Since Apple launched the first iPad two years ago, the tablet market has evolved rapidly. While slate tablets were nothing new, the original iPad was the first serious tablet to be built around smartphone components and a user interface designed specifically for touchscreen input. The hardware was enough to run the OS smoothly while maintaining good battery life, the thin and light form factor lent itself to easy portability, and the touch-based user experience was miles better than earlier devices based on desktop operating systems. 

We take it for granted now, but this was all news back in 2010, and the iPad was practically in a category of its own, with no real competitors to speak of. After Apple started shipping the iPad, the segment basically exploded—we had Google jump in with Honeycomb, HP got into it (and then out of it) with webOS, RIM had a go with the PlayBook, Amazon pushed the Kindle line into the tablet space, and Microsoft created its next release of Windows with tablets in mind. Along the way, Apple updated the iPad, both on the software side with multitasking, a new notifications system, and a myriad of UI updates, as well as launching second generation iPad hardware. The iPad 2 was a comprehensive update, bringing a dual core processor, unrivaled graphics performance, cameras fore and aft, and a ground up redesign that brought a thinner and lighter form factor. 

The iPad 2 was a significant improvement over the original—faster, more portable, and generally a far more polished device. Not that it was perfect: iOS 4 still had issues with smooth multitasking and an archaic notifications system, the cameras were mediocre, and the XGA display, while a great quality panel, didn’t have the kind of pixel density expected of a premium mobile device. The iPad 2 hit market around the same time as Honeycomb (in Motorola’s Xoom) early last year, and at first Apple still held a major edge in terms of hardware. As more impressive Honeycomb devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the ASUS Transformer Prime were launched, along with Ice Cream Sandwich looming on the horizon, Android became a much more viable tablet alternative to iOS. And with Microsoft planning for a major push later this year for ARM-based Windows 8 tablets centered around the Metro UI, Apple has never faced such stiff competition in the tablet space. Which brings us to the third generation of iPad hardware.

It has a display resolution that dwarfs most high-end desktop displays. The panel also puts a real emphasis on quality, not just resolution. For a computing device targeted squarely at the consumer market, both of these things are rarities.

Its SoC is the absolute largest ever squeezed into an ARM based tablet. The chip itself is even bigger than what you find in most mainstream notebooks. It’s expensive, it puts out a ton of heat and it offers a tremendous GPU performance advantage over anything else in its class.

And it has a battery that’s larger than what ships in the current crop of similarly sized ultraportables and Ultrabooks.

The new iPad doesn’t significantly change the tablet usage paradigm, but it does put all previous attempts at building hardware in this space to shame. It’s the sort of no holds barred, performance at any expense design that we’re used to seeing from enthusiast PC component vendors—but in a tablet...from Apple. 

Welcome to the new iPad.

The new iPad
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  • jjj - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Testing battery life only in web browsing ? Maybve that would be ok for a 100$ device.As it is the battery tests are prety poor,you do video playback when every SoC out there has a dedicated decode unit and that test is only representative for vid playback.Here the most important test should have been battery life when both GPU and CPU are loaded and not including that seems like an intentional omission to avoid makiing the device look bad.
    There are a lot of other things to say about the review,too many but one thing has to be said.
    This is a plan B or plan C device.The screen is the selling point,is what had to go in,they didn't had 28/32nm in time and had to go for a heavier,thicker,hotter device with a huge chip (CPU speed is limited most likely by heat not so much power consumption,ofc both are directly related).Apple had to make way too many compromises to fit in the screen,no way this was plan A.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I would have liked a gaming battery life test as well. Reply
  • PeteH - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Beyond even that, I'd like to see a worst-case battery life (i.e. gaming, max brightness, LTE up, etc).

    Also, it'd be really interesting to see how brightness impacts battery life. Maybe the web browsing test at 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100% brightness. Of course that would probably delay the review by several days, so it might not be worth it.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    We did a max brightness test, however a gaming test would be appropriate as well. I will see if I can't run some of that in the background while I work on things for next week :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • SimpleLance - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    The biggest drain for the battery comes from the display. So, if the iPad will be used for hotspot only (with display turned off), you will get a lot of hours from it because it has such a huge battery.

    But then, using the the iPad just for a hotspot would be a waste of that gorgeous display.

    Very nice review of a very nice product.
    Reply
  • thrawn3 - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Am I the only one that feels the max brightness is more important in day to day use of a highly portable device than DPI and color accuracy?
    I absolutely would love to have all of these three be excellent but I think for a tablet or small laptop Max Brightness and DPI are higher priority than color accuracy. This is exactly what the ASUS Transformer Infinity is supposed to be but I would prefer it on a real laptop.
    I care about color accuracy too but I am perfectly fine with needing a desktop monitor and trading brightness there since it is in a stable environment until we hit the technological level that will allow all these elements to be combined. Maybe quantum dot display technology in the future?

    One thing I have to give all these new displays is that they FINALLY have gotten the wide viewing angles thing right and I will be so happy to get this into the rest of the market.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Tuesday, April 03, 2012 - link

    Would you really prefer a bright 1366x768 TN panel with 200 contrast ratio on a 15" laptop over a less bright IPS Ipad screen with much better resolution, DPI, color accuracy, and viewing angle? Reply
  • vision33r - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    The screen is really gorgeous when you shoot raw with any DSLR and view it in iPhoto. Reply
  • ol1bit - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I just bought a Asus Transformer Prime, and your review was spot on with what I decided. I can not live with IOS and using Android for 3 years.

    Just the simple stuff was my decision:
    1. Freedom of Android, file transfers, etc. No Itunes requirement.
    2. MicroSD
    3. Kewl keyboard
    4. Live Wallpaper.
    5. A real desktop, separate from my applications.
    6. 32GB versus 16GB
    7. Gorilla Glass (yes, true. My original droid lived in my pocket 2 years no scratches, my HTC Rezound scratches the first 2 weeks).
    8. Asus (love their MBs)
    9. Nivida (love their GPUs)

    What I will miss:
    1. Ipad 3 Display.
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    1. iTunes is no longer ever needed for an iOS device. I consider the option of a first party desktop sync solution to be an advantage now that it's not a requirement.
    7. It seems likely the new iPad uses Gorilla Glass or Gorilla Glass 2...
    9. Odd that you'd love nVidia's GPUs when they've been pretty much the bottom of the performance barrel for ARM device graphics, even excluding Apple's SoCs (which have lately been using the fastest GPUs in the industry by far).
    Reply

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