The 3rd generation iPad: resolution revolution?

Just how much does that improved resolution matter?

I loved my original iPad, which I paid for by selling off old media. A year ago I upgraded to the iPad 2, which wasn’t all that different from the original model. By downgrading from 64 GB to 16 GB of memory on the new unit and dropping the cellular 3G service for a WiFi-only model, I broke even on that upgrade. I used my iPhone 4’s hot spot to link the iPad 2 to the internet on the few occasions I took it on the road and didn’t miss the extra memory since I don’t sync my music collection to it. I hardly ever took photos with the lousy camera on the iPad 2, since I almost always use my dedicated superzoom camera for shots.

Why upgrade?

So when Apple announced the 3rd generation iPad, which it refuses to call the iPad 3, the only thing which lured me into another upgrade was the quadrupling of the screen pixels, jumping from 1024 x 768 to 2048 x 1536, a higher resolution than any screen I have ever seen. Apple also improved the camera, although it still isn’t as good as the one in the iPhone 4S, and added higher-speed cellular data options. I stuck with a WiFI-only iPad, but since the screen resolution would require more storage space for graphics and the better camera and nice photo apps might lure me into editing more photos on the unit, I went back up to a 64 GB model.

What about my iPad 2?

Last time I sold my old iPad to gazelle.com to pay for the new one, but this time I’m taking the old unit to school, where I will hook it up to the classroom projector for use in lessons. I have the requisite VGA connection kit, something I never used at home since AirPlay works so well with my 2nd generation Apple TV, allowing me to effortlessly and wirelessly send the iPad’s video and audio to my HDTV. Hopefully that repurposing of the iPad 2 will work out, and if not I can currently still get $250 for my old unit, which would help offset the $700 price tag for the new 64-GB WiFi iPad (3).

Comparing the iPad 2 to the 3rd generation model

The new iPad is only about 1 mm thicker than the iPad 2

The new iPad is about one millimeter thicker and a tiny bit heavier than the iPad 2. This is to accommodate a battery with much higher capacity, keeping the battery life at about 10 hours despite the much higher resolution display, faster processor (needed for such high-res graphics – the units are equally “snappy” in use), and especially important to those using the energy-intensive LTE cellular service.

Neither the dimension nor the weight change is at all noticeable when using the unit, and new model still fits in my wonderful Zerochroma case and stand, which has made using the iPad around the house much easier.

I love my Zerochroma iPad case, which lets me instantly prop it up at many different angles in portrait or landscape orientation.

I like the case so much that, despite its $50 price tag (which a retailmenot.com coupon lowered slightly), that I ordered another for use with the iPad 2 when I take it to school.

When they are side-by-side there is no apparent difference between the iPad 2 and the new one, unless you look at the screen resolution.

The only apparent difference between the iPad 2 and 3rd generation model is the screen resolution.

And since this blog post is limited to about 640 pixels wide, you can’t readily perceive the difference here. You can click on the picture below for a higher-res shot. If you zoom in on it, you’ll be able to see the difference in the text. But while it is visible, it is not startling when you are using the unit in real life. (The new iPad is on the left in that shot; the iPad 2 is on the right.)

Click the image for a high-resolution shot of the two iPads. New iPad on the left; iPad 2 on the right.

The only time the resolution of my iPad 2 bothered me was when viewing a full-page article in the online Tulsa World, like the one above. The text would have occasional artifacts of letters in the same word being thicker and thinner. They were still readable, but it was annoying enough that I would often zoom in to get rid of it. The new unit eliminates that problem, but if I didn’t have a use for the old unit I might have regretted investing so much in the new one.

Reading in the Kindle app is also easier on the eyes thanks to the higher resolution. In the tight shot below you can see how the text is cleared up. But I tried reading a chapter in a book on my old Kindle 2 e-ink reader and the new iPad’s Kindle app, and still prefer the passive e-ink display even though the new iPad has 264 pixels per inch compared to 167 ppi on the Kindle. The lower-resolution passive display is still easier on my eyes than a higher-resolution backlit screen.

Here's a very tight shot of text in the Kindle app on the iPad 2 and the new unit.

Buying advice

If you’re buying an iPad for the first time, I’d recommend the new model over the iPad 2 since the lovely screen is nice if not necessary. You might be able to get by with a 16 GB model, but if you plan to take photos and edit them and sync music to the device then I’d suggest you bump up to 32 or 64 GB. If you have an iPhone 4 or 4S, forget about the cellular models and just use the hotspot function of your phone instead. But if you don’t have a cellular hot spot and plan to take the iPad on the road, get a unit with the cellular option since an iPad without internet service is of very limited value and I find WiFi coverage is still spotty and unreliable when travelling.

But if you have a limited budget, you probably won’t regret buying a $400 16 GB WiFi-only iPad 2. It has the same screen resolution as many laptops and works great if you don’t plan to load up lots of photos and music but mainly use the device for web browsing, email, and apps.

If you already have an iPad 2, I doubt you need to spend the money upgrading to the new model unless you are sensitive to the iPad 2’s text and graphics quality. Go try one out at an Apple store and see for yourself.

No Apple TV upgrade for me

While I have made the leap each time thus far with iPad upgrades and did upgrade from the first to the second generation of Apple TV box, I don’t plan to upgrade my 2nd generation Apple TV to the latest model. The only advantage of the model is a jump in HD resolution from 720p to 1080p, which wouldn’t make a huge difference on my home HDTV using streaming video services. The iPad mirroring over AirPlay is still limited to 720p even with a new iPad and the latest Apple TV; you only get 1080p resolution over AirPlay with some apps.

End result

I’m still delighted by the combination of an iPad and the Apple TV, and don’t regret spending money for the iPad upgrade since I have a use for the old one at school and could also sell it off for decent money. I don’t compose much text on the iPad, so I doubt I’ll use the new voice dictation option much since it isn’t a fancy personal assistant like the Siri service on the iPhone 4S. I’ll still use my Kindle for reading books, rely on my iPad for most web surfing and my morning newspaper, and use the iPad with the Apple TV for podcasts.

My next big Apple technology upgrade will be replacing my iPhone 4 to whatever model comes after the 4S, since my two-year contract expires this summer. I do look forward to trying out Siri when I get a new phone, since it seems like the USS Enterprise library computer come to life. But Apple will struggle to make significant improvements to future iPads and iPhones – they are pretty darn good already.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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