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Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 03:45 pm PT (06:45 pm ET)

In-depth review: Apple's third generation iPad and iOS 5.1


More iPad iPhone 4-nication: a decent camera

In addition to its Retina Display, the new iPad now gets new iPhone 4 style, iSight video and still camera camera, along with the same basic VGA quality front facing FaceTime camera for videoconferencing.

While iPad is unlikely to replace your existing camera (due to its ungainly size and format for snapping pictures) the significantly more useful rear camera now works to capture both good quality snapshots and video and to integrate with apps that work with photos, video, or augmented reality, including Apple's new iPhoto and revamped iMovie, along with a large selection of camera-savvy third party apps.

The new 5 megapixel "iSight" camera offers autofocus, tap to focus, photo face detection, video stabilization, geotagging and up to 1080p HD, 30 frames per second video recording.

While virtually identical with the rear camera of iPhone 4, the new iPad displays a picture on the screen that isn't quite as impressive as iPhone 4 because it's stretched over a larger area. The pictures and video it takes are virtually identical though.

Note that the new iPad, while delivering an iPhone 4 quality sensor and lenses, lacks an HDR capture feature and the LED flash of iPhone 4 (as detailed later in "missing features").

While the LED flash doesn't always help when taking photos or videos, it's a significant (and odd) feature omission on the new iPad. The missing software HDR feature is even more puzzling, as HDR often makes weak photos better in a variety of common circumstances, and doesn't add any extra hardware costs.

In the photos below, the new iPad and iPhone 4 take roughly the same 5 megapixel (1936x2592) picture (top iPad with better exposure, second taken with iPhone 4), but iPhone 4's HDR processing delivers a marked improvement that the iPad can't match (third iPhone 4 HDR photo), for no obvious reason other than that Apple decided to deactivate some of its iOS code on the iPad.

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Apart from the lack of LED flash and HDR, the new iPad's photo capabilities are very much in line with the very good iPhone 4 camera. Taking video with the larger tablet form factor is greatly assisted by the video stabilization feature, which gives you very watchable video even when you're doing a poor job of holding camera still while recording.

Here are some additional iPad photos I snapped on the chairlift at Squaw Valley, scaled down to 800x598 to fit here:







It's a bit of a bummer that, as with its iPhones and iPod touch, the new iPad still gets a very basic front facing camera. That means if you find yourself without a mirror and want to include yourself in a group shot you're taking yourself, you have to either blindly use the rear camera, or use the poor front facing camera to take a picture you can see on the screen (which results in a very low quality picture).

iPad gets new A5X chip

The new iPad also introduces a new A series application processor, although it's not a big enough leap for Apple to call it the A6, as was anticipated. Instead, Apple is referring it to as the A5X.

Nobody complained that last year's A5 (powering iPad 2 and iPhone 4S) was a slouch. In fact, Apple had to think up new applications capable of using its latent processing power, such as video stabilization and face detection, just to keep the new chip busy.

iPad 2 wasn't really crying out for new processing power, and the A5X doesn't deliver a big jump in general purpose CPU performance, as noted in Geekbench scores (below). Most of the speed gains can probably be attributed to the new iPad's additional RAM. Note that the new iPad is internally either "iPad 3.1" for the WiFi model or "iPad 3,2" for the 4G edition, which we tested below.



Browsermark scores of web and JavaScript performance are significantly higher on the new iPad compared to the iPhone 4S however, indicating the applied CPU performance of the A5X (and its faster RAM and CPU clock speed) is advancing ahead of last year's A5.

The new iPad's Retina Display, with four times the pixels of previous iPad and iPhone models, does need additional graphics horsepower. So Apple retained the dual processor cores of A5 and added twice the graphics processor cores, providing quad core graphics to drive the new iPad's sharp new display.

The result is a chip that delivers the required horsepower without simply chowing down power to boast about the number of cores it has. Note that iPad 2 and its A5 chip delivered a graphics edge over the original iPad that allowed developers to deliver sharper graphics with less jaggies, even at the same resolution.

The new iPad not only delivers greater horsepower, but also drives four times the pixels, meaning that games can now improve their visuals with the same dramatic leap that iPhone 4's Retina Display brought to iPhone apps.

Visible in the GLBenchmark scores (below) is the impact of the higher resolution of the new iPad compared to the last three generations of iPhone. Even the fastest new iPad renders onscreen graphics benchmarks lower than the iPhone 4S, because its pushing more than 4 times the pixels.



"Off screen" however, the A5X can render a fixed 720p scene about 50 percent faster than last fall's iPhone 4S, thanks to its beefier quad core graphics. In drawing triangles in the stress test, the A5X blows out over 122 million, compared to 15 million on the original iPad, and just 16 thousand on the iPhone 3GS.

In third party testing, the dual core CPU, quad core GPU A5X in the new iPad handily beat the quad core CPU, 12-core GPU of the Nvidia Tegra 3.

In GLBenchmark's Egypt Pro 720p test run against the Android-based, Tegra 3 powered Asus Transformer Prime tablet, the new iPad delivered scores between about 3.4 faster: 12447 vs 3669, or 250 FPS vs 73 FPS. (Apple claims its chip is four times as fast at graphics as the Tegra 3).



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