So, you may have noticed Apple announced a new iPad today. (HA HA, of course you noticed.) Early adopters and the die-hards who buy anything Apple puts out have probably already preordered it — you can do so here, at the same prices of the last generation (from $499 for 16GB Wi-Fi, to $829 for 64GB Wi-Fi + 4G).
But Apple isn’t limiting you to the new iPad. (Which we’ll refer to here as the iPad 3, just to make things clearer — Apple is calling it “the new iPad” and “third-generation iPad,” like how when they release a new MacBook it doesn’t come with a number on the end.) You can still buy the iPad 2, although you don’t get a choice of capacities: It only comes in 16GB, Wi-Fi only for $399, or Wi-Fi + 3G for $529.
Apple has a pretty slick comparison chart listing all the specs for the iPad 3 and the iPad 2 side-by-side. (Go here and click “Compare iPad models.”) So let’s run down those and answer these questions: If you have an iPad 2 already, should you upgrade? And if you don’t have any iPad yet, which one should you buy?
iPad 2 has the A5, iPad 3 has the A5X. Both are dual-core processors, but the big difference is that the A5X has quad-core graphics. (The processors are really systems-on-a-chip; there isn’t a separate graphics processing unit.) Apple doesn’t specify clock speed for the A5X or how much RAM the new iPad has, but iFixit will release a teardown in the next day or two that will shed some light.
Does it matter? For most users, no. If you are really into hardcore games, they’ll perform better on iPad 3. And as with any processor bump, the new hardware will feel speedier. But on its own, the processor gains are not a reason to upgrade — the iPad 2′s A5 is plenty fast.
The new iPad has a “high-resolution Retina display” achieved by stuffing in 3.1 million pixels, four times as many as in the iPad 2. The resolution is 2048×1536, which is 264 pixels per inch. To compare, the iPad 2 is 1024×768, or 132 pixels per inch, same as iPad 1. (The screen sizes remain 9.7 inches across all iPads.) Just for fun with numbers, the 27-inch Cinema Display is 2560×1440 pixels — in 27 inches. So this iPad 3 screen has a lot of pixels, and it’ll make everything look sharp and pretty, like the Retina displays on the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and current iPod touch.
Does this matter? When I got my iPhone 4, suddenly my iPad’s non-Retina display seemed to lose a little luster. The higher resolution doesn’t affect what apps you can run, but it just looks better. So in that sense it’s subjective. For iPad 2 owners the higher screen probably isn’t a reason to upgrade to iPad 3, but if you don’t have an iPad, just know that the iPad 3′s screen is way better.
Both iPads have dual cameras, one on the front and one on the back. The front cameras seem to be the same, or almost the same: VGA quality, able to record video at 30 frames per second (fps). In practice, they’re fine for videochatting with FaceTime or Skype, but only so-so for pictures and recording video. The back camera on the iPad 2 can record 720p video at 30fps, but for still photos it’s only around 0.7 megapixels. The back camera on iPad 3 is much improved, shooting 1080p video at 30fps with video stabilization, and also shooting 5-megapixel stills with autofocus, tap-to-focus, and face detection.
Does it matter? That depends on what you want to do with it — if you’re mostly using the iPad cameras for FaceTime or Skype, the iPad 2′s cameras are fine. I do know iPad 2 users who actually use it to shoot quick video clips and take snapshots. (They got an iPad 2 for Christmas and immediately unwrapped it and took videos of the rest of the Christmas presents being opened. OK, that’s cute, right?) The more powerful iMovie for iPad app will edit those 1080p videos without you even needing to transfer to a Mac. And the brand-new Apple TV will let you stream those 1080p videos to your TV too. So if you don’t already shoot video clips with an iPhone or with a dedicated camcorder or digital camera, the iPad 3′s camera might be attractive to you.
Size and Weight
Almost the same. The new iPad is slightly thicker, at 9.4mm compared to the iPad 2′s 8.8mm. Less than a millimeter! It’s also a little heavier: the Wi-Fi version is 1.44 pounds, while the iPad 2 Wi-Fi is 1.33 pounds. The new iPad with 4G is 1.46 pounds, and the iPad 2 3G is 1.34 pounds. Both come in black and white. (I like black.)
Does that matter? No. I guess if you were one of those ultralight backpackers who tries to shave every possible ounce, the new iPad’s extra 51 grams of weight might bother you. But you probably wouldn’t take an iPad with you anyway.
The iPad 3 is the first Apple product to run on the newer 4G/LTE wireless networks. It’s also back compatible to 3G and EDGE networks if you don’t live in an area with 4G coverage. The iPad 2 stops at 3G. (Both 3G and 4G are options when purchasing; you have to have the new iPad Wi-Fi + 4G, or the old iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G. The Wi-Fi-only iPads run…only on Wi-Fi.) The Wi-Fi is the same: 802.11a/b/g/n. The new iPad has Bluetooth 4.0, while the older iPad 2 has Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.
Does that matter? If you’re getting a Wi-Fi only iPad, 4G obviously isn’t a draw (duh). If you live in an area with good 4G coverage (see maps for ATT and Verizon), you’ll see faster download speeds. According to the order page on apple.com, the data plans haven’t changed price. And the iPad is different from the iPhone in that it doesn’t come with a contract. You sign up for a data plan and it auto-renews every month, but if you cancel it you can just use Wi-Fi and then re-subscribe to a data plan when you need to connect via 3G or 4G. Bluetooth 4.0 is already in the iPhone 4S, but the iPad 3 is (as of today) the first Bluetooth 4.0 tablet. That means devices will connect more easily, and it uses less battery life.
Speaking of battery life, Apple claims the battery life is comparable across the iPad 3 and iPad 2: 10 hours of web surfing on Wi-Fi, playing video, or listening to music. Up to 9 hours of web surfing on the cellular network (3G or 4G). We haven’t been able to test these claims yet, but in the past we’ve found Apple‘s estimates to be very honest.
Does that matter? If battery life is really the same between iPad 2 and iPad 3, nope. Even on my iPad 1, which is two years old, the battery life remains impressive. I can fully charge it and watch a couple hours of streaming video over Wi-Fi with the Netflix app, and the battery life is still in the high 90% range, say, 95%. Or better. You can be at 10% life and still not feel panicked about finding a plug.
Other changes to the hardware?
None. The iPad 3 doesn’t have an SD card slot (although Apple will sell you one as an add-on), or any other ports. Neither runs Flash (thank heaven). iPad 2 owners aren’t missing out on anything that hasn’t been mentioned above.
The bottom line.
The iPad 2 remains a really great tablet. If you don’t plan on using the cellular network, sticking instead to Wi-Fi, the iPad 3′s 4G capabilities are wasted on you. If you don’t care about shooting photos or videos with your iPad 3, its fancier camera is wasted on you. That leaves you with a better processor and a very beautiful high-res screen — for some this will be worth the upgrade, but for many, it won’t.
People who are buying their first iPad can save some money opting for the $399 iPad 2 (enough to pick up a new $99 Apple TV!), but keep in mind that you can only get 16GB of storage with a new iPad 2. That may not be enough space for you if you love apps and media. I’ve been using a 16GB iPad 1, and I fill it up constantly. It’s big enough to hold a ton of photos, a few screens of hefty apps, some music, some videos — but not all of that. I’m constantly trading off what to put on there and what to delete (currently it’s all apps, no music and no videos), every time I sync to iTunes. If you don’t mind having to make decisions about what to keep and what to trash, 16 gigs may feel like enough. But many people will want a 32GB or 64GB of storage, and hence an iPad 3.
Any questions? Let us know below — or just tell us what you’re planning to do.