The 5th-gen iPad is here, but with few changes, is it still our top tablet pick?
This iPad is the most exciting boring update to a product we’ve ever seen. It replaces the iPad Air 2 at the lower-price end of Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet range, and doesn’t include any new tricks, features we’ve never seen before, or anything like that. What it does is take T3’s number one tablet, make it a little bit faster, a little bit cheaper, and give it even better battery life. It’s more of the same, and when the same sits at the top of our Elite list, we’re good with that.
These upgrades come with a surprising downside: it’s thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2. It’s pretty weird to see Apple add bulk to a product, but this iPad is the same 469g weight and 7.5mm thickness of the original iPad Air. That’s a weight increase of just
32g, and a more noticeable 1.4mm thickness. While we admit to being kind of obsessed with our tech being the smallest, thinnest designs possible, even we have to admit that this is… fine, really.
So that’s the one really obvious downside, and even that comes with a bonus, in that this has a bigger battery than the Air 2 – and, in fact, bigger than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Which is especially interesting when you pair it with the new processor, which is an Apple A9, as seen in the iPhone 6s. It’s not, you’ll note, the beefier upgraded A9X version, which is what the iPad Pro models run.
LITTLE AND LARGE
This means you’ve got a power-sipping phone processor paired with a battery nearly five times larger. The main power draw on a tablet is the screen, and the iPad 5th-gen (as Apple is calling it, apparently pretending that the Airs didn’t happen, a bit like when Superman Returns just skipped over the existence of Superman III and IV – except the Airs were actually good) has a slightly brighter screen than the Air 2, so you’ll still get around the standard 10-12 hours of use from it, as you do from other iPads. But in our tests, it does work out as one of the longest-lasting tablets around. It’s good for 12-13 hours of video at mid-level brightness, and nearly as much from regular light use such as emailing and browsing the web. We think only the iPad mini 4 was as good for battery life, and that had a much smaller screen. Obviously, games or other really intensive tasks lower the figures a lot – more like six to seven hours. The difference over an iPad Pro isn’t transformative, but it can mean an extra hour of use in some cases.
The A9 processor is a good step forward from the A8X in the iPad Air 2, despite being a phone chip rather than a dedicated tablet one. It’s a dual-core unit and, while it’s slower than the iPhone 7’s A10 chip, it’s more than fast enough for everything you probably want to do with a `28,900
tablet. Apps don’t hang, web browsing is fast, everything is totally fluid, and it wakes instantly from sleep. It’s only carrying a slight 2GB of RAM, but with the way iOS manages apps, this doesn’t really get in the way, or slow things down the way it might on a laptop or Windows hybrid. If you want to create or edit an 8K image, then you’ll want something more well endowed – the Pro, the Galaxy Tab S3, or just a laptop.
The screen is 9.7 inches across, with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 – pretty much what you expect from an iPad. There’s nothing fancy about the screen – you don’t get the wide colour gamut or TrueTone display of the iPad Pro, or HDR support like the Galaxy Tab S3. It’s more like the Tab S2 (which is about the same price). It’s just a beautiful, detailed, bright screen that we have no complaints about for the cost.
We mentioned the Tab S2, and Samsung’s last-gen tablet is really the main competition for this iPad. They’re both a little over iPad’s price, at the same size, with nearly identical displays. The Tab S2 is noticeably thinner and lighter (by nearly 100g), but remains plasticky and less premium-feeling, with generally weaker battery life. More than that, though, with an iPad you get access to the App Store, with its superior suite of software compared to Android tablet offerings. The gulf between the two is nowhere near as large as it used to be, and for a lot of the uses you might find for this (Netflix, browsing photos, checking Facebook, checking Snopes to see if that wild conspiracy your uncle posted on Facebook is true…), the apps are much of a muchness across platforms. But the ecosystem on iPad has that extra spark of quality and creativity that has helped elevate the iPad to be our tablet of choice for so long. You also tend to get better support for new software features
– or even hardware features, such as the Touch ID sensor, which can be trusted to keep your banking apps as safe as your notes about what to get your partner for their birthday. (And is just super-useful for unlocking the thing, or using Apple Pay in apps.) There are a few other minor disappointments to note: we’d love it if the vastly improved speakers from the iPad Pro had made it over, and the camera is pretty lacklustre. All this might sound like we’re a bit down on the new iPad, but that’s only because its improvements aren’t the flashy kind. It’s exactly what we liked about the iPad before, but cheaper, faster, and it comes with 32GB of storage as standard, which is great for most people. Or you can get 128GB for an amazingly reasonable price.
ABOVE The new iPad supports iOS 10’s best tablet features, including Split View for apps
ABOVE The Touch ID fingerprint sensor and camera position remain the same as on earlier models