In a quadruple-whammy of new product launches, Apple surprised many by announcing a new full-size iPad. But what's the difference between the two models? Here, in an iPad 3 vs iPad 4 comparison review, we take an in-depth look at the specifications of the new iPad with Retina display and the no-longer-new 'new' iPad 3. See our full review of the iPad 3.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: processor
Arguably the biggest update for the iPad with Retina display is the new Apple A6X processor. This shares a similar dual-core design to the iPhone 5's A6 chip, and also has a quad-core graphics processor embedded.
Apple claims the A6X is twice as fast as the iPad 3's A5X processor, including for graphics, without using any extra battery power. Going by previous Apple performance claims, we're pretty sure this will be borne out in benchmark results, which we'll share as soon as we get our hands on a review unit.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: Lightning
One obvious update is the new Lightning connector. Although this new all-digital interface is seemingly incompatible with just about everything at the moment, it will come into its own over the next months and years as Lightning accessories are launched.
All other ports and buttons remain the same.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: 4G LTE
Another update which is slightly subtler is an updated 4G LTE modem. Apple went big on 4G with the iPad 3 but then had to backtrack in several countries, including the UK and Australia when it turned out that the frequencies it used weren't compatible with many 4G networks. Plus, there was also the fact that 4G networks didn't exist in many places, so it was a moot point.
The iPad 4 which you'll buy in the UK, though, supports 1800MHz - a crucial number since this is what EE uses for its 4G network in the UK and it currently the only way to get the fastest download speeds on the move. See also: What is 4G? A complete guide.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: Wi-Fi
Apple says the new iPad with Retina display has 'advanced Wi-Fi technology - up to twice as fast as any previous-generation iPad' but actual details of how this is achieved are sketchy. On paper, the Wi-Fi chip appears the same as the one used in both the iPad 2 and iPad 3, but Apple talks about support for channel bonding, which allows speeds up to 150Mbps.
Given that the iPad 2 and iPad 3 are also technically capable of these speeds, it's hard to know before testing the fourth-gen iPad exactly what's going on here. It could be a new antenna design, with a different MIMO configuration, but Apple's careful wording says it all: "Many of the things you do every day MAY start to feel a whole lot faster."
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: cameras
Just as with the iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S, the iPad with Retina display has upgraded cameras.
The front camera is now a 'FaceTime HD' part, with support for up to 720p video and 1.2Mp photos. This suggests it's the same as the iPhone 5's camera. It's a big step up from the iPad 3's VGA camera, and useful for taking the odd self portrait, as well as providing the person at the other end of your FaceTime or Skype call with better quality video.
On the back, a new 5Mp iSight camera improves on the iPad 3's only in that it now has a back-illuminated sensor. Essentially, it will be hard to tell any difference between photos and videos taken on the iPad 3 and iPad 4, except perhaps those taken in dim light, where the iPad with Retina display should win out with less noise and better colours.
The iPad 3 had video stabilisation, just at the iPad 4 does, as well as face detection for photos. A minor change here is that the fourth-gen iPad gets face recognition in videos, too.
One thing which hasn't been upgraded is the iPad's microphones. Unlike the iPhone 5 and iPod touch, the iPad with Retina display doesn't get a rear mic, nor a front-facing mic for use with FaceTime.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: screen and everything else
One thing that hasn't changed is the Retina screen. The fourth-gen iPad sticks with the same 2048 x 1536 resolution, LED-backlit IPS screen.
Dimensions and weight are identical to the iPad 3, so cases designed for the 'new iPad' should fit the iPad with Retina display, and any cutout for the older 30-pin connector will simply be larger than necessary, but in the right place.
It's also available in the same colours and storage capacities as before. Prices also remain the same, with the base 16GB black and white Wi-Fi only models starting at £399, rising to £659 for the 64GB model with Wi-Fi and 4G.
Although we haven't yet had our hands on the new iPad with Retina display, it's safe to say that third-generation iPad owners shouldn't upgrade. We've yet to hear anyone with an iPad 3 complain that it isn't fast enough, and the Lightning connector is - if anything - a reason not to upgrade. If you own an iPad 2, there's a much stronger case to upgrade. In fact, if you can afford to, it's a no-brainer.