An excellent mid-range tablet
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.
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.
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.