Apple is targeting the new 9.7-inch iPad at students, but it’s a viable option for anyone looking for a good tablet at a reasonable price. It packs A10 Fusion power and Apple Pencil support, and it’s ready for a new generation of augmented-reality apps.
On the other hand, this sixth-generation slate has some drawbacks, as we discovered in our full iPad review. Check out the pros and cons before you decide to pull the trigger on a purchase.
Reasons to Buy the iPad
Fast A10 Fusion processor
The A10 Fusion chip inside the new iPad provides a lot of horsepower for multitasking, playing games and running augmented-reality apps. In fact, the iPad’s performance was more than double that of the Amazon Fire HD 10 on Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance. It even edged past our favorite Windows laptop under $500.
If you’re going to be editing video with the iPad, you’ll be glad to know it can churn through clips with ease. It transcoded a 4K clip in just 51 seconds. That beats the Snapdragon 845-powered Samsung Galaxy S9 (2.5 minutes) by a mile.
Chromebooks can’t do this. The new 9.7-inch iPad taps into a rich array of new AR apps for education, entertainment and more. For instance, the Froggipedia app lets you see a frog up close from every angle by leveraging the back camera of the iPad and the A10 Fusion chip. You can then toggle the view to see its skeletal and nervous systems.
There are dozens of other AR apps for iOS, including ones for trying out furniture in a room in real time, seeing the impact that dams have on free-flowing rivers and playing all sorts of games.
Apple Pencil makes a big difference
Although it costs an extra $99 ($89 for schools), the Apple Pencil is a worthwhile accessory for taking notes, drawing or marking up documents. It provides remarkable precision without lag, as well as both tilt sensitivity and pressure sensitivity. All of Apple’s iWork apps have been updated to support the Apple Pencil, including Pages, which has a handy new Smart Annotation feature.
There are also dozens of third-party apps that work with the Apple Pencil, including Linea Sketch, Pixelmator and Notability.
Cameras provide versatility
The 8-megapixel camera on the back of the 9.7-inch iPad captures sharper-looking photos and smooth 1080p video, which makes it a valuable tool, whether you’re a student working on a multimedia project or an insurance adjuster assessing damage. The front 1.2-MP camera is OK for video calls, but we wouldn’t rely on it for snapping selfies or recording clips unless you have a good amount of ambient light.
Good battery life
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the 9.7-inch iPad lasted just over 10 hours. That lives up to Apple’s claims and also outlasts the Fire HD 10 (9:04) and beats the tablet category average (9:32). However, the Lenovo Tab 4 10 lasted an even longer 11:17.
iOS 11 is good for productivity
The iPad really benefits from Apple’s latest iOS 11 software, as you can run two apps side by side and drag items from one window to another.
You can also see all of your open apps and Control Center in one view, similar to Mission Control on macOS, but better. One of my favorite features is the ability to start taking notes right from the lock screen if you have an Apple Pencil.
For an extra $130, you can internet access for the iPad anywhere without having to worry about using your phone’s data plan or carrying around a mobile hotspot. Most Android tablets, and especially Chromebooks, don’t offer this sort of freedom. And while there is a new breed of ARM-powered Windows laptops with Snapdragon processors and LTE built in, they start at $599.
Reasons to Skip the iPad
Accessories jack up the price
At first glance, the iPad seems affordable with its $329 sticker price, but the costs start to add up when you throw in accessories that some will deem must-haves. For example, if you were to buy the base-model Wi-Fi iPad and then tack on the iPad Smart Cover and Apple Pencil, that would bring the total to $467. Want to add a Bluetooth keyboard? Now you’re up to $567.
Design is a bit dated
The look of the 9.7-inch iPad hasn’t changed in a couple of years, and it’s starting to show. The thick bezels around the screen seem somewhat antiquated in an age of edge-to-edge phone designs. And we wouldn’t mind if Apple added a kickstand to make it easier to prop up the slate without having to spring for a cover.
Doesn’t support Apple keyboard
Because the 9.7-inch iPad lacks a physical keyboard connector, it does not support Apple’s own Smart Keyboard. Fortunately, there are a number of third-party wired keyboards that leverage the iPad’s Lightning connector, as well as several Bluetooth keyboards.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag