Apple iPad with retina display review: Apple iPad with retina display

There are benefits to using the iPad camera. The software is ludicrously simple, and once you've taken a picture, there are loads of apps like iPhoto with which to edit them. It's also dead easy to upload pictures to Facebook or Twitter. But those after a decent snap will find the actual image quality sub-par.

To conclude on cameras, this snapper is a massive improvement over the iPad 2 and will nab a decent photo, but isn't on par with the camera on the iPhone 5. It still isn't a suitable replacement for a decent compact digital camera, or a particularly good smart phone camera.

Apple iPad camera
The snapper on the iPad 2 was rubbish, so the boost to 5 megapixels and its improved camera tech is welcome.

Design

Another thing Apple hasn't tinkered with is the design. The fourth-generation iPad looks and feels just the same as the earlier model, which is a shame as it's still noticeably heavier than the iPad 2 was, and unlike the iPad mini is still tough to hold in one hand.

This device is all-over luxury though, with the curved metal casing feeling pleasant to hold. Build quality is excellent, and while this tablet is unlikely to survive a drop onto a tiled floor, you won't notice the casing creaking at all while you hold it -- it's very well put together indeed.

Buttons and ports remain minimal -- there's the home button beneath the screen and volume keys on the right, along with a switch that either locks screen rotation or mutes the volume, depending on the option you select in the settings menu. On the bottom there's the Lightning port, and at the top you'll find a headphone socket and lock switch. Like older models, this latest iPad comes in both black and white options.

iPad 4 with iPad mini
The iPad brothers, mini and retina.

To recap those differences between this iPad and the older iPad 2 -- this tablet isn't as thin, measuring 9.4mm thick compared to the iPad 2, which was 8.8mm deep. It's heavier as well, tipping the scales at 652g for the Wi-Fi only version, compared to the 601g Wi-Fi-only iPad 2. The SIM card-carrying version now weighs 662g.

One of our gripes with the original iPad was that it was too heavy at 680g, which made the slimmed-down, lighter iPad 2 feel like a significant change for the better. I think that while the new iPad is a comfortable weight and still pleasingly thin, it's edged dangerously close towards too-heavy territory, and it's a shame that Apple hasn't fixed that extra weight in this latest refresh.

The iPad is perfectly comfortable to hold with two hands, and I reckon you could easily enjoy a long train journey glued to this device without feeling the dreaded ache creeping into your wrists, but it's too unwieldy to hold in one mitt for long.

If you'd rather own something as thin and portable as possible, then go for the 7.9-inch iPad mini. Alternatively, the iPad 2 is still on sale at a reduced cost.

Apple iPad width
The new iPad, top, is noticeably thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, piling on 51g for the Wi-Fi-only version.

Software

The latest iPad's focus may be on swanky new components, but it's Apple's iOS 6 software that gives it an advantage over rival devices. Buttery smooth menu navigation and an intuitive interface make gliding through the iPad's software a pleasure, and you'll rarely struggle to find what you're looking for.

Double-tapping the home button to bring up the apps you've already got running quickly becomes second nature, and multi-touch gestures are in place too. Pinching the screen with four or five fingers to return to the homescreen and swiping left or right with four fingers to switch between running apps are perhaps the most useful digit-induced shortcuts.

The iOS 6 software does have its pitfalls. The 'Settings' menu is still a confusing maze of options, making it time-consuming and frustrating to perform a simple task like adjusting brightness or turning Wi-Fi on or off. Options for customisation are also extremely low. Don't expect the dynamic home screen widgets you'd find on Android devices, and in terms of the tablet's display aesthetics, things like icons and fonts can't be changed.

In spite of Apple's restrictive approach, iOS is still arguably the best operating system for tablets right now, because it has an absolutely vast catalogue of downloadable apps. The iPad's popularity has caused newspapers, broadcasters and games publishers to flock to the platform, so you can expect a near-endless supply of games, digital magazines, music and video applications, as well as all the multimedia offerings through Apple's own iTunes app. GarageBand and iMovie, the music and movie editing tools made by Apple, are especially noteworthy.

Most apps are reasonably priced (expect to pay a few pounds at most), many are free, and because Apple enforces a strict approval process, the apps to be found on the App Store are generally polished and of a high quality. The retina display may be the shining face of Apple's new toy, but the App Store is its lifeblood.

A word of caution though. iOS 6 is lumbered with a rubbish Maps app , which isn't as good as the Google-powered option Apple recently ditched. You do get Apple's robotic assistant Siri -- recently revamped to include local information in the UK -- though this is another Apple app that needs more polish before you'll really enjoy using it. 

There are other, voice-controlled elements present in the iPad, including voice dictation. Triggered by a tiny microphone icon that sits in the iPad's on-screen keyboard, tapping this button lets you speak your mind at your tablet. Tap it when you're done yapping, and the iPad will do its best to transcribe your mutterings.

This feature works reasonably well, but speak more than a sentence and it's likely you'll need to do a spot of editing before your text, email or memo is ready. Crucially, it's not that much quicker than typing.

I tested a few different regional accents, and found results to be similarly hit-and-miss across the board.

4G in the UK

The third-generation iPad released earlier this year offered 4G, but not in a capacity that would ever work in the UK, thanks to different nations operating on different spectrum bands. This latest retina-powered iPad will get 4G in the UK , but only on EE's network, which uses the 1,800MHz spectrum band.

To reiterate, if you buy an iPad now, it won't work with the 4G offered by other UK operators in the future, like O2 and Vodafone. These networks may offer a specially tweaked version of the iPad when they get their 4G services up and running, but that's very much up in the air right now.

EE has unveiled its pricing for 4G contracts, none of which are cheap . SIM-only deals kick off on 9 November at a wince-inducing £21 per month. It's possible EE will reveal special tariffs for the iPad and iPad mini, but unless you're made of money you'd be better off getting a data-only 3G contract from an operator like Three, which offers all-you-can-eat data at a reasonable cost.

The tablet still has some speedy connectivity tech including HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA that work in the UK, so as long as you've got decent network coverage, you should find mobile Internet is reasonably rapid.

If you buy an iPad in the UK, you will be able to take it to the US or Canada and use the 4G networks over there, though you will need to buy a SIM card for one of those local networks. Elsewhere the iPad now sports dual-band Wi-Fi antennas, so you may get a better connection at home.

Battery life

Apple makes the same battery life claim for this latest iPad as it did for the earlier model -- 10 hours of video playback. CNET's testing so far suggests that battery life is the same as it is for the third-generation model.

Left alone overnight, that earlier tablet dropped a mere 3 per cent battery charge, though once you start downloading tonnes of apps and running gruelling gaming apps, the available charge will quickly start to melt away.

The iPad is one of the very few gadgets out there to offer battery life I'd actually call impressive. Those of you looking to use the iPad primarily as an ebook reader, take note -- the Kindle's battery life is fantastic.

Conclusion

Apple's latest iPad is the best iPad yet, even if its no longer the smallest, or the cheapest. As such, this model now becomes the height of tablet luxury, and the one to investigate if you care about having the best screen, and the best compatibility with cutting-edge apps.

The iPad 2 still looks good when compared with the new model. It's not quite as fast or handsome, but it can now be bought from Apple for a modest £329, so it's well worth considering if you're looking to save cash.

To save even more money, consider the capable iPad mini , which starts at £269, and if you're looking for the cheapest worthwhile tablet around, fill your pockets with the £159 Google Nexus 7 .

Editor's note: Our colleague Scott Stein reviewed the iPad with retina display for CNET.com, and the star rating above is the one he gave it, based on his experience and testing. We'll be reviewing the tablet with more UK perspective very soon, and may change the score based on what we find.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Apple iPad with Retina display Wi-Fi - 4th generation - tablet - 16 GB - 9.7"

Part Number: MD513LL/A

Typical Price: £399.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11a
  • Type Apple iOS 6
  • Weight 652 g
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