iPad 4 Review: The Best iPad Yet?

iPad 4 in black and white

 Apple, Inc.

It is with more than a little surprise that we are writing an iPad 4 review in early November, a taskwe weren't expecting to do until early next year. Yet here we are, tinkering with Apple's latest and greatest tablet. And make no mistake, the iPad 4 is the best iPad yet, even if it is only an incremental upgrade over the iPad 3.

Perhaps the most difficult part in reviewing the latest release in a line of products is reviewing it based on its own merits. It's easy to look at the new and improved features and grade the upgrade, and if that were what we were doing with this review, the iPad 4 might only get three stars. But that wouldn't do justice to what is essentially a 5-star tablet.

iPad 4 Major Features

  • Apple A6X processor, doubling the speed of the iPad 3
  • 2,048 x 1,536 "Retina Display"
  • 4G LTE support with improved international support
  • 5 MP Back-facing iSight 1080p Camera and 720p front-facing "FaceTime" camera
  • Siri, Apple's "Intelligent Assistant" 

iPad 4 Review

If Apple were still using the numbering system with the iPad line, the fourth generation iPad may very well have been dubbed the "iPad 3S", with the "S" standing for speed. The A6X processor that runs the iPad 4 packs twice the processor power and twice the graphical power as its predecessor, which not only constitutes a rather nice upgrade but also makes the iPad 4 easily one of the fastest tablets on the planet.

The most recent benchmarks not only put the iPad 4 significantly faster than the iPad 3, but also speeding past the competition, with scores easily above the Nexus 7 and Microsoft Surface. The Nexus 10 has the raw power of the A6X, but with "Swift" -- Apple's custom memory management -- the A6X edges it out in overall performance.

But while it is nice to see Apple pushing the iPad to the edge of performance, speed isn't everything. In fact, it might be one of the most overrated aspects of the current generation of tablets, with the vast majority of apps not even close to taxing the full limits of the processor. This includes Android tablets as well as the iPad. As for iPad 3 users, there's really no reason to feel left out in the cold. Even running a more hardcore game like Infinity Blade 2 will see little difference between the iPad 3 and iPad 4, and likely, we won't see apps taking full advantage of the speed boost for a while.

iPad 4: An iPad 3, Only Better...

The iPad 3 set a new bar for tablets. The "Retina Display" pushed screen resolution to the limit, with the 2,048 x 1,536 resolution providing 264 pixels-per-inch (PPI). According to Apple's claims, this results in a display so clear that the human eye cannot distinguish one pixel from the next when held at 'normal viewing distance.'

It also introduced 4G LTE for data connectivity, which gives the iPad super-fast broadband speeds even when on the go. The dual-facing cameras were a big upgrade over the iPad 2, which had relatively low-quality cameras, and applications were given a little more elbow room with 1 GB of RAM, up from 512 MB.

The iPad 4 adds raw speed to this equation, allowing apps more power to pump out graphics on par with that beautiful display. This emphasis on speed is carried over to Wi-Fi, where Apple has added the ability for channel bonding, which can take advantage of features found in dual-band routers to establish two connections in order to provide more bandwidth.

The iPad 4 also improves the front-facing "FaceTime" camera, moving away from the VGA-quality camera into 720p territory. Good news for international customers: the iPad 4 has increased support for 4G LTE networks around the world.

iPad 4: Worth It?

The iPad 4 constitutes a great upgrade for owners of the original iPad or the iPad 2. There is a world of improvement included with the latest and greatest from Apple, including high-resolution graphics, a super fast processor, faster Wi-Fi, access to 4G LTE networks and the Siri voice recognition assistant.

New buyers may want to ponder the newly-released iPad Mini, which manages to pack the iPad experience into a smaller package. But while the Mini is a great value, it's no iPad 4. Those who want to be on the cutting edge need look no further than the newest iPad.

The main group that will want to take a pass on the iPad 4 are those who have already snatched up an iPad 3. There's really no compelling reason to upgrade or even feel short-changed at having bought the iPad 3. The upgrades made in the fourth generation iPad are incremental, and most owners will be unable to tell the difference for years to come.

How much will it cost you? The iPad 4 begins at $499 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model and $629 for the 16 GB 4G LTE model. And as with previous installments, adding more storage will increase the price by $100 increments.