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Fourth-generation iPad is faster, stronger, better

Dan Moren | Nov. 9, 2012
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.

The biggest upside of the fourth-generation iPad having a Lightning connector is that the most modern version of all of Apple's mobile devices now sport the new standard. This is a big incentive for accessory makers to start building in compatibility for the Lightning connector, and should help remove any worry that customers are buying into an unproven technology. Apple's now put all its eggs in a Lightning-connector basket (which, coincidentally, is also bi-directional).

Camera not so obscura

Both of the iPad's cameras get updates in the fourth-generation model. The rear-facing camera uses the same 5MP iSight model that you'll find on the iPad mini and the iPod touch. It's not quite as good as the 8MP model you'll find on the iPhone 5, but it does feature most of the same features, including autofocus, tap-to-focus, face detection, and more. However, there's no LED flash, as on the iPhone, and you won't get HDR photos or iOS 6's fancy new Panorama mode. It will, like previous models, shoot 1080p video.

For stills, the iPad's rear-facing camera is serviceable, though the 10-inch tablet isn't the most convenient form factor for snapping photos. For app purposes, it's fine--I used it to deposit a check to my bank without any problem.

I snapped a test shot to compare the fourth-generation iPad's rear-facing camera with the third-generation iPad and the iPhone 5. While the iPhone 5 still has highest resolution and the best quality (fine background details are less blurry), the fourth-generation iPad easily topped the third-generation model, providing a much crisper image. That's due in part to the better camera itself, but also to the fact that the fourth-generation iPad includes a new generation of image signal processor, which improves image stabilization.

Not to be outdone, the fourth-generation iPad's front-facing camera got an update as well. Like the rest of Apple's FaceTime-capable devices, the fourth-generation iPad now sports a 720p camera for video conferencing.

I didn't think I'd be that impressed by the upgrade to that camera, but if you use FaceTime with any regularity, the difference is night and day. I had my colleague Lex Friedman snap pictures comparing a FaceTime chat on the third-generation iPad's standard definition camera and the fourth-generation's HD camera. The HD camera on the new iPad features far better skin tones and a much sharper, clearer picture overall.

Who's it for?

Let's get this out of the way: If you've never owned an iPad, and you want the real estate that a 9.7-inch screen affords, there's no reason not to pick up the fourth-generation model. It's got all of the benefits of the third-generation iPad, and it's a smoking powerhouse to boot.


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