The iPad 4 looks almost exactly the same as its predecessor, the iPad 3. Apart from the Lightning connector, they appear identical, but the iPad 4 has a much more powerful processor the A6X. It also has a better front-facing camera and improved Wi-Fi connectivity. It still starts at $499 for a 16GB model (Wi-Fi only).
The back of the iPad 4 sports the familiar aluminum back.
Here’s the iPad 4 (black) beside the iPad 3 (white).
The two tablets are virtually identical.
The iPad 3 has a label that shows the capacity, but the iPad 4 does not.
The new Lightning connector is the only obvious physical difference between the two tablets. Although the connector „modernizes“ the iPad, it doesn’t enjoy the design benefits the iPhone 5 gained from shrinking the dock connector.
The front-facing camera on the iPad 4 is now a 720p FaceTime camera. You can see how its performance has improved from the iPad 3 (left). Not only are images sharper, but color is improved, too.
Here’s a photo taken with the front camera on the iPad 3.
The same shot taken with the front camera on the iPad 4.
iPad 4 looks almost exactly the same as what I’ll refer to from now on as the iPad 3, the tiny Lightningconnector port being the only sign this is a different product. While Apple has found a new love for progress in debuting the fourth-gen iPad a mere six months after iPad 3 (its mobile products used to iterate on tight annual schedule), it’s clearly not messing with success.
It’s also not going to do anything to upstage the pretty young ingenue in its product lineup, the iPad mini. Whereas the mini was the star of Apple’s most recent product circus, the company’s chief gadget wrangler, Phil Schiller, said everything he had to say about iPad 4 in less than three minutes. If you blinked, you missed a whole new iPad.
The result: Most people don’t even know there’s a new 10-inch iPad, which is probably just what Apple wants. While the iPad mini provides curious onlookers and anyone considering a smaller tablet something to look at, the same big-screen iPad is still there, still starting at $499, still setting the standard for the whole tablet market. The message: Sleep easy, world, because nothing’s changed.
Except it has. The iPad 4 performs noticeably better than the iPad 3. This isn’t just a matter of benchmarks or “theoretical” numbers, but those are certainly superior. Web sites load faster, apps launch quicker and the most processor-taxing iPad games run perfectly on the new iPad. Whether you’re a casual surfer or a power user, the new iPad improves your experience.
More Guts, a Bit More Glory
The iPad 4′s powers are due largely to the new A6X processor. Apple launched the A6 chip with the iPhone 5 in September, and the iPad takes it up a notch with quad-core graphics. Just like the iPad 3, the beefier graphics processing is needed to render images for the 2,048 x 1,536 retina display. The screen is the same, but Apple says it now performs up to twice as fast.
It’s not a lie. In benchmark tests, we found the iPad 4 performs at least twice as fast, looking at raw processing power. RunningGeekbench’s app, the iPad 4 got an overall score of 1,769 while its predecessor was ranked at just 768 — a massive difference. In repeated runs of SpeedTest.net, which tests connection speed, the iPad 4 was on average about 20% faster than iPad 3 on the same Wi-Fi network.
In real-world tasks, that translates into media-rich websites such as CNN.com (and Mashable, come to think of it) loading almost instantaneously and graphics-intensive apps launching lickety-split. In launching Solar Walk, for instance, a retina-optimized app loaded with high-res renderings of the solar system, the iPad 4 called it up a lot faster than iPad 3, saving several seconds. (Check out the video below for the full demo.)
Games launch faster, too. However, for actual gameplay, I couldn’t detect any difference at all. Slices, parries and stabs against the monstrous rivals in Infinity Blade II was fast and responsive on both iPads. Blasting pirates in Galaxy on Fire HD 2 was a pixel-perfect exercise on the two tablets, even at maximum resolution. And zombie brains from The Walking Dead spattered just as well on the iPad 3 as the iPad 4.
Playing games continuously on both tablets, the iPad 3 appeared to lose battery life considerably faster than the iPad 4. Apple does say the new processor runs more efficiently than the iPad 3′s, but the extra juice could be attributable to the device simply being brand new.
In any case, game developers have clearly built their games for the iPad 3, which was the best possible iPad experience for the last six months, so no game is going to choke the tablet the way Crysis used to be the gaming stress test for PCs. It’s going to take time for devs to create apps that really challenge the iPad 4, but when they do, the A6X processor will be waiting.
The other upgrade to the iPad 4 is the front-facing camera, which is now an improved model able to capture 1.2-megapixel photos and 720p video. The upgrade puts it in line with pretty much all of Apple’s other products with front-facing cameras — from the MacBook Air to the iPad mini to the iPod touch.
The improvement is welcome. The iPad is an excellent device for video chatting because of its portability and Apple’s FaceTime service, which is generally superior in quality to rivals like Skype. With a good connection, the clarity is markedly better than on the iPad 3.
Any self-portraits you take with the front camera are improved as well. Shots are more detailed, with better color. Of course, if you really need to snap some pics of something, you may as well use the 5-megapixel camera in back, which is the same design as iPad 3.
Apple says the A6X chip improves both image stabilization and facial recognition, but in my short time with the iPad 4, I couldn’t detect any improvement over the iPad 3 on either of those features.
Then of course there’s the Lightning connector, the big physical change from the previous model. In the iPad, though, Lightning’s small size doesn’t provide much benefit, Whereas Apple was able to shrink the iPhone considerably by replacing the dock connector with the smaller port, the iPad retains the same weight and dimensions.
To the user, Lightning doesn’t provide a lot of benefit over the old dock connector other than ensuring your iPad won’t go obsolete overnight. It’s great for Apple, though. Adding Lightning to the iPad proper brings the new port to all of Apple’s portable devices in time for the holiday — an impressive feat considering the connector didn’t exist officially until a month and a half ago.
Apart from the connector, there’s really no physical difference from the iPad 3. On our iPad, the label that indicates the storage capacity is missing, although that might simply be because it’s a review unit.
Why the iPad 4 Exists Now
When Apple unveiled the fourth-generation iPad, many owners of the iPad 3 were angry. After all, they had shelled out serious cash for the new iPad with retina display with a confidence that it wouldn’t be obsolete six months later. It was the Osborne Effect, but in reverse.
Yet here we are. Now there’s a shinier, newer iPad with a much faster processor, a better camera and that oh-so-cute Lightning connector. Dammit.
But there’s really nothing to be angry about, because iPad 3 owners aren’t missing out on anything significant. The iPad 2′s screen to a retina display — that was a major upgrade, but the spec bumps in iPad 4, while significant, don’t have much practical benefit yet.
It will take awhile for A6X-optimized apps to arrive, and the iPad 3 is already plenty fast. The front camera is improved, but it’s not like I was unrecognizable on FaceTime before. About the only thing with serious, tangible benefits is upgraded Wi-Fi, but in that case we’re talking only a few seconds difference, typically.
Forget the iPad 3 for a second, though, and it’s hard not to marvel at what Apple’s created here. Not only is the iPad 4 a turbocharged tablet with an impressive display, but it’s got a large selection of apps (275,000, at Apple’s last count) made especially for it.
So while the iPad 4 isn’t worth the upgrade for iPad 3 owners, for anyone else thinking about a new full-size tablet this holiday, the choice is clear. The iPad, already the standard-bearer in the category, is now twice as powerful, has even faster connectivity and — oh yeah — is supported by the most consistent and easy-to-use mobile ecosystem in existence and the deepest tablet app selection by far.
Rival tablets may be able to beat Apple on price, and perhaps even a spec or two, but no one else comes close in terms of experience. Come to your senses and get an iPad already. There’s a reason it’s the most popular tablet in the world, and it’s never been clearer than in the iPad 4.
At least until the iPad 5 comes out.