of apps; Intuitive, slick software; Improved camera.

The Bad 4G won't work in the UK; Thicker and heavier than iPad 2.

The Bottom Line Apple's new iPad is the best tablet money can buy, thanks to winning software and a killer app selection. The new screen, camera and processor are welcome additions, though they're modest improvements compared to the still compelling iPad 2. As such, if you already own an iPad, you shouldn't feel at pains to upgrade.

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8.3 Overall

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Whereas the iPhone has healthy competition from Android devices, pretenders to Apple's tablet crown have been few and far between. So it's no surprise the company's latest iPad -- simply called 'the new iPad' rather than 'iPad 3' -- has hardly evolved at all.

It's kept the same winning design and boasts steady improvements such as a higher resolution screen, improved camera and a faster processor. But are these changes enough to keep Apple on top? And at £399 for the cheapest model, is it worth upgrading if you already own an iPad?

Should I buy the new iPad?

If you already own an iPad, either first or second generation, then I don't think you need to upgrade. While the features Apple's brought to bear on this latest iteration are all appreciated, practically speaking, there's not a lot the new iPad does that its predecessors can't. Apps, games and web browsing work well across all three generations, and that's primarily what you'll be using this gadget for. Unless there's a hole in your heart that can only be occupied by the very latest thing, I think your existing 'pad will tide you over for another year.

If you're yet to investigate the world of tablets, it's a different matter. The last few years have proved that tablet tech is here to stay, and I firmly believe Apple's latest iPad is the best tablet available to buy today. It’s likely to remain so for some time. The wealth of apps, slick design and the fact that it's cheaper than many of its rivals are all good reasons to buy.

Display

Without a doubt, the new iPad's headline feature, the retina display, makes a modest first impression. I was hoping for a mind-blowing experience -- I remember being seriously impressed the first time I clapped eyes on the iPhone 4's pixel-packing display. The new iPad doesn't make that kind of impression. While it’s unlikely to drop your jaw, this is undoubtedly still a fantastic screen.

Boasting a mammoth 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution, detail on icons and text is incredibly clear, and you may well spend your first few minutes of ownership peering gormlessly at the pre-installed app icons, all of which look gorgeous. Expect photos and HD movies to look a dream.

Examining the new iPad alongside the iPad 2, there is a visible difference in the quality of the display. But that's not to belittle the previous iPad's screen, which is still great. The new tablet looks better, but not to the degree that the iPad 2 looks ugly and dated by comparison.

Crowd test - new iPad
Feast your eyeballs on the new iPad's retina display, top, and compare it to the pixelated icons of the iPad 2 (click images to enlarge).

Colours are bright and natural, and the viewing angle is impressive, making it easy to crowd several people around a single tablet without anyone missing out on visual detail. The display's close proximity to the top of the screen is another plus, and lends the tablet a luxurious look.

The screen is still intensely reflective though. Stare into the new iPad while the screen is switched off and it may as well be a mirror. As such, you may find your fun hampered by overhead lighting while sat indoors. If you take the iPad outside, you'll have to contend with the biggest overhead light of all -- the sun.

For the most part, the screen is bright enough to compensate for these reflections. But if you're watching a moody movie with lots of scenes set in the dark, expect to spend some time looking up your own nose.

Exploring the App Store, there are already a decent number of apps that have been given a retina makeover. It's a good thing too because anything on this screen that's not been tailored for the tablet's high-resolution display sticks out like a sore thumb.

Blurry, unattractive apps and icons were an issue when the iPhone 4 was released, with the device's hi-res screen making apps built for previous iPhones look extremely ugly. That's no longer an issue, but expect a transitional phase in which you'll occasionally be confronted with unsightly, blocky apps.

To sum up, this display is excellent. It hasn't rocked my world, but it has massaged my eyeballs with its clarity and colours. It's not hugely better-looking than older iPads though.

Camera

The iPad 2's camera was rubbish, and while it served for taking quick, disposable snaps and concocting moving music videos, a lack of detail in images meant it was unsuitable for capturing half-decent photos. The new iPad sports a beefed-up 5-megapixel snapper that packs fancy-sounding tech like back-side illumination and a 5-element lens. But could the new iPad replace your digital camera?

This snapper is a massive improvement on the iPad 2's effort, as our comparison photos confirm. If you check those pictures out, you'll see that the new iPad particularly excels at capturing close-up shots and far exceeds its predecessor's abilities in low-light conditions. Shots in less-than-bright lighting will still feature lots of noise though.

Pictures are reasonably clear if your subject is perfectly still, but it doesn't take much movement to leave your pictures looking decidedly blurry.

Outside shots are balanced, with our shots of a cloudy London day not too plagued by blown-out whites in the sky. There's not a huge amount of detail captured here -- zooming in a little on pictures I'd taken quickly left them looking unclear, with people's faces in crowd shots resembling blobs.

Crowd test - new iPad
These outdoors shots show the improved performance of the new iPad, top, over the iPad 2, with a well-balanced shot, although it lacks detail when zoomed in (click images to enlarge).
Close-up - new iPad
The new iPad, top, produces far better results close-up than the iPad 2 (click images to enlarge).
Low light - new iPad

Low light test - iPad 2

Again, the new iPad's camera's results, top, will show up better than its predecessor's in low light (click images to enlarge).

Video capture isn't terribly smooth, and once you start moving the tablet, the video is liable to succumb to blur. It's also worth mentioning that the tablet itself is quite cumbersome to hold up in a photography-ready position. Doing so in public will also make you look rather ridiculous.

There are benefits to using the iPad camera. The software is ludicrously simple, and once you've taken a picture, there are loads of apps like iPhoto with which to edit them. It's also dead easy to upload pictures to Facebook or Twitter. But those after a decent snap will find the actual image quality sub-par.

To conclude on cameras, this snapper is a massive improvement over the iPad 2 and will nab a decent photo. The new iPad isn't a suitable replacement for a decent compact digital camera, or a particularly good smart phone camera.

Performance

There's a new processor lurking inside this brand new tablet, dubbed the A5X chip, providing a step-up in power from the A5 chip powering the last iPad.

It's worth mentioning that there's nothing wrong with the iPad 2 in terms of speed. One year on, it's still a very capable device, and feels every bit as slick to use as the new model. The power boost present in the new iPad is necessary though, because powering the high-resolution screen is a demanding process.

In everyday terms, you're unlikely to notice much difference in speed between the new iPad and the iPad 2 -- moving through the interface feels just as swift, and apps spring open with little loading time.

There also seems to be little improvement here in terms of graphical clout. The new iPad ran the GLBenchmark 2.1.2 Egypt Standard test at 59 frames per second, compared to 58fps when we ran the same test on our iPad 2.

The 'Offscreen' test, which is part of the same suite, showed more improvement -- 140fps for the new iPad versus 89fps on the iPad 2. The GLBenchmark 2.1 Pro test running on high showed remarkably little difference between the two tablets though, with the new slate running the test at 59fps, and the original iPad mustering 58fps.

The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test, which helps evaluate a browser's speed, again showed very similar scores -- 1,890.9 for the new iPad and 1,884.6 for the iPad 2. Lower is better in this test so the older iPad actually performed better, but only very slightly.

Our scores using the Geekbench app were also similar -- 760 for the new iPad compared with 756 for the new iPad. Interestingly, this test revealed that the new iPad offers 988MB of RAM and is clocked at 1GHz.

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