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9.7-inch Apple iPad (2017) review

At $330, Apple's new iPad just made every Android tablet irrelevant

apple ipad 9.7 2017
9.7-inch Apple iPad (2017)
MSRP $459.00
“We call Apple’s new iPad the “everyman’s tablet” because we think everyone should have one.”
  • Excellent performance
  • Long battery life
  • Vibrant, large display
  • Affordable
  • Thin and light
  • Single, bottom-firing speaker
  • Stale design

Until recently, Apple’s iPad lineup consisted of the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pro. If that was too confusing for customers to remember, Apple has made it a little easier by replacing the iPad Air 2 with the new iPad. Now you get a choice of the mini, the regular, and the pro models.

The new iPad is the 5th generation in the lineup, and it’s not a dazzling product. It’s the culmination of iPads before it, figuratively and literally — an iFixit teardown found the device to heavily borrow and recycle design elements and components from the iPad Air series.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad — in fact, it’s why we think the new iPad is the best all-around tablet, especially with its killer $330 price tag. This is the everyman’s tablet — it’s got great battery life, a solid processor, plenty of memory, gets regular updates, and has access to a mind-numbing library of tablet-optimized apps. There may be cheaper Android alternatives, but where Android falls short, the new iPad excels.

Familiar design, bright display

Apple hardly implements major design changes over the years; even less so in its iPad lineup than any other product. The new iPad … well, it looks like an iPad. The design is a little stale, but it works. It has the same dimensions as the iPad Air 2, but it’s a little thicker at 7.5mm (which is still really thin), and a tad heavier at 1.03 pounds.

The iconic, shiny Apple logo sits in the middle of the back, with the flush camera on the top left, and models with cellular connectivity have a black or white bar at the top on the rear. On the front, Apple has kept the physical button rather than the force-sensitive one on the iPhone 7. The screen is surrounded by large bezels; there’s a front-facing camera at the top; volume buttons sit on the right edge, and a power button on the top edge. The buttons are click-y and responsive.

A Lightning port sits at the bottom edge, and you’ll find the only two speaker ports surrounding it as opposed to the extra two on the top edge of the iPad Pro models. The speakers produce loud audio that’s great for watching movies or listening to music, but they’re obviously not as good as the sound quality on the Pro models, which can get even louder and provide a better stereo experience. The bass is a little tough to hear, but you’ll still find far better audio quality here than most tablets in the price range.

At $330, this is the everyman’s tablet.

The 9.7-inch display makes the new iPad ideal for watching videos. It doesn’t have the anti-reflective display like on the iPad Air 2, but the screen is brighter — 25 percent brighter to be exact — and it’s visible enough in direct sunlight. Even though it shares the same 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution as the iPad Pro, don’t expect the same quality. The iPad Pro has a wide-color display that offers more realistic colors, but it also costs nearly double the price. It’s great for creatives and artists who rely on color accuracy, but if you’re looking to use the new iPad for more casual purposes such as reading, watching movies, and browsing the web, then you won’t be disappointed.

While it’s not as thin as the iPad Air 2, the new iPad is thin and hardly adds any noticeable weight when carrying it around in a bag. The build quality here is great, though the screen tends to pick up fingerprints and dust rather easily.

Snappy performance with iOS 10

The new iPad features Apple’s A9 processor, the same powering the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, with an embedded M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM. The result? The company’s operating system, iOS 10, consistently runs smooth and fast — we encountered hardly any performance hiccups in our testing, from watching YouTube videos, browsing social media and the web, to playing intensive games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Unkilled.

You have the option between 32GB or 128GB — say goodbye to the old 16GB storage standard — but there are no 3D Touch features you’ll find on your iPhone. The home button, however, doubles as the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and is, as always, a quick way to unlock the device.

apple ipad 9.7 2017
Julian Chokkatuu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkatuu/Digital Trends

But iOS 10 is the standout here. iPads are the best tablets you can buy because of the wide range of tablet-optimized apps that make use of the screen real-estate — it’s a point where Android seriously lags.

Multitasking gestures, such as using four fingers to swipe between your most recent apps, make it easy to move through different apps, but not as well as on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (I may just have large hands). Features such as Split View and Slide Over allow for a quick way to deal with other tasks while focusing on something else. We noticed the occasional stutter when using Split View for some time, so don’t expect the same level of performance as the Pro models. Still, we managed to do some light work such as sending emails, writing on Google Docs, and browsing the web without running into any issues.

iOS 10 runs smooth and fast — we encountered hardly any performance hiccups in our testing.

The cameras seem to be similar to the setup on the iPad Air 2 — an 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture, and a 1.2-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture. Both are snappy with almost no shutter lag, and those of you that use tablets to take photos will be happy to hear that the rear camera does a great job of offering good quality and detail. Your iPhone will still be the better choice, though.

The front-facing camera is grainy and has poor image quality due to the low 1.2-megapixel count. Still, using Facetime in 720p, it does the job.

Long battery life

With a bigger 8,610mAh battery than the Air 2 (which explains the thickness), this iPad has refused to die on us. We have used it for more than a week in Wi-Fi-only mode, with some use every day, and it only recently dipped under 40 percent.

Keep in mind that with LTE connectivity, expect to lose battery life more quickly.

Warranty information

Apple’s iPads come with a standard limited warranty that offers up to 90 days of support and one year of hardware repair. The Genius Bar at every Apple Store is also there to help in case you have any issues. You can purchase AppleCare+ as well, as it will extend your warranty an extra year for $100, while also adding coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage.

Our Take

What would have made the new iPad a killer deal is support for Apple Pencil, which sadly it does not have. You can get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro if you spend $270 more, which offers quad speakers, a better display, Apple Pencil support, Smart Keyboard support, a better camera, and more. For $330, though, you’re still getting an iPad that can perform ordinary tasks incredibly well.

This is the everyman’s tablet. The tablet you can use to consume media and browse the web, and the tablet you can use to perform light to moderately-heavy work tasks while expecting smooth performance.

While it’s not as wallet-friendly as some Android tablets, it’s the cheapest iPad you can buy from Apple.

Are there better alternatives?

There are some decent Android options at this price point, such as the Amazon Fire HD 8, Nvidia Shield K1, or the Asus ZenPad 3S 10, but they won’t offer the best array of tablet-optimized apps as the new iPad.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any good Android tablets — the Shield K1, Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and the Google Pixel C say otherwise, but the latter two cost $500 or more.

How long will it last?

You can expect the new iPad to have a much longer shelf life than the competition, partly because Apple offers instant security and version updates. Unlike most Android devices, you can also expect support for longer than two years.

Expect the new iPad to last for approximately three to four years.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, the iPad is a great, affordable tool to have around for streaming or watching movies and TV shows; it offers solid multitasking capabilities if you’re feeling productive; and it’s light enough to throw in your backpack and use on your commute. For a price tag of $330, it’s a steal.

Editors' Recommendations

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
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