IPad 3 Wi-Fi ‘Issues’ Tested: Worst Performance Yet, But Does It Really Matter?

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In the iPad 1, the Wi-Fi antenna hides behind the plastic Apple logo
In the iPad 1, the Wi-Fi antenna hides behind the plastic Apple logo

Andy Patrizio of Tablet PC Review decided to get to the bottom of the sporadic reports of bad Wi-Fi reception in the iPad 3. Armed with the new iPad, a first-gen iPad, and a couple of iPhones (3GS and 4S), he fired up the SpeedTest app and pointed it at his Cisco WRT310N 802.11a/b/g/n router. The results? The iPad 3 came in dead last, but it’s not as bad as you might have heard.

Andy tested the down and up speeds at various distances from the router. The iPhone 4S won at pretty much every distance, and the new iPad’s performance dropped off the fastest as the distances grew. At 30 feet from the access point, and through three thin walls, the iPhone 4S managed 5.16Mb down, the iPad 1 came in at 1.67Mb and the iPad 3 a terrible 0.28Mb. Upload speeds were similarly placed.

Now, these tests are also affected by the internet connection to the servers used in the tests, which have nothing to do with the Wi-Fi signal strength, but the consistency in Andy’s results shows that there is indeed a pattern.

Is this a problem? I don’t think so. In my short experience of the new iPad, web browsing is way faster, not slower, than on the iPad 2. In fact, on today’s fast connections, the bottleneck is often the rendering speed of the browser and not the connection itself. In my quick and unscientific tests, I see no bigger drop off on my iPad 3 than on the first-gen version. Putting them side-by-side in my living room (the furthest spot from the Time Capsule router), there’s nothing in it.

Both load Google instantly, and both take similar times to load more clunky sites, with the new iPad sometimes quicker and sometimes slower than the old iPad.

And in a related (and equally unscientific test), I find the new iPad keeps its 3G signal for in places my iPad 2 would drop to EDGE or even (the horror) GPRS.

So, is Wi-Fi drop-off worse in the new iPad than in older ones? Probably. Does it make a difference in real life? Not really. And what’s causing it? My guess is that the giant battery is getting in the way somehow.