Review: Why the new iPad doesn't merit a '3'

Hard to distinguish at first glance from an iPad 2, the new iPad's changes are welcome but subtle for business users

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Remember, the iPad, like the iPhone, doesn't let you download large files over a 3G or 4G connection; the limit is usually 50MB for iTunes downloads, though the Mail client has much lower limits for automatic downloading of attachments. That keeps you from eating up your data plan's capacity in a matter of days or hours (for example, an HD edition of a TV episode weighs in at 2GB). However, if you get in the habit of streaming rather than downloading, you can eat up your data plan, and the 4G speeds could tempt you to do a lot more YouTube or Netflix streaming than you realize.

But there's more to the iPad's 4G addition than faster throughput. The ability to tether is one. An iPad connected to a 3G or 4G network can act as a hotspot for other devices, which can connect to the iPad via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or the standard Apple 30-pin-to-USB cable. Verizon lets you use the personal hotspot feature at no extra charge -- if it eats up your data plan faster, Verizon is happy to sell you another data tranche. AT&T is "working on it."

As you'd expect, it just works: Turn on Personal Hotspot (under Network Settings), turn on Wi-Fi on your other device, and choose your iPad as the Wi-Fi access point; or establish a Bluetooth connection between the iPad and the other device. You can also tether a PC or Mac to the iPad via Apple's 30-pin-to-USB cable to share your 4G connection, but it won't work that way with other devices.

If you travel internationally, the third-gen iPad has a MicroSIM slot, so you can use a local cellular carrier in the country you're visiting -- usually an order of magnitude cheaper than paying AT&T or Verizon for roaming charges, as is often the case with an iPhone. The previous iPads had this capability for AT&T units, but not for Verizon versions. With the third-gen iPad, Verizon's model now sports a MicroSIM slot that accepts a GSM SIM; GSM technology is used in most of the world, whereas Verizon's CDMA is available in a small portion of the globe. There are some changes to the Cellular pane in the Settings app that let you manage GSM and CDMA international roaming on the Verizon 4G iPad as a result of this newfound flexibility.

Some people have been able to use an AT&T SIM in the Verizon third-gen iPad. If Verizon doesn't block that feature via a software update, road warriors could connect the Verizon iPad to both the Verizon and AT&T networks in the United States, then switch to the best network in the region they're visiting. You can't do the reverse if you get the AT&T model. There's no guarantee you'll be able to continue to pull this dual-network trick on the Verizon 4G iPad, so don't make that a key deciding factor.

Dictation works as well as you speak
The one big software enhancement in the third-gen iPad is its new dictation feature that, if enabled, lets you dictate into any text field by tapping the microphone key on the onscreen keyboard. iOS has supported basic voice commands on the iPhone for managing iTunes playback and the phone dialer, but that's it. Android has had dictation for a couple years now -- also available through a microphone button on its onscreen keyboard (clearly where Apple got the idea).

Unfortunately for me, the iPad's dictation accuracy is not very good. But that's my fault, not the iPad's: I'm not the ideal person to test dictation, as I'm a sloppy speaker, eliding words and varying my intonation and speaking rate. Dictation usually doesn't work well for me on any device. Still, in my tests, the iPhone 4S's Siri handled my sloppy speech better than the third-gen iPad did. Various Android devices also did better than the new iPad for my speech, though not better than Siri.

I also tried the free Dragon Dictate app on the new iPad to see if it did better with my sloppy speech. Nope. It did different, not worse or better, mangling my words in different ways than the iPad, but mangling about the same percentage. Ironically, the iPad's accuracy was a bit better when I used a Bluetooth headset, whereas Dragon's accuracy plummeted. Dragon Dictate requires that you dictate into it, then copy your text to where you want to use it. Though it's less convenient than the iPad dictation, it's free, so you might as well have it at the ready.

But as I said, my speech is dictation-unfriendly, so I had several friends who have much better diction run through the same tests. In those cases, the iPad's dictation was very good, misinterpreting few words. Technical terms were often mangled, but so were some common words like "nuts," where people's slight accents resulted in everything from "not" to "that." It did better than Dragon Dictate and as well as Siri and Android. If you speak clearly and don't like to type, the dictation feature is a compelling reason to get the new iPad.

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