Apple iPad 9.7in (2018) full review
It's a familiar phrase but there's a new iPad in town and while almost all rivals have given up with the category, Apple continues to update its beloved slate. For 2018, the iPad is cheaper and now supports the Apple Pencil to boot.
As you'll read in our in-depth review, the new iPad is certainly not flawless but it makes for a very attractive purchase for anyone looking for a tablet that is suitable for just about anything. There are some sacrifices to achieve the affordable price but this creates a nice balance that will appeal to the masses.
The naming system over the years has been a bit confusing with 'new iPad' and Air models, but all you really need to know is that this is the 6th-generation of regular 9.7in iPad.
Price and availability
In the UK, there's a new lower price for the iPad of £319. That's £20 lower than last year's iPad, although in the US it stays at $329. Those base prices will get you 32GB of storage but you can jump to 128GB at £409/$429.
As usual, you can also add 4G cellular data but this costs an additional £130 to any model, but that's quite a hefty price so only do this if you really need it.
It's nice to see a price drop for UK buyers, even if there are some downgrades, and it seems a bit odd that the iPad mini 4 from 2015 is £399 – even if you do get 128GB as standard.
To put the price in a wider context, devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 cost £599 and there are very few Android rivals around this price.
Design and build
There's not a great deal to say about the iPad's design. It's still very much a quintessential Apple tablet and hasn't actually changed a huge amount since the original from 2010.
While the phone market is going bezel-free, Apple hasn't brought the iPhone X design to the iPad – not yet anyway. Fairly reasonable bezels adorn the screen but this actually makes sense on a tablet because it means you can hold it with one hand without having to touch the display.
Naturally, there's the iconic home button below the screen with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded. Speaker grilles straddle the Lightning connector and there's still no toggle function switch as per last year's model.
This iPad might be heavier than the iPad Air 2 from 2014 but that model was £399 so a thicker design is somewhat understandable. At 7.5mm and 469g, the new iPad for 2018 certainly doesn't feel overly big or heavy – that's the same weight as the iPad Pro 10.5.
One of the main changes this year is a new version of the gold colour. It's sort of half way between the old gold and Rose Gold so has a peach tone. The iPad is also available in silver and Space Grey. Looking at the current range of iPads, it's quite confusing but there you go.
It feels noteworthy that the iPad still offers a headphone jack and there's no camera bump which is nice. It's compatible with Apple's Smart Cover but not the Smart Keyboard, although third-party options are available if you want to type a lot.
We'll talk about the Apple Pencil support below but there's still nowhere for the stylus to live. Apple hasn't made a version of the iPad Pro leather sleeve that has a pouch for the Pencil.
Specs and features
The highlight new feature of the iPad 2018 is Apple Pencil support but the tablet is still great even if you're not fussed about using the stylus.
This new iPad for 2018 sticks with the classic size of 9.7in, that many will call a 'full-size' iPad. Nowadays, this sits in the middle with 7.9-, 10.5- and 12.9in versions also available – all of which are more expensive, though, and we still find 9.7in to be a nicely balanced size for all kinds of tasks.
The resolution of 2048x1536 means the display offers the same 264ppi pixel density available on the iPad Pro models. The screen here is perfectly crisp, has nice colours and plenty of brightness too.
What's different here, and the big reason why this iPad is cheaper than before and Apple's others, is that the display is not laminated and doesn't have an anti-reflective coating. It's also not True Tone like the iPad Pros but that's to be expected.
We've not noticed the lack of a coating to be a big problem, but the lack of lamination presents some issues.
It means, in simple terms, there's a gap between the glass front and the display below. So you don't get the same sense of touching elements as you do with a laminated screen.
Ignorance is bliss to an extent here so you won't notice if you've not gotten used to the laminated experience on other iPads or devices. We've not found it a huge issue when using touch input but it's not so great with the Apple Pencil.
Apple Pencil support
For the first time, the Apple Pencil is compatible with a tablet outside the iPad Pro range.
This is great news if you want to use the accessory without spending at least £619 on the cheapest iPad Pro, so although the stylus is an additional £89 cost it's a massive saving in comparison.
Although the Apple Pencil is a brilliant stylus and this iPad makes it accessible to many more people, the experience isn't the same here.
Due to the screen not being laminated, using the Pencil isn't as sleek and satisfying compared to the iPad Pros. It seems like a small thing but it starts with the sound the stylus makes when you tap in on the screen, which is a sort of hollow sounding thud rather than a pleasing tap.
The gap also means you don't quite get the same sense of connection between the tip and display. The glass bends a little under pressure and a lack of ProMotion technology (up to 120Hz refresh rate on the iPad Pro) means there's more latency so it's not as fluid.
Despite the experience being quite different to the iPad Pro, we're certainly not saying it's really bad. Considering this iPad is around half the price, it's perfectly good and again, ignorance is bliss if you don't know the difference.
If this stuff is really important then you might need to splash the cash on a Pro, otherwise it's fine to use for general navigation, drawing and other features like editing. We'll talk about some software updates to iWork in the software section below.
Processor, memory and storage
For the 2018 iPad, the processor jumps from the A9 to the newer A10 Fusion. It's not the latest chip as the iPad Pros are fitted with the A10X Fusion but this difference is understandable when you consider the price difference.
The A10 Fusion is still a very capable chip and the iPad has 2GB of RAM as usual. It runs smoothly regardless of what you're doing. As you can see below, it fares well in benchmark tests, particularly graphics.
It's fair to say that the iPad won't have the same longevity as the Pro models, so may well struggle to run new apps in a few years. But the device is so much cheaper that you could simply buy a new model once it does and still have spent a similar amount of money.
As mentioned earlier, the storage options are simply 32- or 128GB. It's a shame there's not a 256GB option but the larger capacity should be enough for most people. Be wary of the entry-level storage which could well fill up quickly with apps and media. School users will be offered 200GB of iCloud storage for free.
Connectivity and audio
So this isn't exactly the most exciting area to talk about but there are things you should know.
As mentioned earlier, the iPad has speaker grilles either side of the familiar Lightning port.
So the iPad doesn’t have four speakers like the Pro models, and while we'd like the speakers on either side of the device for stereo separation we understand it's difficult to make this look nice and the speakers sound pretty good.
The iPad has Bluetooth 4.2, dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO and, as mentioned earlier, a headphone jack.
It's worth noting, if you missed it earlier, that you don't get the Smart Connector so a third-party keyboard is necessary if that's something you want.
Now we don't condone tablet photography but they can come in handy at time. The rear camera might be useful to post pictures of something you want to sell, for example, and the 8Mp camera will do a reasonable job.
You can't expect it to be taking amazing landscape and portrait photos, though they won't be horrible if the conditions are good. You'll also find it comes in handy when using AR apps.
On an iPad, the front camera is arguably far more useful, since you'll use it for video chats. Although it's only 1.2Mp, the FaceTime HD camera doesn't provide the crispest image but it does the job just fine.
Apple continues to make a broad statement about battery life that applies to all iPad models. You'll get up to 10 hours of surﬁng the web, watching video or listening to music over Wi-Fi.
In our GeekBench 4 battery test, the iPad managed six hours and one minute with an efficiency score of 3,610. It's a relatively new test so we can't compare to older iPads but we'd expect it to be longer since a lot phones post better results.
Luckily, we've not experienced any issues with battery life and you can expect the tablet to last a good few days of occasional usage.
Software and apps
There's rarely much to say when it comes to software, since iOS is so well known and used. It suits being used on a tablet very well, arguably better than Android but that's not a debate we want to have here – you likely know which you prefer.
The iPad for 2018 comes pre-loaded with iOS 11.3 so you get all the latest features and tweaks. Not all of which you might like if you've been using the interface for a while. For example, we find the 'suggestions & recent apps' section of the Dock is particularly annoying but you can at least switch it off.
You're likely to find a large amount of great apps that work really well on the iPad – from Netflix to your bank's app. There are also plenty of great apps that take advantage of the Apple Pencil. We like Millie Marotta's Colouring Adventures.
The Pencil is also useful for productivity and Apple has updated its iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) with some nifty new features that use the stylus. You can make notes and use the Pencil to make edits which is great.
Furthermore, we like Smart Annotations (currently in beta) so your additions to a piece of work are anchored to the text or image you've made notes on. As you work on the file, whether you're adding more text or removing an image, the annotations move around so they still make sense.
Apple iPad 9.7in (2018): Specs
- A10 Fusion chip with 64bit architecture
- Embedded M10 coprocessor
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB or 128GB storage (plus 200GB iCloud storage offer for schools)
- 9.7in screen (2048 x 1536 at 264ppi)
- 8Mp rear-facing camera, f/2.4, Live Photos, no flash, no OIS, Panorama mode up to 43Mp, 1080p HD video, slo-mo video at 720p and 120 fps
- 1.2Mp front-facing camera, Live Photos, Retina Flash, 720p HD video
- Battery life up to 10 hours (video, music or web browsing via Wi-Fi) or 9 hours (web browsing over cellular)
- Stereo speakers
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Touch ID
- Digital compass
- 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm
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