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

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

The release of the fourth-generation iPad so soon after the third-generation iPad may have come as a surprise to even diehard Apple watchers, but the device itself won't. By now, we all know what an iPad looks like, and the fourth-generation iPad looks nearly identical to a third-generation iPad, which itself looked more or less like the second-generation iPad.

That's not to say that the fourth-generation iPad isn't an impressive beast; it's just that those changes are almost entirely on the device's interior. This is unquestionably Apple's most powerful iPad to date, and it handles pretty much anything you can throw at it with aplomb. If the new iPad mini is a MacBook Air, as my colleague Dan Frakes alleges, then the fourth-generation iPad is the big iron of a MacBook Pro.

Meet the new new iPad, same as the new iPad

Put a fourth-generation iPad down next to a third-generation iPad, and good luck telling them apart. In fact, the only difference between the two is what kind of cable you plug into them. The fourth-generation iPad joins the iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPod touch, and iPod nano in sporting Apple's new Lightning connector. It's a lot smaller than the veritably ancient (by technology standards, anyway) 30-pin dock-connector it replaces; there are other advantages too, which I'll touch upon later.

IDG Consumer & SMB
Fourth-generation iPad (left) and the third-generation iPad (right).

Otherwise, though, the fourth-generation iPad has the same controls you've found on every iPad since the original: Home button, Sleep/Wake button, volume controls, a side switch that can mute the volume or lock the display's orientation, and a headphone jack. It also supports the same Smart Cover that's worked with the iPad 2 or later.

The fourth-generation new model features the same 2048-by-1536 pixel Retina display as its predecessor. It's the same dimensions in height and width, and much as I'd like to be able to claim I could detect a slight difference in thickness or weight compared to the third-generation iPad, the new model has the exact same 9.4mm depth and 652g weight. (The addition of an LTE-capable cellular radio adds the same 10 grams as on the third-generation iPad, but we weren't able to test one, since they don't go on sale until later this month.)

All things considered, you'd be excused for calling this less of an 'iPad 4' and more of an 'iPad 3S.' Nomenclature, to be fair, is one place where Apple's improved over the last iteration: Though the company markets the new model under the same 'iPad with Retina Display' name as the previous model, the company's also not shied away from referring to this latest version as the "fourth-generation iPad," eschewing the third-generation's occasionally confusing official moniker "the new iPad."

Benchmarks: Fourth generation iPad

GeekBenchPage LoadSunspiderWebVizBench
iPad with Retina display (4th generation) 1764 7.1 0.84 3.7
iPad with Retina display (3rd generation) 759 10.4 1.43 2.1
iPad 2 760 11.1 1.44 1.8
iPad mini 756 6.7 1.44 3.6
iPhone 5 1623 8.2 0.92 3.6
iPhone 4S 630 10.7 1.77 1.2

GeekBench and WebVizBench results are scores (higher numbers are better). Page Load and Sunspider Smaller numbers are times in seconds (smaller numbers are better). Best result in bold. Reference devices in italics.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith

GLBenchmarks: Fourth generation iPad

iPad with Retina display (4th generation) 183.7 51 129 364
iPad with Retina display (3rd generation) 126 26.7 86.3 238
iPad 2 86.7 14 48.7 145.7
iPad mini 86.7 14 49 145.3
iPhone 5 147.3 28.7 91.7 253
iPhone 4S 72.7 11.7 39.7 120.7

GLBenchmark results are frames per second (higher numbers are better). Best result in bold. Reference devices in italics.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith

In the story of the new iPad, the main plot point is the device's A6X processor. It's a dual-core chip with quad-core graphics, which, in layman's terms, is a whole lot of cores. The 'X' appellation debuted with the third-generation iPad's A5X chip; there, as here, it denotes the addition of the quad-core graphics.

At a Glance
  • Pros

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


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