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Review: iPad 4

Allan Swann
November 27, 2012

Apple iPad 4

From £399
http://www.apple.com/uk/ipad
Reviewer: Philip Brown

Two full size iPads in a year ‘ is Apple pushing its luck?
Everyone saw the iPad mini coming from a mile off at Apple’s recent October press conference; what they didn’t expect was a new full size iPad to go with it.

Apple did a good job of keeping the replacement for its iPad 3 (which only launched in March) under wraps – something it’s struggling more and more with these days. But in part it was the lack of expectation that made it such a surprise for many.

Apple could have sold millions more iPad 3’s in the Christmas rush before having to worry about yet another launch. So why has it jumped the gun with the new iPad 4?

In truth, Apple’s played this one soundly. It’s given the iPad a mild but needed refresh, while not offering too much more ‘ carefully balancing the risk against making current iPad 3 envious.

The times they are a changing… or not.

Visibly, the iPad has changed very little. It still sports the same 9.4mm profile, the same frame and brushed metal backing. It remains as beautiful as ever, and the flat back introduced with the iPad 2 makes it feel much more portable – something you can just throw in your bag.

The Retina Display meanwhile, is the centrepiece. Seven months on, and the 2048×1536 resolution, 9.7-inch IPS screen is still astonishing. You cannot see the individual pixels – games are glorious, websites look crisp, and reading whole books on it without eye strain is now possible, something unheard of an LCD screen until this launched.

But so far, so similar ‘ these still aren’t killer reasons to upgrade. The five megapixel rear camera is still respectable, but remains utterly impractical ‘ as all these cameras do on tablets.

Apple’s included more inside the iPad 4 to sweeten the deal. The Wi-Fi + Data model now supports 4G frequencies in the UK, for ultra fast downloads and uploads on the go (For the purposes of this review though, we tested the Wi-Fi only model).

A turbocharged CPU
The key change is that Apple has boosted the graphics and processing power inside with its new A6X processor ‘ a significant power boost. Apple’s claim of double performance over the iPad 3 doesn’t quite translate into real world practice (benchmark scores seldom do), but it is blisteringly fast, especially when it comes to switching between apps with four-finger swipes.

Loading graphically intensive games, such as Infinity Blade 2, is sometimes several seconds quicker. The risk with adding all this power is that it could suck up battery life, iPads remain famous for their 10 hour battery life. Readers will be happy to know, this extra juice still doesn’t make a dint on the battery ‘ 10 hours remain – and days to weeks on standby.

With this improvement, slowdown is a thing of the past. And for less demanding users, it makes the decision to choose between an iPad and a laptop a legitimate one: why put up with the confusion and boot up time of Windows when you could have this flawless, always-on device instead?

That damn lightning connector again
The big change is perhaps the smallest though, and the most controversial. The new iPad packs Apple’s smaller Lightning connector, in place of the inch-wide 30-pin connector you’ve been seeing on iPods and iPhones for a decade now. We also saw this change on the iPad Mini (reviewed last issue) and the iPhone 5 (reviewed in the November issue). This may well be the sole reason Apple released the iPad 4 so quickly ‘ to bring it in line with those devices. Apple claims it means it can make its gadgets even thinner ‘ it certainly doesn’t copy or charge any faster. No doubt Apple wanted to get this standardised across the line as quickly as possible for one reason: accessories.

Apple prides itself on all the ‘Made For Apple’ gear you can buy for its devices (and charges manufacturers an arm and a leg for the privilege too). This new, smaller standard means your existing docks, accessories and toys are out of a job. Now, for those with an expensive speaker dock, this may come as quite a blow. especially since Apple is charging £25 for a 30-pin converter. Fortunately, Apple’s move to seamless wireless streaming with AirPlay minimises the loss.

Go mini or maxi?
As you can see from our  iPad Mini review, we are a bit torn on the merits of an iPad Mini. The Mini offers just about every software and hardware feature that the iPad 4 does, even Siri and 4G data connection. Some have complained about the price of it (At £269, it’s over a £100 more expensive than its 7-inch rivals from Asus and Amazon). The iPad Mini lacks its bigger brother’s pure power and speed, as well as its dazzling, pin-sharp screen.

Consumption vs creation

iPad 4 vs iPad Mini – consumption vs creation?

 

If there’s a difference, it’s this: the iPad mini is for consumption, the iPad for creation.

You could use a stylus and the stunning Paper app on the former, or hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to write long documents, but neither would be very productive. And you could just use the new iPad for watching videos and nothing more, but you’d spend the whole time wondering if you’d just wasted £130.

Think of it as the MacBook Air / MacBook Pro divide – and knowing Apple, it’s intentional, and something that’ll become very clear over the years to come. Although the rate Apple’s moving at, perhaps that should be months.

IOS 6 remains a problem
What you won’t find on the fourth-gen iPad are any surprises with the software: this is exactly the same experience as on the iPad 3. That’s no bad thing.

Now, iOS 6 has come under fire recently (Indeed, it may be the reason Apple’s iOS software boss was recently forced out of the company) for showing a remarkable lack of innovation, especially when compared against Google’s rapidly improving Android mobile operating system.

Those complaints are fair: save for Siri on the iPad, there are very few features here that will change the way you use your tablet. Apple’s strange obsession with skeuomorphic persists.

We doubt many Game Center users look at their screen and notice that the green felt background is meant to recall a casino ‘ they just see bad, cheesy design. And that has traditionally not been Apple’s way.

And then, of course, there’s Apple Maps… the less said the better. A truly cataclysmic replacement for Google’s Map data that’s every bit as bad as headlines have made out, with a woeful lack of detail. Bridges are missing, addresses are wrong, and city suburbs are hopelessly out of date.


Here’s the thing though – so few of these issues matter on a tablet. You won’t ever find yourself staring into your iPad on a street, trying to figure out which door is 61, after all. The bigger screen also helps, as you can use your browser to go straight into Google Maps anyhow.


At its heart, Apple’s core iOS design structure is still so easy to use. Even if you don’t find voice assistant Siri very useful (it still defaults to a basic web search for too many things to be particularly useful), voice dictation on the iPad is superb.


Hit the microphone icon on the keyboard and simply say what you need to type: it’s much quicker than trying to tap out what you need in a search box or email, and alarmingly accurate. It’s not hard to see this becoming the sole way people input text on their computers going forward, if the only computer they own is an iPad.


The Apple App Store is still its killer app…
And a tablet’s use case means you end up using Apple’s core apps much less, and third party ones much more. Safari and Mail aside, you don’t need Apple’s other services, like voucher app Passbook – you’ll be too busy browsing the web, reading articles on Flipboard or Pocket, and playing games.

Perhaps more to the point, the app difference when it comes to tablets is still vast: Google’s Play Store is every bit the match for iTunes –  on a mobile. But apps specifically designed for the larger screen real estate of a tablet? The iPad is still the only real game in town.

Even if Samsung can now match Apple for astonishing tablet display tech, it’s that app disparity which makes the choice a much more unexpected one: should you go with the new iPad or the iPad mini?

PLUS
+  
Stunning display
+  Massive app eco-system
+  Superb performance

CONS
–  
Lightning connector won’t work with older accessories
Only an incremental update to third generation iPad

Performance 5 stars
Features  5 stars
Usability 5 stars
Design 5 stars

Overall  5 stars


Verdict

Taken on its own, the fourth generation iPad is a triumph of engineering and design: it feels like a true laptop replacement for many, even if it offers only a minimal update over the third generation model that only serious spec heads would notice. Really though, it’s the iPad mini that will be its main competition. For everyone else who expects a bit more power out of their full size tablet, the new iPad remains best in class by a long way.

Tech specs
Dimensions241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4 mm
Weight662 g
OS IOS 6.0.1
Screen9.7 inch LED-backlit IPS TFT, capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours
Resolution1536 x 2048 pixels at (~264 ppi pixel density)
CPUApple A6X, Dual-core
GPUPowerVR SGX554MP4
Memory1GB RAM
Storage16/32/64 GB storage
Camera5MP rear facing, 1.2MP front facing
Video1080P HD at 30fps, video stabilised.
WirelessWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Cellular4G, 3G, 2G. DC-HSDPA – 42 Mbps; HSDPA – 21 Mbps; HSUPA – 5.76 Mbps. 4G LTE – 73 Mbps.
Ports Lightning Connector (USB2.0) and 3.5mm audio jack.

The full review of the iPad 4 can be found in the December issue of What Mobile, available at all good retailers.

 

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