9.7-inch iPad

An ex­cel­lent mid-range tablet

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS - Matt bolton

From $329 From Ap­ple, ap­ple.com Fea­tures 9.7-inch, 2048x1536-pixel Retina dis­play, A10 Fu­sion chip with M10 co­pro­ces­sor, 32GB or 128GB stor­age, Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity

Last year, Ap­ple in­tro­duced its most af­ford­able 9.7-inch iPad to date — the $329 fifth gen­er­a­tion. It had no bells and ab­so­lutely no whis­tles — its case even copied 2013’s iPad Air, rather than the thin­ner look of the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro. But that didn’t mat­ter, be­cause it had a great price, was re­li­able, had a nice Retina dis­play, and was as fast as you needed. For a fam­ily tablet, full of games and apps that make good use of a large screen, it was ideal.

A year later, that model is still more than good enough for that job, so we didn’t think it would be up­dated so soon — but here we are.

The new model now works with Ap­ple’s Pen­cil sty­lus, and fea­tures an A10 Fu­sion chip (as seen in the iPhone 7), rather than the A9 pro­ces­sor (found in the iPhone 6s). That’s it. This new iPad, like its pre­de­ces­sor, starts at a tidy $329 for a 32GB Wi-Fi model.

It means that, if you al­ready have last year’s model and are won­der­ing whether to up­grade, the an­swer is: not re­ally. But if you’ve got an older iPad or are look­ing for your first one, you should prob­a­bly con­sider it. Let’s find out why.

Pixel pinch

Per­haps the most im­por­tant part of any tablet is its screen, and though this one’s 2048x1536-pixel dis­play is far from cut­ting edge, it’s re­ally good. It’s def­i­nitely the big­gest area of dif­fer­ence from the iPad Pro, though. It lacks the Pro’s wide color gamut — a bit of a shame if you have an iPhone 7 or later, which can take photos in that color space. It isn’t the end of the world, though, since the screen is still bright and col­or­ful.

You also don’t get HDR sup­port, un­like on the iPad Pro. Again, we pre­fer to have this for watch­ing movies, but it doesn’t have as much im­pact on small screens as on a TV, so it feels like a rea­son­able trade-off at this price.

The pix­els don’t feel as close to the sur­face as the iPad Pro’s ei­ther, but again, this is the dif­fer­ence be­tween mid-range and pre­mium. That’s the gist — even aside from size, the Pro’s screen is that much more luxe across the board in ways that jus­tify its ex­tra cost, but the one found here is def­i­nitely good enough.

That said, there is one miss­ing fea­ture of the screen we’re frus­trated about: the lack of TrueTone, Ap­ple’s tech­nol­ogy that ad­justs the screen’s color tem­per­a­ture to match the am­bi­ent light­ing of your sur­round­ings, so that white on the screen looks like a sheet of pa­per would in the same light. TrueTone makes an iPad so much more pleas­ant to use, es­pe­cially if you’re us­ing it be­fore bed, and if you’ve ever used it,

switch­ing to a de­vice that lacks it feels like a big step back­wards. With this tablet be­ing aimed more at fam­i­lies (and es­pe­cially kids), we feel that a fea­ture that helps to al­le­vi­ate eye strain, es­pe­cially around bed­time, would be a re­ally valu­able ad­di­tion.

Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port works well. When you’re writ­ing notes, this iPad feels re­spon­sive, ac­cu­rate, and slick. In­evitably, iPad Pro has it slightly beat, thanks to its screen re­fresh­ing at up to 120 times per second, com­pared to 60 here. So, sketch­ing with fast move­ments re­veals a tiny bit of lag in the lines ap­pear­ing on the screen, whereas it seems in­stan­ta­neous on second-gen iPad Pros. It’ll only an­noy if you’re plan­ning to do high-level art — if that’s your bag, you should look at a Pro any­way.

Per­for mance

Per­for­mance and re­spon­sive­ness ev­ery­where else are also great. The A10 Fu­sion chip isn’t quite as pow­er­ful as iPad Pro’s A10X, but we had no speed is­sues in web brows­ing, edit­ing docs, gam­ing, or GarageBand and iMovie.

Mul­ti­task­ing fea­tures of iOS are well sup­ported, so you can have apps side by side, or have one float­ing for quick ac­cess, with­out any slow­down. The 9.7-inch screen doesn’t make for a dual–app pro­duc­tiv­ity powerhouse, but we found it fine for re­search­ing in Safari on one side and writ­ing in a doc­u­ment on the other, for ex­am­ple.

Bat­tery life is solid, due to a big ca­pac­ity and a phone-level pro­ces­sor. Ap­ple claims 10 hours, as usual for iPads, which is fairly con­ser­va­tive in light use

Ap­ple P en­cil su­port wor ks wel l ; for ta king notes , it fels re­sponsi ve and ac­cu­rate

with the screen lower than full bright­ness. Con­versely, a long game of Civ­i­liza­tion VI will mean a much shorter life. On standby, a cou­ple of per cent is lost each day, so there’s rarely the frus­tra­tion of it be­ing dead when you are want­ing to watch YouTube.

Speak­ing of video, while the iPad is fine over­all, its speak­ers are a bit un­der­whelm­ing, and they work in stereo only in por­trait orientation. Though clear enough, there’s a dis­ap­point­ing lack of oomph; another trade-off at this price.

The front and rear cam­eras are un­changed from the last model, mean­ing that they’re fine. They work well enough for FaceTime, pick up sur­faces nice and clearly in aug­mented re­al­ity apps, and image qual­ity is de­cent. They’re nowhere near as good as what you’ll find in the lat­est phones, but they do the job.

The $329 model’s 32GB of stor­age is also solid. If you’ll pri­mar­ily use the iPad to watch video and browse the web, and per­haps play a few games, then that amount of stor­age should be plenty. How­ever, if you’re likely to fill it with photos and your own videos, then $429 for 128GB of stor­age is a pretty rea­son­able up­grade cost.

the botto m line. Ap­ple Pen­cil adds to the cost, and there’s room for im­prove­ment, but this is still the best mid-range tablet.

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