Now in its fourth iteration in two years, the Apple iPad continues its reign as the slate king. The best large tablet you can buy today, the fourth Apple iPad has it all: Top performance, a stellar screen, an improved and surprisingly good camera, speedy Wi-Fi, and a breath-taking library of apps. It really is the full package.
The fourth-generation iPad looks almost exactly like the previous model, and it's priced the same, too. The Wi-Fi model we reviewed comes with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB worth of storage, costing £399, £479 and £559 respectively. If you want to be able to keep apps, movies, and music on your tablet, I advise getting at least 32GB. There are also cellular versions of the new iPad available for £499, £579 and £659, in line with the Wi-Fi pricing but with a £100 premium (and yes, EE’s new 4G LTE service is supported by the iPad 4).
Just like the second and third-generation iPads, this tablet has a 9.7in screen surrounded by a black (or white) bezel, with a curved metal back, and a single Home button. Apple's magnetic Smart Cover, which was released with the iPad 2, clips on just fine. The tablet still has a sealed-in battery, and no ports other than a standard headphone jack. There's a 1.2-megapixel camera right above the display in the middle of the top bezel, and a 5-megapixel camera in its traditional location on the back upper left corner.
On the bottom is Apple's new and compact Lightning connector (see below), which isn't compatible with earlier accessories – but Lightning accessories are starting to appear, and I'm confident the ecosystem will develop quickly given how many new iPhones, iPods and iPads Apple is selling.
Measuring 185 x 9.4 x 241mm (WxDxH), and weighing 652 grams, the new iPad is the same size and weight as the third-generation model. It's about 50 grams heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Google Nexus 10, but I didn't really notice that during testing. For a size comparison with the new iPad mini, see the image below.
The 2,048 x 1,536 Retina resolution display is sharp, clear, and bright. At 263 pixels per inch, it beats every other tablet on the market right now except Google's Nexus 10, which offers a 300ppi, 2,560 x 1,600 10in screen. But both web browsing and gaming look better on the iPad's screen because of superior software choices. In the browser, Apple picked better-looking, better-kerned fonts, and cross-platform games showed generally superior graphics and coding on the iPad.
The Retina display takes its toll on battery life just as it did with the third-gen iPad. I got 5 hours and 36 minutes of video playback at full brightness, almost the same figure as the previous model. That's still longer than the Nexus 10, which clocked in at just over 5 hours on the same test. The big battery still takes a long time to charge: Six hours on our first try, even with the new, more powerful 12 Watt charger.
Apps and performance
The new iPad, like the old iPad, runs Apple's iOS 6. See our full review of iOS 6 for a look at the ins and outs of the iPad's operating system.
In the eight months since the third-generation iPad was released, most of the apps I have been using for testing have been upgraded to Retina versions. The OS smooths and improves standard elements within many non-Retina-enhanced apps, too, including text and embedded maps.
Speaking of those maps, Apple's troubles with mapping don't affect this iPad as much as other iOS devices because the Wi-Fi-only model lacks GPS. Still, if it can find Wi-Fi the tablet can determine its location, and you can of course download a third-party mapping app if you like.
The latest iPad packs an Apple A6X processor which Geekbench reports to be running at 1.4GHz (Apple won't confirm or deny this). The custom-designed A6, as seen in the iPhone 5, was already one of the fastest CPUs available; the A6X enhances the A6 with even better graphics.
The results are stunning. The fourth-gen iPad outmatched all other Apple products on the Geekbench and GLBenchmark benchmarks, scoring 1,768 on Geekbench compared to the iPad 3's 749. Similarly, the heavy-duty game Need for Speed: Most Wanted launched in 18 seconds on the new iPad compared to 37 seconds on the iPad 3. Yes, it's more than twice as fast. With the iPad 3, I found apps that stressed the older A5 processor. That just isn't the case with the new iPad.
When it comes to downloading, the iPad's excellent Wi-Fi performance certainly helps. Using our office's 5GHz 802.11n network, I got 37Mbps down on the iPad and 23Mbps down on the Nexus 10. Both speeds are fast, but it's the iPad's processor and software that seem to be making the difference here.
Gaming performance is significantly better on the new iPad, too. Intense games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Asphalt 7 run at a smooth 60 frames per second on the new iPad, and render landscapes in advance of viewing.
The Nexus 10 had frame rate issues in both games and would render buildings as I came up to them, which was distracting. Scores on the GLBenchmark graphics benchmark spell things out. On GLBenchmark's Egypt HD On-Screen, which renders a complex game-like scene, the iPad 3 scored 22 frames per second, the Nexus 10 hit 27, and the iPad 4 reached 42. That's a noticeable difference.
Cameras and multimedia
The new iPad upgrades both cameras. The 1.2-megapixel front camera records 720p video; the rear camera takes 5-megapixel stills and 1080p video. The cameras offer the same excellent performance as on the Apple iPad mini.
The front camera takes sharp 1.2-megapixel shots, even in low light. In very low light, images get quite noisy, but that's preferable to blurry. Its 720p HD videos record at a noisy 24 frames per second in very low light, and 30 frames per second outdoors. The main camera captures sharp, clear, and well-balanced 5-megapixel images and 1080p video at 30 frames per second indoors and out. I think people look ridiculous taking photos with the main camera of a 10in tablet, but many people do so.
The single speaker on the bottom of the iPad is tinny and of medium volume like most tablet speakers, but the headphone amp is impressive; I got rich, powerful sound through a pair of Monster earphones. The iPad also works just fine with Bluetooth headphones and speakers.
The iPad has always been an excellent media player, and there's no change here. The high resolution screen lets you watch 1080p HD videos without downscaling, and they look spectacular. You can also output HD video to a TV either through Apple's £39 HDMI adapter, or via Wi-Fi using Apple TV's AirPlay feature.
The combination of the new processor and faster Wi-Fi fix the AirPlay problems I saw on the previous iPad, too. Using a 5GHz network, I streamed a 1080p version of The Hunger Games purchased from iTunes on an Apple TV, and watched a high quality stream of Arrested Development on Netflix with no skipping. High quality racing games ran with good frame rates over AirPlay, but there was a bit of lag in the controls because of Wi-Fi latency.
Apple’s new iPad is quite simply the best 10in tablet out there. The iPad’s performance is head and shoulders above the competition, and it provides a premium screen and processor to match its premium price. The iPad's expansive library of tablet-focused apps is also a big tick for the Apple tablet.
Most rival 10in Android tablets, including the laudable but flawed Google Nexus 10, still lack the level of polish and the range of third-party apps designed for Apple tablets. Yes, the Google Play store offers a small selection of featured tablet apps, but for the vast majority of Android apps, it's hard to tell before downloading (and paying for) them whether you'll get a true tablet app or a blown-up phone app. As I’ve said before, those scaled phone apps look okay on a medium resolution, 7in tablet, but generally awful on a super-high-res 10in model, so this is more of a concern with larger tablets.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 made a very favourable impression on us by offering up uses that aren't covered by the standard Android apps: Multi-windowed web browsing and a pressure-sensitive stylus. While the Note maintains its windowing advantage and is still an excellent tablet, the new iPad has caught up with third-party pressure-sensitive styli, such as the Adonit Jot Touch.
And how about the Microsoft Surface RT? It's definitely a competitor, but it isn't quite there yet. The A6X processor's performance beats the Nvidia Tegra 3's, and the Retina screen bests the Surface's 1,366 x 768 panel. More importantly, though, Apple's massive library of excellent apps and accessories dwarfs the still-tiny ecosystem built around Windows RT. (Remember, RT can't run true desktop Windows apps). Want to dance around clicking a keyboard onto your tablet? The iPad offers plenty of options like the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover.
I gave the previous iPad a score of nine out of ten; I dinged it a point for its A5 processor. At the time, I told iPad 2 owners to wait for the next model. And this is it. The fourth-generation Apple iPad is the only product I have ever personally rated a full ten out of ten because it represents the tablet state of the art.
Manufacturer and Device
Apple iPad 4th generation Wi-Fi
Rear Camera Resolution
2048 x 1536 pixels
185 x 9.4 x 241mm (WxDxH)
IMG PowerVR SGX544
Wi-Fi (802.11x) Compatibility
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
5 hours 36 minutes
Front Camera Resolution