The new iPad

The iPad 3 (sorry, "The new iPad") has too much riding on it. The new iPad is the first device announced and launched after Steve Jobs’s death. The spectre of his increasingly high expectations loom over the tablet.

The first two generations of iPads sold millions. If everyone who wants an iPad already has an iPad, what can Apple do to entice people to come back 12 months later and buy the product again?

As Apple's critics often ask, is its current success sustainable?

Assuming you already have an iPad, there are only two reasons to buy the new model. Firstly, you know that the next update to your favourite game won’t play as well on, or possibly even support, the previous iPads.

Secondly, you just want the best version of the best tablet available.

Under the hood and on the screen

The new iPad is seriously powerful. It has a dual-core A5X chip that drives a quad-core graphics engine.

The new iPad would be roaring past the iPad 2 if it didn’t also have to push more pixels onto its higher-resolution screen. As it is, the new iPad is definitely faster at browsing and other activities, but not dramatically.

The speed sacrifice is worth it, as the screen is remarkable. We’re talking 2048x1536 pixels, which is four times the resolution of the previous iPad.

The Retina screen is immediately noticeable, with nearly 50 per cent more color saturation over the three million or so packed pixels. As one friend put it, going from the iPad 2 screen to the new iPad is like going from the iPhone 3GS screen to the iPhone 4.

The big surprise for me wasn’t the photo or video resolution, but how gorgeous plain old text looked. Text generally has jagged or rough edges. On the new iPad, fonts are smooth, flowing, and clear.

It's as if each page has been shot through a high-end laser printer. The text effect is visible in emails, on the web, and even on iPhone apps blown up to the iPad screen size.

Amazon Kindle, Flipboard, and many other apps have already updated their software to take advantage of the higher resolution text, too, so jumping from one app to another isn’t as visually jarring.

Not playing around

Gaming is absolutely the first thing you should try on the new iPad - particularly if you’re already playing one of the many games that got a Retina display update for the new iPad.

The new iPad doesn’t have any new technology that will update the mechanics or controls of your favourite games, but the visual fidelity alone will make it difficult for you to go back to the iPad 2 screen.

I spent a lot of time with the showcase title Infinity Blade II and my current favourite, Beat Hazard Ultra. Infinity Blade II is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

The opening sequence alone is stunning. Leaves falling from the trees are immensely detailed. The sun peering from behind the castle above creates a hyper-realistic lens flare. Many, if not all, of the details like these were in the iPad 2 version, but they looked nowhere near as polished.

As we wrote in our recent review, Beat Hazard Ultra is an old skool, one-screen shump that uses the iPad’s horsepower to quickly overwhelm you from all sides. The intense action feels a little smoother on the new iPad, but the real gift here is the graphic detail: enemy ships look even more swift and metallic and even the space debris has a certain flair we didn’t see on the previous gen iPads.

But what really blew me away were the crazy, psychedelic waves in the background. They flowed so silkily that I felt nauseated for a very brief moment.

Getting your data

The available range remains the same as previous iPad models, so 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB iPads are available in either wi-fi or the more expensive wi-fi and 3G.

In the UK, 3 Mobile, Orange, Vodafone, and O2 provide the data plans, while the US has AT&T, and Verizon. Each offers a three-tier monthly service, but, as before, you can just purchase coverage in 30-day chunks as opposed to a long-term contract.

One major difference with the new iPad, however, is that it uses LTE/4G networks. I opted for the 16GB wi-fi with Verizon and had no problem setting up the monthly data coverage.

The problem is that 4G isn’t widespread, so you’ll often downgrade to a more common 3G connection. I even had a hard time getting 4G in downtown San Francisco, one of the most tech-savvy areas in the world. I suspect 4G access will improve when carriers set up more towers.

Another addition here is the hotspot capabilities for the LTE models. I tried it with a colleague and it worked well, but it's down to your location. It didn't affect battery life harshly, which maintains Apple's ten-hour standard.

Are you Siri-ous?

The new iPad is kind of odd in that it's very slightly heavier and thicker than the previous model. Try holding the iPad 2 in one hand and the new iPad in the other. Thankfully, the differences are subtle enough that you can use the case from your iPad 2 on your new iPad.

One big disappointment is the absence of Siri. The talking voice command system was the main reason people went out and got the incremental iPhone 4S last autumn, and so it's odd that Apple has left it out of the new iPad.

What we do have is something simply called Dictation: touch the mic icon and the iPad will write out whatever you say. It works very well, but iPhone 4S users will feel like they are only getting a small piece of Siri.

Is the new iPad, in Apple's words, “resolutionary”? Hardly. If you already know the iPad, the new one won't blow your socks off. What Apple has done is tighten up the original designs with a great camera, awesome resolution, and better speed.

If you're a dedicated iOS gamer with the cash reserves to justify an upgrade, these should be reasons enough.

The new iPad

The new iPad isn't a revolution, but it refines the iPad experience enough to justify the upgrade