TabletPCReview Tests Wi-Fi Strength Of The New iPad

by Reads (11,100)

The iPad continues to defy the market and all expectations, with three million units sold in its first weekend since launch. One week after launch in the U.S., it went on sale in 25 other nations, which will only further Apple’s lead. But the buyer better beware a number of quality issues that have cropped up.

The first problem came within days, when Consumer Reports issued its first take on the iPad, noting how hot it became while playing games. After 45 minutes playing a graphics-intensive game, CR tester Donna L. Tapellini noted that the back of the new iPad reached temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, 13 degrees hotter than the iPad 2.

“The hottest areas weren’t evenly distributed throughout the iPad’s back, but were concentrated near one corner of the display as shown in the images taken from the rear of the device above.”

Then came complaints of the uber-sharp Retina Display suffering from a yellowish tint. That may be a temporary thing, as LCD screens sometimes need to go through a period where chemicals used in manufacturing are burned off and the tint will disappear.

Next up was a warning from DisplayMate, which said iPad users should leave their iPad plugged into a power source for up to an hour after the device shows 100 percent charge. Dr. Raymond Soneira, founder of DisplayMate and author of the report, said the device continues to charge even after the OS says that the battery has reached full capacity.

Finally, there were numerous reports on the Apple Support boards of very poor Wi-Fi connectivity and reception. People noted that the further they were from the access point, the more the signal fell off.

So we decided to test this. The hardware involved in the tests were a brand new iPad, a first-generation iPad, an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 3GS for good measure. The access point is a Cisco WRT310N 802.11a/b/g/n single channel wireless access point. Tests were done using the mobile version of SpeedTest, an up/down test utility.

The tests were done over the space of my house, all on the same floor, at various distances with different numbers of walls in between. Tests were done on two servers, one in Los Angeles 32 miles from me, and one in Ft. Worth, Texas, 1,175 miles away.

What the test shows is clear: the further you get from the access point, the new iPad signal drops faster and further than any other Apple device, even more than the iPhone 3GS, a device released in 2009, in certain cases. The download speeds were widely inconsistent from one test to the next, but the upload speeds were almost always consistent, around 0.9 megabits per second.

All speeds are in megabits per second. The walls in the house are made of wood and plaster.

Down/up speed, three feet from the access point, no walls:

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 4S

iPad gen 1

iPad gen 3

LA Server

9.99/0.94 17.31/0.92 15.75/0.92 17.51/1.06

Ft. Worth Server

6.83/0.26 7.08/0.93 10.22/0.91 9.27/0.93

Down/up speed, 20 feet from the access point, 1 wall:

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 4S

iPad gen 1

iPad gen 3

LA Server

8.88/0.38 14.91/0.72 4.36/0.23 4.02/0.3

Ft. Worth Server

6.77/0.35 4.36/1.43 8.59/0.36 8.14/0.71

—-

Down/up speed, 25 feet from the access point, 2 walls:

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 4S

iPad gen 1

iPad gen 3

LA Server

1.27/0.21 2.15/0.66 0.71/0.38 0.41/0.08

Ft. Worth Server

0.88/0.81 1.92/0.92 2.31/0.3 0.39/0.51

—-

Down/up speed, 30 feet from the access point, 3 walls:

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 4S

iPad gen 1

iPad gen 3

LA Server

0.04/0.14 4.14/1.41 1.64/0.78 0.02/0.75

Ft. Worth Server

0.1/0.47 5.16/1.4 1.67/0.07 0.28/0.25

Two notables about the phones: the iPhone 4 is the best overall competitor, and the iPhone 3GS was terrible on power. The tests took me a total of 20 minutes, with each test run eight times. After that was done, the iPhone 3GS was at 83% power, while the iPhone 4 was at 92%.

This test is not conclusive, of course. It’s one house with one access point. But it does show that in my situation, the new iPad does drop the most as you get further away and put more walls in between you and the access point. Even the aging iPhone 3GS, released three years ago, had better Wi-Fi performance than the iPad 3 as distance increased.

The iPad is built around its portability, but such poor performance could leave you tethered to an access point. Granted, in a hotel or public hotspot like a coffee house you will have multiple access points, but you shouldn’t be dependent on that.

Teardowns reveal that the iPad 3 uses the same Wi-Fi chip as the iPhone 4S, the Broadcom BCM4330. The iPad 1 and 2 use a BCM43291HKUBC. So we know Wi-Fi chip in the iPad 3 should perform well, since it does such a great job in the iPhone 4S.

I am hoping that this will have a software fix. The iPhone 4S was plagued with pretty bad battery life when it first shipped, but Apple corrected that with the release of iOS 5.1. So hopefully this problem can be fixed with software.

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