Apple’s New iPad
by Mark W. Hibben
Staying Ahead of the Pack
The dominance of the iPad in the ultra-light tablet market received its first challenges in 2011 in the form of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Asus Transformer Prime. Just as these devices were gaining some traction in the marketplace, Apple unleashed the new iPad, distinguished from its predecessor by its new 2048 x 1536 pixel display. Critics were quick to declare the new iPad “non-revolutionary” just as they did the original iPad, but the new iPad didn’t need to be revolutionary, it just needed to stay ahead of the competition. In this regard, the new iPad is a smashing success. While the Transformer Prime may have achieved rough parity with iPad 2, the new iPad turns out to be better than the Prime in most respects, as we shall see in the comparisons I make throughout this review.
Specifications Summary of the Devices in Our Comparison
|Device||OS||Processor||Processor Cores||Screen Resolution||Rear Camera|
|iPad 2||iOS 5.1||Apple A5 @ 1GHz||2||1024 x 768||720p 30fps video, 0.7 Mpixel stills|
|new iPad||iOS 5.1||Apple A5X @ 1GHz||2||2048 x 1536||1080p 30fps video, 5 Mpixel stills|
|Asus Transformer Prime TF 201||Android 4.0.3||nVidia Tegra 3 @ 1.3 GHz||4||1280 x 800||1080p 30fps video, 8 Mpixel stills|
|iPad 2||512 MB||64 GB||assisted||802.11abgn||AT&T 3G (GSM)||2.1 + EDR|
|new iPad||1 GB||64 GB||assisted||802.11abgn||Verizon 4G||4.0|
|Asus Transformer Prime TF 201||1 GB||64 GB||yes, but no longer listed in specs||802.11bgn||NA||2.1 + EDR|
When the iPad 2 came out last year, I was perplexed by the lack of a screen upgrade to at least 1280 x 720 (720p high definition). It’s clear now that Apple was working towards something far more ambitious: a “retina display” large enough for the iPad. I still don’t really care for the term “retina display” since your retina is the sensor of your eye, whereas the “retina display” isn’t a sensor at all and the phrase seems like an oxymoron. But the new iPad display is wonderful, bringing users into what I call the post-HD world. High definition television has been a vast improvement, especially in the US, where the ATSC standard replaced the NTSC standard for broadcast TV, and with the advent of large screen LCD monitors, the 1080p format (1920 x 1080 pixels, progressively scanned) has become the norm. As good as 1080p is, under most viewing conditions, screen pixilation is still noticeable, although just barely. The new iPad’s screen takes you beyond HD, so that the pixels just disappear.
For most of us, the difference will not be dramatic because we’ve learned to ignore pixilation having grown up with TVs and computers. But I predict that as people use the new iPad and future equally high resolution displays, mere HD will begin to be unsatisfactory. Of course, the content industry has higher resolution formats waiting in the wings. Currently, professional digital cinematography uses the 2K and 4K formats specified in terms of image pixel width (2048 or 4096 pixels) and which support a variety of aspect ratios including 4:3, 16:9, and 2.39:1. These are meant to be professional standards, so it’s not clear where the next consumer standard will land, but I’m sure that a new significantly higher resolution standard will be implemented, if only to drive sales of new display products once the current HD standard saturates the consumer market. The new iPad anticipates this “post-HD” world, and thus I’ve called it the first “post-HD” device. Even better, the screen appears to surrender no brightness in return for its resolution. The new iPad, iPad 2, and TF 201 screens appear equally bright, and can be used outdoors on a clear day as long as sunshine doesn’t directly fall on the screen.
The main cost of the screen is increased mass and bulk, much of which is due to the higher capacity battery of the new iPad of 42.5 Watt-hours, vs. 25 Watt-hours for the iPad 2. Compared to the iPad 2, the new iPad adds 0.6 mm in thickness for a total thickness of 9.4 mm and adds 49 g for a total mass of 662 g, whereas our TF 201 is considerably more svelte at a thickness of 8.3 mm and a mass of 586 g (for the tablet only). The mass increase is really noticeable, and makes the new iPad something you’ll want to set down on a table top or lap in a hurry. Digital paper it ain’t.
In order to drive the screen, Apple created the new A5x system-on-chip (SOC). The new SOC appears to carry over the identical processor cores of the A5, as you would expect, but adds four new graphics processing cores for a much larger chip. The extra cores appear to be needed just to keep up with the workload of processing 4 times the pixels as the iPad 2, so there isn’t any noticeable graphics speed up.
The controls and slots are carried over from the iPad 2 3G unchanged. The USB derived docking connector affords charging and attachment to a USB port of a PC. On the wireless versions there’s a micro SIM card slot needed for GSM networks. Apple continues to offer no flash memory expansion, and this is a shame, since micro-SD slots are so common for other mobile devices. We wish Apple would relax a little and stop worrying so much about un-authorized software, which is the main consideration keeping Apple from offering expansion options. Most people would only use the expansion slots to increase internal storage, and those wanting to jail break their devices will do so anyway, since it’s perfectly legal.
Adding an expansion slot would increase the desirability of iOS devices in general. But we don’t expect Apple to change this direction any time soon; secretiveness is in their corporate DNA.
The new iPad shipped with iOS 5.1, and as soon as iOS 5.1 was available we immediately updated our iPad 2. The main bug fix in 5.1 is supposed to improve battery life compared to 5.0. Battery life has improved, but not to pre-5.0 levels on the iPad 2. I think the main issue with battery life in 5.x is push notifications, since they wake up a sleeping device and require WiFi monitoring even when asleep. Some of the app developers have gone a little overboard in using push notifications to advertise app upgrades or other products. If you can live without push, turning it off will probably extend your battery life. Other enhancements include a new camera app for iPad, needed to support the much better back side camera of the new iPad.
Our favorite feature of iOS 5.x is Airplay video mirroring, which is easily turned on from the task bar, as we show in our features comparison video. Our biggest disappointment: that the new iPad didn’t introduce SIRI to iPad users. There’s no technical obstacle to this on the iPad side of things. Even if the built-in mic isn’t very good, you can always plug in the Apple headphone-mic combo in order to reduce ambient background noise. The main limitation on SIRI availability is at the server end. SIRI requires a lot of server-scale smarts, which translates into rack space in Apple’s various server farms. SIRI is very popular, and there’s only so much rack space available, so Apple is limiting SIRI to iPhone users. As Apple’s server capacity continues to expand, I expect SIRI availability to expand concomitantly.
Our performance testing of the new iPad consisted of some limited benchmarking and measurement of application launch times. For the benchmarks we tested the iPad 2 and new iPad, and the Transformer Prime in two operating modes, Balanced and Performance. I’m the first to admit that benchmark tests have limited value and don’t always reflect real-world performance, but in this case they proved especially interesting since they lead to something of a mystery.
Results are summarized in the table below (shorter times are better, best times are highlighted in green).
|Device||Total Time in msec||3D||Access||Bitops||Control flow||Crypto||Date||Math||Regexp||String|
|Trans. Prime - Balanced||2274.4||411.5||222.4||158.2||16||184.8||358.5||154.4||110.9||657.7|
|Trans. Prime - Perform.||1955.5||353.7||191.2||136.6||15.8||145.8||306||133.3||95.1||578|
In these CPU intensive tasks, the two iPads perform about the same, as they should, since they share identical processor cores and clock rates. The mystery is why the Transformer Prime doesn’t do better. It has twice the processor cores, and has a maximum clock rate 30% higher than the iPads. The TF 201 really should be faster than the iPads, but I’ll defer further discussion of this until my full review of the Transformer Prime.
As many of my readers have realized, I’m a fan of Passmark Software’s Performance Test 7 (PT7) for Windows, so I was delighted to find that Passmark now offers Performance Test Mobile for both Android and iOS. The test suites are identical for the two platforms, and are much more comprehensive than Sunspider, so they should provide a better view of the overall performance of the three devices. However, the iOS version (0.4.4) is the less mature while the Android version (1.0.2) has been around a while, so take the comparisons with a grain of salt. The structure for the tests follows very closely that of PT7. First, the CPU tests (higher scores are better, best scores highlighted in green):
|Device||Summary||Integer Math Mops/sec||Floating Point Math Mops/sec||Find Prime Numbers thous/sec||Random String Sorting thous/sec||Data Encryption MB/sec||Data Compression MB/sec|
|Transformer Prime - Balanced||7965||115||380||92.9||1096||4.11||1.13|
|Transformer Prime - Performance||8817||149||393||107||1174||4.53||1.23|
The CPU tests are the area where, once again, I would have expected the Transformer Prime to easily beat the iPads, but it doesn’t, even in Performance mode.
Next come the Disk and Memory access tests. For these devices, disk access times are really times to read and write to the non-volatile flash memory.
|Device||Summary||Storage Write MB/sec||Storage Read MB/sec||Summary||Memory Write MB/sec||Memory Read MB/sec|
|Transformer Prime - Balanced||1785||10.7||23.7||1024||162||449|
|Transformer Prime - Performance||3187||16.6||68.6||1072||175||444|
Here at least is one area where the new iPad does significantly better than its predecessor. Flash I/O for the new iPad is significantly faster than iPad 2 and way faster than Transformer Prime. In fact, in only one of the above categories is the 201 faster, Memory Read.
Next comes 2D Graphics performance. This is the one area of the test where the Transformer Prime trounces the iPads.
|Summary||Solid Vectors vec/sec||Transparent Vectors vec/sec||Complex Vectors vec/sec||Image Rendering im/sec||Image Filters filt/sec|
|Transformer Prime - Balanced||2223||4306||3355||109||1991||58.6|
|Transformer Prime - Performance||2319||4399||3496||116||2008||66.3|
The advantage of the Prime doesn’t carry over into the 3D Graphics test, with the iPads taking the final series.
|Device||Summary||Simple Test frames/sec||Complex Test frames/sec|
|Transformer Prime - Balanced||1188||60.1||42.7|
|Transformer Prime - Performance||1230||59.9||45.5|
3D Graphics performance is another area where I would have expected the Transformer Prime to easily best the iPads, just based on nVidia’s prowess in gaming oriented high performance graphics cards, such as GTX 580 we recently reviewed, but such was not the case.
Our real world testing of application launching and web browsing tended to confirm the relative slowness of the Transformer Prime. All applications were not already running as background tasks but were loaded from flash memory. As such the relative slowness of the Transformer Prime in reading from flash probably hurt its performance, and for these tests we used the Prime in Balanced mode, since that is the mode consumers are most likely to use. We recorded via HDMI output or using an overhead camera the application launch process for the devices, and used the recorded video to determine start, completion, and elapsed times. Time resolution was limited by the frame rate of the videos at 1/30 sec. The table below summarizes the results (shorter times are better):
|Response Time in seconds|
|Action||New iPad||Transformer Prime|
|Google Earth Launch||14.57||11.67|
|Google Maps Launch||1.40||2.07|
|GTA New Game Start||5.67||8.43|
|Browser Launch to CNN||9.13||10.73|
|Time to Leave CNN to Technom.||3.63||6.77|
|Preview Button Response||0.23||0.63|
New iPad vs. Transformer Prime Comparison Part 1: Features and Performance
Using Airplay is one of the real joys of owning an iOS device, since it’s so seamlessly integrated, and we consider Apple TV a must-have accessory for any new iPad owner. Once the Apple TV is installed on your network (either via WiFi or Ethernet), the new iPad immediately recognizes it and provides the Airplay button next to audio controls in the Task Bar. Turning on Airplay video mirroring is one-tap simple, and the new iPad home screen immediately appears at the HDMI output of the Apple TV. Besides video mirroring support within iOS, apps can support Airplay directly, often supporting a dual screen mode in which the iPad screen displays different content than what’s being streamed for Airplay. This is most often used for iPad based controls. For instance, the Videos app provides a button to turn on Airplay so that movies can be played back via Airplay at up to 1080p/30 resolution, while the iPad displays start/stop controls. This can be used for any iTunes copy protected content since Apple TV supports the High-definition Digital Content Protection (HDCP) standard used to prevent direct copying of HDMI output. The Safari browser also supports Airplay for compatible embedded video, showing the distinctive Airplay icon in the video player when an Apple TV is available. Other Apps such as new games like Sky Gamblers Air Supremacy support Airplay with a dual screen mode that displays game play in full width 720p video (the game video output is scaled to the 1080p output of the Apple TV) while displaying game controls on the iPad.
It’s important to remember when using Airplay that the iPad is not directly communicating with the Apple TV, but is going through your home wireless router. For best results, you should have the latest generation wireless router (802.11n) and you should minimize the distances between the iPad, the Apple TV and the router. This is because data throughput decreases as signal strength decreases. In our tests, we found we had to keep the devices all in the same room to maintain the best possible data rate. Under these conditions, we found game controls to be as responsive in Airplay mode as in pure tablet mode, with no frame dropouts or loss of control, whereas with the router in another room the game video stuttered and we often lost control.
For Android devices, there is no equivalent video mirroring capability as yet. A German company, Dream Chip Technologies, is however working on XBounds, a WiFi receiver that plugs into the HDMI port of a monitor which will provide video mirroring for Android Devices. The TF 201 is also supposed to support the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard being promoted by Sony, which should allow wireless streaming of content from the 201 to a DLNA enabled product such as a Blu-ray player. We’ll test this capability for our Transformer Prime review.
Up until the advent of the new iPad, watching movies using the iPad wasn’t something I was particularly interested in, since Blu-ray offered superior video quality. A number of developments have changed my attitude:
1) Apple finally started to offer 1080p movies on iTunes.
2) The third generation Apple TV arrived with 1080p output which is much better than the 720p output of the previous generation Apple TV.
3) The new iPad’s screen would allow 1080p movie playback without loss of clarity.
These developments, taken together, make the prospect of watching movies on the new iPad much more inviting, but I won’t be giving up on Blu-ray just yet. Buying HD movies on iTunes is ridiculously expensive, given that you’re just buying data, and for my US$ 19 I’d rather have a disk. I’m old fashioned that way. But HD rentals are one-click convenient, and you can download to your iTunes equipped personal computer (Windows or Mac) over high speed Ethernet, then transfer the movie to your iPad via USB to the docking port connector, which may be faster than waiting for it to arrive directly over WiFi.
Watching movies directly on the new iPad screen is simply magical, despite having a non-optimal aspect ratio for HD movies. For 1080p HD movies, the new iPad screen is simply the best small screen display we’ve seen.
The following images are frame grabs from our review video showing the screens of the new iPad and Transformer Prime. The video was shot with a 1080p HD camera, but there’s still some degradation in image quality. Despite this, the difference between the new iPad and Transformer Prime is quite noticeable. Apparently the Android store can’t offer HD movies, and there wasn’t any indication exactly what the quality of the movie was in the information provided on the Android store.
If you happen to have an HD TV handy, plugging the new iPad into the TV’s HDMI input is a snap using the Apple Digital AV adapter. It’s all plug and play, and the adapter automatically senses the TV’s resolution capability and adjusts for either 720p or 1080p output. When we plug in the DAV adapter we bought last year into the new iPad we get a warning message that the device isn’t supported, then it works just fine. We can only hope that this message doesn’t mean that Apple intends to stop supporting older versions of the DAV adapter.
In contrast, using the micro-HDMI connector to play back a movie from the Transformer Prime didn’t work at all, even though the connector was adequate for video mirroring. We suspect that this is a problem with HDCP capability of the Transformer Prime. The Apple DAV adapter supports HDCP, which is why it can play back copy protected movies. The lack of movie playback in the Transformer Prime probably was probably due either to a lack of HDCP capability or a malfunction of it.
If you have the third gen Apple TV, you probably won’t bother with HDMI output from the new iPad. Using Airplay for movie playback is that easy, and there’s no loss of resolution, even at 1080p.
Playing back 1080p video at 30 frames/sec requires roughly the same bit rate as watching HD broadcast TV, about 20 Mb/sec, so your WiFi network needs to support at least that much bandwidth. Using an 802.11n router in the same room as your iPad virtually guarantees this, but an older router or a router placed elsewhere in your house or apartment may not be able to support the necessary data rate.
New iPad vs. Transformer Prime Comparison Part 2: Watching Movies
At the new iPad special event, it was claimed that new iPad games such as Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy (SGAS) achieved “console quality” image rendering. We checked out SGAS and another popular game, Grand Theft Auto III. SGAS is offers about the best image quality of any iPad game, and is perhaps comparable to the current, somewhat aged generation of consoles. But consoles aren’t the standard for gaming realism anyway, but rather Windows PCs equipped with high quality video cards (such as the nVidia GTX 580) that perform DirectX 11 acceleration. Sorry, Mac lovers, this is one area where Macs still lag behind Windows. If you doubt this, check out Modern Warfare 3 or Crysis 2 on a high end PC some time. Consoles haven’t kept up. But games like SGAS or Infinity Blade look and play great on the iPad and are a lot of fun, and the ever improving graphics of the iPad is only going to invite more developer interest and better game creations. Playing games on a large screen TV from the iPad via Airplay is even more fun and immersive, with the iPad serving as a wireless controller. Assuming the conditions we discussed above for Airplay, you should have no problems with game control, responsiveness or frame update. For older games such as GTA3, you can just turn on Airplay video mirroring.
Newer games such as SGAS directly support Airplay and provide an HD output at 720p for the TV while the iPad displays controls and navigation data. This worked very well for SGAS, except for the bug I pointed out in our video, where air speed and altitude indicators don’t update properly in Airplay mode. Hope they get that bug fixed soon.
Wireless versions of iPad also include assisted GPS and an electronic compass, and I’ve always considered the GPS alone to be worth the price of the package. The GPS of the new iPad is even better than the iPad 2, as we show in the video GPS demo. Position error for the new iPad was about half what it was for the iPad 2 under virtually identical conditions: 4 meters for the new iPad vs. 8 meters for the iPad 2, and this was without wireless assistance, since the location where I performed the test is out of range of local wireless services. GPS accuracy can be highly variable, depending on factors like weather and time of day, since the number and line of sight range to the various GPS satellites is variable. The measurements were taken indoors, however, which usually produces less than optimal results, so I consider the 4 meter accuracy to be very representative. We didn’t compare GPS performance with the Transformer Prime since, as is widely known, the Prime’s GPS capability is weak to non-existent. This appears to be due to poor antenna design and/or placement within the body of the Prime. Asus is reported to be preparing a dongle which amounts to an external antenna to be sent out to registered owners. I’ll report on this for my review of the Transformer Prime.
The front facing (FaceTime) camera is the same VGA resolution as the iPad 2, which is something of a disappointment, but not a surprise. FaceTime HD probably isn’t in the cards for Apple’s mobile devices, since Apple is still trying to coax wireless carriers into accepting FaceTime calls, but for the time being FaceTime calls can only be made via WiFi over the Internet. The back facing camera of the new iPad is a true joy, however. The 1080p video capability is a vast improvement over the iPad 2, which only featured 720p recording, and it was very blocky 720p at that. The recording speed of 30 frames/sec is workable for most home video applications, but a consumer video camera recording 1080p/60 will of course yield better results under most circumstances. The still image capability is also excellent for a mobile device.
Although the “iSight” camera of the new iPad is supposed to be derived from the iPhone 4s, is appears to be much better both in video and still quality, and doesn’t suffer from the color distortion I complained about in my iPhone 4s review. My only complaint is the lack of an LED flash. A camera this good really deserves one, especially since the low light capability of these made-for-mobile cameras isn’t particularly good, and the new iPad is no exception.
In Part 3 of the video review, I show video clips from the iPad 2, new iPad, and Transformer Prime, and I would rank the new iPad the best of the three, with the Transformer Prime second and the iPad 2 a very distant third.
New iPad vs. Transformer Prime Comparison Part 3: Games, GPS, Cameras, and Conclusions
When I began the comparison process between the three devices, I really expected the Transformer Prime to be more competitive. I had used the Prime since the first of the year, taking my time in getting acquainted with the Android OS, and waiting for Android 4.0 to arrive. The benchmark testing results came especially as a surprise. I expected the Prime to be the faster computational engine, just based on the nVidia Tegra 3 processor. Now that we’ve completed the testing, there’s no doubt in my mind that the new iPad is the superior tablet. It has none of the failings of the Transformer Prime, and does so many things better. Not only is the device itself superior in most respects, but it exists in a far more mature ecosystem of apps, cloud support, and accessories such as the Apple TV. The new iPad is mobile computing that just works, consistently and reliably and beautifully.