Friday, March 16, 2012

A Tale of 2 iPads: First Impressions Review of iPad3 & Comparison to iPad2

My iPad3 arrived today, and here’s what I think of it after 4 hours of use. I’ve been an iPad2 user since 2011, so my review will focus on comparing the previous generation with the new iPad. (If you’re wondering why I need more than one iPad, it’s part of my job to ensure our web/mobile development approach and the tools we select are doing the right things across different devices).

My iPad2 is a 16GB WiFi model and the iPad3 is a 16GB WiFi+4G model.

Looks Like a Duck, Swims Like a Duck, Quacks Like a Duck
The first thing that hits you about the new iPad is it reminds you strongly of the iPad2. Nothing really strikes you as different about it as you open it, set it up, start using it. It feels extremely familiar. More than once I kept checking to see that it was in fact the new iPad I was using. The box doesn’t even say iPad3, just “iPad”.

If I didn’t have two different color covers, it would be hard to identify the iPad3 over the iPad2. They look nearly identical. The iPad3 is slightly wider, taller, and thicker—but only by a hair. Weight-wise, the iPad3 is just a little bit heavier but I believe that’s partly due to my having the 4G option on the iPad3 whereas my iPad2 is WiFi only. By far the easiest way to tell an iPad3 apart from other iPads is to look at the back, where there is a black area at top.

iPad2 (left) alongside iPad3 (right)
The Display

The iPad3 features a “retina display” with a stellar resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels (more than most desktop or laptop displays) whereas the iPad2 was 1024 x 768. This is its major feature. This should mean stunning images and video. But to be honest, absolutely nothing about the display jumped out at me when I first started using the device: sure, it looked great--but then again the iPad2 had always looked great too.

With some trepidation, I pulled up a variety of my web sites to see how they looked. We create adaptive web/mobile web sites using the principles of responsive web design, and I’d been worried about how things would render on the iPad3 with its greater resolution.  Would it be seen as a desktop display and cause non-touch-friendly UI decisions to be made? Well, the majority of the sites came up just fine and looked like they always did. This puzzled me, and when I visited a web site that shows detected resolution I was surprised to see 1024 x 768 and not 2058 x 1536 reported. After double-checking I had in fact been sent an iPad3 and not an iPad2, I found confirmation online that the iPad3 reports its resolution as 1024 x 768 even though its true resolution is higher. I haven’t had enough time to decide if I really like that or not, but I can’t deny it makes a lot of existing web sites for prior-generation iPads just work correctly and that’s something of a relief. We web developers are still going to have to contend with that larger resolution when it comes to images and being careful not to over-consume bandwidth serving them up.
I still hadn’t really seen the greater resolution in action, so I decided to pull up the same site on both the iPad2 and iPad3, capture screen shots, and compare them side-by-side. And this is where the difference becomes very clear. Below you see a portion of the screen captures side by side, slightly magnified. On the iPad2 (left) you clearly see pixels and on the iPad3 you don’t.

To give you an idea of the difference, a screen capture image on the iPad2 is 401KB and on the iPad3 it is 1.3MB. On the portion compared above, the iPad2 captured image is magnified to 400% and the iPad3 to 200%.

Is the iPad3 faster or more powerful than the iPad2? Maybe, I’m not really sure yet. The one area of performance testing I investigated was web browser speed. I visited on both iPads expecting faster results on the newer generation in areas such as JavaScript execution. To my surprise, they scored nearly identically and I ran the comparisons several times to be sure.

Calculate 14.03
Store 30.57
Render 2.51
Overall score 47.11

Calculate 14.03
Store 32
Render 2.61
Overall score 48.64

I have the 4G option on the iPad3, and was curious to see what that would be like. After turning off my WiFi and enabling the 4G, I tried surfing the web for awhile and was quite pleased (astonished, really) at how fast the response was. It felt just like my broadband DSL.

The iPad3 has a nice dictation feature. When the keyboard is displayed, there’s a microphone butter for voice entry. It does a fairly good job of interpreting speech—it went from fair to excellent when I made a point of enunciating clearly.

However, the iPad3 performs its speech processing  by going over the Internet to Apple’s back end from what I understand, and that seemed to get very slow at times—perhaps because lots of people were trying out the feature today.

A first impression review is just that—a first impression. I’m sure I’ll notice lots of other things as I use the device more. If you haven’t had an iPad, or are using a first-generation iPad, you’ll be amazed and delighted with the iPad3. If you’re going from an iPad2 to an iPad3, you’ll find an awful lot of familiarity. You’ll certainly appreciate the display and (if you opt for it) 4G LTE—but it won’t feel like a major new generation to you. That’s not to say the iPad3 isn’t magical—it is—but much of the magic was also in the iPad2.


Anonymous said...

Great round up and discussion. I was searching for a nice comparison, by a real-life person, of the iPad 2 vs. the new iPad and you've provided it!

You are just about the only reviewer on the web who has provided a reasoned, calm, moderate take on the new iPad. Everyone else is gushing, gushing and waxing rhapsodically over the display--as if suddenly the images and text were crystal clear and the old ones fuzzy and blurry.

You, on the other hand, wisely noted that, at first glance, they seem much the same.

I saw both in a store the other day and there seemed to be no difference in speed or display. At first that got me to thinking that they were both iPad 2s, in spite of the signage!

You offered this tip:

"By far the easiest way to tell an iPad3 apart from other iPads is to look at the back, where there is a black area at top."

But that's true, right, only if it's a 4G equipped new iPad. A wifi only would look identical, right?

In fact, is there any way of telling them apart?

However, given your overall sense about them, I have the feeling I was comparing a new iPad to an iPad 2.

I also note that if one has to zoom in so far to see the difference that there really isn't much difference!

Would you be able to post a comparison shot of, say, the New York Times with a column of text just filling say, 2/3 or even the entire width of the screen. When I did that I saw no difference.
An aside: the Captcha does NOT even show up unless one turns on Google Analytics and lets them track users' browsing! These captchas are also next to impossible to read by real humans! :-) In fact, one ends up having to try it time and time again.

Please find a different system!

Anonymous said...


One other question for you.

We have the original iPad and were thinking about adding a second iPad to the household.

Of course, that brings up the issue of whether to buy an iPad 2 instead of the new iPad!

And, even more, a refurbished iPad 2, which Apple is selling for only $350 now!

I've also toyed with selling the original one and buying two new ones-- maybe one iPad 2 and the other iPad 3. We use the original mostly for web browsing and my impression is that the iPad 2 (as well as the iPad 3) would provide a noticeable, substantial improvement.

As you can see, I'm in that classic situation of pondering what to buy.

Any advice to those of us out here would be greatly appreciated.

David Pallmann said...

Re the question on whether to buy an iPad2 or an iPad3, that's a tough one. On the one hand the retina display IS nicer and while it's the spotlight feature, it isn't the only thing that's new--there's also that 5 megapixel camera, dictation, other niceties. Pricewise, a new iPad3 isn't more expensive than what a new iPad2 went for, but of course you now have the option of getting a new or refurbushed iPad2 for less. There is potentially a negative with the iPad3 in that the retina display comes with some inherent costs: since it can show such high res images, as apps take advantage of this--and you can see many in the App Store have already been updated for the retina display--that's going to bring some consquenecs. Hi-res images will take significantly longer to download, and that's potentially more expense if you're using a telco data plan, which have gotten very stingy.

Hire DOT NET Developers said...

This is a good comparison post between iPad 2 or iPad 3. I really like it because I have iPad 2 and I am willing to move it to iPad 3.
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