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.
In the third-generation iPad, Apple addressed the more serious of two problems it wrought with the release of the iPad 2: it gave the tablet front and rear cameras, but selected such awful sensors that the images didn’t look good on that device’s lower-resolution screen. One year later, it replaced the 1.2-Megapixel rear camera with a very capable 5-Megapixel version, similar to what was included with the older iPhone 4, but with a few upgrades. This time, it has replaced the 640x480 front camera with a superior 1.2-Megapixel version, enabling the fourth-generation iPad to record 1280x720 videos, and display superior-quality FaceTime HD images during video chats.
While the new FaceTime HD camera (shown in the first image above) doesn’t look as remarkable when upscaled to a 2048x1536 display as it does on Apple’s smaller-screened devices, still and video captures show tangible improvements in quality. Hair, images, and the edges of objects tend to look sharper and clearer than they did before, rather than blotchy or smeared; the quality is nearly identical to the iPad mini’s front camera. Noise from the relatively low-end sensor Apple chose is still quite obvious, but your eyes will likely be drawn more to the good parts in your images—better-looking faces, primarily—than the issues. This new camera is better for self-portraits and for 720p video recording than the prior version, but the rear camera’s considerably superior on both counts. Apple continues to include the Photo Booth application to let you process photos for fun.
The rear iSight camera introduced in the third-generation iPad has been left in place for the fourth-generation model, so we have not reshot the sample photos here. This camera has a 5-Megapixel sensor that uses rear illumination, a tighter design, and a lens that together enable higher resolution, improved low light performance, and more dynamic color rendition relative to the iPad 2. The lens is a little larger than the one in the iPad mini, assisting on the margin in capturing ever so slightly less motion-blurred images, or shifting to one step lower ISO.
In bright light, the iPhone 4, 4S, and Retina iPad cameras take extremely similar photographs, though colors look a little more artificially saturated on the iPhone 4 relative to the iPhone 4S and Retina iPad, and the iPhone 4S reduces grain-like noise beyond the levels of the other two, also offering slightly better optical resolution. The iPhone 5’s camera (discussed in detail here) is considerably better in low light and color rendition; the Retina iPad camera results are very similar to the fifth-generation iPod touch and new iPad mini.
Dim lighting yields more grain on both the iPhone 4 and Retina iPads than the iPhone 4S, which can use lower ISOs for cleaner images under the same conditions. The iPad 2’s images look like jagged messes by comparison with the others, with fewer colors, blotchy and seemingly overprocessed pixels, and far lower resolution.
Focusing is hugely improved on the Retina iPads relative to their predecessors, which effectively had a fixed lens without autofocus or macro capabilities. Just like the iPhone 4 and 4S, the Retina iPads are capable of shooting images with dramatic depth of field blurring, and selectively sharpening something only inches away from the lens. The results were nearly as good on the Retina iPads as on the iPhone 4S, which tended to produce more accurate colors, but was equally capable of isolating nearby subjects. Our only issue was one that may not easily be solved without a redesign of the Camera application: holding the large iPad steady while trying to select a focus point isn’t as easy as with smaller cameras and phones. You can produce similarly impressive results, but you need to work harder to get them.
Also found in the Retina iPads’ rear camera is 1080p video recording—something missing from both the lower-resolution iPad 2 sensor and the otherwise similar iPhone 4 sensor. The differences between the iPhone 4 and Retina iPads’ rear video recordings are primarily in resolution: the iPhone 4 is limited to 720p output, or half the pixels the Retina iPads can record. Videos recorded by the iPhone 4S and Retina iPads differ more in medium to low light than in brighter conditions: outside, you can barely see noise, but inside in typical light, both cameras have a grain that distinguishes their sensors from the ones in good pocket cameras today. Notably, the iPhone 5’s otherwise improved still camera performance is not matched by major differences in video camera performance; it’s marginally better, nothing more.
Overall, we’d call the Retina iPad’s rear camera just good enough to be used for documenting events if you’re not carrying something better around; however, there’s definitely something to be said for the fact that you can create and share highly usable content directly from an iPad without any other accessories. Additionally, third-party apps and Apple’s great $5 iOS versions of iMovie and iPhoto can be used to edit and improve this output without reliance on a computer.