Review: Apple iPad (Fourth-Generation) (16GB/32GB/64GB/128GB)
Pros: A technologically small but clear improvement upon early 2012’s impressive third-generation iPad, featuring the same screen and rear camera, coupled with a faster processor and improved front camera. Will eventually benefit from doubling of both CPU and GPU power, resulting in better-looking games; apps currently load a little faster than they did on the prior iPad. Continues to come in Wi-Fi-only and cellular-ready versions, the latter of which has improved in appeal thanks to expansions of domestic and international LTE networks, with cellular speeds that rival or surpass typical wired broadband connections. Retains familiar design that’s fully compatible with third-generation iPad cases. Charges somewhat faster than the prior model.
Cons: Switch to Lightning port currently offers nearly zero benefit to consumers, while considerably increasing both the cost of and need for new accessories. Continues to require longer recharging time than pre-Retina iPads when used with its own charger, and over six hours when charged from prior “Made for iPad” chargers and recent Apple computers. Continues to run modestly warm during gaming, and has slightly less battery life than its already diminished predecessor across some tasks. While better than seven months ago, LTE networks are still not available in many areas, leading to uneven, sometimes halting cellular performance when transitioning from LTE to older networks; users without LTE may see small speed benefits at best over earlier 3G models. Storage capacities continue to remain unchanged despite greater demands of high-resolution apps and videos.
One year. Two years. Perhaps even three years. Depending on the iPod, iPhone, or iPad model you purchased, it was safe to expect that first-day buyers would have at least a year—perhaps longer—before Apple discontinued the device, sharply reducing its resale value while introducing something considerably better. But in late July, sources told us that Apple was working on a very modestly revised version of the March 2012-vintage third-generation iPad (iLounge Ratings: A-/B+) that could be launched in October alongside the iPad mini or held for later. The only question was whether Apple would risk angering its recent iPad customers with such a rapid update.
With the release of the fourth-generation iPad ($499-$829) this week, Apple has for the first time introduced the very real prospect that even its flagship iOS devices might not stick around for even a year. So unceremonious was the third iPad’s discontinuation that Apple immediately stopped selling new units the day it announced the fourth model, implicitly suggesting that its customers should just wait and order the fourth-generation version instead. The Wi-Fi based fourth-generation iPads took less than two weeks to arrive in stores, replacing their predecessors at the same 16, 32, and 64GB storage capacities and $499/$599/$699 price points, while the 16-64GB fourth-generation iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular models were slated for an unspecified “mid-November” release date, each at a $130 premium. [Editor’s Note: On February 5, 2013, Apple added a 128GB version of the fourth-generation iPad at $799/$929 prices; it is identical to the lower-capacity versions apart from the extra storage space.]
But despite modest packaging and feature tweaks, the fourth-generation iPad is a truly minor upgrade, seemingly released for reasons that are internal to Apple rather than obvious to the outside world. Teardowns of the new model have confirmed that only three meaningful things have changed: the processor has been upgraded from the prior A5X to a new A6X, reportedly fully designed by Apple; the front-facing iSight camera has been upgraded from FaceTime to FaceTime HD, bringing the iPad up to the same video calling capabilities of the new iPod touch, iPhone 5, and iPad mini; and the bottom Dock Connector has been replaced by a Lightning port. Collectively, these upgrades are so trivial that they wouldn’t have seemed worthy of a new iPad product, but they suggest one of two things: that Apple plans a more major iPad overhaul for early or late 2013, and wanted to resolve a few issues with the prior model before moving forward, or that the company’s running out of major things to do with its flagship product. We’d bet heavily on the former.
Since the fourth-generation iPad is nearly identical to the third-generation model in every way—it’s the same shape, thickness, and weight, plus fundamentally unchanged in screen, audio, and other performance—this review is based very heavily on the text and photographs from our prior review. In the very few areas where changes have been made, we’ve updated the text and photos to note the new features. And we’ve also updated our conclusions. Back in March, it felt safe to recommend the third-generation iPad as a great upgrade to its predecessors, thanks in equal parts to the radical improvements wrought by its new screen and LTE capabilities, as well as the welcome changes to its previously terrible rear camera. There’s no question that we’re somewhat more wary of enthusiastically recommending this new model, in part because of what Apple did with its predecessor, but also because of the strength of the excellent new iPad mini, which makes a strong case for switching away from the larger and heavier 9.7” form factor to something smaller and easier to carry around. Read on for all the details, new and old alike.