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Apple iPad 4 review

The Apple iPad 4 came as something as a surprise in late 2012. Everyone was expecting the iPad Mini, but as the new iPad (or iPad 3) had only been out since March, and so a replacement after just 6 months was a bit of a shock. Apple is no longer selling the iPad 4, having replaced it with a range of iPad Air and iPad mini tablets. You can still pick up an iPad 4 secondhand, but is it worth buying?

The iPad 4 is quite a bit faster than its predecessor though, fast enough to handle most tasks you might want to do today – after all if a developer’s app doesn’t run well on the highly-popular iPad 3 and iPad 4 then its in trouble. The biggest physical change was a switch to the new Lightning connector. At the time this seemed rather annoying, with lots of us having plenty of docks and cables for the old 30-pin connector.

If you’re looking to buy an iPad 4 in retrospect though the new connector makes a huge difference. It not only means your ‘new’ iPad is compatible with all the latest accessories, but also you get a connector that works both ways up and stays connected better than the old one.

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A Lightning connector replaces the old 30-pin connector and brings the iPad into line with the other iOS devices

While the iPad 3 used a slightly tweaked version of the Apple A5X processor, with quad-core graphics to handle the tablet’s high-resolution screen, the iPad 4 has the brand new Apple A6X processor. This is the same model used in the iPhone 5, although the 1.4GHz model used here also has quad-core graphics. Again, this move makes a lot of sense, as Apple can concentrate on a single processor for its iPad and iPhone lines.

Apple was promising that the A6X processor was double the performance in games and 2D tasks as the old A5X, which is a bold claim. Happily, we’re pleased to report that it’s completely true. In our tests, we saw the iPad 4 complete the SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks in just 888ms, while the iPad 3 took 1,508ms. Similarly, the BBC News website rendered in 3s on the iPad 4 and 5.6s on the iPad 3.

For graphics we ran GLBench, which showed similar results: 25.6fps on the iPad 3 and 50.7fps on the iPad 4. All of this isn’t to say that the iPad 3 is slow, as it isn’t, just the iPad 4 is, impressively, even quicker.

As we’ve come to expect from an Apple product, iOS is incredibly smooth. Every single transition and operation happens incredibly smoothly and there’s none of the inherent jerkiness you get with an Android device. Web browsing is an absolute pleasure, with even the most complex sites rendering quickly, while pinching to zoom is incredibly smooth. In terms of day-to-day performance, the iPad is still the tablet to beat.

We’re pleased to say that the screen is the same 9.7in model, with its huge 2,048×1,536 resolution, used on the iPad 3. This was far ahead of the competition when it was first unveiled, although the Google Nexus 10 now has a slightly higher resolution 2,560×1,600 screen. While Google’s tablet might have more pixels, the iPad 4’s screen is still a thing of beauty.

Its 264ppi is what Apple terms Retina: you can’t see the individual pixels. Technically speaking, then, there’s no point in having more resolution on a screen this size, as you wouldn’t see the difference. Besides, when you’re talking about resolutions far in advance of Full HD, the differences become less and less meaningful.

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It’s no longer the highest-resolution tablet display, but it’s still one of the best quality

What is important, that as well as having a high resolution, the IPS panel used is of the highest quality. Excellent colour saturation and contrast really brings images to life. Viewing angles are superb, so it’s clear to see no matter how you’re holding the tablet. That high pixel density has another advantage: even the smallest text looks incredibly sharp and easy to read. So, the iPad 4 may not have the highest resolution tablet screen, but it still has a very high-resolution display and its quality is still the best.

As the iPad 4 is still fairly recent it has been updated to iOS 7 and will soon be getting iOS 8. Initial complaints about iOS 7 when it launched have long been forgotten and the operating system makes the iPad feel quicker and sleeker. The iPad 4 will get another new lease of life when iOS 8 launches in the autumn, with features such as Hand Off and Continuity making working on projects across Apple devices even easier. Click here a full list of iOS 8 features.

The only area where we saw a slight decrease was in battery life in our video playback test. On the iPad 3 we saw just over 11h of playback at 50 per cent screen brightness; on the iPad 4, at the same brightness setting, the battery lasted for 9h 54m. Considering the faster processor, this slight decrease in our tests is actually impressive and the iPad still stands up well against the competition.

Apple has overhauled the wireless chips inside the iPad, adding dual-band 802.11n, just as it did on the iPhone 5. Given the increasing number of routers that support 5GHz wireless, with its faster speeds and less interference, it’s good to see another device that supports this technology.

For the Cellular version, Apple has updated the chip so that it will work with 4G networks in the UK, with support for Everything Everywhere already announced. While the iPad 3 had 4G as an option, it didn’t work on the correct frequencies for the UK.

As with the iPad 3, the iPad 4 has a 5-megapixel iSight camera. It produces well-exposed, accurate images that look detailed. The only limitation on detail is the resolution. Modern smartphones, such as the iPhone 5, have 8-megapixel or higher resolutions, producing more detailed shots. Still, for the occasional snap, the iPad usually does a decent job.

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As you can see from the thumbnail (top) and 100 per cent crop (bottom), the iPad 4’s 5-megapixel camera produces well exposed shots with plenty of detail

We also took stills using our still-life scene. We test the camera using three lighting settings – well-lit, dimly lit and low-light – to see how the iPad 4 dealt with different situations. All of the photos below include 100 per cent crops of the frame, so you can see the actual detail.

Using our well-lit scene we found that the picture was generally well exposed, with good colour balance. The relatively low-resolution sensor means that there’s no too much detail in the scene, though. In particular, the darker parts of the image, such as the toy monkey’s chest and the plastic mesh at the front, were a little lacking.

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Under well-lit conditions, the iPad 4 produced decent shots with good colour balance, but detail is a little lacking

Moving to the dimly-lit scene, we found that noise increased a bit, although the images are still usable for screen or smaller prints. Colours are generally well produced, but a lack of detail in the darker parts of the image are the main problem again. As you can see from the shot below, the monkey loses practically all detail on its chest.

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Moving to a dimly-lit screen, detail starts to go out of the window, although colour are generally still good

Switching to the low-light scene, we got a lot of flare from the lights in the fans. The image is also incredibly noisy and detail goes out of the window. You can still make out what’s going on, but the lack of detail in the picture is a little disappointing.

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In low-lit scenes, it’s hard to see what’s’ going on and noise is a real problem

There’s 1080p video recording, which produced high-quality video with plenty of detail in each frame. While the size of the iPad doesn’t particularly make it convenient for shooting lots of video and stills, it’s good to know that you’ve got Full HD resolution when you need it.

You can view our still life test below, where we adjust the lighting to fully test the camera. Our shots include a well-lit scene, a dimly-lit scene and a very tough dark scene.

Taking stills from the video we can see that the well-lit scene produces the best results. The shot is well exposed and there’s a decent amount of detail in the picture. Where the camera falls down a little is with detail in dark areas of the picture, so it’s hard to make out any detail in the toy monkey and it’s hard to see any detail through the plastic mesh at the front of the scene.

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At full brightness, the picture quality is good, but the iPad 4 loses some detail in the darker parts of the picture

Having the scene lit just by the lights in the fans proved a much tougher challenge for the iPad 4. A lot of detail is lost in the picture and it’s also very noisy. We also noticed that it introduced some glitches, adding flared lights around the fans. It’s an odd glitch and one that was replicated by the iPhone 5, but not other devices that we’ve tested. In very dark locations, then, the iPad 4 doesn’t produce very good results.

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Our low-light scene proved very tough for the iPad 4, with some odd light glitches at the top-left of the picture

For video calling, there’s also a FaceTime HD Camera built into the front bezel, which shoots 720p video. Its quality is perfect for internet calling.

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