iPad 2017

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Qui­etly, and with­out the fan­fare of a press event, Ap­ple has launched its lat­est iPad, branded in most cases sim­ply ‘iPad’; the Air brand­ing is no more. Slightly com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Ap­ple fre­quently calls it the “iPad (5th gen­er­a­tion)” in of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, while pun­dits have been squab­bling over whether to call it that, or “7th gen­er­a­tion”, or “iPad (2017 edi­tion)”. To make things eas­ier we’ll be re­fer­ring to it as the iPad 2017 through­out this ar­ti­cle.

The iPad 2017, which ap­pears to re­place the iPad Air 2 in Ap­ple’s line-up (the iPad mini 2 has also dis­ap­peared

from the store, al­though both the Air 2 and mini 2 are still avail­able for ed­u­ca­tion buy­ers), rep­re­sents an af­ford­able op­tion for those who don’t need the flashier, more ex­pen­sive but bet­ter equipped iPad Pro.

De­sign

The iPad 2017 has the same chas­sis de­sign as the 9.7in iPad Pro, with the same el­e­gantly cham­fered edges curv­ing gen­tly to the back of the de­vice. In fact the cham­fered edge it­self now has a slightly brushed matt fin­ish, as op­posed to the mir­ror shine on pre­vi­ous iPads of this de­sign, but it’s other­wise es­sen­tially the same.

That’s not – or at least not straight­for­wardly – a bad thing, since it’s an at­trac­tive and clas­sic de­sign. But as with the iPhone 7 we have to point out that even great de­signs do age even­tu­ally; tablet buy­ers are re­luc­tant to up­grade their de­vices at the best of times, with­out Ap­ple re­fus­ing to re­fresh its iPad tem­plate from time to time. We look for­ward ea­gerly, there­fore, to some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for the iPad Pro 2.

The new iPad is back­ward-look­ing in other ways, too. It’s thicker and heav­ier than the Pro and Air 2 alike – which each mea­sure 6.1mm and 437g/444g for the Wi-Fi and cel­lu­lar mod­els – but the same length and width. You have to go back to 2013’s iPad Air 1, in fact, to find a model with the same di­men­sions (see its spec­i­fi­ca­tions on page 26). In fact, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing (to an iPad nerd like me) to look at the four most re­cent 9.7in mod­els and see which el­e­ments of the var­i­ous lay­outs Ap­ple has cherry-picked for the iPad 2017.

The new model comes with two speak­ers, like the Air 1 and 2, not the four you get on the iPad Pro 9.7in. The bot­tom

speaker grills are the same as on the Air 2: they’re ar­ranged in two sin­gle rows (un­like the dou­ble rows of the Air 1), and they’re not as far apart as on the Pro.

It comes in the same colours as the Air 2 (gold but not pink); it has Touch ID, and there’s no mute/por­trait ori­en­ta­tion switch, both like the Air 2 and Pro; but the SIM tray is low down on the right-hand side, like on the Air 1.

In most ex­te­rior re­spects, then, this is a re­tread of 2014’s iPad Air 2, with two main ex­cep­tions: it’s as heavy and as thick as the iPad Air 1, and it has that de­vice’s un­lam­i­nated, air-gapped screen (of which more to come). Last year’s 9.7in iPad Pro fea­tured a num­ber of small but sig­nif­i­cant de­sign changes and so far as we can tell this tablet doesn’t get any of them. There’s only two speak­ers. It doesn’t get the True Tone dis­play. There’s no Smart Con­nec­tor down the left-hand edge (which means you can’t con­nect the Smart Key­board; it’s also not com­pat­i­ble with the Ap­ple Pen­cil). There’s no cam­era flash. The an­tenna sec­tion at the top of the cel­lu­lar model is white, in­stead of match­ing the rest of the chas­sis.

Other than the brushed­metal cham­fers, we’ve found only one other point of dif­fer­ence from the

pre­vi­ous iPads in terms of phys­i­cal de­sign: the vol­ume but­tons are fur­ther apart.

The new iPad comes in three colours: sil­ver, gold and Space Grey. There’s no Rose Gold, sadly.

Dis­play

Let’s take a trip back to our re­view of the iPad Air 1, which we up­dated fol­low­ing the launch of the Air 2. Here’s what we had to say about the screen:

“This­maysim­plybedown­to­hav­in­g­lessheft­be­hin­dit, butwheny­outa­por­press­the­screen,it­def­i­nitel­y­seem­sto ‘flex’morethanthe­screen­son­theiPad3andiPad4.The re­sul­tisthatthe­screen­feel­s­ligh­tand­pla­s­ticky,ratherthan thesolid­glass­feelin­gonthe­old­erde­vices...It’sno­ta­ma­jor prob­lem,bu­ti­tun­der­mines­theover­allfeelin­gof­phys­i­cal qual­i­tytha­tone­ex­pects­fro­maniPad.Andafterus­ingthe iPadAir1­for­morethanayear,it’snot­some­thingwe’ve­got used to, or stopped find­ing mildly an­noy­ing.

“We were keen, when the Air2 came out, to see if thi­sis­sue­had­been­tack­led.And­suree­nough,the­more com­pressed­de­sig­noftheAir2–in­whichtheele­ments ofthedis­play­have­been­byne­ces­si­tysqueezed­closer to­gether,andair­pock­et­sre­moved–re­sultsi­nascreen­that is firmer to the touch.”

Well, that step for­ward made by the Air 2 in 2014, we are sorry to re­port, has now been re­versed. The iPad 2017, for rea­sons known only to Ap­ple, has an un­lam­i­nated screen with an air gap un­der the dis­play. You’ll find that it yields the tini­est frac­tion when you press down: not much by any means, but enough to no­tice.

The specs of the screen are largely iPad-stan­dard: a res­o­lu­tion of 2048x1536 and a pixel den­sity of 264ppi. But

it misses out on the True Tone colour ad­just­ment fea­ture and anti-re­flec­tive coat­ing of the Pro.

It’s still a de­cent screen – bright, sharp and colour­ful – but a small step down from the Pro of­fer­ing.

Fea­tures

The new iPad comes with many but by no means all of the fea­tures you get with the 9.7in iPad Pro; there are no new fea­tures here that we are aware of. It has Touch ID and Ap­ple Pay, and 4G in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity; the usual stuff.

The new iPad 2017 is not com­pat­i­ble with ei­ther the Ap­ple Pen­cil or the Smart Key­board that iPad Pro users get to use – in fact it hasn’t got a Smart Con­nec­tor. It also doesn’t get the Retina Flash and True Tone cam­era fea­tures of the iPad Pro, some­thing which will turn up again in the specs sec­tion.

Speed test­ing

We’ve al­ready es­tab­lished that the iPad 2017 has a higher bat­tery ca­pac­ity than its pre­de­ces­sors; the only other note­wor­thy area in which it sur­passes even the iPad Air 2 is pro­ces­sor choice. It comes with an A9 chip, which on pa­per ought to be only slightly slower than the A9X in the two Pro mod­els (al­though the 12.9in model’s ex­tra RAM should in­crease its ad­van­tage here) and sig­nif­i­cantly faster than the A8 in the mini 4 and the A8X in the Air 2, left alone the A7 in the iPad Air 1.

This is all get­ting a bit woolly so let’s look at some bench­mark scores. All de­vices tested were given a com­plete re­set and up­dated to iOS 10.3.1 for the tests. First up, Geek­bench 4’s CPU test – higher scores are bet­ter. The Pro comes top, as ex­pected, but there’s clear wa­ter be­tween

the iPad 2017 in se­cond place the Airs be­hind, at least in sin­gle-core mode; it’s pretty much a dead heat be­tween the iPad and the Air 2 in multi-core mode.

The GFXBench tests look at graph­ics, and again, higher scores are bet­ter; av­er­ages taken from mul­ti­ple tests. Over­all the iPad 2017 out­per­formed the Air 2 by a clear mar­gin, al­though in one com­po­nent of the test (Man­hat­tan, 3.1) the Air 2 edged ahead. Our fi­nal test – JetStream – is a JavaScript browser test. Higher scores are bet­ter; av­er­ages taken from mul­ti­ple tests. This the iPad 2017’s best per­for­mance, and its clear­est win over the Air 2.

Bat­tery test­ing

Ap­ple claims the new iPad has a 10-hour bat­tery life when us­ing Wi-Fi and nine hours when brows­ing over a cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion. These are stan­dard fig­ures that the com­pany gives for all of its cur­rent tablets, but we were hope­ful

that it might prove a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate; after all, the de­vice’s bat­tery has an im­pres­sive (for Ap­ple) ca­pac­ity of 8827mAh. That com­pares to 7340mAh on the Air 2 and 7306mAh on the 9.7in Pro, and may ex­plain the de­vice be­ing (com­par­a­tively) thick and heavy.

You can see the re­sults of our tests on page 23. Note that the iPad 2017 was tested us­ing iOS 10.3.1; all the older mod­els were tested a year ago, run­ning iOS 9.3.1 (bat­tery per­for­mance de­clines markedly over time so retest­ing them now with the lat­est OS would be un­fair). Bat­tery tests are not an ex­act science and your mileage may vary.

Ver­dict

We’ve heard this de­scribed as the iPad: Ed­u­ca­tion Edi­tion; you might also think of it as the iPhone 5c of Ap­ple’s tablet range. How­ever you put it, this is an un­ex­pect­edly cheap of­fer­ing, but one that is also fre­quently low-spec­i­fied and has a de­sign that’s mostly lifted from a prod­uct that’s two and a half years old, and in some cases from one that’s three and a half years old. It’s all rather odd.

There are chinks of light. While much of the tech­nol­ogy here feels out of date, one key spec, the pro­ces­sor, does not, and the A9 chip helped the iPad to pro­duce con­sis­tently de­cent re­sults in our bench­mark­ing tests – not Pro-fast, but solid. We also like the sound of that 8827mAh bat­tery unit.

That lovely big bat­tery, of course, is the most likely rea­son for the iPad’s weight gain, and we’re in­clined to for­give this be­trayal of the im­mutable law that says ev­ery tablet must be thin­ner and faster than the one that came be­fore. iPads have been quite thin enough for a long time, and this is no ex­cep­tion. In fact we wish smart­phone de­signs would fol­low a sim­i­lar path and pri­ori­tise bat­tery

life over ever more ab­surd feats of minia­tur­iza­tion, al­though we doubt ev­ery­one would agree.

So forget the thick­ness – it’s the un­lam­i­nated screen that re­ally both­ers us, and feels like an econ­omy too far. An iPad lives and dies by its screen, which should look and feel great. This one looks great but feels a bit cheap.

Still, while this isn’t the iPad we’d go for, the iPad 2017 and its low-end price tag and mostly low-end spec list might be a good fit for schools and ca­sual users; and the re­ported suc­cess of the iPhone SE sug­gests there is a mar­ket for Ap­ple prod­ucts that are be­hind the times in terms of spec but come in at a more ap­peal­ing price point. David Price

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

9.7in (2048x1536, 264ppi) LED-back­lit Multi-Touch IPS dis­play, fin­ger­print-re­sis­tant oleo­pho­bic coat­ing iOS 10

32- or 128GB stor­age A9 chip with 64-bit ar­chi­tec­ture Em­bed­ded M9 co­pro­ces­sor 8Mp rear-fac­ing cam­era 1080p HD video record­ing 1.2Mp FaceTime cam­era Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac); dual band (2.4- and 5GHz) Blue­tooth 4.2 Built-in 32.4Wh recharge­able lithium-poly­mer bat­tery 240x169.5x7.5mm 469g (Wi-Fi), 478g (Wi-Fi and Cel­lu­lar)

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