9.7-inch ipad re­view

AP­PLE’S TABLET IS ‘PRO’ ENOUGH FOR MANY OF US With Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port, you may be fine leav­ing the ipad Pro be­hind.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - By Leif John­son

Pull it off the shelf at the Ap­ple Store, and you’d be hard­pressed by sight alone to dis­tin­guish the new six­th­gen­er­a­tion 9.7-inch ipad ( go.mac­world. com/6x97) from last year’s model ( go. mac­world.com/lsyr). And un­der the hood, it’s not much dif­fer­ent, where there’s sim­ply a speed­ier A10 pro­ces­sor. The new ipad is, well, an ipad.

What’s truly new is sup­port for the Ap­ple Pen­cil, the sleek sty­lus that for­merly only played nice with the ipad Pro. But never doubt that the Pen­cil sup­port marks a bold move on Ap­ple’s part. Com­bined with the new chip, the for­merly ca­pa­ble ipad is trans­formed into some­thing that’s now a ser­vice­able sub­sti­tute for an ipad Pro—for a mere $329 ($299 if you’re shop­ping for a school; $309 if you’re a stu­dent, teacher, or fac­ulty shop­ping on Ap­ple’s Ed­u­ca­tion Store [ go.mac­world.com/aped]).

Some will find Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, and if you’ve been look­ing to up­grade from an ipad that pre­dates the ipad Air 2, this is a de­vice that will make you glad you waited.


In light of Ap­ple’s mar­ket­ing of the new ipad to schools, the de­sign feels like an ex­hor­ta­tion not to judge a book (or a tablet) by its cover. It re­minds us that some things can change for the bet­ter de­spite out­ward ap­pear­ances. In some re­gards, much of what we said about last year’s ipad ap­plies here as well, whether it’s the way the but­tons rang­ing from the vol­ume con­trols to Touch ID sit in the same spots or the way it of­fers much the same Wi-fi and LTE con­nec­tiv­ity.

The new ipad weighs about the same as its pre­de­ces­sor, and the same pro­tec­tive cases will fit. It still only has two speak­ers, com­pared to the four you get on the ipad Pro. It even sports the same ser­vice­able 8-megapixel 1080p rear cam­era and the puny 1.2-megapixel 720p front cam­era, the lat­ter of which seem­ingly ex­ists only for oc­ca­sional Skype and Facetime chats. Were the

new ipad judged solely on specs, it’d hardly war­rant much at­ten­tion over last year’s model at all.


But you shouldn’t judge the new ipad based on its specs. Tim Cook and friends de­cided to let this scrappy de­vice sup­port the Ap­ple Pen­cil, although you’ll have to buy it separately. (That also means an ex­tra $100 to the to­tal cost, bring­ing the 2018’s ipad’s “true” price up to $429.) It may seem like a sim­ple thing, but the magic of the Ap­ple Pen­cil is that it lets you share much the same ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing a pricey ipad Pro, but on a lower-priced tablet.

Never mind for a mo­ment that the new ipad doesn’t have some of the best tech­ni­cal good­ies found on the ipad Pro, whether it’s the True­tone tech­nol­ogy that ad­justs the dis­play to match the light in the room or the ipad Pro’s 4GB of mem­ory. (The 2018 ipad makes do with 2GB.) It even lacks the ipad Pro’s Pro­mo­tion tech, which boosts the dis­play re­fresh rate up from the roughly 60Hz found on a de­vice like this to an im­pres­sive 120Hz. That’s im­por­tant, as it means the newer ipad Pros can bet­ter catch the slight­est move­ments of your hands, which makes them more ideal for pro­fes­sional artists.

How­ever, you’re likely not go­ing to no­tice the dif­fer­ence in ev­ery­day use. I’ve been us­ing an Ap­ple Pen­cil as a writ­ing tool since 2016 on my first-gen­er­a­tion 12.9-inch ipad Pro (which also lacked Pro­mo­tion), and I al­most never felt the Pen­cil was do­ing any­thing but lay­ing down

It may seem like a sim­ple thing, but the magic of the Ap­ple Pen­cil is that it lets you share much the same ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing a pricey ipad Pro, but on a lower-priced tablet.

pre­cisely the lines I wanted to see. Thanks to the pres­sure sen­si­tiv­ity, the way it in­ter­prets tilts and an­gles, and, yes, the over­all low la­tency, the Ap­ple Pen­cil is the clos­est you get on a tablet to mim­ick­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of writ­ing with a pen­cil or pen on a spi­ral note­book, which is part of the rea­son Ap­ple wants to see it catch on in schools.

The only real draw­back to the new 9.7-inch ipad is that it doesn’t have a lam­i­nated dis­play like the ipad Pro, and so you’ll see a vis­i­ble gap be­tween the dis­play and the glass above it. I found, though, that it barely af­fects the “feel” of writ­ing, although the ex­tra space makes the sound of the Pen­cil hit­ting the glass a bit louder than what you’ll hear on a Pro.

I love the Pen­cil for the way it lets me scrib­ble out ideas in apps like Nota­bil­ity ( go. mac­world.com/ nbap) or Myscript Nebo ( go.mac­world. com/msap) with­out hav­ing to waste a forests’ worth of pa­per, and it’s in­cred­i­ble for mark­ing up PDFS with high­lights and mar­ginal notes. It’s also fan­tas­tic for stu­dents in that they can use Split View mul­ti­task­ing to open a PDF or other doc­u­ment on one side of the screen and scrib­ble out notes in an app on the right. And, nat­u­rally, the Pen­cil re­mains a stel­lar tool for artists, who can use it with fully fea­tured apps like Pro­cre­ate ( go.

Last year’s ipad had an im­pres­sive A9 chip packed in its cas­ing, but the new ver­sion has the A10 Fu­sion chip we’ve pre­vi­ously seen in the iphone 7 and 7 Plus.


Ear­lier this year, you’d have to shell out $599 for an ipad Pro at the min­i­mum to get that kind of ex­pe­ri­ence. With the new ipad, though, you get that kind of power for about half the price. For a lot of peo­ple, that’s enough to make it a bet­ter buy than the Pro. Heck, even I’ve found my­self leav­ing my 12.9-inch ipad Pro be­hind in fa­vor of this de­vice, and I’m tempted to switch over to it en­tirely.


The new ipad is still a good buy even if you’re not into the whole “writ­ing with pen­cils in 2018” bit. That’s be­cause the new ipad is also fast.

Last year’s ipad had an im­pres­sive A9 chip packed in its cas­ing, but the new ver­sion has the A10 Fu­sion chip we’ve pre­vi­ously seen in the iphone 7 and 7 Plus. The im­prove­ments show up in Geek­bench re­sults, with the new ipad scor­ing 3463 on the sin­gle-core CPU test and 5845 on the multi-core test. (That’s about the same score you’ll get with an iphone 7 Plus.) Last year’s 9.7-inch ipad, how­ever, scored only 2384 on sin­gle-core and 4372 on mul­ti­core. That’s not too shabby, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that the new 10.5-inch ipad

Pro scores 3908 on sin­gle-core and 9305 on multi-core.

In the most ca­sual cases you’ll find this only means that apps open ever-so-slightly faster, but I find it some­times greatly af­fects game per­for­mance. (Let’s ad­mit it: A lot of kids in class­rooms are go­ing to be play­ing games on these things rather than lis­ten­ing to teach­ers.)

On the new ipad, the pop­u­lar bat­tle royale shooter Fort­nite ran beau­ti­fully, com­plete with the shad­ows and richly-

de­tailed tex­tures you’d find while play­ing on a Mac. Play­ing on last year’s ipad, though, I found the char­ac­ters and build­ings to be pix­e­lated and rough, and the shad­ows and other de­tails were gone. The dif­fer­ences aren’t so jar­ring on PUBG Mo­bile, but it’s worth not­ing that the pop­u­lar game rec­om­mends the “high” set­tings on the new ipad and only the “medium” on last year’s. If you’re look­ing for per­for­mance, in other words, you’ll want to pick up the new one.

From there on out, it’s ba­si­cally the same de­vice as last year’s ipad. The screen once again has no anti-glare coat­ing, which means you can ba­si­cally use your ipad as a mir­ror when you’re in sun­light. The bat­tery life eas­ily meets the 10 hours Ap­ple claims it reaches, even af­ter I played graph­i­cally in­ten­sive games and watched a whole movie with the bright­ness cranked up.


Ap­ple sees this ipad as its cham­pion in the fight against Chrome­books in class­rooms, and there’s no doubt that it’s an im­pres­sive de­vice for the price. I don’t think it’s much of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to claim that it’s the only tablet that truly mat­ters in the low-end price range, re­gard­less of whether we’re talk­ing about class­rooms or play­ing

Candy Crush Saga on the bus.

Sure, on its own, the ipad man­ages well, and I was even im­pressed by the dis­play key­board in land­scape mode. But the fact re­mains that get­ting the most out of an ipad in the class­room re­quires mak­ing cer­tain po­ten­tially ex­pen­sive ad­just­ments. Want a phys­i­cal key­board? You’ll have to shell

out some ad­di­tional dough for a key­board case, and then you’ll have to pair it through Blue­tooth since the new ipad doesn’t have a Smart Con­nec­tor for con­nect­ing Ap­ple’s Smart Key­board. Log­itech an­nounced a rugged case for stu­dents, but it costs $100. For that mat­ter, the bud­get Log­itech Crayon sty­lus for the ipad that’s also only avail­able to stu­dents costs $49.

Once you’re done, you’re look­ing at around $448 to­tal with school pric­ing. You can get a Chrome­book for around half that, and they al­most al­ways come with at­tached tac­tile key­boards, mouse sup­ports, ports for at­tach­ing pe­riph­eral de­vices, and Google’s ed­u­ca­tional G Suite that’s based en­tirely on­line.

Ap­ple’s ap­proach with its Class­room and School­work apps, though, re­quires a full com­mit­ment to the Ap­ple ecosys­tem. We’ve al­ready said that we’re op­ti­mistic about see­ing it in class­rooms ( go. mac­world.com/nwch) on ac­count of its em­pha­sis on pri­vacy and qual­ity, but ev­ery­day schools might find ipads a tough sell when look­ing solely at im­me­di­ate pric­ing. All the same, keep in mind that ipads will likely hold up bet­ter than dirt-cheap Chrome­books over time, which could save school districts a lot of money in the long run.


In our re­view of last year’s 9.7-inch ipad, we said it was a “bet­ter choice than the ipad Pro for a lot of users,” and the ad­di­tion of Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port and a faster pro­ces­sor makes that es­pe­cially true for this year’s model. For $329, you’re get­ting a stel­lar tablet that feels as though it’s very ca­pa­ble, although with­out some qual­i­tyof-life fea­tures. For a gen­er­alpur­pose tablet for school, busi­ness, or plea­sure, it cur­rently doesn’t get any bet­ter than this. ■

Watch out for that glare, though.

Fort­nite on the 2017 9.7-inch ipad (left) and the 2018 ipad. No­tice the greater pix­e­la­tion on the older de­vice.

The Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port on the new ipad makes cre­at­ing dig­i­tal art more ac­ces­si­ble for bud­get-chal­lenged artists

The Ap­ple Pen­cil has been around for a few years now, so there are many Pen­cil-com­pat­i­ble note­tak­ing apps on the App Store.

Can you tell which is this year’s model and which is last year’s?

Jot it down.

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