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Hands-on review: Updated: iPad 4
Apple is keeping the iPad 2 around as the £329 get-em-in-the-door option, and that's a smarter move than putting the iPad 3 on sale in its place. It will be a lot easier to upsell customers from the iPad 2's non-Retina display to the new iPad, whereas the iPad 4 isn't a must-have compared to the iPad 3 - unless you have a million Lightning cables around, and who does?
- Are you wondering what the iPad rival to the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD is like? Check our hands on: iPad mini review to find out!
In our hands-on, the 9.7-inch screen looked just as bright and bold as always, because it's ... well ... the same screen.
Apple loves to tout display tech improvements, since having top-notch screens is one of the key benefits of all of Apple's gear, from the iPod touch all the way up to the Retina MacBook Pros. So it's safe to bet the new iPad 4 screen is the same on the third-gen iPad that came out in March of this year.
It's got a 2048x1536 resolution, at 264 pixels per inch, and IPS technology makes it easy to see from wide angles. You can hold this new iPad nearly flat before the display becomes hard to see.
Apple also upgraded the new iPad with a dual-core A6X system-on-a-chip with quad core graphics - it claims the iPad 4 delivers twice the performance and twice the graphics power as the A5X in the third-gen iPad.
That A5X, upon teardown, turned out to have a 1GHz clockspeed and 1GB of RAM. We weren't allowed to run proper benchmarking tools on the demo unit (like Geekbench) to try to determine clock speed and RAM for the new iPad. But apps opened quickly on the new iPad, and switching between them with four-finger multi-touch swipes seemed even more responsive and effortless than the already-speedy iPad 3.
The front and rear cameras on the new iPad are the same as before, but the A6X chip has improved the image signal processing, adding support for facial recognition and image stabilization. We couldn't test this camera side-by-side against an iPad 3's, but the facial recognition worked as it should on the iPad 4, automatically finding faces as we composed our shots and keeping them in focus.
The Lightning port, if you haven't seen it on the iPhone 5 yet, is laughably slim compared to the honking 30-pin port it replaces. A Lightning connector is tiny but feels sturdy, and can be inserted either way. So you never find yourself trying to shove it in the wrong way, and you never feel the metal-on-metal crunch of pins when connecting.
It clicks into place smoothly and is held by tiny clips, strong enough to support the new iPad's weight.
Apple also rolled out Lightning versions of the popular iPad adaptors and accessories. Lightning to VGA adapter for projectors is £39, and so is the Lightning Digital AV Adaptor, which has an HDMI port.
For connecting cameras, the Lightning to USB Camera Adaptor and Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader are sold separately - you used to get both in one package for 30-pin iPads, the iPad Camera Connection Kit. Finally, if you want to use your old 30-pin cables to charge and sync your iPad 4, the Lightning to 30-pin adaptor is £25.
The other upgrade is the wireless connectivity, and it seems minor but should make a considerable difference. All the iPads get dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, using the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for less interference for other devices without losing any range.
Plus, since the new iPad 4 can use both channels at once, you can get theoretical speeds of up to 150Mbps - faster than most Wi-Fi networks you'll encounter anyway.
Apple has previously rolled this out to the iPhone 5 and fifth generation iPod touch. In our hands-on with a Wi-Fi-only iPad 4, we noticed zippy page loads, and videos streamed on Vimeo.com played smoothly with no buffering. But we didn't get to test exact speeds.
Optional LTE networking was added in the last generation, and it's still available in this iPad, and supported by more carriers, but it's limited to EE in the UK.
Since the iPad 4 didn't change size or shape - only the Lightning connector is different - it should have the same 42.5 watt-hour battery as the previous iPad, and Apple says it'll get the same 10 hours of battery life.
The fourth-gen new iPad was probably the least-popular item in the demo room - it's hard to compete with an all-new iPad mini and super-thin iMacs and MacBook Pros. If you've used an iPad, it's already totally familiar - same shape, same size, same svelte 652g, or 662g for the cellular version.
New iPad 4 release date
Like the iPad mini, the new iPad 4 can be ordered on October 26 for delivery on November 2. And, 4G-enabled models will ship a few weeks later at the end of November.
If you just upgraded your iPad in the spring, don't worry that you're missing much with this bump in the new iPad 4. We know a lot of people will feel betrayed, having thought they were getting the best Apple has to offer for at least a year - but that shouldn't cause that much consternation.
However, if you're still using an iPad 2 or an original iPad, it's a significant step up, and still brings all the same Apple bells, whistles and whizzbangwhoosh that most have come to expect from the Cupertino's most popular tablet.