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

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Typical Price: £399.00
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The Good A6X chip delivers even more speed; 4G-compatible in the UK; Best-in-class app selection.

The Bad Still feels heavy to hold in one hand; Lightning port means older chargers and accessories won't work.

The Bottom Line The fourth-generation iPad with retina display introduces a faster A6X processor, 4G in the UK and the Lightning connector dock. These are minor tweaks, but secure the iPad's spot at the top of the tablet heap, even if there are now much cheaper alternatives out there.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.8 Overall

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Whereas the iPhone has long had competition from Android devices, pretenders to Apple's tablet crown have taken their time in surfacing. At last, however, compelling alternatives are creeping onto the scene, with devices such as the Google Nexus 7 offering a bargain-basement price, and the Nexus 10 looking like it could offer a high-resolution, Android-powered alternative to the iPad.

The tablet scene is certainly hotting up, but Apple is keeping its high-brow tablet at the forefront with a fourth-generation device that brings a powerful new processor, front-facing camera improvements and the new Lightning connector port. They're minor tweaks, but for now at least, these upgrades are enough to make this latest iPad the best iPad, and the most luxurious tablet money can buy.

The iPad with retina display, as Apple is calling this version, is available to order direct from Apple now, starting at £399. The 4G version will follow in late November.

Should I buy the new iPad?

If you already own an iPad, you shouldn't feel at pains to upgrade, especially if you bought the third-generation model that was released earlier this year. Practically speaking, there's not a lot the new iPad does that its predecessors can't. Apps, games and Web browsing work well across all three generations, and that's primarily what you'll be using this gadget for.

If you're yet to investigate the world of tablets, it's a different matter. The last few years have proved tablet tech is here to stay, and Apple's latest iPad is the best tablet available to buy today. It's likely to remain so for some time. The wealth of apps, slick design and the fact that it's cheaper than many of its rivals are all good reasons to buy, but it is more expensive than some of the competition. If you're on a budget, consider the £159 Google Nexus 7 a worthy (if smaller) alternative.

A6X processor

The biggest change in the fourth-generation iPad is a new processor -- the A6X chip. This is a dual-core ARM-based chip that boasts quad-core graphics. The 'new iPad' released earlier this year was no slouch, so how does this latest version compare?

CNET's testing found that games running on this iPad felt faster, with the sometimes-choppy N.O.V.A. 3 proving silky smooth. Other games felt just as slick and fast-loading when tested.

iPad 4 gaming
The iPad's new A6X chip is its most powerful ever, making mincemeat of hi-res 3D games.

This iPad booted up from being turned off in 16 seconds, nearly twice as fast as the third-generation iPad's time of 27 seconds. The difference in tasks such as video encoding was no more than a few seconds between the two models, and both run iOS 6 without any hiccups.

In number-crunching terms, the fourth-generation iPad scored above 1,700 in the Geekbench performance-testing app, beating the third-generation model, which managed around the 1,600 mark. This latest iPad is significantly more powerful than the iPad mini, which scored just 752 in the same test, although the mini doesn't feel that slow when you're using it.

There are currently no apps that have been tweaked to take full advantage of the fourth-generation iPad's improved speed, which makes testing performance challenging.

What CNET's testing suggests so far, however, is that this iPad is noticeably faster than its predecessor, even if the older iPad is still one of the fastest gadgets around. That extra dollop of speed could give this latest iPad more longevity, especially in a few years when software becomes more demanding.

Lightning port and charging

Just like the iPhone 5 and new iPod models, the latest iPad sports Apple's new Lightning connector. This is smaller than the previous 30-pin model, and can be stuck inside the iPad either way up, which cuts down on faffing.

iPad 4 Lightning port
The iPad now has the Lightning connector, so you'll need an adaptor if you have docks with the old port.

This new socket does mean the iPad isn't compatible with earlier chargers, docks or other accessories. If you've owned a few Apple gadgets before, your house is probably littered with these cables, speakers and suchlike, so to see them rendered useless is dismaying. You can buy a pricey adaptor, but this may not support all the iPad's functions.

One bit of good news however is that based on CNET's tests, the new model charges faster than the notoriously slow-to-charge third-generation iPad. It's not a massive improvement, but it's better.


The screen on show here is exactly the same as that of the third-generation iPad -- nothing has changed here. The retina panel makes a modest first impression. I was hoping for a mind-blowing experience -- I remember being seriously impressed the first time I clapped eyes on the iPhone 4's pixel-packing display. The new iPad doesn't impress in the same way however, at least at first. While it’s unlikely to drop your jaw, this is undoubtedly still a fantastic screen.

Boasting a mammoth 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution, detail on icons and text is incredibly clear, and you may well spend your first few minutes of ownership peering gormlessly at the pre-installed app icons, all of which look gorgeous. Expect photos and HD movies to look a dream.

Examining the new iPad alongside the iPad 2, there is a visible difference in the quality of the display. But that's not to belittle that older iPad's screen, which is still great. The new tablet looks better, but not to the degree that the iPad 2 looks ugly and dated by comparison.

Crowd test - new iPad
Feast your eyeballs on the new iPad's retina display, top, and compare it to the pixellated icons of the iPad 2 (click images to enlarge).

Colours are bright and natural, and the viewing angle is impressive, making it easy to crowd several people around a single tablet without anyone missing out on visual detail. The display's close proximity to the top of the screen is another plus, and lends the tablet a luxurious look.

The screen is still intensely reflective though. Stare into the new iPad while the screen is switched off and it may as well be a mirror. As such, you may find your fun hampered by overhead lighting while sat indoors. If you take the iPad outside, you'll have to contend with the biggest overhead light of all -- the sun.

For the most part, the screen is bright enough to compensate for these reflections. But if you're watching a moody movie with lots of scenes set in the dark, expect to spend some time looking up your own nose.

Exploring the App Store, there are plenty of tablet-specific apps that have been given a retina makeover. Anything on this screen that's not been tailored for the tablet's high-resolution display sticks out like a sore thumb, but you won't have to contend with much of that.

To sum up, this display is excellent. It hasn't rocked my world, but it has massaged my eyeballs with its clarity and colours. It's not hugely better-looking than older iPads, though if you've spent time with a retina display, expect to find lower-resolution panels suddenly less appealing.


New on board is a front-facing FaceTime HD camera, though in CNET's tests, this didn't feel as dramatic an upgrade as it did on the iPhone 5 or new iPod touch. That's because the iPad's large screen and high resolution means that even a more impressive front-facing snap still looks grainy.

This is still a step-up from Apple's third-generation tablet though, and it does the job when it comes to making video calls.

The 5-megapixel rear camera hasn't changed at all, though it's still a massive step-up on the iPad 2's snapper, as our comparison photos confirm. If you check those pictures out, you'll see that this latest iPad particularly excels at capturing close-up shots and far exceeds its 2011 brother's abilities in low-light conditions. Shots in less-than-bright lighting will still feature lots of noise though.

Pictures are reasonably clear if your subject is perfectly still, but it doesn't take much movement to leave your pictures looking decidedly blurry.

Outside shots are balanced, with our shots of a cloudy London day not too plagued by blown-out whites in the sky. There's not a huge amount of detail captured here -- zooming in a little on pictures I'd taken quickly left them looking unclear, with people's faces in crowd shots resembling blobs.

Crowd test - new iPad
These outdoors shots show the improved performance of the new iPad, top, over the iPad 2, with a well-balanced shot, although it lacks detail when zoomed in (click images to enlarge).
Close-up - new iPad
The new iPad, top, produces far better results close-up than the iPad 2 (click images to enlarge).
Low light - new iPad

Low light test - iPad 2

Again, the new iPad's camera's results, top, will show up better than its predecessor's in low light (click images to enlarge).

Video capture isn't terribly smooth, and once you start moving the tablet, the video is liable to succumb to blur. It's also worth mentioning that the tablet itself is quite cumbersome to hold up in a photography-ready position. Doing so in public will also make you look rather ridiculous.

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.

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