Apple iPad 3G £529
29th May 2010 | 12:50
Now out in the UK, we look at the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G - is it worth the extra cash?
Apple iPad 3G: Overview
Update: check out our Apple iPad 2 review
After many delays, the Apple iPad is now available in the UK in both 3G and W-Fi-only flavours. The model we're testing today is actually called the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G in full parlance, but iPad 3G will do for us. (Read our review of the iPad Wi-Fi version.)
If you're hoping to get your hands on one you'd better be quick though - Apple Stores had limited stock on launch, while website orders now cite just 'June' as a shipping date.
The iPad 3G checks in at a pricey £529 - £100 more than the Wi-Fi only version. And that's just for the basic 16GB edition - it's an extra £70 for the 32GB model and a further £100 if you want the full 64GB. That means the top end iPad 3G that we're testing here checks in at a sobering £699 – ouch.
Then, of course, you need to budget for an iPad data tariff – check out the fourth page of our review for more details on all the costs.
If you're more interested in the iPad Wi-Fi, then check out our main Apple iPad review.
The iPad 3G is a little different in terms of appearance – it has a black plastic strip at the top of the back of the iPad, which makes sure the iPad gets decent 3G reception. An all-metal case wouldn't be any good for this.
There's also the microSIM slot, so you also get a SIM eject tool as well as the Dock Connector to USB cable. Sadly, there's no dock in the box, but you do get a power adapter.
The other big boon of the iPad 3G is that you get GPS capabilities, so you'll get a better experience in, say, Google Maps and geo-tagged tweets, for example. Both models do have a digital compass, though. However, testing in our other iPad review for the Wi-Fi-only model indicated that the iPad Wi-Fi was still fairly good at picking up the current location via Wi-Fi.
The iPad uses iPhone OS which, at the time of writing, is yet to support multi-tasking. However, iPhone Os 4.0 is imminent, which will mean that multi-tasking apps will be supported.
The use of the iPhone and iPod touch OS means that the iPad is a great living room-type device. It's great for just popping online or emailing sporadically. We've seen tablet-type computers before, of course – most notably courtesy of Microsoft – but they haven't stepped up to the plate. Instead, they've had dodgy handwriting recognition and poor controls.
As usual with Apple, they've taken something established and done it better – and that's even before you get to the apps which take the iPhone and iPod touch model to a completely new level.
Even Windows 7, with its touch compatibility, isn't quite up to the job of providing a completely intuitive touch-based interface.
So no wonder Apple has had so much success with iPad. But remember this is just the beginning – we'll soon see tablets based on Android (like the Dell Streak) and, later in the year, Google's Chrome OS. So let's look at iPad 3G in depth.
Apple iPad 3G: Features
In terms of basic hardware, the iPad isn't overly impressive, although the 1,024 x 768, 9.7-inch diagonal screen is absolutely gorgeous. It's about the same size as the average netbook screen and puts the 3.5-inch iPhone and iPod touch screen way in the shade. It's more than a little strange when, after a little time playing with the iPad, you go back to your iPhone – it feels restricted.
Storage is provided in three capacities on the iPad 3G – 16, 32 and 64GB – as it is on the standard iPad.
Every iPad also boasts the Apple A4 processor, a system-on-chip ARM-based processor that has been developed in-house by Apple and boasts in-built graphics capabilities as well as providing audio and power management. Like the iPhone chip, it's still manufactured by Samsung.
In the Wi-Fi only model, the antenna is hidden behind the Apple logo, but the iPad 3G has an extra plastic oblong at the top of the back of the device. This is pretty ugly, and it's an unusually inelegant solution from Apple. Still, it was probably the only way to keep a generally aluminium body on the device.
As we mentioned, there's also an accelerometer, GPS chip, ambient light sensor, on/off switch, standard dock connector and volume controls as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. Indeed, the one thing the iPad has over the iPhone is the addition of a screen-rotation lock switch – this is a great addition, which we'd also like to see on the iPhone itself. The 3G certainly helps the GPS with exact positioning, too, as it does on an iPhone.
Surprisingly though, there's no built-in camera. We'd have expected one, and we reckon it's a dead-cert for the next generation of the iPad and we're also expecting a front-facing camera on the new iPhone, too.
Sound works well, with a lot more beef than the iPhone's internal speaker. There's certainly a good effect from it – during games the sound really reverberates throughout the device, creating a really solid effect. It's hardly force feedback, but it's pretty darn good.
Like all Apple kit these days, the Li-Ion battery isn't user-replaceable, but because of the integrated A4 chip, the power consumption is fairly frugal. For the standard iPad, Apple quotes 10 hours of surfing on Wi-Fi. This decreases reasonably if you're on 3G, but certainly no more than you'd see with an iPhone. And, of course, if you're playing graphically intensive games (more on that later), this decreases substantially.
Size-wise, the iPad 3G is the same as the Wi-Fi version, 242.8mm by 189.7 mm, but weight is 730g instead of 680g. You will notice this in your hand – it's certainly not something you'll want to be holding in one hand for any length of time, for example.
The 13.4 mm thickness does make the device feel extremely slim, but it remains fairly weighty. There's also been a lot of criticism about the iPad's 12mm black bezel, but it doesn't look quite so bad in real life as it does in photos – don't judge that one until you've seen it in store. You also need something to hold onto, so the bezel does actually serve a purpose.
As mentioned above, the screen on the iPad is absolutely beautiful. It's LED by design, meaning it's extremely bright and the colours exceptionally vivid. Watching videos on the iPad is a rewarding experience, with even YouTube clips looking crisp.
What's more, due to the use of in-plane switching tech, it has a super-wide viewing angle of 178 degrees, which means when a group of people gather around it (hardly an unlikely event given the hype surrounding this product) everyone will be able to see just fine.
Apple iPad: Performance and interface
Speedy. That's what we'd call the interface of the iPad, even if there is a bit of a stagger when you move across to the Spotlight search screen (as on the iPhone). It's better at moving between other screens than the iPhone, though. And, of course, you get all of the iPhone's snazzy multi-touch controls.
The Apple A4 chip certainly seems to cope quite well with the graphical demands of the device and apps load quickly, too.
In terms of games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour took 5.5 seconds to load on the iPad; on the iPhone 3GS it needs 8.4 seconds.
Peggle was ready in 5.8 seconds; the iPhone 3GS took 8.4 seconds. Both were iPhone versions of the apps for direct comparisons.
We also had better performance for website loading. On the iPad, boingboing.net loaded in a quick 6.2 seconds; on the iPhone it took 19.3 seconds. GamesRadar.com loaded in 10.5 seconds instead of 21.3 seconds on the iPhone.
We don't like the massive gaps between apps on the home screen though – what's that all about? The app icons are bigger, but why so sparsely spaced?
Another gripe is that the keyboard isn't a brilliant working experience. It's responsive, but there are no numbers on the main panel, so you still have to switch over to the symbol version using the ".?123" key. There hasn't been enough iPad-specific work put into the UI – it feels like things have just been dumped over from the iPhone. More options are also needed here.
It's all about the feeling
So it's certainly fast. But the lack of Adobe Flash and multi-tasking (in this version) becomes more noticeable here. On a phone it's OK – you still access mobile versions of a lot of websites, despite what Apple says. But here you need that better capability. You really feel the lack of app-switching and multi-media capability – even if many sites, like the BBC iPlayer, get round the lack of Flash admirably.
This latter point should become less important with the advent of HTML 5, but it still remains a problem at the moment, while Mobile Safari doesn't provide as good a browsing experience as many desktop browsers. The menu bar is along the top, rather than the bottom of the screen.
But surfing is effortless, as is flicking through pictures. Things are just easy.
Apps and games
While the iPhone's mail app is more useful for triaging messages, the iPad's large screen lets you actually deal with your email properly. Mail is a far better experience and, like Outlook, you have a list of your mail on the left and the body of your mail on the right, all in nice large type. Landscape mode is best, as portrait hides the header column but you can get more than 500 words of text on screen.
Video is another great boon for the iPad. iTunes HD video looks superb, while watching YouTube videos are also an impressive experience. Like on the iPhone, there is an app for this. BBC iPlayer has just started working properly for the iPad, while TV Catchup also works great on the device.
The iPod app is fully featured and far better than the iPhone version which can be clunky. Shame there's no Cover Flow, though – we'd have liked that.
Contacts and Calendar both have a great look to them, while they support over-the-air syncing. Exchange support is there – but it's still only for one single account until iPhone OS 4.0 arrives. Coincidentally, you don't get Calculator or Stocks. Why? You do, however, get Notes.
The new area where Apple is hoping to capitalise is with iBooks. Of course, there are a great many magazine apps being launched, but books is where Apple is concentrating. You need to download iBooks from the App Store when you get your iPad, but once you do you can get reading and download books from the iBookstore using your iTunes account.
However, it's not a great device for reading on. The colour, while initially better looking, actually distracts, as does the fact your Twitter account, email, photos, music and games are all a couple of swipes away!
Games are really brought alive with the iPad. Real Racing HD (£5.99) is brilliant (and is being used as a demo game on in-Apple Store iPads) – control the car by tilting, and N.O.V.A. HD (£3.99) isn't a bad first person shooter. Simple games like Angry Birds HD (£2.99) and Plants vs Zombies HD (£5.99) can prove better though, but Apple is truly becoming a serious player in terms of gaming.
Most iPhone games and apps work on the iPad, but if it's not optimised for iPad, you can run it at its original iPhone size - 480 x 320. You can hit the 2x button to pixel double, but generally speaking things look pretty rubbish – the upscaling works for basic apps, but graphics are horrid.
Apple iPad 3G: 3G performance
With the iPad 3G carrying a not-insignificant £100 premium on top of the Wi-fi only version – before your monthly tariff charges, of course - the obvious questions then, are: does the 3G work well, and is it worth paying for?
The advantages of the iPad 3G are obvious. While the original iPad relies entirely on Wi-Fi hotspots to stay connected, the iPad 3G is a true roaming device which uses 3G phone networks to stay online whenever you've got reception.
We're testing the iPad 3G using the Vodafone UK network, but there are lots of different networks and tariffs to choose from.
The cheapest iPad 3G data plan in the UK comes from Three, with 1GB of data costing you as little as £7.50 a month, while £15 a month will net you a 10GB plan. That's a heck of a lot cheaper than some of the other networks. Vodafone, for example, is charging £25 for just 5GB.
3G data plans for the iPad are available from Three, O2, Vodafone and Orange, and you can read more about the best deals in our Best iPad data plans for UK buyers piece.
The iPad 3G uses a new kind of SIM card called a microSIM. The chip is exactly the same as on a normal SIM card, there's just less plastic surrounding it so it's smaller. The microSIM fits into a slot on the left hand side of the chassis.
In the box you'll find a small pin tool which you can use to eject the microSIM holder, which then just slots neatly back in once you've inserted the SIM.
It goes without saying that browsing the internet using the iPad's 3G connection is nowhere near as slick an experience as using the Wi-Fi - just as with the iPhone.
Websites take around three times as long to load, even with a full signal. This depends on the network of course, and has little to do with the iPad itself. The iPad will always try to connect to a Wi-Fi connection if one is available anyway, so you'll only use your data connection where absolutely necessary.
The App Store is one place you might want to avoid going if you're away from a wireless network. It's a slow process browsing it, and downloading and installing Apps can be a laborious experience unless your connection is bullet proof and lightning fast.
While the benefits of 3G connectivity are obvious, it's not all smooth sailing for the iPad 3G. We think the price is a massive drawback – it could even be a dealbreaker, and this is why…
Remember the iPad 3G costs from £529 with that £100 premium. You've then got to pay your tariff, which could cost anywhere between £7.50 and £25 a month. And that means in your first 12 months, the iPad 3G will cost you £619 at the very least –if you want more than a 1GB plan it'll be more of course – up to £829. Whichever way you look at it, that's ludicrously expensive.
The Three MiFi is one example of a product you can pair with the Wi-Fi only iPad to negate the need to spend that extra £100 for the 3G model.
It's a dongle which offers up its 3G connection as a Wi-Fi signal to any or all of your wireless devices. As far as the iPad is concerned, it's connected to a Wi-Fi access point – except you're on the move and not tied down to that Starbucks café you had lunch in.
The MiFi is available from as little as £9.50 a month on an 18 month contract. What's more, you'll be able to use it for your phone and your laptop as well. The total comes to a minimum of £543 – still expensive in our book, but much more agreeable than the alternative – especially if you insist on a 3G connection.
Apple iPad 3G: Verdict
So, iPad. Much-awaited. Much-wanted. And, yep, it's terrific – a tablet experience like nothing else we've seen. But we know that more variants are coming. Android, Chrome, even Windows Phone 7 – we'll no doubt see more devices like the iPad. And very soon, too.
The great thing about the iPad ecosystem is the apps, of course, and as long as developers keep developing , the iPad will make for a tremendous device. Some of the iPad-enabled apps are absolutely cracking. Even something like AccuWeather really comes alive when used on such a great screen.
Even if you've used an iPhone, the iPad really is something you need to experience first-hand. And this iPad 3G version really opens up the possibilities for go-everywhere web surfing and tweeting.
Yep, so that's available on the iPhone, and whether you need this 3G variant really depends on if you think you'll need the 3G capability when you're out and about. After all, £100 is quite a premium for the iPad 3G capability. And that's before you get to the not-inconsequential cost of a data tariff.
The iPad has all the great stuff from the iPhone, but really puts it on a device that makes the internet sing. And it's great for video. Really, really great for video. It's a terrific coffee table device, even if it's not immediately clear how you're meant to sit with it – you might want to invest in a case with a stand, for example.
The Apple A4 processor is speedy and graphics are crisp, but we wonder whether it will stand the test of time. You can just tell that it might not be too long before, like the iPhone 3G's chip – it's just no longer up to the task. The battery life is decent, too. We liked the data experience of the iPad 3G and being able to receive data when we were out and about, too.
It's not all good. The main problem with the iPad 3G is its extra price. As if £429-£599 wasn't enough of a price to pay for an iPad, you need to budget for an extra £100. And that's before you get to the iPad data deals.
Then, there's the keyboard. It's not quite good enough and needs more options. It's also no good for use for more than a little bit of data entry. The iPad is not a word processing or work device, despite what Apple might say with its iWork apps, available for £9.99 each on the App Store.
Flash is also still a problem, but it's just one of those things – either you're with Apple, or you're not.
Chances are you've already made up your mind whether or not to get one, so if you have your choice is just whether to get an iPad 3G or just the iPad Wi-Fi. Whichever iPad you choose, it does many things very well.
There's no doubting it: the iPad 3G is a great device and it certainly lays down the gauntlet for tablet competitors. It's expensive – and through monthly costs far, far more so than the iPad Wi-Fi. We do think the iPad Wi-Fi is a more compelling option. Especially when you consider that despite the lack of 3G in that model, you can still get online using other means, such as 3's MiFi.
Now check out our iPad Wi-Fi review
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