Weekend Tech Scan: The new iPad - Give it a 'B'

A faster processor, sharper screen, and more powerful processor are good tech details, but they won't change much about the way you use it.

Crosscut archive image.

The iPad 3 went on sale Friday, March 16. The line at the Alderwood Mall Apple Store.

A faster processor, sharper screen, and more powerful processor are good tech details, but they won't change much about the way you use it.

So I have it: the new iPad.  And I’m at somewhat of a loss regarding what to say about it.

Usually there’s something thrilling and exciting about a new toy — especially one that sets you back roughly $700 — but my new iPad doesn't thrill me. A black 32-gigabyte model (the middle size between the 16- and 64-gigabyte editions), it's WiFi only. Except for the addition of an on-board video camera, some extra screen sharpness, and faster performance, I see little difference from the original iPad.  

No one twisted my arm. It seemed like a good time to upgrade to the iPad 3: a legion of new apps will be coming to iPads that will take full advantage of the high res screen (which, incidentally, surpasses my HDTV set), and the unbelievably fast processor for speedy graphics and video production. As someone who makes his living by staying up-to-date on tech gadgets, it was probably a good decision. But if I was the so-called 'average user' — a consumer without any need for the advances packaged by Apple in the new iPad — I could have remained fully satisfied with my existing unit.

If you’re entering iPad Land for the first time, you will likely find it somewhat easier than I did. Transferring the settings from my old unit to my new one had a few glitches. Though settings like email addresses, contacts, and bookmarks made the transition with ease, getting my apps was an entirely different story. 

For reasons I have never understood, the iPad has no simple alphabetical listing of apps. Users can only scroll left from the home page to the search page and search for their desired app. Though this will allow you to open the app in question, it won’t tell you where to find it for next time.

Nor can you simply tell your system to transfer everything from your old machine to your new one. If you’ve organized your iPad with folders (putting one app atop another creates a folder), you’ll be out of luck when it comes to moving that folder to your new machine. Though apps can be transferred from one iPad to the next, you’ll need to allocate time to reorganize them on your new device.

The new iPad features the latest version of Bluetooth, which Engadget claims will drain far less power than the that of the last iPad when paired with other Smart Bluetooth devices. Adding a wireless keyboard with batteries that will last for years, or medical or sports monitoring devices will work like a charm. But has Apple relented in its incomprehensible barring of mice in its latest and greatest model? Not a chance. 

A touchpad, for anyone who writes on a keyboard for a living and wants to use the iPad as that instrument, will be sorely disappointed. The ergonomics of using a mouseless tablet is daunting and tiring. In contrast, Android smartphones and tablets work well with Bluetooth keyboards and mice; I strongly advise going that route if writing is your major need.

That being said, there is one new feature that could change the way people interact with the iPad: the addition of voice dictation. Although Apple would never admit it, this is likely a software feature licensed from Dragon Naturally Speaking. A new key next to the space bar with a microphone symbol begins the dictation process. It’s simpler and intuitive and quite good at translating what you’re actually saying into editable text. It still isn’t Siri, the voice controller on the iPhone 4S, but it’s probably a good bet that Siri will come to the iPad in some future update.

I’ve also found the new iPad to be much speedier than the original iPad. There’s greater snap in every part of the system. (It should be faster now that it’s equipped with a quad-core graphics processor.) iPad2 users may not notice much difference in speed unless they’re working on projects with significant graphics or playing games optimized to take advantage of the high powered chip inside. With the speed of this improved processor, be prepared for the system to generate much more heat. I was surprised how laptop-hot my iPad got with intensive uploading and downloading.

A word about the screen. The tech community has been raving about the high-definition retina display now being sported by the new iPad. A PC World writer gushed, “[When you turn it on], that's when the new iPad not only takes your breath away, but also demonstrates how Apple has redefined the tablet game — again.”  Ummm . . . I wish I could find the difference that startling. Though I brought up several apps and websites, with the original and new iPads sitting side by side, there was little discernible difference. Much less a strong enough difference to call it a game changer.

One area I have noticed a significant change is in watching live video. I’m a fan of Slingbox, which makes it possible to see all my cable programming on mobile devices. Looking at live HD video on the new iPad was really stunning; almost photo-realistic to watch. Still, you'll need to have a very sharp, crystal-clear video source to see the difference, and if you’re watching KING-TV on Channel 5 instead of the high-def Channel 105, you won’t see any difference at all.

Several writers have commented that the new iPad is heavier than the iPad 2: closer in weight to the original iPad. At this point, even with the extra weight, I find the new iPad much more user-friendly than than the iPad 1. Those tapered edges make it seem far lighter and easier on the hands than the original unit, with its sharp, flat edges. iPad 2 users will find the differences slight.

The new iPad is a good unit: certainly not a bad one. Those who have yet to enjoy the pleasure of an iPad tablet or those still hanging onto original iPads will be very happy with the device's beautiful apps, pictures, and video. For these groups it’s a reasonable upgrade. But is it worth the investment if you already own an iPad 2? As much as I admire what Apple does, it doesn't seem like a smart buy unless you’re majorly invested in graphics and video. 


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors