Apple didn’t need to change up the iPad -- the third edition, which Apple just called “iPad” but we’ll call iPad 3, just came out in March, after all. Apple may have wanted to finish the changeover to Lightning as soon as possible. It’d be odd, after all, if both the new iPods (touch and nano), the iPhone 5, and the iPad mini had the new, smaller, cooler-looking connector, and the big iPad, the flagship iOS device, had a honkin’ hole in the bottom where the 30-pin cable goes. Apple might have also wanted to sync up the yearly iPad and iPad mini refreshes to before the holiday shopping season, rather than releasing the big iPad in the spring.
Whatever the reason, we’re glad they didn’t just slap on a new connector and call it a day. The A6X chip in the iPad 4 is a screamer. Apple says it’s twice as fast as the A5X in the iPad 3 -- that’s double the speed in less than a year. And the quad-core graphics in the A6X are supposed to be four times better. So we couldn’t wait to put it to the test.
Using Geekbench, where a higher number is better, the new iPad posted a score of 1,772, which is 133 percent better than the iPad 3’s 760. (The iPad mini, just to compare, scored 748, and the iPhone 5 scored 1,638.) According to the Geekbench app, the iPad 4’s dual-core A6X system-on-a-chip is clocked at 1.4GHz and it has 1GB of RAM. The iPad 3 also has 1GB of RAM, but a slower clock speed of 1GHz for its dual-core A5X chip.
Graphically, it was no contest. Using the newly updated GLBenchmark 2.5.1, the new iPad 4 hit 41 frames per second in the Egypt HD test, walloping the iPad 3, which achieved 22fps in the same test. When game developers push this hardware with the next big, flashy title (your Mass Effects, your Sky Gamblers), jaws will drop at the console-quality graphics and textures.
But do these numbers really matter in real-world use, for most tasks? Yes, but not by much. Snapseed can save an edited photo a little faster. Real Racing 2 HD boots up a little sooner. When making a trailer in iMovie, your clips load a little quicker. The iPad 3 doesn’t suddenly feel like molasses, but the iPad 4 is better, and it’s a major step up if you’re coming from a non-Retina iPad like the iPad 2, of course.
The rear iSight camera didn’t change much; it’s still 5 megapixels, capable of shooting 1808p video with image stabilization, and it still feels downright awkward to shoot with, just like the iPad 3. But while the iPad 3’s front FaceTime camera was VGA-quality, the new iPad 4 gets a FaceTime HD camera that shoots 720p video and 1.2-megapixel stills.
The other improvements, while minor seeming, keep the new iPad 4 on top of the tablet heap: Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi. It even comes with a new 12W power adapter, which can charge the iPad a little faster than the previous gen’s 10W adapter. (The 12W adapter is also sold separately for $19.) And it gets just about the same battery life; Apple claims 10 hours of video, and we achieved 12.
The bottom line. Unless you simply must always have the latest and greatest, iPad 3 owners don’t need to upgrade yet—this new iPad is basically an iPad 3S. But iPad 2 owners will love this...unless they fall for the iPad mini first.
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