Apple iPad 4 with Retina display full review

iPad 4 review

Apple iPad 4 review updated: 18th June 2013

Apple released the fourth-generation iPad back in November 2012, and a 128GB version went on sale in February 2013. But while we wait for a fifth iPad to be launched, is this the one to buy?

See also: iPad 3 review and iPad 3 vs iPad 4 comparison review.

There's no firm date set for an iPad 5 launch, but a new iPad is extremely likely in September, October or November. Given that Apple hasn't changed the design of the iPad since the iPad 2 in 2011, there's every chance the iPad 5 will be thinner, lighter and adopt the styling of the iPad mini.

If you can wait that long, it's surely worth it as the new tablet is almost certain to be faster and have more features (maybe better-quality cameras, too). If you can't wait, read our iPad 4 review before you flex your credit card.

Apple iPad 4: Design and build quality

The fourth-gen iPad looks no different from the iPad 3 (and even iPad 2) with Apple sticking to the same rectangular shape with rounded corners and chamfered edges.

There's no change in dimensions so it's 186 x 241 x 9.4mm and it weighs 652g (662g for the cellular model). Of course if you don't like the size of the iPad, there's always the iPad mini as a smaller option.

As we've come to expect from the iPad and iPhone, and the Mac range for that matter, the build quality is exceptional. Attention to detail is paramount and the iPad feels as premium as it always has.

Apple iPad 4 side

So if the iPad 4 look and feels the same as the previous generation what's different? We'll there's only one visual change to the design which comes in the form of the Lightning connector, the rest is all buried inside.

Apple iPad 4: Hardware

As usual Apple has updated the hardware of the tablet. First and foremost is a new processor, the A6X. This dual-core processor with quad-core graphics is supposedly twice as fast as the A5 chip found in the iPad 3 with twice the graphics performance.

Naturally we put these claims to the test. Apple doesn't publish clock speeds and such like but the GeekBench 2 app states the A6X is 1.39GHz and the iPad 4 has 1GB of RAM – 988MB for our exact sample.

The numbers are certainly impressive. In GeekBench 2 we saw 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.

While the numbers can amaze and astound, it's the real life user performance which is important. The iPad 4 is a nippy device but the overall impression is that it's not much quicker than the iPad 3, certainly not twice as fast.

We did find graphics performance impressive with a frame rate of 39fps, the iPad 3 managed 22fps. So it's the graphics improvements which are the more noticeable. We could see no difference in general navigation but more noticeable in more demanding tasks. In Apple Maps, for example, pinch zooming is a little bit smoother.

Price and storage options are the same as previous iPads - £399 for 16GB Wi-Fi only ranging all the way up to £739 for 128GB with Wi-Fi and 3G/4G cellular data. If you can afford the price tag, there's an iPad to fit your needs. Be wise with your storage option since, as usual, there's no microSD card slot for expansion.

There's no change when it comes to the screen – it's still 9.7in in size with the stunning 1536 x 2048 Retina quality resolution. There's really no faulting the LED-backlit IPS display.

There are a few important changes when it comes to connectivity. The first, as we mentioned earlier, is the Lightning connector. It's smaller, reversible and means you need to buy an adaptor if you want to plug it into any existing 30-pin accessories.

Apple iPad 4 Lightning connector

The other big change is 4G connectivity. The iPad 3 was marketed as 4G capable but didn't suit the UK's 4G frequencies so Apple removed the claim. If you want, and can afford, 4G mobile broadband, then this iPad will cater for your needs. The iPad mini also supports 4G in the UK. See also: What is 4G? A complete guide.

Connectivity like Bluetooth remains the same but Apple has upgraded the Wi-Fi. We not sure sure the channel bonding is going to make much difference but we'll update this review when we've had more time to conduct some tests.

iPad 4: Cameras

There's not a great deal of change when it comes to the iPad's cameras. Those hoping for an 8Mp rear camera will be disappointed to find it's still the same 5Mp iSight camera found on the iPad 3.

It's unsurprising then that results are similar – a useful camera if you don't mind using a device as large as an iPad for taking snaps. The only change is the addition of a back-illuminated sensor which should help in low light situations.

The bigger, and more useful change is the front facing camera which is now a 1.2Mp FaceTime HD shooter capturing up to 720p footage. This offers a much higher quality picture than before making your Photo Booth pictures better and, provided broadband speeds are fast enough, improved Skype and FaceTime calls.

Apple iPad 4 camera

iPad 4 review: Software

There's not a great deal to say about the software on the iPad 4. It comes pre-loaded with iOS 6 including Siri which is also available on the iPad 3. Some recent and notable changes to the operating system include the switch between Google Maps and Apple's own mapping system – the firm's own-brand app has received heavy criticism for its many failings. Luckily there are alternatives out there in app form, or you can use Google Maps in Safari. Apple has also ditched the YouTube app but the service is available via the web browser.

Something to bear in mind is that apps supporting the Retina resolution take up considerably more space than previous ones. You may find yourself filling up 16GB of storage faster than you expected.

For a more in-depth look, check out our iOS 6 review. Don't forget, too, that you'll be able to update the iPad 4 with iOS 7 when it is realeased in the autumn.

iPad 4 reivew: Battery life

Once again Apple touts a double digit battery life of 10 hours for the iPad 4 when browsing the web over Wi-Fi. It's difficult to give you a 'typical' usage figure since everyone will use their iPad for different tasks for various periods of time.

We found that using the iPad 4 heavily meant we needed to charge it at the end of the day. If you predominantly use a smartphone and use the iPad occasionally then it will stretch much further, a few days' worth is likely.

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Apple iPad 4 with Retina display: Specs

  • 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
  • Retina display
  • Processor: Dual-core Apple A6X Chip
  • Storage: 16/32/64GB
  • Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz)
  • 4G LTE (works with UK spectrum)
  • FaceTime HD Camera, 1.2MP photos, 720p HD video
  • iSight Camera, 5MP photos
  • Built-in 42.5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery - Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Lightning connector
  • 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4 mm
  • Weight: 652g