Review: Fourth-generation iPad is faster, stronger, better

At a Glance
  • Apple iPad with Retina display, Wi-Fi (fourth generation)

    Macworld Rating

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In sheer horsepower, the A6X is no slouch; it clocks in at 1.4GHz, a hefty 40 percent increase over the A5X's 1GHz. Apple advertises the device as having "twice the speed" and "twice the graphics performance" of the A5X. In our benchmark tests, we found this to be pretty accurate. The fourth-generation iPad doubled its predecessor's score in the Geekbench suite, as well as offering impressive performance in graphics benchmarks. Surprisingly, though, it did find itself beaten by a half a second in webpage loading tests to the iPad mini. That's even more impressive given that I found the fourth-generation iPad beat out the third-generation iPad in webpage loading.

In my more anecdotal tests, the fourth-generation iPad took anything I threw at it, up to and including high-performance games, like Real Racing 2 HD, Infinity Blade II, and Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy. All played very well and looked great, though my untutored eyes saw little in the way of difference between the third- and fourth- generation iPads.

I did notice on occasion some stuttering and skipping in the game while playing Real Racing 2 HD via AirPlay, but I experienced the same with the third-generation iPad, leading me to believe it was related to my network rather than the iPad itself. I saw no such issues while playing only on the iPad's display.

Of course, all the current games for the iPad are designed with the third-generation model's specifications in mind, so it's going to be a little while before companies truly start shipping apps that can take advantage of all the horsepower the fourth-generation iPad brings to bear.

Battery life: Fourth-generation iPad

Results are a timed duration (longer bars are better). Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith.

You might think all of this power would take a toll on battery life, but Apple says the fourth-generation iPad's built-in 42.5-watt-hour battery (the same as its predecessor) delivers the same 10-hour life as previous iPads. In our lab's test, the battery didn't perform quite as well as the third-generation iPad's, coming in at 42 minutes shorter, but it did just outlast the iPad mini. In my anecdotal experience, which involves charging the iPad every night, I had no problems at all with my battery life lasting through a day.

When I asked for questions online, some asked if the fourth-generation iPad got unreasonably hot while performing processor-intensive tasks. In my experience, I've certainly found it gets warm, especially while playing games, but I never noticed it becoming uncomfortably hot.

In general use, the fourth-generation iPad is plenty snappy, though for most tasks you probably won't see a huge difference between it and the third-generation iPad. It's a testament to Apple's engineering that iOS and its built-in apps have always been more or less smooth, regardless of the hardware.

Among the other improvements on the newest full-size iPad is souped-up wireless capabilities. Like the previous model, the fourth-generation iPad has Bluetooth 4.0 and supports 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi flavors. However, Apple brags that the new Wi-Fi is twice as fast as the previous version, thanks to the addition of channel bonding. In practice, I didn't notice exceptionally faster performance for tasks like downloading a PDF over the local network or grabbing a TV episode from iTunes. In most cases, the Wi-Fi of your device probably isn't the bottleneck, anyway.

Finally, Apple also upgraded the LTE chip in the fourth-generation iPad, providing support for more LTE frequencies around the world. Like the iPhone 5, the iPad comes in two flavors: a model with support for LTE bands 4 and 17, which works with AT&T here in the U.S., and a model that supports LTE Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, and 25, and works with Sprint and Verizon (it supports CDMA in addition to GSM). Also as with the iPhone 5, the CDMA model's broader band support means that it's the iPad of choice internationally (though that depends on your ability to find a supporting carrier). And, unlike the Wi-Fi-only model, the LTE version also has assisted GPS and GLONASS, which help provide more accurate location services.

Fast as Lightning

As mentioned above, the only external difference between the fourth-generation iPad and the third-generation is the change to Apple's new Lightning connector. My colleagues Jason Snell and Dan Frakes have covered this topic most ably in their reviews of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, respectively.

IDG Consumer & SMB
Top: Fourth-generation iPad with Lightning connector. Bottom: Third-generation iPad with 30-pin connector.

The smaller, bi-directional nature of the Lightning connector is a nice change from the old dock-connector; its somewhat more compact cables are easier to throw into a bag, for example, and it's nice not to have to worry about which way is up. If there's a knock against the connector at present, it's that it doesn't have the same breadth of accessory support as the long-running dock-connector port.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Incredibly fast performance
    • Lightning connector improves over dock-connector
    • Better camera performance overall

    Cons

    • Slightly decreased battery life
    • Lightning accessories still in short supply
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