Apple’s new base-level iPad is very good, but you knew that. Apple hasn’t produced a “bad” iPad in I don’t know how long — though it has allowed them to get a little long in the tooth from time to time. (The iPad Mini needs to either be refreshed or put down, for example.) Last year, my review of the iPad was summed up by simply telling you that it’s an iPad. The same thing applies this year.
But last year’s iPad earned effusive praise for packing a bunch of great technology into the newly low price point of $329. The same thing applies this year, but the technology isn’t quite as new. So the shine is off a bit. This iPad feels more like the result of paper-pushing rather than envelope-pushing.
This is the part where you’d expect me to tell you that since Apple is coasting a bit, there might be a better option out there, a product that competes with the iPad at the sub-$500 price point and delivers something that’s at least within the ballpark of functionality and experience.
You’d be wrong. There isn’t a single viable competitor to the iPad. It is the only good tablet for less than four or five hundred bucks. So, if nothing else, I’m thankful that it’s as good as it is.
The new, sixth-generation iPad has two new features compared to last year’s model: support for the $99 Apple Pencil and a faster processor, the A10 “Fusion.” Everything else — and I mean everything — is exactly the same as last year.
That means the 9.7-inch screen is very good, but it doesn’t hold up against the screen on the iPad Pro. It has a visible air gap, it lacks the faster refresh rate, and it can’t adjust itself to the color temperature of the room. Those three features make the iPad Pro’s screen seem downright magical. The iPad’s screen doesn’t feel magical anymore, but it is nevertheless better than anything else in its price range.
I’ve been using the iPad for a little less than a week, and I can report that it feels fast, lasts all day (Apple claims 10 hours of battery life, and it gets close), and runs everything I’ve thrown at it well. There is a speed difference between the iPad and the iPad Pro, but it’s not so great that I think anybody who buys this will care — or maybe even notice. (We’re talking an extra half-second to launch an app.) Drawing with the Apple Pencil on the iPad is just as good to me as on the iPad Pro, though true drawing professionals may notice a difference. Since so much of this iPad is recycled from last year’s iPad, I’m going to do the same with my review. Here are a couple things I wrote:
When I simply say “it is an iPad,” reasonable people know exactly what I mean. They know that it is a thin, fast tablet with a good screen, and it has a lot of apps so you that you can do iPad things.
Fundamentally, what I am trying to tell you is that this is an iPad. You trust that iPads are decent tablets and that they have a basic level of quality, speed, and functionality
All of that is still true. If your iPad is starting to slow down or otherwise become a pain, go out and get this iPad to replace it, and don’t sweat the competition. That competition consists of, well, not much. There are Amazon tablets that are dirt cheap Amazon Prime and Kindle delivery vehicles. There are Windows tablets for less than $500, but none I would recommend. There is one (1) ChromeOS tablet, but it’s not out yet and not likely to be anywhere near as good. There are Android tablets, technically, but let us not speak of them for they are bad. (Google, you might note, also does not speak of Android tablets much anymore.)
Really, the biggest competition for the $329 iPad is the $649 iPad Pro. That extra $300-plus buys you the following:
- A slightly bigger, better screen
- A faster processor and more RAM for running multiple apps
- A smart keyboard connector
- Better cameras
- More speakers
I think, for the vast majority of people, the cheaper iPad is the better choice. Unless you know for sure that you are going to be able to use the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement (and are very adept at the ins and outs of how iOS works), just get the cheaper one.
You won’t miss the extra features — or, more to the point, you probably won’t miss them to the tune of $300. The only thing that kept zinging me is that the iPad can’t run three apps at once like the Pro can. Well, technically it can run three apps if you include two split-screen apps and a third app showing video in picture-in-picture. But if you open a third app in a slide-over window with two apps split-screened, the background apps will pause. I only ran into that because I kept trying to use the iPad like a full computer. Most people will use it for “iPad things” and do just fine.
Did Apple do the absolute bare minimum with this iPad? Yup. The reasoning, ostensibly, was to get Apple Pencil support in there for schools without raising the price. But I suspect schools would have been happier with a price cut on last year’s model instead of an all-new one — especially since iPads pretty much require a rugged case for students and, in many cases, a keyboard.
I wish that Apple had found a way to get the Smart Keyboard Connector on this iPad. Bluetooth keyboards are a pain. In fact, if I were Apple, I would have probably just skipped releasing this iPad altogether and waited to release one that could support the smart connector. By then, maybe a new version of the iPad Pro with more differentiating features (like Face ID, perhaps) would be available.
This is a very good tablet. The best, in fact, under $500. It’s too bad that nothing else comes close, because maybe that competition would have inspired Apple to make something a little better.