Blog Date: 
Monday, April 2, 2012
Amy Mason

Apple has chosen not to give the new iPad a specific name, and has left it to the rest of us to come up with that moniker.  Some people are calling it the “iPad 3”, other’s the “HD iPad”, and still others, the “new iPad”, but despite what you call it, the question remains, is it worth buying? 

Here at the IBTC we strive to keep up with the latest and greatest in technology accessible to the blind, so Clara was furiously refreshing her browser on the day it was announced in order to purchase one for the lab.  It only just arrived, so as good little geeks, we pored over it with a fine tooth comb to give you our impressions.

First, it is, like every other iOS device, a slim, elegantly designed piece of hardware.  It has a large 10 inch screen, surrounded by a slim “frame” with a home button underneath it, and a webcam above it.  Along the right hand side there is a switch which can be used to lock rotation, or mute and unmute the device, and a rocker switch for the volume.  At the top is a power button and headphone jack, and the bottom edge contains a 30-pin dock connector for plugging into power or another device.  When the screen is off, it is nearly indistinguishable from the iPad 2.  The differences between the two devices are fairly minimal as well.  The new iPad has a “Retina” display like the iPhone 4 and newer, 4G data connections (on select models, a higher powered processor, a much improved camera, and the option to employ dictation instead of typing on the screen, so of course the question is, is it worth the purchase price?

My answer is an unequivocal maybe.  I have had an iPad 2 since November, and it has become my near constant electronic companion.  I take notes on it, I read from it, (using both Braille and speech)  I browse the web, watch videos, keep my calendar, and do about a million other things on either it or my iPhone.  In fact, although I am using a computer to write this blog post, and do most of my writing on a PC, I’ve been known to create content on it as well.

As a blind person with some remaining vision, I have sometimes used it to play games that are too small on my iPhone, or to watch videos that are too far away for me to catch details on the TV.  To be honest, for tasks I choose to use my vision for, it’s by far my favorite device.  Its light enough to lift to my face, and big enough to allow me to catch details, and if you are desperate, you can use it as a fairly crude video magnifier.  (There are better models out there for the price, and this is a hacker’s interpretation of the iPad’s skill set, but in a pinch, it can allow you to see across a room, or read a bit of text for a brief amount of time.  It’s not employing the same level of image stabilization as a real video magnifier, it doesn’t allow for the same level of magnification, the focus is inconsistent, it hasn’t got a flash, or any other internal lighting source, and users cannot change the “mode” of the camera, but in a pinch, it’s better than nothing. That being said, those are all things that are already possible on my iPad 2.

When looking at the iPad 2 and the iPad 3 side-by-side, I didn’t see a large degree of difference, the new features are nice, but nothing to write home about.  The new iPad’s screen does make Zoom a much prettier experience, because letters are much less blocky, and text is much crisper, even at fairly high levels of magnification.  Colors on the screen seem to be a bit richer, and Zooming the camera when using the device as a makeshift video magnifier works better due to the better optics in the camera, and higher resolution display.  Furthermore, the dictation is nice, though strangely, not as fully-realized as Siri on the iPhone 4S and for the first time ever, the camera on the back of the device should be sufficient for running applications like DigitEyes or LookTel Money Reader with fairly reliable results.  We were unable to test the 4G connection speeds at this time, though they have been reported to be quite fast.  That being said, since the supported 4G carriers available in the US are charging fairly high prices and imposing fairly low data caps, it’s questionable how useful this is likely to actually be for most users. 

So, final verdict: if this is the first iOS device you are considering, compare your options.  An iPhone with a cellular plan or an iPod touch may be a better option for you if you are looking for something with a smaller screen, or aren’t worried about running iPad exclusive apps. Furthermore, an iPad 2 may meet your needs if cost is a more important factor than camera or screen quality (Apple is still selling the 2 at $399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model).  However, if you are looking at the iPad for its size, and the screen’s resolution or camera quality will make the difference for you, then you should be fairly pleased with the new iPad. 

On a personal note, I would like to thank Apple for not leaving me with a case of buyer’s remorse for buying my iPad when I did.  I’m completely content with my iPad 2, and expect to be for at least a few more years to come. 

Amy Mason