The release of the fourth-generation iPad so soon after the third-generation iPad may have come as a surprise to even diehard Apple watchers, but the device itself won't. By now, we all know what an iPad looks like, and the fourth-generation iPad looks nearly identical to a third-generation iPad--which itself looked more or less like the second-generation iPad.
That's not to say that the fourth-generation iPad isn't an impressive beast; it's just that those changes are almost entirely on the device's interior. This is unquestionably Apple's most powerful iPad to date, and it handles pretty much anything you can throw at it with aplomb. If the new iPad mini is a MacBook Air, as my colleague Dan Frakes alleges, then the fourth-generation iPad is the big iron of a MacBook Pro.
Meet the new new iPad, same as the new iPad
Put a fourth-generation iPad down next to a third-generation iPad, and good luck telling them apart. In fact, the only difference between the two is what kind of cable you plug into them. The fourth-generation iPad joins the iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPod touch, and iPod nano in sporting Apple's new Lightning connector. It's a lot smaller than the veritably ancient (by technology standards, anyway) 30-pin dock-connector it replaces; there are other advantages too, which I'll touch upon later.
Otherwise, though, the fourth-generation iPad has the same controls you've found on every iPad since the original: Home button, Sleep/Wake button, volume controls, a side switch that can mute the volume or lock the display's orientation, and a headphone jack. It also supports the same Smart Cover that's worked with the iPad 2 or later.
The fourth-generation new model features the same 2048-by-1536 pixel Retina display as its predecessor. It's the same dimensions in height and width, and much as I'd like to be able to claim I could detect a slight difference in thickness or weight compared to the third-generation iPad, the new model has the exact same 9.4mm depth and 652g weight. (The addition of an LTE-capable cellular radio adds the same 10 grams as on the third-generation iPad, but we weren't able to test one, since they don't go on sale until later this month.)
All things considered, you'd be excused for calling this less of an "iPad 4" and more of an "iPad 3S." Nomenclature, to be fair, is one place where Apple's improved over the last iteration: Though the company markets the new model under the same "iPad with Retina Display" as the previous model, the company's also not shied away from referring to this latest version as the "fourth-generation iPad," eschewing the third-generation's occasionally confusing official moniker "the new iPad."
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