These are my impressions of the iPad 3. I think it’s officially called the iPad with Retina Display and mine is Model MC733LL. Those who work with me know I’m, shall we say, impartial to Apple’s products. Prior to several months ago, I’ve never used an iPad other than giving a couple demos here and there. Now I have one that I’ve been using one somewhat extensively. So, I thought it would be fun to do a write-up and rate what I see as the key characteristics to me, as a consumer. Full disclosure: I am a strong user (and software developer) of Android-based products even with all their warts and inconsistencies, and this is also the first time I’ve rated a tablet.
- Criteria: Native browser performance. Rating: 2.5 (out of 5) I’ve come to expect mobile web browsers to be snappy. The iPad 3 browser in my opinion is not speedy even with its dual-core A5X with quad-core graphics. I’m comparing this to my recent experience with the latest generation Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy III S. If you don’t believe me on this rating, simply try visiting just about any image laden news site on an iPad 3. For example, I read a lot of NBA-related web pages and I’m usually one full paragraph into my reading before the article’s main image has finished loading. The page also typically jumps up and down as it loads making it hard to read, and forcing me to scroll up and down, until the page is fully loaded. And perhaps related to the poor browser performance, I thought the transitions between applications seem a bit sluggish. It’s not clear if this is a design aspect of the software, or because the hardware is chugging hard behind the scenes. Either way, whether the hardware or the browser I always felt like things were lagging just enough to be noticeable and slightly annoying.
- Criteria: Screen. Rating: 5 (out of 5) I like to be able to use the device in full sunlight as well as in darkened conference halls. iPad shines on all fronts. I can’t speak to previous models of iPad but version number three does an awesome job. I’m not even going to say much about the 2048×1536 (264ppi) HD screen quality other than to say it’s outstanding. Besides, most of you reading this already knew that.
- Criteria: Battery life. Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) Now this will vary for everyone based on “how” you use it. With my usage patterns of brief but intense sessions lasting four to five minutes three or four times a day using WiFi, the battery can last up to a week. Using cellular it unscientifically seems to last about 1/3 less. It’s easy to make a comparison against my Android phone which barely lasts 8 hours under similar conditions.
- Criteria: Weight. Rating: 4 (out of 5) The iPad I’m using has both WiFi and cellular. With the cover and according my to home digital scale it weighs in at one pound twelve ounces (793.79g). My guess is that the majority of the weight is taken up by the battery. Certainly that’s much lighter than my hulking laptop. However, if you plan to use it for anything lengthy such as using the eReader while sitting on a plane, then your arms can get pretty tired if you feel the urge to bring it closer to your eyes. If you want to recline while using it you’re better off either using your phone or getting a dedicated ultra-light eReader.
- Criteria: Charging time. Rating: 2.5 (out of 5) I expected the 10 Watt iPad charger to work significantly faster, but it usually takes hours to get a full charge when the battery is nearly empty. I can’t expect to slap on the charger and get a quick juice up with this device. It’s going to sit on the charger for at least a few hours if I want it to comfortably last any significant amount of time. I suspect the slow charging time is because Apple wanted to have a small, stylish (and less amperage) charger even though the iPad’s battery is huge. I can’t imagine Apple using something like the large laptop charger bricks on something as elegant as the iPad. The tradeoff is slooow charging times.
- Criteria: Look and feel. Rating: 4.9 (out of 5) We all know Apple does an amazing job with this. There’s no argument with this fact. You end up with essentially a piece of art. However, I only give it a 4.9 because with artistic license also comes compromises on maintainability. For example, you’ll (gasp!) never see a battery door on an iPad. Apple assumes that clutters the design or you’ll simply upgrade your device before or after the battery wears out. Apple has conditioned users that your battery should be an afterthought. Should the battery ever wear out you simply drop it off at the dealership and pay to get it fixed. Sniff. Sniff.
- Criteria: Finger-print resistance Rating: 5 (out of 5) The oleophobic coating does an outstanding job of this. In regular lighting I rarely noticed fingerprints. Under dim lighting I could occasionally see smudges that blurred the screen a tiny bit. I’ve noticed that the latest generation of glass and glass coatings on both iPad and Android really minimized the effects of finger smudges when the device is on. Now, the screen may still look like it was handled by a class full of sticky fingered kindergartners when the screen is off, but what really matters is what it looks like when it’s turned on.
- Criteria: Camera Rating: 3 (out of 5) I really struggled about including this because short of scientific analysis, everyone uses the camera differently. The camera on this device is simply okay. If picture size and resolution is your thing, it’s at least 3 mega-pixels fewer than the most advanced smartphones. It doesn’t have a flash so short range low light pictures are challenging. And, simply because of its size most of my use cases are work related. I wouldn’t take it to a basketball game and hold it up to take pictures. Besides the people behind me might just take it away from me if I did it often enough because it blocks their view and it looks dorky when you do it.
- Criteria: On screen keypad Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) Possibly because of its size of the buttons, the space separating them and my hand size makes it so I find typing on the iPad easy. The “.com” key is perfect for saving a few extra key strokes although there are many more legal aliases these days such as “.net”. I give it a 4.5 because the caps lock is not intuitive and the letters on the keys are always displayed as capital letters. This is confusing because I expected the letters to be lower case when not it caps lock mode and you have to rely on whether or not the arrow inside the caps lock button is blue or not.
- Criteria: SD Card compatible Rating: 2 (out of 5) Ah perhaps I saved the most controversial for last as the move to the cloud has many people gushing about how easy their data storage needs are. However, there are some use cases where SD Cards make things so much easier. For example, if you ever want to augment the on-device storage you are outta’ luck. If you ever have a need to simply want to hand over your data on a thumb-nail size SD Card to a friend or colleague then you will have to take a few extra steps and use someone’s laptop to pass the data over. If you have a need to work off-line with large data sets you’ll have to manually load them up onto the iPad before going off-line. Because of these use cases and the inconvenience and time associated with the extra steps I’m down rating this criteria to a 2. You can sort of work around this limitation otherwise I would have given this a big fat zero.
And with that I get an average rating of 3.79 out of 5. This seems to be a decent number even though it’s not drop dead amazing. The iPad obviously works just fine for the majority of consumer use cases and does it an okay job within its limitations, or you work around them as I suspect most people do and just ignore the hassle. And like all electronic and mechanical devices it could always use some improvements that we can look forward to in future releases.
So this is all and well, but as I’ve mentioned before what I’d really like to see now is some revolutionary improvements in tablets and smartphones. I believe we’ve reached the current level of major innovations for a while and it will be some time, perhaps years, before we see the next big leap in capabilities such as vastly improved battery life. Until then we will need to be happy with the incremental improvements and listening to TV ads espousing some new minor feature that makes that device the one to buy now.