Review Index:

The New iPad (2012) Review: Pixel Power

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

Software, Performance


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You’ll find a lot of pre-installed software on the iPad 3. Most of it is extremely mundane functionally that is also found on Android tablets, such as a calendar, contacts, a YouTube app, a maps app, etc. While basic functionally between the two operating systems is similar, there are some areas where Apple has managed a notable improvement - and they’re not all where you’d expect.

The YouTube app, for example, has always been finicky on Android tablets. It crashes rather often and the interface, though it looks good and is functional, has always given me its fair share of hiccups. I’ve had problems with the app not closing correctly, leaving a video playing in the background when the app is no longer shown as running. I’ve also had problems with videos mysteriously stopping mid-stream or crashing altogether. 

Apple’s YouTube app, in contrast, seems entirely stable and always plays videos without hiccup or hesitation. Some portions of the interface don’t work as well as they do on Android, but I’ll gladly take a stable app over one with a more convenient comment interface.

This ends up being a good metaphor for software in general. Both iOS and Android have similar tablet functionality in stock guise, but most of the iOS apps are more stable and feel quicker. Mobile Safari blows away the default Android browser. The App Store and iTunes stomp all over the Android Market - or, as it’s now called, Google Play, and Android has no competent answer to Apple’s Game Center, which is absolutely awesome for folks who want to get into tablet gaming.

One thing you won’t find, however, is Siri. The personal assistant that debuted with the iPhone 4S is nowhere to be found on the new iPad. Why? Apple claims that the way people use tablets makes Siri a non-issue. I suppose they have a point, but it’s also true that it wouldn’t put Apple out to include Siri and let users choose for themselves. 

Though I prefer iOS overall, there are some areas where Android is superior. Multi-tasking is better on Ice Cream Sandwich thanks to a thumbnail app view. While you can access a multi-tasking menu with multi-touch gestures on iOS, you are only given an icon view, and there are limits on how many icons can be displayed. I also prefer how Android handles notifications. It’s still not elegant, but it’s at least more informative. 

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Android puts up a valiant fight, but it ultimately is doomed to lose thanks to the huge variety of apps available for iOS. The difference between the apps available for the iPad and those available for an Android tablet are night-and-day. There’s more selection on iOS, the selection is easier to browse, and the apps are of better quality. Browsing, downloading and using apps on an Android tablet is as enjoyable as slamming your head against a wall. 

Of course, the downside to the iPad 3 is that you have to buy in to Apple’s closed ecosystem. Customization is so limited as to to be nearly non-existent and jailbreaking is heavily discouraged. In exchange, Apple offers a better app experience and the promise of future OS updates. This approach is clearly superior for most consumers, but it may not be for you, in which case you should go buy a Transformer Prime (or wait for the high-resolution version). 


Rumors prior to the release of the iPad 3 suggested that we would see a quad-core processor. We didn’t receive it. Instead we received a quad core graphics component, by which Apple means they’ve doubled the resources in comparison to the iPad 2.

This means the new iPad should have outstanding graphics performance, and Apple even went so far as it suggest that the A5X is four times quicker than Nvidia’s Tegra 3. That’s a bold claim, though it’s common for companies talking about graphics performance to go a bit overboard when comparing their products to competitors. 

Benchmarking the iPad presents some challenges. Obviously, many of the benchmarks that run on Android will not run on iOS. This limits the ways I can compare performance to the competition. There are, however, a handful of cross-platform benchmarks. Let’s first dive in to the browser benchmarks.

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The browser benchmarks tend to rely on CPU performance.Tegra 3 has an on-paper advantage thanks to its four cores and base clock speed of 1.3 GHz. Apple’s A5X retains a clock speed of 1 GHz and has just two cores. 

Despite this, the benchmarks are about tied. Apple’s tablet wins in Peacekeeper, is tied with the Tegra 3 powered Prime in SunSpider, and loses in BrowserMark. Both the Tegra 3 and the A5X are faster than other currently available hardware - and by no small margin.

Of course, part of the story is the browser itself, which probably explains why the new iPad does so well despite theoretically slower hardware. Safari for iOS is now a great browser (as a MacBook owner, I can only sit by and stare enviously at its performance), while the default browser for the Transformer Prime is, well - let’s just say it could use improvement.

Now let’s have a look at Geekbench, a cross-platform general performance benchmark.

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The Tegra 3 in the Prime has a huge advantage here, courtesy of its four fast cores. Geekbench seems to have no issue engaging them fully, and as a result Tegra 3 leaves the A5X in the dust. It’s a shame that typical Android apps seem to do a poor job of addressing all four cores because it’s clear that apps which do it well could be extremely quick.

Now it’s time to investigate Apple’s claims about graphics performance. The decision to drastically improve GPU power while leaving the CPU the same undoubtedly has something to do with the improved resolution. But are the claims that the A5X is four times as fast as Nvidia’s Tegra 3 really true? Let’s find out.

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The offscreen test displays the raw difference between the two by rendering the Egypt benchmark in the background using a fixed resolution. While the A5X is not four times as quick as Tegra 3, it is over twice as fast, which is a substantial difference.

The retina display also has four times the number of pixels, however- which means the new iPad could potentially offer worse real-world performance despite the greater horsepower. To test this I also ran the onscreen test. This is benchmark is Vsync limited at 60 frames per second, and the iPad 3 ran the entire benchmark at that limit. The Prime also hit that limit more often than not but there were moments where it was a few FPS shy.

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Overall, it appears that Apple is not wrong to flaunt its graphics dominance. There are even some benchmarks where the the A5X actually does offer even more than four times the performance of Tegra 3, but they are triangle and fill-rate tests rather than rendering of real 3D scenes. 

It’s clear that a design decision was made early in this tablet’s life. An absurdly high display resolution was desired, and that meant a substantial upgrade to the GPU was also necessary. Doing this undoubtedly kicked up power consumption, however, which means that there wasn’t any room left for improving the processor’s clock speed or adding more cores.

Was this the right decision? I believe so. A tablet is an ecosystem - everything is connected. Apple could have included a faster processor, but that would have meant sacrificing battery life or the GPU. And if the GPU wasn’t made quicker, doubling the pixel count would have been unwise. Given the choice between a faster CPU and the old display resolution or a faster GPU and the new display resolution, I would choose the second option every time.

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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