“The iPad with iPadOS is a great 2-in-1 at a great price.”
- Good performance
- iPadOS greatly improves productivity
- Solid battery life
- Large screen
- 100% recycled aluminum enclosure
- Same design, same 32GB base storage
- Smart Keyboard is expensive
There are two changes of note in the latest Apple iPad: a bigger screen and a Smart Connector, so you can connect it to Apple’s Smart Keyboard.
These changes aren’t what make it retain its status as the de facto tablet most people should buy, however. That’s accomplished by iPadOS, a beautiful and intuitive operating system that helps make the 7th-generation iPad not only a fantastic tablet, but also a strong productivity machine that won’t break the budget.
The iPad looks, well, like an iPad. Its look isn’t far off the original 2011 model. I get it. This is Apple’s most affordable slate, and it’s still plenty functional — but slimming down the bezels around the screen even a little would have helped make it look more contemporary. Look at what Samsung did with its $400 Galaxy Tab S5e — it looks beautiful and it’s affordable.
Apple has a modern and gorgeous tablet, called the 2018 iPad Pro, but you have to shell out several hundred dollars for it. The company should have started to tweak the design for the rest of its tablets, and that extends not just to the latest 10.2-inch iPad, but also to the 2019 iPad Mini and iPad Air.
None of this means the iPad feels cheap. It doesn’t, even with its 100% recycled aluminum enclosure. It has a nice, substantial weight and feels like it costs more than $330.
Speaking of the iPad Air, the 10.2-inch iPad has almost the same body as it. Take a look at the dimensions and you’ll see the length and width are exactly the same, it’s just the thickness and weight that’s a bit different with the Air rightfully being a little lighter and thinner. Despite using the same body, Apple decided to keep the bezels thicker around the sides of the iPad. Shame.
You still get Touch ID rather than Face ID, which is only available on the 2018 iPad Pro. It wouldn’t have made sense to add it to this iPad considering the latest iPad Air and iPad Mini don’t have it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it. After using Face ID on Apple’s latest phones and the iPad Pro, putting my thumb to the screen to unlock Touch ID feels slower than simply looking at the tablet to unlock it.
While using the Smart Connector might be more elegant, I think Apple’s keyboard is too expensive at $159.
The most notable addition is support for the Smart Connector, which rests at the left edge of the tablet when holding it in portrait orientation. Yep, you can connect it to Apple’s Smart Keyboard — the same one used for the iPad Air (it’s sold separately).
While using the Smart Connector might be more elegant, I think Apple’s keyboard is too expensive at $159; I’m not the biggest fan of the keys, and it offers just one angle to position the iPad, which can feel restricting when using the iPad and Smart Keyboard on your lap or some other uneven surface. Oh, and there are more affordable third-party options.
The other big change is an increase in screen size, from 9.7 inches on the predecessor to 10.2 inches. It sounds like a minor bump, and it is. You won’t see that much of a difference switching between last year’s iPad to this year’s model. Still, I appreciate a larger screen for multitasking.
It’s an LCD panel with 2,160 x 1,620 resolution, slightly more than the 2018 iPad. Because of the bump in screen size, however, the pixel density is the same at 264 pixels-per-inch. It looks sharp, the screen is colorful, and it’s very bright. Using it outdoors at a cafe posed no problem for the iPad, which has a max brightness of 500 nits. I even watched a few episodes of Dark on Netflix. I could easily follow the show despite the fact it’s, well, dark.
What about audio? You’ll find stereo speakers at the bottom near the charging port. Bass is weak, and music doesn’t get loud enough to reasonably fill a large room. It’s not as impressive as the quad-speaker setup on the iPad Pro but it’s more than adequate for movies.
Unlike the iPad Pro, there’s a headphone jack, which I’d consider a “pro” feature. I never had to hunt for a 3.5mm to Lightning jack, as I have with the iPad Pro when my Bluetooth earbuds are out of juice.
Strangely, the iPad didn’t get a bump in performance. It’s powered by the A10 Fusion, the same processor that’s in last year’s iPad, and the chip that’s in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus from 2016. As an iFixit teardown revealed, Apple bumped the RAM from 2GB last year to 3GB.
Is the chipset still dated? Yes. Does that matter? No. There hasn’t been a moment where I felt the iPad could have used a little more power. I managed to multitask with several apps open without a hitch and moving throughout iPadOS feels fluid. Is it as buttery smooth as the iPad Pro? There is a noticeable difference in power between the two, but I never felt hampered by the chip in the iPad.
Here are a few benchmark scores:
- AnTuTu 3DBench: 211,454
- Geekbench 5 CPU: 760 single-core; 1,425 multi-core
These scores are better than the results from Samsung’s flagship tablet from 2018, the Galaxy Tab S4, which scored 196,419 on AnTuTu. It’s even better than Samsung’s affordable slate announced earlier this year, the Galaxy Tab S5e, which scored 152,646 (and is still more expensive).
Apple Arcade games like Towaga: Among Shadows and Where Cards Fall ran without issues, and apps like Adobe Lightroom gave me no trouble as I used the Apple Pencil to make some edits to photos. Most people will be satisfied with the performance here.
The biggest disappointment is the 32GB of storage in the base model. Most phones in the $300 price range, like the Nokia 7.2, Galaxy A50, Moto G7, come with 64GB, and that should be the base storage option with the iPad. Make sure you opt for the 128GB model instead.
You can have well-designed hardware and powerful internal components, but if the software is lacking, the entire experience can be ruined. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 is a great example. I liked it, but I’d only recommend it for people looking for a laptop experience powered by Android. The $330 iPad will be more than sufficient for most people looking for a 2-in-1 laptop. That’s thanks to iPadOS, the new spin-off operating system based on iOS 13.
iPads previously ran a slightly altered version of iOS. The new iPadOS isn’t radically new, but we can expect further distinctions for the tablet interface going forward. The biggest improvements in iPadOS include the ability to use multiple apps in the Slide Over menu, a revamped home screen layout that includes the Today View widgets, desktop-grade Safari, and multi-window apps.
Apple’s tablets have long had support for multi-window apps through Split View, but now you can use Split View on the same app. Have two Google Docs you want to open side-by-side? No problem. Want to look at two pages in Safari? You can have two tabs open in Split View. Maybe you want to respond to an email while referencing another older email? No problem.
I also love Slide Over. It lives on the right side of the iPad in landscape view, and you can pull out these iPhone-like apps at any moment with a swipe to the left from the edge. I largely use it for messaging apps, but there’s no limit to how many apps you can have in this view, making it powerful for multitasking.
Using Slide Over and Split View is intuitive, but the gestures, fluidity of the animations, and ease of use make it fun. It doesn’t feel like multitasking on the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which is a little clunky and a bit of a chore. Anything that can be dragged in iPadOS can be put into its own window, and that’s powerful.
What helps iPadOS feel like a desktop operating system is Safari, which now pulls the desktop versions of websites rather than the mobile view (you could force it before, but now it pulls desktop view by default). I’ve easily been able to work in WordPress, the content management system Digital Trends uses, and I wrote this review on the iPad.
I’ve been using the iPad as my main laptop for the past week and a half, and I haven’t felt I’ve needed more. All the services and apps I use are available through the App Store. Apple easily has the most tablet-optimized apps compared to Windows and Android. I’ve been tethering my phone’s data to it so I can use it on the go, but there’s a cellular model available if you want to pay a monthly fee for connectivity.
My biggest gripe, as I mentioned earlier, is the Smart Keyboard, which doesn’t make it the most comfortable laptop replacement. I love Samsung’s keyboard on the new Galaxy Tab S6, and Apple’s option falls short. I’d say go with a third-party keyboard.
Apple introduced Pencil support on last year’s iPad, and it’s improved here. You can’t use the better second-generation Apple Pencil, so you’re stuck with the first-gen. But it does offer reduced latency — from 20 milliseconds to just 9 milliseconds. I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference in my day-to-day use, or when drawing with the Pencil, but it remains an excellent and responsive tool.
It’s dumb that there’s no way to store it. I end up with the Pencil sitting at the bottom of my backpack. How has this not been solved yet? Oh, right, it has — you just have to shell out for the iPad Pro to get the improved Apple Pencil that magnetically attaches to the tablet and wirelessly charges.
There’s an 8-megapixel camera on the rear that takes decent photos during the day and poor photos at night. Seriously, just use your smartphone to snap pics. I wish Apple would improve the front camera, which I use a lot more on tablets, yet only has a 1.2-megapixel camera. A Zoom video call I did for a meeting had a lot of grain and wasn’t the best quality.
The iPad managed to last three days of intermittent use, where I used the tablet for three to four hours per day writing, browsing social media and the web, and for playing a few games. If you use it continually as your primary device, it should get you through a full workday without issue, but likely not much more.
In our standard YouTube video playback test, playing a 1,080p video with the brightness set to the max, the iPad lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes. For reference, the Galaxy Tab S6 lasted 11 hours in this test. Still, it’s not a great measure of real-world usage, and the tablet’s battery life shouldn’t pose many problems for most people.
While Apple has improved charging speeds on its latest iPhone 11 Pro range by including a fast charger in the box, that’s not the case here. It took me more than three hours to get the iPad from 20% to 91%, and that’s too long. It’s worse when I’m in a pinch and need as much juice as I can get in a short amount of time, as it simply charges slowly. Bummer.
The iPad is $330 for the 32GB and Wi-Fi model. There’s a 128GB option available, and it’s the better option to go for if you don’t plan on purchasing iCloud storage. If you want constant connectivity without having to tether from your phone, you can also buy the Wi-Fi and Cellular model for $459, but remember you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for data.
Apple offers a standard limited warranty that protects the tablet from manufacturer defects one year from the date of purchase. If you want extra protection, you can pay $3.49 a month or $69 a year for AppleCare+, which nets you two incidents of accidental damage coverage and additional tech support for 2 years.
The iPad is an excellent option as an affordable tablet or even entry-level 2-in-1. It’s powerful, has a fantastic operating system, and serves solid battery life. Go for a third-party keyboard instead of Apple’s expensive Smart Keyboard, though.
Is there a better alternative?
At $330? No. This is the best tablet you can buy if your budget is limited. If you really must use an Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab S5e is the next alternative at $400 (though it can be found for less now). You can even buy the 6th-generation 2018 iPad from another retailer, update it to iPadOS, find a third-party keyboard case, and your experience won’t differ too much from the latest version. If you’re also struggling between the 2020 iPad vs. the 2019 iPad, we’ve done a head-to-head comparison of the two since they are so similar.
How long will it last?
iPads have a long shelf life because Apple keeps them up-to-date. Even the iPad Air 2 from 2014 is capable of updating to iPadOS. Expect to hold onto this iPad for three to four years, if not more. No iPad has an IP rating for dust- and water-resistance, so make sure you keep it clear from pools or out of the rain.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re in the market for a new tablet and don’t want to spend too much, buy the iPad.
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