Apple’s new iPad has a better screen, camera and processor. Is it worth £399, or should you buy the older iPad 2, which has now dropped in price?
While smartphones can now be found in almost everyone’s pocket, and PCs are a fixture in most homes, it’s easy to think of Apple’s iPad as an unnecessary step between the two. But ask the gadget lovers who already own one, and you won’t find many who would be prepared to give it up.
The launch of a new iPad seems like an ideal jumping-on point, but the latest screen and camera upgrades sound superficial. To complicate matters, Apple has brought the price of the previous iPad down to £329, leaving many people wondering whether they should invest in the benefits of the latest model or capitalise by getting a discount on the almost-as-desirable older one.
We lined up the new iPad side-by-side with the iPad 2, so we could compare them directly. As soon as you switch them on, you can see an immediate difference in the screens. The new iPad has the best looking touchscreen we’ve ever seen. The bundled photo app makes good-quality photos look stunning and you have to hold it close to make out its pixels. The iPad 2’s screen looks blocky by comparison, although this is only really a problem with photos and full HD videos.
Despite the forward leap in screen quality, there’s not much improvement in the performance of the new iPad, although it comes with a more powerful processor and faster graphics hardware. Most of this extra power goes into maintaining the same performance offered by the previous model on the new iPad’s more demanding screen. Likewise, battery life is similar, rather than improved. Apple claims it lasts 10 hours, which was near what we got in our test.
The new model’s built-in camera is better than its predecessor’s. The rear-facing camera, which lets you look at the screen to line up your shots, takes pictures at a resolution of 5 megapixels, giving you much sharper pictures than on the iPad 2’s disappointing 0.8-megapixel camera. However, you’ll still want to keep your regular digital camera and its flash for taking shots that really count.
The new iPad is 0.4mm thicker, but its bevelled edge makes this almost impossible to detect, even when the two devices are placed next to each other on a flat surface.
What is more noticeable is the 50g increase in weight. The iPad 2 is already a heavy device that’s difficult to hold for long periods of time. Unlike a laptop, it doesn’t sit well on your lap because you end up having to hunch over the screen, so that 50g increase makes it even more impractical to hold up when you don’t have a table to support its weight.
Ease of use and apps
The user experience is essentially the same across both iPads: it’s so simple that a three-year-old can use it. Kids find touchscreens much more intuitive and rewarding than struggling with a computer mouse, and it’s obvious why. While there are a few hidden tricks (shaking to delete and pulling the keyboard apart to separate it), basic operation can be picked up instantly – it really is as easy as touching what you want to look at or do.
The device comes with a few basic apps, but you’ll want more, so go to the App Store and start browsing. The iPad has fewer free apps than Android, but many have free versions you can try. Even those that don’t often cost as little as 69p. Apple’s own apps, such as iMovie and GarageBand, cost just £2.99 each. That’s peanuts when compared to what you might spend on PC software. iPad apps aren’t as sophisticated as the programs you find on PCs, but because they’re much cheaper, the lack of free alternatives isn’t such a problem.
The App Store’s interface is very easy to explore, with one app always linking to several more. This can be a huge temptation to spend, though, and there’s only your will power and the requirement to type your iTunes password stopping you from going on a shopping spree.
Wi-Fi, 3G and storage
As with the iPad 2, you can get the new iPad with just Wi-Fi, or both Wi-Fi and 3G. Having an iPad that’s permanently connected to the web via a mobile internet connection might sound great, but the Wi-Fi-only model shouldn’t be dismissed because the vast majority of apps work perfectly well offline. Forking out for another contract, on top of the one you already have for your mobile phone, is a luxury.
Storage capacity comes in various sizes, and the smallest 16GB model may mean you have to keep your app list trimmed and delete any videos you’ve watched. But this is a small price to pay for shaving pounds off the price.
If you are going to use the iPad’s camera and look at lots of photos and videos, then the new iPad’s camera and screen upgrades are worth paying for. Lots of other apps are being updated to provide better resolution graphics. But if you mostly use the iPad for email and web browsing, there’s less need for a better screen, so you should buy the iPad 2.