Performance – Objective Testing

The new iPad 3 is only a partial performance upgrade over the previous model. While the GPU has two additional “cores” the CPU has remained unchanged. It is still dual-core and still running at 1 GHz.

That puts it at a severe on-paper disadvantage against Tegra 3, which offers four cores running at up to 1.6 GHz (though they run at between 1 GHz and 1.4 GHz in the Transformer Prime). But there is more to performance than hardware. Software can have an impact as well – as is evident in browser benchmarks.

Despite being down two cores and at a clock speed disadvantage the iPad 3 and Prime are essentially tied. The iPad 3 wins slightly in Peacekeeper, the tablets nearly tie in Sunspider, and the Prime wins slightly in BrowserMark. It’s hard to say that either tablet is clearly superior in this comparison.

What about graphics performance? Both Nvidia and Apple make big claims about their respective parts, and the iPad 3 does see a theoretical doubling of the tablet’s graphics capability. Let’s take a look at GL Benchmark’s Egypt – Offscreen. This benchmark provides a gauge of performance at a set resolution, so it’s a good indication of relative capability.

The iPad 3 clearly takes this one. It is not four times as fast as Tegra 3, which is what Apple claims, but it does offer about twice the performance. Neither of these tablets run this benchmark slowly, but the iPad 3 is more capable.

Let’s have a look at some other benchmarks that provide an indication of raw horsepower – GL Benchmark’s Fill Rate and Triangle tests.

This is where Apple is deriving its claim that the A5X offers four times the graphics performance of Tegra 3. Obviously this is a win for Apple, but as with all tests that only gauge fill rates or texture and/or triangle rendering, it can’t necessarily be applied directly to real-world performance. 

Subjective Performance – Gaming

Objective benchmarks have limitations. It’s difficult to use them to judge cross-platform performance because software and operating system optimization can have a massive impact on real-world results. GL Benchmark seems to indicate that the new iPad whoops the Tegra 3 powered Prime in graphics performance, but that doesn’t mean your enjoyment is enhanced by a similar amount. 

At this point the gaming experience between the iPad 3 and the Prime is virtually identical. Both tablets have access to a handful of beautiful games. The standout for Apple’s tablet is Infinity Blade 2, while the most attractive game for Android is Shadowgun, a game which is also available for iOS but enjoys a few specific enhancements (such water and cloth effects) if you run the game on a Tegra 3 device.

Such comparisons are a bit unrealistic, however, because the vast majority of games on both platforms are either rendered in 2D or rendered in 3D that’s far below the maximum capabilities of either device. For example, one game I’ve come to love on iOS is the tower defense game Kingdom Rush. It’s wonderful fun. It’s also entirely 2D. It does nothing to strain the iPad 2, nevermind the new model.

The same can be said for Android. Some of the best games I’ve played on Android devices are titles like Game Developer Story and Sentinel 3. Both of these run well on smartphones, nevermind tablets. 

It turns out that Apple and Nvidia’s argument over gaming performance is irrelevant because only a handful of developers will push the limits of the hardware made by either company. 

Subjective Performance – General Use

Real-world performance will make-or-break a tablet, and often the hardware is only part of the equation. Software, such as the web browser, is equally important. To find out how each of these tablets handled the web I decided to compare the browsing experience side-by-side. And I even recorded it.

There’s no question which I prefer. Apple’s iPad 3 offers the better experience. Part of the reason for this is what you see in the video above – it’s a tad quicker. Pages are usable more quickly and some page elements load faster. 

But the reasons go beyond that. Even today, after several firmware updates and the Ice Cream Sandwich update, the browser on the Prime sometimes cuts out on me.

This seems to happen most frequently when I am browsing a page that hasn’t completely loaded yet. If I attempt to scroll down the browser will sometimes freeze for several seconds. After that I will be presented with a prompt that tells me the browser is not responding. If I decided to wait the browser soon becomes responsive once more, but the temporary freeze puts a damper on the pleasure of the experience.

I also noticed that, ironically, the YouTube app seems quicker on the iPad 3. Though the Prime should theoretically have no problem with HD video, I sometimes found that videos would stutter or skip or that the YouTube app would freeze entirely. 

Most annoying were two crashes that closed the YouTube app but did not stop the audio of the clip I was watching. I could not re-open the app and the app did not show as if it was running in the multi-tasking view or in the Android settings. The only way to make the audio stop was to reboot the Prime.

Don’t get me wrong. The Prime works well and responses quickly most of the time. But the iPad 3 works well and responses quickly almost all of the time, and the difference is noticeable. I eventually became tolerant of the Prime’s jerky performance and learned not to bother it when it seemed to be day-dreaming, but such an adjustment should not be necessary.

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