iPad 3 £399

20th Dec 2012 | 17:20

iPad 3

Sharper screen, faster innards - but is it worth the update?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Once again Apple brings out its best tablet to date – it needed something a little extra to push it to five stars, but it's definitely the market leader

Like:

Superb screen; Slick gaming; Simple interface;

Dislike:

Can overheat; Apps take up too much space; No expandable storage; Thicker than iPad 2;

Overview, design and feel

The iPad is dead, long live the iPad... although only an incremental upgrade, the new iPad 4 has been released to usurp this model.

However, at only £359 the iPad 3 is still on sale and still offers a strong experience with the latest version of Apple's operating system, iOS 6.

However, the iPad 3 is a device that from the outside looks remarkably like the iPad 2 but with an overhaul on the innards.

The question most people ask us when it comes to the third iteration is: what's different from the old one?

Well, in this case it's pretty easy: there's a Retina Display that makes everything looks superbly crisp, an updated A5X processor bringing quad-core graphics and a 5MP camera on the rear with a VGA sensor on the front.

Oh, and the iPad 3 was also the device that brings iOS 5.1 to the masses (well, it's also on the likes of the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 as well, but hey, we're not reviewing those today.)

New iPad 3 review

The design of the iPad 3 isn't really anything different from the original duo from Apple's tablet range. Actually, while we're thinking about it, it looks almost identical to the iPad 2 – to the point you'd struggle to tell them apart when turned off.

However, in the hand, there's a little bit of a difference, especially when it comes to the weight. The new iPad is nearly 60g heavier than the previous iteration, and while it's not terrible, it does add a little arm strain during a marathon movie session.

Retina Display

Before we get onto all the normal insight over the frame of the new iPad, it's worth talking about the main feature: the Retina Display.

Apple has packed a huge amount more pixels into the 9.7-inch screen - 1536 x 2048 to be exact. However, despite the fact that the Cupertino brand makes a big thing about the 330 PPI density of the iPhone 4, we're looking at a screen that's technically a lot less sharp than its smartphone brethren - around 264PPI.

New iPad 3 review

Apple has got around this fact by stating that the screen is meant to be held at 15 inches from the face, rather than the 10 inches the iPhone is supposed to from your eyes, and as such the sharpness is the same.

Given the fact the term 'Retina Display' really isn't a legally binding term, we don't care. What matters is the effect - and it's one of the most impressive we've seen on a tablet to date. If someone took an iPad, printed out a really hi-res image of an iOS system and stuck it on the front, we'd struggle to tell the difference - it's superb, and even squinting up close you'll be hard pushed to notice any pixelation.

The colour reproduction will also appeal to many, as it's pretty close to reality - it lacks the punch of the Super AMOLED HD screens seen on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note for instance, but it will depend on personal preference as to whether that's a good thing.

We like the vivid colours of Samsung's screens, but we know plenty of people that loathe them too.

The main thing is things like internet browsing; photo viewing and movie sessions are all much, much improved over the iPad 2, and is one of the main reasons to pick up the iPad 3.

Check out how the iPad 3 display got on when it went head-to-head with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity in our video below.

Design

The iPad 3, as we said, is only marginally thicker and a little heavier than the iPad 2, and if you pick it up with no knowledge of the former, you'll likely be mighty impressed.

The rest of the design is premium too - given you can be paying a fair whack for a top end model, it needs to seem like a worthwhile investment, and it does.

New iPad 3 review

The curved edges, the oleophobic scratch-proof glass and the aluminium chassis are all the kind of thing that some Android tablets have tried to ape and failed. Of course, many will prefer the feather-light frames of some of the Samsung models but, like the screen, it really comes down to personal preference.

The buttonry on the iPad 3 is pretty sparse though - we're talking four buttons and that's your lot.

New iPad 3 review

The iconic home button is back once again, despite rumours of its demise, and is easy to reach and hit within the thick bezel.

New iPad 3 review

The rest of the buttons are all clustered tightly together in the top left-hand corner of the device, with the rocker/volume key, the mute/orientation switch and power/lock key all within an inch of one another.

As you can see, Apple has been pretty efficient with the button placement, with all of them performing more than one function. And they say the iPad can't multi-task... tsk.

Interface

The iPad 3 is now running just hind the iPad 4 thanks to iOS 6, and with it comes a whole host of new fancy features - although obviously the chip inside is slower.

However, before we go through what's new, we'll take a quick tour across the operating system to show just how simple it is to operate an iPad.

The home screen is laid out in a very similar way to the iPhone, except we're seeing some much larger icons for the apps you've downloaded.

new iPad review

You can fill as many home screens as you like with apps as you download more from the App Store, and swiping from screen to screen on the iPad 3 is still smooth even with loads of programs downloaded.

There's also the dock at the bottom of the display which can hold up to six regularly-used apps that are present on all home screens, which is more than the four on offer with the iPhone thanks to the extra screen real estate.

new iPad 4 review

Neat freaks need not despair either: it's easy to create folders of the apps you want to lump together simply by dragging an icon and plopping it on top of another – the iPad will create a name for the group based on the content, but it's easy to rename these.

iOS 6 doesn't offer too much in the way of new features for the user interface, but a trick that Apple has learned from Google's Android is the notifications bar, which can be accessed simply by swiping down from the top of the screen.

This contains information on everything from unread mail messages to notifications of new moves in games you're playing with friends. It's a simple system and one that's prevalent throughout the system, even in most apps, meaning you can easily jump in and out of applications where necessary.

You can also now post a tweet or a Facebook status update from this bar as well - while it's not the easiest place to share a link directly from, if you just saw a squirrel do the moonwalk time is of the essence when it comes to telling people.

Speaking of which, it's worth taking a look at the multi-tasking gestures on offer, as they're pretty sensational. Using a full set of fingers on the screen allows three functions: pinching in will take you to the home screen, flicking up will enable the multi-tasking window and swiping left will let you bounce between open apps.

It really works on the iPad 3, and we urge you to check it out as it really makes moving through the system easy and cool at the same time.

There's a great debate over what really constitutes multi-tasking – but in our view, the iPad does enough to warrant the title. The likes of the BlackBerry Playbook are more capable when it comes to fully running programs in the background, but most users will struggle to really notice the difference when the iPad and its Android competition are asked to jump between apps.

As mentioned, you can easily multi-finger swipe up or double tap the home button to call up a list of recently opened apps, which can be deleted from the tray by a single long press and tapping of the 'x' that appears.

New iPad 4 review

Swiping right in the multi-tasking tray will also call up the music player, which allows you to see what songs are about to play, or change the volume or brightness. Not new, but the closest thing to a widget we'll get here.

The lock screen allows you to do some pretty funky stuff; double tapping the home button will call up the music player so you can switch tracks or pause without needing to open the iPad. Also, there's an option to have a slide show of your photos – although we've all got some we don't want to see cycling past at times.

New iPad 4 review

The iPad interface is one that's a little hard to judge, as it's so subjective we're bound to be chastised for the manner in which we rate the OS. However, in our minds it's too simplistic these days, with no opportunity for real customisation, and that's something we've been hoping Apple will fix for years.

The good news is Sir Jony Ive is taking over the design of the OS, and we're hoping to see some really big changes when iOS 7 rolls around.

But then again others hate overly-complicated user interfaces, and they'll love the simple icon-centric offering. There are other foibles, like apps not re-aligning when one is deleted off a screen, but there are examples of this happening on other tablets all the time, so it's hard to criticise the iPad specifically.

The iPad 3 doesn't quite have the zip of the iPad 4 though, thanks to only using an A5X chip, which pales into comparison with the iPad 4's A6X offering. The only difference between the two is there were very, very sporadic occasions where the iPad 3 would judder a little, and opening and closing apps is noticeably slower.

New iPad 4 review

Compared to the iPad 2, there's an increase under the hood from 512MB of RAM to 1GB – given the previous iteration had a decent level of snap between programs, the new iPad doesn't really need to push things too much harder... but if it makes apps loads that little bit more quickly and doesn't eat battery, then we're fans.

Basically, if you want simple and a mostly slick user interface, then you're in for a treat. It's not the most complete system out there, and while iOS 6 is showing its age it's still a more than acceptable platform to power Apple's most complete iPad.

Contacts and FaceTime

When you boil down the 'point' of a tablet, the lines are still very blurred between a large smartphone and a standalone device – and the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note, with the 5.3-inch screen, and confusing things even more.

The iPad 3 can do nearly everything the iPhone 5 brother can do, with the exception of voice calling. However, it's the layout that impresses us, as Apple has taken some time to go through and really make use of the extra screen size.

New iPad 3 review

Contacts are laid out in a proper address book format: we're talking tabs at the side you can scroll down, and your own contact info all stored on the opening page. If you lose your new iPad then you'll either get a saint that knows how to contact you to return your device or a scary man who now knows where you live.

The contacts are all sadly faceless at the start – you have to manually go through and give each person a picture unless you've synchronised from Google or Exchange and have already assigned one.

It's still really annoying that you can't draw in profile pictures from Facebook and Twitter still – it would really set off the iPad's contact list and given there's already deep integration with Twitter in iOS we can only assume Apple doesn't like the quality level of the profile icons.

New iPad 3 review

As we've mentioned earlier, getting contacts on your new iPad can be achieved in many ways: you can download them easily from a previous list on an iPhone or older iPad, and the sync process is jolly quick.

You can also pull them in from the likes of Exchange or Google, although the latter is harder than it should be – if you want to know how to get contacts on the new iPad from Google, you'll have to follow the linked instructions.

FaceTime

The good news here is all those phone numbers you've brought across aren't useless, as giving the string of digits a tap will result in a FaceTime call.

Of course, this is only any use of the other person a) has a compatible iPhone or iPad and b) is in a Wi-Fi zone.

New iPad 3 review

The actual call quality itself isn't too bad – the front facing VGA camera does the job fine, although with the Retina Display you can't help but look pretty grainy.

However, the picture looks smooth and clear if you're calling an iPhone – just be ready for the fact if you're calling an iPad 3, you're going to have to look your best to minimise the flaws in your face.

We're still not sold on the idea of FaceTime or video calling in general – but in order to achieve 'enchantment' with the new iPad Apple mandates you have to call your partner from another country to look at a baby... so video calling is a must.

Just be aware there are other services on the App Store that can achieve the same thing but with much more flexibility.

Messaging

The iPad 3 is a device that's really about consuming media than creating it (at least when it comes to prose) and as such, you wouldn't label it a message-centric device.

However, that doesn't mean it's not one of the best out there, as when it comes to the likes of emailing it's simply brilliant if you can get past the slightly odd keyboard.

New iPad 3 review

We'll start with Apple's keyboard on the iPad, as it's consistent throughout the OS. It's a great option in our eyes if you're one of those that's invested in a SmartCover to help bring some elevation to the screen, as you can use it as a desktop keyboard pretty easily - although you'll need to get over the lack of feedback under the finger and the dull 'thunk' as your digits bash the screen.

New iPad 3 review

However, it's not as good for holding the iPad 3 and trying to get a missive out to the world; cradling it in landscape mode means you can't hit the middle keys as easily, and when in portrait you've got the issue of the device being quite top-heavy so it's again an uncomfortable experience.

You can open up a split keyboard to make it a little easier to type in the hands, but be warned this is at the expense of accuracy.

So in summary: accuracy of keys good, holding iPad to type bad.

Email

The email client on the iPad 3 is pretty goshdarn good in our opinion - the iOS email app is second only to Windows Phone in our opinion, and that's not got a tablet category, so Apple's way out in front here.

From the range of mail portals you can use (many) to the ease of getting notified of an email (unobtrusive - a little pop down from the top and it will sit in your notifications bar), it's a simple way of using the iPad as a decent background emailing device.

New iPad 3 review

The email interface itself is also good - a unified inbox allows you to combine both work and personal life, but in truth many will prefer to bounce between to two. A list pane can be called up whenever you like, meaning it's easy to read an email and then jump back into the inbox with a flick of the finger.

It's elements like this that make the iPad 3 a different beast to the iPhone, and Apple has recognised this. Text is also much more legible on the Retina Display - we're not saying it was terrible before, but we definitely felt it was a more comfortable reading experience.

The other key feature the iPad 3 has is the ability to wander through mail folders - many people are dealing with email overload these days by sticking them in separate folders for later, and it's key to be able to get access to these without having to mess about with thousands of taps.

New iPad 3 review

Searching for email is similarly easy - you pull down from the top of the screen to get access to the search bar, and from there you can easily ask for any word in an email that might have been put somewhere - be it the sender's name, subject or general message text - plus the server searches are very speedy as well.

If you've got an iPhone or iPad already, the above will be of no surprise to you - the iPad 3 doesn't really take this story on any further, except to make text more legible - but it's worth mentioning as it will be a key feature to many prospective buyers. There's also a cool flexible little chap that pops down when you now pull the update the inbox... worth playing with even without an email account.

Siri dictation

Siri has taken the place of Dictation on the new iPad thanks to the arrival of iOS 6, and it's designed to help you understand what's being said and note it down in front of you.

However, it's not improved at all over the original Dictation service, as even with slow, even speech it's only 90% accurate in our tests, which just isn't enough to consider switching from the normal keypad when writing an email.

There aren't that many services out there which are better, in fairness, but that doesn't mean it makes us love Siri any more... in fact, it just makes us frustrated this awesome feature isn't better.

Twitter and Facebook

It's not really messaging as such, but it's worth mentioning Apple's deep integration with Twitter. Well, deep as in you can Tweet a photo directly from the Gallery app, as there's no on board client or anything to mess around with, nor can you assign Twitter names to contacts, although Facebook makes this possible.

The integration for sharing via both of these services is improved too, with the option in the internet browser making it easy to tell your buddies when you've seen something of note.

New iPad 3 review

However, when you take a picture there's an option to post it straight to Twitter or Facebook providing you've linked up the account in Settings - plus you get a pleasant little chirping sound when it sends in the case of the former. Nice..

Internet

And here we come to one of the key reasons to buy the iPad 3: the internet browsing experience.

You can imagine that a device designed for internet browsing is only going to be improved hugely with the addition of a high resolution Retina Display - and you're be pretty much bang on the money.

New iPad 3 review

The screen looks superb when flicking around the internet - be it text heavy sites or those filled with pointless photos of Michael Bublé being stalked by raptors, it all looks so much better than on previous tablets or smartphones, and it's cheaper than the iPad 4.

The odd thing is how impressive text and pictures look on the screen. Yes, we know the pixel density is stupidly high for a tablet, but most of us will have used a desktop monitor with the same level of clarity in the past, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

It's the shine of the iPad 3 that makes it so much more stunning - the screen isn't too reflective, but just gliding your finger over the display is a really pleasant sensation.

We know this isn't really the way we usually review an internet browser, but Apple users have a different expectation when it comes to purchasing decisions compared to picking up a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and thinking about the CPU power running under the hood.

However, if we look at the technical specifications, the iPad 3 is no slouch as we've discussed - and that certainly shows with the internet browsing experience.

New iPad 3 review

We noticed a definite improvement in the speed with which TechRadar loaded under both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, with the latter showing the most improvement at 2-3 seconds until fully loaded.

We were using the iPad 3 on the EE 3G network, which generally stayed strong (although it did take a little while to recover a 3G connection when switching at times). We found very little in the way of signal drop thanks to the wider coverage (which is being touted as the widest by the network) which is always a plus.

We did find one problem in that the iPad would sometimes refuse to connect up to mobile data despite having a full 3G signal - this was a real problem that only turning the device on an off again would solve, although was intermittent.

The internet browsing experience on the iPad 3 is definitely closing in on the experience of the desktop browser, with the likes of tabbed browsing making it very easy to jump between different pages instead of having to flick out to see which windows are currently open.

There are other features that have carried across here as well, with the Reader tab in the address bar turning any text on the page into an ebook like experience.

When we first played with this feature we were excited to no longer have the issue of pictures getting in the way of our reading experience, but in reality it's not as cool as we expected - it takes a couple of seconds to load up, and as it doesn't save text for offline reading, isn't much of an upgrade from reading on the web page.

New iPad 3 review

The web browser does have a few missing elements in our minds, and not just the lack of Flash integration. We're not going to get into the Flash debate here - it's becoming less and less relevant on mobile devices thanks to the onset of HTML5 coding, but it's still a noticeable omission. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether you can live without web video on certain sites.

It's more the fact the iPad 3 web browser hasn't quite nailed the icon sizes that we take umbrage with. Things like hitting the icon to reload the page or shut down a tab are difficult to hit, as they're pretty tiny.

Apple has clearly increased the accuracy around these, as otherwise you'd need Borrower-size fingers to use them, but we still had a large number of mis-hits when simply trying to bounce between web pages.

New iPad 3 review

The other issue we've got is text reflow, where the words rearrange themselves on the screen to fit your zoom level. Apple's got that great pinch to zoom functionality on offer, but once you get too close to the text there's no way to make it wriggle about to fill the screen.

Spend any amount of time with an HTC device, and you'll see what a key feature this is... when you get to some web pages on the iPad 3, you simply can't get close enough into the text and still see it all on the screen at once, and that's a failing in our eyes.

Overall, the internet browser on the iPad is terrific though. Web pages load very quickly most of the time, the text looks stunning on the new Retina Display, and getting the answers your require from the web is brilliant.

There are still some things Apple can tidy up: better accuracy on certain elements on the page, a clearer bookmarking system, better zooming in and out of text when viewing long web pages are the key things we'd look at.

But many will buy the iPad 3 primarily for sofa-based web browsing, and it certainly is up to that task.

Camera

New iPad 3 review

One of the main upgrades on the iPad 3 is the camera – we're talking a move from 0.7MP (which in itself was a move from no camera at all) to a 5MP offering.

This is relatively similar to the snapper located in the iPhone 4S, with a ƒ/2.4 aperture and a five-element lens offering up some pretty tasty specs for the amateur photographer that likes to take a quick snap now and again.

We should also mention the 'tap to autofocus' mode as well – it helps correct the sharpness and exposure levels of the image, and really works.

New iPad 3 review

Despite the upgrade in specs, it's hard to believe Apple has really made the camera a priority, as there are some elements we're struggling to understand.

For instance, you're able to take a photo using the volume key to make it easier to snap. Firstly, this is quite stiff and leads to some picture wobble, and secondly, doing it this way means it's almost impossible to not put your finger over the lens.

There's no flash to speak of, which we can kind of understand given the packaging gone into the iPad 3 chassis, but it would still be nice on occasion.

New iPad 3 review

And the shutter speed, which is so impressive on the iPhone 4S with lower specs, isn't present here – we're not talking much slower, and it's pretty fast – but there's a slight delay between snaps.

There's also no hint of High Dynamic Range (HDR) options on the new iPad, which means you don't get those beautifully interpolated photos so many people like on the iPhone.

However, Apple has kept the iPad 3 camera simple – we're happy with the results, but it's more a decent camera in case of emergency rather than your primary snapping weapon of choice.

New iPad 3 review

In strong light, the level of detail is impressive

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New iPad 3 review

You can touch the screen to set the exposure level - here the sun is tapped

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New iPad 3 review

And here the darkest part of the screen

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New iPad 3 review

At full zoom, the noise gets pretty dicey

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New iPad 3 review

The automatic macro mode is highly impressive - this is with the sensor almost pressed against the object

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New iPad 3 review

And this is the image from further away

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New iPad 3 review

Text focuses quickly and is highly legible

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New iPad 3 review

Indoor shots are a little grainier - but tapping to alter the focus has a great effect

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New iPad 3 review

Here tapping on the fireplace opens up the shot to a different level of brightness

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New iPad 3 review

This was a very quickly taken image - we were impressed with the result

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New iPad 3 review

However, the lack of flash really lets down the darker shots - this would have been an awesome photo else

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Video

The video camera on the new iPad 3 manages to now shoot in 1080p at up to 30 fps, with the front facing camera managing VGA quality at the same 30fps.

New iPad 3 review

There's not much more to say about the camera, as there's no option to mess about with the settings when you're taking a video.

However, the anti-shake effects are very good - quality is strong and the built-in image stabilisation is deeply impressive – our best bouncy walk should have made for unwatchable footage but the new iPad shrugged it off.

Media

New iPad 3 review

Now, here comes the good stuff. Most people we speak to use the iPad for two things: internet browsing and media consumption.

Yes, we know it's more than half decent for a number of other tasks, but media is definitely one of the iPad 3's strong points.

The capacities aren't upped with the third iteration of Apple's tablet though; that's going to be a bit of a worry when you look at some of the media sizes now on offer and you can only choose a 16GB, 32GB or 64GB model.

New iPad 3 review

With no expandable memory on display… well, Apple may have played itself into a corner for the new iPad.

Music

Music used to be the core focus of any Apple product, but that's clearly no longer the case – not to say the fruity firm has lost its way when it comes to audio playback.

It's one of the few elements that Apple has deigned to give a widget-like experience too – both on the lock screen and the multi-tasking pane – and users will really feel the benefit of being able to control their tunes from anywhere within the system.

New iPad 3 review

However, the main music player itself isn't actually that easy to use; we were unimpressed with the fact the controls were stuck high in the top left-hand corner of the app, and there's no way to increase their size.

It's not a terrible system, but if you're using the iPad 3 to listen to some tunes, there's not a lot more you're going to want from the music app when flicking through tracks – larger icons would make much more sense here.

New iPad 3 review

However, in terms of music quality the new iPad is certainly up there – even without messing around with the equaliser or sound check options, the results are still more than good enough for everyone but the most discerning audiophile.

In terms of music formats the device is capable of playing back, we think most would struggle in this day and age to have some incompatible formats from the list of MP3, most types of AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless and WAV files.

Video

Imagine the jump from your standard definition TV to a full 1080p video of something the BBC shot with David Attenborough… it was immense. We were expecting something along the same lines with the iPad 3, but in reality, we weren't that blown away.

New iPad 3 review

That's going to sound odd to some people, and we should probably qualify it: with the Retina Display, Apple has brought tablet video watching to the level it should be at. Most users will have seen video on a smartphone at around WVGA or qHD level, and been gobsmacked at the sharpness.

Tablets haven't been able to match that so far… until the iPad 3 that is. Video looks as good on a larger display as it does on a larger screened TV or tiny smartphone, and that's what we've been waiting for.

However, it's worth pointing out that, like on a full HD TV, the wow factor only comes when you're viewing 1080p content – other SD movies and TV shows just look OK in comparison. Not terrible by any means… just not amazing.

And we're presented with a wealth of other tablets with top end resolution too - be it the Nexus 10 or the Sony Xperia Tablet S, Apple is no longer alone in the high resolution game.

New iPad 3 review

The iPad 3 has the best video playback quality we've seen from the Apple tablet range so far (although the smoothness of the iPad 4 is a touch better), with the expected good levels of sharpness.

It sometimes still struggles with the contrast ratios (the difference between the light and dark areas of the video) on non-HD content, and the glossy screen will still annoy people that can see their reflection more than the content on the screen in bright areas.

But it's still a great movie experience when lying on a deckchair on the beach, or around a campfire in the Amazon (or whatever hip scenario the Cupertino brand is pushing this week) as long as you've got some nice content to watch.

New iPad 3 review

Thankfully, Apple has deigned to give users a fully stocked iTunes portal to download video from, and there's so much to choose from. It's also pulled a neat trick by making it possible to access 1080p content without adding too much onto the file sizes seen at 720p, which should aid some users' decisions.

However, there are two areas that severely limit the iTunes store in terms of making it a really compelling video portal: price and file size.

It seems ludicrous that the first season of Modern Family should cost £35 in the UK when you can pick up the DVD for £10 in most places. We know that's at HD level, but still – it's way too expensive to be a viable alternative to just watching it on a TV.

And then there's the issue of file size – most full HD movies are between 3-4GB in size, which means if you've only got a 16GB new iPad 3, you're going to be severely limited in what you can take with you (and that's even before we get into the app sizes).

New iPad 3 review

So it's a double edged sword when it comes to video on the iPad 3: on the one hand the screen is pin sharp, the quality excellent at full HD and even the sound out the little grille at the side is strong and relatively powerful on the bass.

New iPad 3 review

But then there's issue of paying through the nose to actually get the content onto your device (unless you happen to have a glut of M4V-ready HD video files on your home computer) and the fact it will dominate your internal storage too.

It felt like the iPad 3 was the precursor to a truly amazing video-playing iPad 4 – with up to 128GB of onboard storage and a more affordable video store - but now we've seen that simply hasn't happened.

Battery life and connectivity

New iPad 3 review

Apple's relationship with battery life on its portable devices has been a rocky one over the years. But we'll let you breathe a little easier: the new iPad 3 has a more than acceptable battery life in our eyes.

It's an interesting situation – we reckon if the same battery efficiency used here has been put in the iPad 2, the device would be rocking a time between charges of between 3-5 days, even with more than moderate use.

How much does that retina display drain the battery? We test the new iPad in exactly the same conditions as the Google Nexus 7 tablet:

As it stands, you'll be getting around two days of juice in the iPad 3, as although the battery pack is so much larger the Retina Display is sucking down the power just to keep all the pixels showing the right colours.

However, our longer-term test showed this will deplete over time: heavy users will only get a day's use, so be warned.

And then there's the issue of 4G or 3G connectivity on top of that screen power – push that a little harder and it's highly likely you'll be seeing maybe a day's use out of the new iPad, although we've yet to test that connection speed fully as yet.

New iPad 3 review

If you're going to be taking the iPad 3 on a long haul flight and are intending to consume a large amount of video, we'd reckon you could just eke things out to three movies if you're lucky – in our tests we were seeing consumption of around 15% per hour when firing up the screen.

To test this we looped a 720p video and tested to see how long it took to drain the battery – although this is atypical use (as you'll likely be prodding the screen every so often and firing up other apps in the background) we managed to get around 350mins of use out of our iPad 3 on a single charge.

Connections

There are so many connection options on the new iPad 3 that it's hard to list them all… but we're a diligent bunch here, so we'll give it a go.

The big one we're excited about is Bluetooth 4.0 – the latest version of the wireless technology, and here's our explanation from our lovely 'What is Bluetooth?' feature:

"Bluetooth 4.0 uses even less power than previous versions, and enables various devices to replace propriety sensor technology with Bluetooth.

"This Bluetooth Low Energy has benefits for technology in fitness, such as heart rate monitors and pedometers, which before could only communicate with a specific device controlling them. Now this information could theoretically be checked by any phone or computer."

New iPad 3 review

"The use of Bluetooth 4.0 still isn't that widespread, but it's tipped to grow, with the possibility to even be used to work as a wireless payment system in a similar fashion to the slower speeds of NFC."

We noted that a lot of videos would fall out of sync when watched over Bluetooth headphones, which was intriguing as they would gradually fall back into step with speech only to slip again when new chapters started. Annoying.

Above that, we've got Wi-Fi up to 802.11 n standard, aGPS and a gyroscope. If that wasn't enough for you, there's a cellular data connection that can handle up to 73Mbps depending on the territory you're in, with the likes of DC-HSPA promising speeds of over 40Mbps for those in the less well-connected territories.

As you can probably guess based on past models, Apple has decided to once again use a micro SIM on the iPad 3 – we think you should probably get used to the format, as it seems to be the popular choice for most manufacturers going forwards.

Apps and Maps

New iPad 3 review

When it comes to Apps, you'd think there's nothing much to worry about if you're using an Apple device. And you'd be mostly right: the new iPad 3 offers up over 250,000 apps, with a greater number than ever designed for the iPad specifically.

However, there's a slight worry about those meant for the Retina Display, although probably not to the levels that some in the media are trumpeting at the moment. Sure, there are some that are pushing nearly half a GB in size (iMovie, we're looking at you here) but we still need to see how other upgraded apps fare.

New iPad 3 review

We really don't want to see 400MB-500MB apps becoming the norm on the iPad 3, as even with a 32GB model once you've chucked in a couple of HD films you'll be having to think about which apps you want on there… and that's never a good thing on a device – just ask HTC Desire owners.

But we'll wait until we pass judgement on this, as past performance has shown us Apple's headline apps always seem to take up more space that those from the average developer.

Until then, let's take a look at the apps Apple is telling us just look sooooo great on the iPad 3 Retina Display:

iMovie

If you're a budding filmographer... well, chances are you'll want something that's a little more high power than the iPad and will want a little more effort when it comes to the program used to cut it all together. But for the average Joe Schmo making a couple of videos of his dogs and deciding it would be fun to make a mini movie of them, you know, professional-like, this is a decent addition.

New iPad 3 review

At £3, it's a little pricey, but once you've made a couple of movie trailers, you'll see why it's more fun than functional - we had a blast once we'd thought about the footage we wanted to chuck in.

The main project option can be really well exploited by putting together some nice interstitials to give your home movies a bit of flair - but be warned, it's a little limited, despite how awesome the films some people seem to be managing.

New iPad 3 review

We will say one thing: it's much easier to cut together a decent-ish film with a better looking screen, and the speed with which the A5X processor is able to keep things running is a plus to us, although the iPad 4 is even more adept at the same trick.

iBooks

iBooks is a place where the new iPad 3 really shines. It doesn't really manage to beat the likes of the Amazon Kindle when it comes to easing strain on the eyes, but the smooth way the letters are laid on the page make it a joy to use to munch through your favourite tome of the moment.

New iPad 3 review

The likes of a little bookmark animation really make this app pop, and with the prices not terrible on many titles this is another decent stab from Apple at taking another cut of the ebook market.

iPhoto

iPhoto is another app that really takes advantage of the Retina Display on the iPad 3, and it makes editing that much easier thanks to it.

We were quickly applying saturation effects left, right and centre to make our pictures look a little cooler - it's basically the same as the editing tools already in the photo gallery (where you can auto fix, crop, enhance etc) but made 50x better, with a large amount of effects on offer to play with.

New iPad 3 review

You can export the images to things like Twitter, Facebook and your own journal - for those that love to document their life through the iPad 3 (you know who you are) they'll love this option on the larger tablet.

Newsstand

Like iBooks, the Newsstand is a much improved version of the previous tablet app - the Retina Display is a real winner in our eyes for making your publications look that much slicker, and the magazines and newspapers that have embedded video really stand out when it comes to showing off the multimedia advantages of a digital publications.

New iPad 3 review

Reminders

We've included this here only because we're really disappointed with it compared to the iPhone version: there's no location-based awesomeness to play with.

This is despite the fact the new iPad 3 has a GPS chip built in, but there's no way to make sure a reminder is triggered when you're in a certain area.

Maps

You've probably seen the outcry over the loss of Google Maps on iOS 6 in favour of the new Apple Maps system - and yes, it's not the best thing Apple has ever done, with the company currently advising you try other mapping apps on its phones and tablets while it improves the accuracy of its own offering.

iPad 3 review

The accuracy aside (things like being told Marylebone station is 100 metres to the right of where it actually is doesn't sound like much, but if you're navigating there using the directions on foot it can become very irritating) the new Maps app is actually pretty nifty, despite losing some of the functionality like Street View in Google Maps.

For instance, the new app can tell you where there are roadworks, has decent traffic information on the go (although we weren't able to test the exact accuracy of this as we only had a Wi-Fi version to test initially) and the like of Flyover, which gives a 3D render of real life stuff in a slightly peturbing form.

The UI is more than serviceable when it comes to real life use - the speed of rendering is swift and the Apple-esque fonts and art is impressive, especially when compared to Google Maps on Android.

Directions are now included, so free turn-by-turn navigation is available on an Apple device out of the box. It's a very clear system with lovely big blue boxes to look at and multiple routes on offer each time, which is something that it beats Google's offering on. It can also stay asleep and only wake when there's a turning coming up - which means it won't rinse the battery if you don't have a charger.

iPad 3 review

The only problem is there's no inbuilt public transport mode here, which means you have to install apps from the App Store to achieve the same thing... Google Maps can already do such a thing, and thankfully it's now available on Apple's portal as well.

It's a decent mapping service, and can locate you very quickly when asked... something iOS devices have always been pretty adept at doing; it's just frustrating that the new option has managed to forget how to tell you where you actually are.

Gaming

The gaming element of the iPad 3 has been enhanced once more with the addition of the A5X chip, which was not the quad core A6 chip we though Apple would be launching.

However, the A5X does come with quad-core graphical capabilities, which the Cupertino brand is promising will out-do the likes of the nVidia Tegra 3 chip, which is fully quad core, when it comes to gaming.

New iPad 3 review

We've given a few games the run around to see if the iPad 3 can really give the likes of the PS Vita, and even consoles themselves, a run for their money.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy

This is meant to be one of those games that really push the iPad 3 to its limits, allowing users to really experience visuals on the Retina Display that can match and even beat the likes of the PS3 and Xbox.

New iPad 3 review

Well, in reality, that's a pretty lofty claim that's not really managed. Sure, it looks great on the screen, but the gameplay and even the graphics aren't the best we've even seen - there was an obvious amount of polygons flying around at times, and the smoothness of the app wasn't as 'buttery' as we've seen on other titles.

On the iPad 4 it's a different story - that's definitely the model to get if you want the best Apple can offer for gaming on the go.

Overkill

This is more the sort of application that really benefits from a tablet screen and the Retina Display - lining up enemies for the that all-important head shot was much easier than on the iPad 2, with the improved contrast ratio really making it easier to set up the snipe.

New iPad 3 review

Eliminate: Gun Range

This is one of the first titles to really make use of the gyroscope in iOS devices, and it's still a great way to test the gameplay of the additional sensor.

The iPad 3 doesn't really have the accuracy of the iPhone though when it comes to being tilted this way and that for game play, plus it's a more cumbersome beast so getting your shots lined up can be a little more difficult than you'd hope.

New iPad 3 review

Angry Birds

No gaming section on an Apple device would be complete without looking at the old classic, and it's hard to find a bad word to say about the HD version of the game. The larger graphics already look great on the tablet, and the game play is flawless with that much RAM and computing power behind it.

New iPad 3 review

We're really hoping that a Retina Display version of Angry Birds makes its way to the App Store soon, as we could do with a side by side comparison to see how much better flinging the feathered offenders towards little green pigs is with more pixels to gawp at.

Hands on gallery

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

New iPad 3 review

Long term test

It's now been a few months since the new iPad 3 was unveiled, and we've been using it day in, day out to get a much better feel for how Apple's latest tablet really fits into your life. And now there's an iPad 4 to be thinking about - which is the one you should be buying?

For those people wondering if they need a tablet, the answer is probably no. Whether you WANT a tablet is a completely different story - and once you've tried a new iPad, being the 3 or 4, the rest just don't stack up - including the iPad 2.

Even after all this time the Retina Display still wows. With the SD card add-on it becomes a wonderful device to take on holiday (especially if you've invested in a decent camera). Checking out your photos on a beautiful screen with such a higher resolution makes everyday browsing a real pleasure.

Sure, we became a bit blasé about the internet browsing experience after a few weeks, in the same way many people stop noticing HD resolution on their new TV. However, as soon as we saw another tablet or an older smartphone, we were pining for the pin-sharp viewing experience the iPad brings.

iPad 3 review

For the price, you would expect the iPad to be nigh-on perfect; and although it's a mighty fine piece of kit, there are some niggles that are tricky to overlook.

First among these is the battery life - that lovely display drains the battery like you wouldn't believe - especially if you are doing anything intensive like gaming or watching videos.

It's rare that the iPad 3 made it through a day without needing a charge if it was doing much more than sitting in its case.This wasn't apparent in our initial tests, but as we loaded it up with apps and started to really use it day after day, the battery life became something of an issue.

However, the design question marks raised at launch were a bit over the top in our opinion: sure, Apple made a bit of a rod for its own back by boasting so long and so hard about the dimensions of the iPad 2.

iPad 3 review

So when the iPad 3 was thicker and heavier, you can understand the consternation of the reviewers.

But, from a practical viewpoint, the extra weight doesn't really make all that much difference; even the iPad 2 was never really a device that you could comfortably hold in one hand for long and an extra few grams and millimetres are neither here nor there in everyday use.

It's a little unfair to hold a premium product's price against it, but knowing how much an iPad costs - coupled with the size and weight of a ten inch tablet - mean that taking it anywhere is a mission of care.

The SmartCover is fine, but we couldn't help but feel it just doesn't offer enough protection out and about, so we ended up sticking the whole lot into another sturdier case - robbing the new iPad 3 of a whole level of convenience.

It's a measure of how much we love it, as well as how much an iPad costs, that we ended up accepting these barriers to our ease of use. Recent stats that suggest most people use their tablets primarily at home perhaps point to us not being the only ones who are in possession of a "cotton-wool tablet" - ie, the pristine design is something we really wanted to protect, and as such began to use it out and about less and less, despite having the 3G version.

It will be interesting to see how many iPad owners cast an eye over the significantly less premium, but cheaper and smaller Google Nexus 7 by Asus and wonder if that might be a little less worrying to cart around.

Verdict

New iPad 3 review

It's almost impossible to give a verdict on an Apple product that everyone will agree with, as there's so much about its devices that's entirely subjective, bringing responses no other product could manage.

The iPad 3, like many of Apple's products, is a little overpriced for what it delivers, and still lacks some key features. But given the sheer volume of people that queue up for days on end just to get their hands on one, are these really the problems some critics would have you believe?

We liked

Well, the first and most obvious highlight on the iPad 3 is the Retina Display. We've talked about it at great length throughout this whopping review and it's the one element that never failed to impress us no matter what application was running on the screen.

It's clear, it's bright, it's crisp; essentially it properly expands the smartphone experience onto a larger tablet and takes us into a new generation of displays.

We're also fans of the design of the iPad - and yes, we know it's the same as before. We're not sold on the fact it's heavier than the previous iteration, but the build quality is something most other manufacturers long for, and are constantly trying to ape.

Then there's the improved graphical performance, although not necessarily for the gaming aspect just yet. The titles we had a play with on the new iPad weren't visually arresting enough for us to proclaim the device the next coming in portable gaming, but combined with the improved screen offered something that will have others in the handheld market a little bit fearful.

And then there's the user interface - another element that polarises opinion. We're pretty agnostic here at TechRadar, and while we appreciate the power that can be had from widgets, there's something about the simplicity of the iOS UI that we just love - and simplicity counts for a huge amount in the burgeoning tablet market.

There will always be those that hate the lack of widgets, customisable home screens and more intuitive notification bars (and we salute you for that) but if you're in that camp, you're probably not even bothering to read this review as you know what you're getting with an Apple device.

We disliked

For all its power, there are still some elements of the iPad 3 that could be improved in our opinion. The first is the fact the device will heat up quite considerably under medium-term use (depending on the apps you're running), which could really disconcert some users; despite the fact it didn't seem to have a huge impact on battery life.

Then there's the things that make it feel like a second class citizen to the iPhone 4S: no location-based fun in the Reminders is an odd choices for this supposedly flagship device.

We're not going to criticise it for not being quad core considering there's no valid reason for such a chipset as yet in a tablet - but if the market shows there's a need for such power, the iPad 3 will look a little behind the curve.

The design is by no means terrible, but given Apple is a company that prides itself on design, adding heft and thickness to the new iPad seems an odd choice, and gives your arm an unwanted workout during a movie session.

And there's the issue of storage too: we suggest you steer clear of the 16GB model if you're going to be using a lot of apps or downloading HD films, as you'll find the space is used up pretty darn quick and you'll have to start deciding between different types of content.

Verdict

Despite the above negative points, there's no doubt we're still looking at a top contender in the tablet race once again. Apple's greatest strength has always been fusing together some headline features with an OS that just works, and will appeal to the largest amount of people.

Should you buy it over the £399 of the iPad 4 or the £269 of the iPad mini? There's no doubt there's a LOT better on the tablet front out there these days, and an extra £40 for a tablet means you should always look at the newer model, especially if you're shelling out that much.

In short: if you've got an iPad 2, or don't really care about visuals, then you should stick with / purchase the now much cheaper pad, but the smaller and more value-friendly Nexus 7 is even better than the iPad 4 in our eyes, so really think if you need that extra screen size.

It's a decent budget version and is really the iPad 4 with a slightly less impressive spec list - we can't really recommend it over the new version, but if you are given it for a present for some reason, it's still a great tablet to have around.

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