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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  • ananduser - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Imagination does own the fastest GPU available today. The current Tegra offerings cannot match it but nvidia goes a different way. They will start piling CUDA cores like they do on the desktop GPU front. Say you'll have in the future a better quad core from Imagination and nvidia's GPU will consist of something like 64 CUDA cores. Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    The problem is that you can't plug an iDevice to a computer a transfer files as you would on a USB thumb drive without iTunes. That's a major disadvantage.

    Also if you excluse Apple's SoC, what company makes better mobile GPU than Nvidia? The Mali 400 MP4 is good too (about on par it seems), but I wouldn't say that Tegra 3 is the bottom of the performance barrel. You seems to forget the major players of Qualcomm and TI.
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    You can however transfer files to any number of apps via WIFI or with cloud solutions without needing iTunes though. I'd call it a "disadvantage" but not a major one.

    You're right the Tegra 3 isn't, I was speaking more generally considering how the Tegra 2 performed vs. the competition as well. It just seemed out of place to choose a tablet because you "love nVidia GPUs" when nVidia has not necessarily put out a spectacular GPU in any ARM SoC.
    Reply
  • merajaan - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    You guys must be commended on this review. You covered all the areas that I wanted to know about and really didn't leave one stone unturned. I applaud the depth and detail and appreciate that you didn't rush your review out for launch day like many other sites. I also appreciate the unbiased nature in which the review was written and your honest viewpoints! Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Thank you for the kind words :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    So you've gone and included a lovely example of how the AnandTech icon looks at 72 and 144 dpi... How's about including <link rel="apple-touch-icon" sizes="144x144" href="icon144.png"/> on this site so we can have a proper icon when we add an AnandTech web clip to our home screens? Reply
  • adrien - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Still reading the review (and liking it), I'm wondering about thermals.

    What was the temperature of the room? Could you try with different room temperatures? (I'm wondering how it'll change when it gets 15°C hotter and how it'll fare with sun shining on it).

    Is there CPU or GPU throttling when it starts heating? Do you know the SoC temp?

    Thanks. :-)
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    The ambient temperature in the room was approximately 23C. An overheating condition will trigger an OS-wide warning, which I believe causes the system to shut down.

    I unfortunately don't have access to anything that could read the SoC temp.

    Testing at different room temperatures is an interesting idea but one that would be difficult to accurately control without some serious equipment. I ran these tests side by side at the same time to avoid issues with a changing ambient temperature.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • adrien - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Ok, thanks. With summer approaching (and very quickly in France), I guess we'll see real-world tests for the temperature in a few weeks anyway. ;-) Reply
  • scribby - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Nice review :)

    I'm also wondering about thermals,

    What was the brightness level when measuring the thermals on the new ipad?

    Thank you.
    Reply

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