Apple iPad 4 with Retina display full review

Here's our original iPad 4 with Retina display review from November 2012, by Mark Hattersley.

The iPad 4 is the latest update to Apple’s iPad range of tablets. In our iPad 4 review we found that it has taken the tremendously successful form factor from the previous two iPad iterations, and updated the innards to produce a faster iPad: but not a radically different one.

Steve Jobs introduced the iPad as “an entirely new category of device”, one that ushered in what some are calling the Post-PC world. The iPad 2 introduced a smaller form factor, and Smart Cover, and the iPad 3 brought the Retina Display. The device still comes in 16, 32, and 64GB configurations, and Apple has recently added to this an 128GB model.

So now we have the iPad 4, which is visually identical to the iPad 3 (to the point of having the exact same casing, dimensions and weight – even the iPad 3 was slightly different to its predecessor). In terms of dimensions, the new iPad 4 measures 186 x 241 x 9.4mm and weighs in at 652g (662g for the cellular model). Exactly the same as the iPad 3 that it replaces.

See also: iPad mini review

It’s still the great iPad, but radical it ain’t.

So what, exactly, is different about the iPad 4? Aside from the new Lightning connector (which as with all recent updates replaces the classic 30-pin connector) there’s no change on the outside, so all the changes warranting the new 4 moniker are on the inside.

Apple iPad 4: Hardware

All the big changes take places internally: in particular the presence of the all-new A6X chipset. This contains a custom Apple designed 32nm 1.4GHz dual-core processor (based on the ARMv7) with quad-core GPU running at 300Mhz. Apple claims that this offers twice the performance of the A5 chip found in the iPad 3. (The A6 processor, found in the iPhone  5, incidentally is a dual-core, triple-core graphics chipset).

Our iPad 4 GeekBench 2 test reported that the A6X was 1.39GHz with 1GB of RAM – 988MB for our exact sample. The GeekBench 2 benchmark results returned a new record of 1769 (the iPad 3 scored in the region of 750) and in the SunSpider JavaScript test the iPad 4 managed a speedy average of 854ms.

Graphics performance on the iPad 4 was also considerably faster than the iPad 3. We performed a iPad 4 graphic benchmark using GLBenchmark 2.51 and recorded a frame rate of 39fps (compared to 22fps for the iPad 3).

iPad 4 GLBenchmark Score

Geekbench score GLBenchmark 2.5.1 measuring Frames Per Second (FPS) GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD (C24Z16). Higher score is best.

See also: iPad mini vs iPad 4 benchmark tests

This is potentially good news for gaming on iOS, which could take a big leap forward in the coming year (especially as these boosts are also replicated in the iPhone 5). Some recent games on iOS are already looking on par with the previous generation of consoles (Xbox and PS2) and it won’t be long before they’re visually similar to the current generation.

But here and now there’s little difference in graphical navigation, or iOS. Zooming around Apple Maps felt a little faster.

Demanding apps such as iMovie and Garageband may also display notable improvements when rendering video and music. But on the whole we don’t think there’s a big difference between the iPad 4 that’s on sale, and the iPad 3 that it replaces: at least not for the time being.

iPad 4 Lightning

iPad 4 pricing

The iPad 4 price and storage options are the same as the previous model, starting at £399 for 16GB Wi-Fi; £499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi and Cellular device; and going all the way up to £659 for a 64GB model with Wi-Fi and Cellular. 

Which model you choose generally depends on your needs, although the 32GB Wi-Fi model at £479 is generally considered a good choice. 

iPad 4G/LTE in the UK

The iPad 4 also extends the 4G functionality so that it works with a wider range of 4G networks. Crucially, for UK owners, this means that the iPad now works with our version of 4G (the 1,800 band which is currently being supported by EE).

We’ve only tested the iPad with Wi-Fi unit so far, and EE’s network has only just launched in the UK and is awaiting testing. Early reports suggest that 4G offers substantial speed improvements over 3G, in limited circumstances, but only on the EE network which (as the sole 4G supplier in the UK) is charging a high price. From £21 per month for 500MB and up to £36 for 5GB.

Being able to use an iPad with 4G may be a game-changer for some people, although we’d imagine they’re people with deep pockets.

iPad 4 4G LTE

Which iPad model to get

The iPad 4 it has replaced the iPad (third-generation) in the range while the iPad 2 remains on sale for  £329. Normally Apple takes the current model down a notch, but clearly thinks there isn’t enough differentiation between the iPad 3 and iPad 4 to warrant both on sale at the same time.

Aside from the faster internal components, what you have here is largely the same iPad experience as before. That’s no bad thing, especially for owners of the iPad 3 model who may be smarting at the update.

The iPad 2 is a pretty good bargain at £329, and although it lacks the Retina display and Siri functionality, it offers a lot of functionality for the price. If you’re quick you can also pick up an iPad 3 from the Apple Refurb Store (which will almost certainly be an unsold model) with prices starting at £315. This is a complete bargain and is a great shop for those looking for a good tablet on a budget.

Macworld's current opinion is that the iPad mini (five stars) represents the best possible combination of weight, price, and feature set and it's thinner and lighter design make it a marginally more attractive device. Having said that the iPad 4 is clearly has better specifications: it's faster and sports the Retina Display. But it's also heavier and larger to carry around. It's important to note that both the iPad and iPad mini are fantastic devices, both will have very happy owners - we just think the iPad mini has a slight edge.

It may be that next year the iPad mini also has a retina display, and becomes the definitive tablet without any arguments. It may the that the iPad 4S or 5 gets the thin and light manufacturing process that the iPad mini has, and regains its title as the most important iPad. But right now it's the iPad mini's turn in the spotlight.

The iPad vs Android and Microsoft Surface tablets

The iPad remains the best ‘Post-PC’ tablet-esque device on the market, even in the face of increased competition from Android-based tablets such as the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Note. We haven’t tested the Microsoft Surface tablet out so far, but early reports suggest that Windows 8 on Surface isn’t as pleasant an experience as either iOS or Android, so we doubt it’ll change matters any time soon. Put simply: get an iPad over the Surface or any Android tablet.

There are a number of reasons for this, that have been mulled over in countless reviews and analysts pieces. It’s a mixture of build quality, interface design, content availability (the app and iTunes stores are a hard act to beat); rivals do seem to have their work cut out taking on the iPad.

The iPad 4 vs iPad mini

So the iPad with Retina Display was the best type of full-size tablet on the market, and it remains the best tablet on the market. 

One question is how it fares against the new iPad mini, which is also a wider question regarding the existence of other small tablets such as the Google Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.

On paper, the iPad 4 is clearly the better device: it has a larger screen, retina display, faster processor, and more RAM. But specs are, as we often point out to non Apple fans, missing the point. What makes iOS products so good generally are a number of qualities that create a nice mix: craftmanship, attention to detail (especially with regards to user interfaces), availability of content, good apps, good interface. 

And the iPad mini offers all of this in a more portable package, and for a more attractive price. Worth considering instead? It largely depends on what you’re after. The iPad 4 is a manifestly better device, but it’s larger footprint make it less portable (our iPads largely remain housebound except for holidays and travels; the iPad mini, on the other hand, looks like a constant companion).

Both the iPad and iPad mini are superior devices to the Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Fire HD, although most people buying these devices already kinda know that. They just think they’re “good enough” for the £130-£160 price point, which is a whole different analysis that we’ll get into in the iPad mini review. 

See: iPad mini vs iPad: Display comparison

Is the iPad 4 thinking different enough?

That the iPad 4 is so similar to the iPad 3 is a good thing, especially given such a short upgrade period between the iPad 3 and iPad 4. We presume that Apple decided to push ahead with the update early to ensure that as many iOS products as possible were shipping with new Lightning adaptor.

The consistency ensures that customers with iPad 3 units needn’t feel too put-out by the update; it’s essentially the same experience. 

This does, however, leave iPad 2 owners with a decision to make. 

When the iPad 3 came out, our  advice was that the Retina Display was a good new feature, but probably not enough for iPad 2 owners to warrant an upgrade. Since then Apple has rolled out both Siri and Flyover to the iPad 3, and now to the iPad 4, which also has 4G LTE. So there are new features here for iPad 2 owners alongside the Retina Display, in particular the 4G LTE connection. Even so, we think iPad 2 owners will be in their rights to sit this update out and wait for the next wave of iPads which will introduce new features. Most notably we hope in the next iPad update Apple attempts to shave some of the weight off the iPad, as it has with the iPhone and new iPad mini.

iPad 4 with Retina display review: The verdict

The iPad remains the high watermark for all tablets, and the latest model is faster but retains the exact same dimensions and core functionality. If you have an iPad 3 there really is no reason to get an iPad 4 unless you really want 4G LTE. Although the faster innards are a welcome update, we think this is really about Apple wanting to introduce a new model with a Lightning connector, and the next iPad update will introduce more definite changes. Having said that it’s the best iPad on the market  and the Retina Display remains a big feature, and it ensures that you’re getting your money’s worth.

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