Review Index:

The New iPad (2012) Review: Pixel Power

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple
Tagged: tablet, ipad 3, ios, apple

Display and Audio Quality, Camera Quality

Display and Audio Quality

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The new “Retina” display is the feature of the iPad 3, so it better be good.

First impressions are actually a bit disappointing. Doubling the pixel density sounds like a huge improvement, but the increase in sharpness seems mundane at arm’s length. The lack of wow-factor is made worse by the fact that the iPad 2’s display is already extremely good. If you view high-quality images you will notice that the new display appears to have richer colors (and this is not an optical illusion - the iPad 3 has a wider color gamut), but you may need a side-by-side comparison with another device before the difference is apparent. 

It’s only as you start to use the device that the display’s value sinks in. The improvement in pixel density allows the new iPad to resolve smoothly resolve text that other tablets can only display as pixel soup.

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That’s important. It means you can view documents and web pages without having to zoom in even if the font is unusually small. Just load the page and - bam! It’s ready and automatically scaled to take up the entire available space. Since there’s no web page wider than the iPad 3’s resolution you never have to zoom if you don’t want to.

Sound mundane? Don’t be fooled. This is one of those small details that make all the difference. Every other tablet on the market is going to feel like a bit of a dinosaur after you’ve used the iPad 3 for a few hours. 

Buyers with fears that old apps won’t look right will be happy to know that the decision to exactly double the pixel count has limited the impact on older apps. If you look closely at games that have not been updated for the Retina display - which is most of them - you can make out a hint of bluriness. But it’s only a hint, and it’s only noticeable when you place your face unrealistically close to the tablet. 

Audio quality is never going to be great on a tablet, but the iPad 3 gets along well enough. Maximum volume is quite loud, though also full of distortion. The speaker location is often covered by your hands when you hold the tablet width-wise, so you’ll receive the best movie experience if you have a pair of headphones available.


When the original iPad came out it had no camera at all. The theory seemed to be that using a tablet as a camera is inconvenient due to its size, and personally, I agree with that theory completely.

Everyone else added cameras, however, so Apple added one for the iPad 2 - a rinky-dink .7MP camera capable of basic photography in excellent light but not much else. The new iPad replaces that barely usable unit with a new 5MP camera that features a 5-element lens and other goodness. 

How does it perform? Let’s have a look. The photo below is an interior shot of an older textbook that I had laying around. It was taken in the afternoon with all interior lights on and all blinds open.

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Despite the reasonable lighting conditions the photo looks rather dull and has a fair amount of noise. There's no flash available, either - something that does put the iPad 3 at a disadvantage to many other phones and tablets. 

Now let’s take a look at a photograph of the same book taken on my deck during a mostly sunny day.

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That’s much better. It seems that the main limitation of the iPad 3 is the light sensor. Image quality rapidly declines the moment that you take photos in anything besides daylight. 

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As long as you are outdoors the image quality is excellent - not as good as a decent digital camera, but certainly usable for amateur photography. I can imagine someone who isn't particularly interested in image quality using an iPad 3 as a stand-in for a cheap digital camera. 

The story is the same with HD video. Let’s have a look at a clip.

The image quality of the video is more than adequate when the camera is used in a bright environment. Quality degrades rapidly if you ask the camera to take a video in a low-light condition, however.

While the rear-facing camera has received an upgrade, the forward-facing camera hasn’t - and it shows. You can use Facetime on the new iPad, but don’t expect your face to appear flattering.

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There's a fair amount of noise despite the fact that I’m outdoors on a nice day. Walking into an interior hallway and snapping another shot resulted in this.

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Not good. But, in all fairness to the iPad 3, other tablets and smarpthones with a front-facing camera also perform poorly without gobs of ambient light to work with. 

The overall quality of the new iPad’s rear-facing camera is better than most other tablets and is a huge upgrade over the iPad 2.

It has another advantage over the competition, as well - speed. The new iPad snaps photos more quickly than Android tablets and has a smoother gallery interface than your typical tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich.

March 31, 2012 | 01:07 AM - Posted by DisasterArea (not verified)

Although the ipad 3 may be the best at what it has chosen to be it's strengths, it seems a stretch to me to say it's the best tablet money can buy...

I use a last generation Acer Iconia A500 and an ipad2, and despite the fact that the ipad outclasses the iconia in almost every department, it is hard to classify a toy against a productive tool.

It's important not to brush connectivity options under the rug as "that's just how it is" - more options equals more uses, and that means something with more options is more useFUL.

I don't doubt the ipad3 runs an app better in most cases, but you have to take into account that the things you can do are limited. If that's all you want, go to it, if you want more then you are going to sacrifice some design and polish and get rewarded for it.

ipad3 the best tablet? by a canyon? It really depends not on what it CAN do, but what you NEED it to do, and the ipad 3 doesn't cut it as a workplace tool, it's a sofa-surfer toy.

March 31, 2012 | 01:54 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

Yes, you can do some interesting things with Android tablets. Some have keyboard docks, many can work with game controllers, and etc.

But the situations in which you'd use those capabilities are small, and in addition to that, I haven't found that those capabilities work well.

I am curious, how are you using the Iconia A500 as a productive tool?

March 31, 2012 | 03:13 PM - Posted by Pipzchoice (not verified)

The intensity of emotions of Apple zealots and their opponents never cease to amaze and amuse. It is a testament to Steve Jobs marketing genius. However "You can have your own opinion, but you cannot have your own facts", and I suggest to look at the analysis of 7,583 customer testimonies about their experience with iPad 2, "new" iPad, and Kindle Fire.

General satisfaction is a virtual tie between Kindle Fire (1.35 out of 2) and "new" iPad (1.36), while iPad 2 is substantially below at 1.2.

Reliability score gives a clear advantage to Amazon (1.31) over both Apple tablets with "new" iPad customers report a score just below a base satisfaction line.

"new" iPad is not considered a good value or worth a price by its purchasers (0.83).

See these and other attributes of customer experience scores here

March 31, 2012 | 11:23 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Your graph doesn't tell us anything because you haven't told us how the results were reached.

April 1, 2012 | 09:39 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

Nice screen but I'd rather my clunky old Xoom. The wif-fi is better and it works for all websites and media.

My next tablet will likely be one running Windows 8.

April 1, 2012 | 12:46 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Windows 8 tablets are the wildcard right now. They could really disrupt the market. I can't wait to get my hands on one.

April 2, 2012 | 12:41 AM - Posted by Andrew McP (not verified)

I was a confirmed Apple-phobic until recently. I dislike their business model, the built-in restrictions (hardware and software), and the whole queue-for-the-latest-iFix mentality which seems part of this brand.

I still do. :-)

But then I gave up supporting my mother's struggle with technology and bought her an iPad2. It was as seductive an experience as I suspected it might be, and both myself and my mother were impressed. She now uses it far more than she ever used her PC, and I... well, I have an iPad3.

The final straw persuading me to buy something I really don't need (who does?) was the screen. As a slide photographer in the past it looked like this might be the "perfect" slide viewer substitute; compact yet powerful. And it does give me a wonderful new way of viewing my pictures. I just wish I didn't have to jump through annoying hoops to view them on my Windows network. Dropbox has become my new best friend.

I also appreciate the ability to view web pages without zooming, though I can't help wishing the screen was an inch or two bigger to get the most out of the resolution. It's almost too good for anyone with less than perfect eyesight. I could also do with slimmer fingers so that I didn't keep hitting the wrong tiny button on many pages. However zooming is effortless so you soon start to adjust your technique. And I'd rather struggle with this than see all sites redesigned for "fat finger" interfaces, rather than mouse clicks.

Overall, part of me still thinks a refurbished iPad2 might have been a more sensible purchase for me. The aspect ratio and effortlessly "transparent" touch interface remain this platform's greatest strengths, and the iP2's lighter footprint (both physically and power use) makes it a much more efficient device, not just in terms of cost effectiveness.

And the iP2 would still give me access to GarageBand which is, if I'm really honest with myself -- the thing I most enjoy using on this device.

One thing the iPad3 has confirmed for me though is that I will probably never read books in electronic form on anything other than a Kindle. The crisp fonts on the iP3 screen are gorgeous, but it's no paper substitute when it comes to comfortable reading for decent periods of time. Not for me anyway. But then I'm still buying dead tree editions even though I've been very impressed by the Kindle.

Final word (should anyone read this far ;->) the iPad3 is the best totally unjustified tech toy I've bought myself in a long time. If it was a justified purchase I probably wouldn't have felt the need to write all this. :-)

April 2, 2012 | 02:39 PM - Posted by Rauelius (not verified)

You may want to re-run your peacekeeper score as they are wrong. I've noticed my Prime consistently beating my iPad3.I'm running Peacekeeper again on my Prime and iPad3 and have a picture below. I'm running a non-rooted Prime in Performance mode and it beats the iPad3 handily. Did you have things running in the background on the Prime that would cause your score to be wrong.

iPad3: 381
Prime: 413
A100: 382

Actually this is the first time I've run Peacekeeper on my A100. It scores the same as the iPad3, which is logical as it's the same Two Cortex A9 Cores running at 1Ghz. The Prime dominates because it has four Cortex A9 cores running at 1.3Ghz. Your going to want to run that again, I've run Peacekeeper several times and the Prime consistently beats the iPad3.

April 2, 2012 | 07:07 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I ran the test numerous times. I get this opportunity because the Peacekeeper benchmark test - simply re-runs the test numerous times. And at the end you get an average of like, 50 or 100 runs, or whatever the huge number was.

And that's a good thing, because Peacekeeper shows surprising variance between runs (on tablets - I have not noticed an issue on laptops).

It's possible that you received a great run on the Prime and an average run on the iPad 3. Try a few more and see if it keeps happening.

It's also possible that the Transformer Prime was updated in firmware, yet again. ASUS is pushing out firmware upgrades regularly (props to them!).

Unfortunately we can't run the results again. The Prime has been sent back to ASUS.

April 2, 2012 | 08:38 PM - Posted by Curious (not verified)

Why did you not compare the iPad 3 to the iPad 2 in the benchmarks and in battery life? That would have been an interesting comparison.

April 3, 2012 | 11:57 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

We never reviewed the iPad 2.

April 8, 2012 | 11:04 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Prime has replaced my laptop for business trips with a keyboard, more memory, extrernal memory port and USB port for the same price as the new iPad.

For something that looks pretty ipad is great - for functionality - and raw processing power - not so good.

I still recommend ipPad to young kids and the elderly - it is a safe experience and unlikely to confuse people with options they will never use.

February 23, 2013 | 12:07 PM - Posted by Avgustapulp (not verified)

I thank for the help in this question, now I will know.

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