DNP iPad review late 2012

Welcome to the new new iPad, same as the old new iPad. Well, mostly, anyway. It was less than eight months ago that Apple grafted a Retina display onto its world-conquering tablet, giving every other slate on the market resolution envy, while enchanting gadget lovers with world-class performance and battery life.

Now, it's obsolete. Put out to pasture just as it was hitting its stride and replaced by this, the fourth-generation iPad -- still just called "new iPad." Other than a Lightning connector on the bottom it's visually indistinguishable from its predecessor. Even its starting MSRP of $499 stays the same. But, on the inside where it counts, is the new, fire-breathing A6X processor. Could this be possibly worth buying a second new iPad in just one year, or could this perhaps be the one you've been waiting for? Hold on to your wallets and click on through to find out.

Apple iPad 4th-generation hands-on, and comparison to 3rd-generation iPad

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Hardware

Chances are you're reasonably familiar with the look and layout of the new iPad by now. The most important point to make here: in terms of look and feel, absolutely nothing has changed compared to the third-generation iPad. We got out our scales and our calipers and couldn't find a fraction of a millimeter difference in dimensions or a gram's adjustment of weight.

So, that means you're looking at a tablet that measures 9.5 x 7.3 inches across its glass-covered front, which of course protects that luscious 2,048 x 1,536 Retina display. The tablet still measures 0.37 inches (9.5mm) thick and weighs 1.44 pounds (632 grams) in WiFi guise, as we tested here, 0.02 pounds (10 grams) heavier if you opt for the cellular model. That's 0.6mm thicker and 0.11 pounds heavier than the iPad 2 -- which, by the way, lives on should you find the new iPad mini a bit too tiny for your tastes.

The gradual refinements of the iPad design have created a tablet that is both comfortable to hold and still striking to look at.

When holding an iPad 2 and a third-gen iPad in either hand it's possible to tell them apart -- just. But, hold a third-gen unit in one hand and a fourth-gen unit in the other and you'll be left gazing at the size of the hole in the bottom to identify one from the other. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the gradual refinements of the iPad design have created a tablet that is both comfortable to hold and still striking to look at.

DNP iPad review late 2012

Again, it's a 2,048 x 1,536, 9.7-inch LCD up front, with a 720p iSight HD camera located front-and-center above the panel and the familiar, concave Home button below. The power/lock button, still slender and made of black plastic, resides on the right side of the top, while the black volume rocker and rotation lock switch can be found on the catty-corner on the right side.

DNP iPad review late 2012

On the bottom, of course, is the major change: the Lightning connector. Apple's new interconnect is far superior in every regard to the old Dock port: thinner and easier to connect, more durable and faster when transferring files. But that might not help assuage the pains of a house (and, perhaps, garage) full of docks and accessories that want the older, fatter, flimsier, clunkier and frankly uglier connector that came before. Apple has you covered with a suite of adapters that will address nearly every incompatibility, but none come for free. Neither does progress, we're afraid to say. (Check out our iPad mini review for a full run-down of those connectors.)

Display

DNP iPad review late 2012

What more can we say? This is still the best display you'll find on a tablet. We went on and on about Retina in our review of the third-gen iPad and while we'll spare you the soliloquy this time, we will say that the Retina display in the new iPad still looks fantastic. Brightness, contrast and viewing angles are all world-class, color reproduction is brilliant and even outdoor visibility is superb. And we haven't even mentioned the resolution yet.

Yes, the 2,048 x 1,536 pixel count beats all other portables (though not for long, thanks to the forthcoming Nexus 10 matching it), but we'll point out yet again that the way iOS scales things means you won't get any more usable display space on the tablet. Icons and buttons and everything else are exactly as big as they were on the iPad 2, but now they are of course rendered with amazing clarity. So, too, is text and other visual controls -- at least in the apps that have been updated to support the display, which these days is an awful lot.

Cameras

The new, new iPad has a five megapixel camera on the back and 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera up front, a step up from the VGA unit that was still found wedged inside the bezel of the third-gen iPad. That, then, is a solid improvement, but image quality on the back we didn't find to be much improved from the previous iPad, which in general took pleasing shots. That said, image capture is completed much, much more quickly than before, enabling the kind of rapid-fire shooting we enjoyed on the iPhone 5. Sadly, still no Panorama nor HDR modes here.

iPad (late 2012) sample shots

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Performance and battery life

The new iPad skips directly past its predecessor's Ludicrous speed and goes directly to Plaid.

Oh, hello. Did you decide to cut to the chase and skip directly here? We don't blame you, and neither will we beat around the bush. At the time, the third-gen iPad was the fastest we'd tested. The new iPad skips directly past its predecessor's Ludicrous speed and goes directly to Plaid. Where the last iPad scored 720 on the Geekbench benchmark, the new iPad blows that out of the water with a 1,763 average score. GLBenchmark's 2.5 Egypt HD test ran through at 42 fps. The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark completes in an average of 865ms, more than twice as fast as the last iPad and both these benchmark scores best even the iPhone 5, which, for a short time, was Apple's fastest mobile device.

Geekbench Results (higher is better)
Apple iPad (late 2012) 1,763
Apple iPad (2012) 720
Apple iPad 2 721
Apple iPad 442
Apple iPhone 4S 623
Apple iPhone 4 375

This is all thanks to the new A6X, a retooled and more efficient version of the A6 processor running in the iPhone 5. Here, it's clocked up to 1.39GHz from the 1.05GHz in the phone version, both having 1GB of RAM. In case you were wondering, yes, it still got quite warm when running through the gamut of tests. We don't consider this to be a concern by any means, but if you found the toasty nature of the third-gen iPad distasteful, you're likely to encounter the same heat here.

Tablet Battery Life
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 12:01
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 9:55
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Microsoft Surface with Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
Pantech Element 9:00
Motorola Xoom 2 8:57
HP TouchPad 8:33
Lenovo IdeaPad K1 8:20
Motorola Xoom 8:20
T-Mobile G-Slate 8:18
Acer Iconia Tab A200 8:16
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus 8:09
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 8:00
Archos 101 7:20
Archos 80 G9 7:06
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01
Acer Iconia Tab A500 6:55
T-Mobile Springboard (Huawei MediaPad) 6:34
Toshiba Thrive 6:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09
Motorola Xyboard 8.2 5:25
Velocity Micro Cruz T408 5:10

Of course, as Pirelli likes to remind us, "power is nothing without control." On the mobile device front, power is nothing without battery life, and we're happy to report that fourth-gen iPad owners can have it all. On our standard rundown test, in which we fix the display brightness and leave WiFi enabled, the new iPad clocked in 11 hours and eight minutes. That's well better than the 9:52 the last model eked out, but keep in mind we were testing a cellular model that time. This one is WiFi-only.

Wrap-up

DNP iPad review late 2012

The new iPad is the best 10-inch tablet on the market.

Twice as fast, better battery life, same cost. What more do we need to say? The new iPad is a hit on all fronts -- but it of course won't be received that way by all. Those who just made the investment in an old, new iPad are likely going to feel a bit burned, and we feel for you. Meanwhile, those still voicing their dissatisfaction with the Lightning connector will surely lament its presence here, but to you folks we say the world is moving on and now is as good a time as any to jump on board.

The new iPad is the best 10-inch tablet on the market. That said, we'd be lying if we didn't say the new iPad mini is an incredibly compelling alternative, a device so good that perhaps this update was released so soon after its predecessor to maintain the appeal of the bigger, more expensive unit. The conspiracy theorists are welcome to argue this point, but we'll say this with conviction: this is a wonderful time to buy a tablet. If you're still on the fence about buying into Apple's tablet ecosystem, go ahead and pull the trigger already. The only question is: which size?

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