iPad 9.7-inch 2018 seems like the return of my favorite model, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro from 2016. But it’s not exactly the same: there are some small but key differences. First, there’s no side Smart Connector. iPad Pros benefit from that side port, which works with keyboards and a few docks. The big advantage is that Smart Connector accessories don’t need connect via Bluetooth. It’s not a huge problem to lose it, since Apple never did much with it, and more affordable, good Bluetooth keyboard cases are everywhere.
The iPad 9.7-inch’s display and speakers are the same as last year’s entry-level iPad. That means it’s not as good as the current iPad Pro, which has louder quad speakers and a larger 10.5-inch screen, with a faster 120Hz refresh rate TrueMotion display. This iPad also lacks TrueTone, the color tone-adjusting tech that’s in iPad Pros and last year’s iPhones, and doesn’t have as wide a color gamut, if you’re a display nut.
The speakers ended up bothering me more than I thought: maybe I’m spoiled by the Pro’s really good quad speakers for TV and movie viewing. The one-sided speakers on this iPad make it sound like one speaker’s gone out. But guess what? You can always wear headphones. In vertical portrait mode, it’s less noticeable.
Plus, the display is not as closely laminated to the glass as on newer iPad models. It’s not terrible, but if you’re using the Pencil to draw, the extra gap creates some distance and makes the writing feel slightly less immediate. But… to everyday eyes, this display still looks really good.
Also keep in mind that the step-up iPad Pros have better Pencil responsiveness, too. I think it’s good enough on this iPad for just about anyone, but graphics pros should weigh that up. It didn’t bother me, though.
The cameras are the same as the 2017 entry-level iPad, and while the 8-megapixel stills and 1080p video recording look far better than what most laptops and tablets can produce, it’s several steps behind what the newest iPhones or iPad Pros can handle. And you can’t shoot in 4K (but, oddly, you could edit 4K video if you somehow imported it, which I haven’t tried). I still think this iPad’s camera quality, for a tablet, ends up impressing.
The case design is identical to last year’s model. So while it needs to have the space for the Touch ID home button, the larger bezels on the top and bottom are starting to feel old. But you could use last year’s iPad 9.7 cases and accessories with this, which is a plus.
Using it back and forth with a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, I prefer the Pro: its faster display, smoother scrolling, more tuned colors, better speakers, and better screen-to-body ratio is really nice, and I like using Smart Connector keyboard covers to type with. But is it spend-up-to-buy nice? I think, unless you’re a professional who has a use case in mind, it’s difficult to justify the spending what’s effectively twice the price.
Speed and Pencil iPad 9.7-inch
Last year’s $329 model was pretty great at being a basic tablet with solid performance. Yes, it was essentially newer processors stuck into the body of an older iPad Air ($254.99 at Amazon.com), but it did its job well, and iPads haven’t changed much in design over the years, so it’s hard to even tell the difference.
The 2018 9.7-inch model has the same build, but improves all its internals significantly. A newer A10 processor is significantly faster, beating out every iPhone ($799.99 at Cricket Wireless) and iPad in benchmarks, except last year’s iPad Pros and the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X. (See the performance comparison chart at the end of this article.) For a $329 Apple device, that’s pretty great.
As I said above, this iPad now works with the Pencil stylus, too, which is great news for anyone thinking of doing creative work. Much like Microsoft’s Surface Pen, the Pencil stylus is pressure-sensitive and is helpful in art apps. Apple has also knitted Pencil support into its iWork suite of apps, including Pages, as well as the built-in Notes app. Instant annotations of PDFs and photos are easy, and its responsiveness is great. But you don’t need the Pencil: Your finger will work just fine for basic mark-up. Most everyday iPad owners can skip the expense, or opt to add it later.
After a couple of weeks with the iPad, it’s proven to be an easy to-go option. Games run great, apps load fast, and battery life has been surprisingly good, even by iPad standards. It’s extremely functional. This iPad has the first-generation Touch ID button — not the second-gen one found in newer iPhones and the iPad Pro — but it worked just fine. On an iPad, however, I always seem to forget where the home button is as I spin it around to different orientations.
LTE speeds on the iPad are also improved, to 300Mbps. I don’t use LTE on iPads (I tether with my phone), but you might.
Apple claims the same 10 hours of life for all current iPads when streaming and browsing the web. We found it to be even better than that: it lasted an average of 12 hours, 44 minutes in three video streaming playback tests, the same as last year’s 9.7-inch 2017 iPad. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro does even better. But it’s significantly better than the 2017 Microsoft Surface Pro and Samsung Chromebook Pro.
“But wait,” you’re saying. “That’s it? Just a better processor and the option to use the Pencil? Those are the only changes from last year’s model?” That’s correct, and that’s why I wouldn’t recommend anybody with the otherwise excellent 2017 iPad run out and upgrade to this model unless you’re really in love the idea of a stylus. But here’s the thing: Most of you don’t have that nearly identical 2017 iPad. You have a comparatively ancient iPad 2 ($199.99 at Best Buy) or iPad Air that’s just chugging along.
A superior tablet at a great price iPad 9.7-inch
Apple is expecting this iPad to be the best-selling tablet for everyone. And it probably will be. If you’ve been waiting for a tablet, didn’t want to spend too much and have been coveting an iPad, this is basically an iPad Pro at a junior price. It’s a great buy.
But it’s still not a true full computer replacement, for me. And I doubt whether it’ll be the answer for cash-strapped schools that might be looking for something more affordable, or something that could be more like a standard laptop computer. Bargain hunters outside of a school environment should still check out the Amazon Fire HD 10, which delivers a good set of tablet basics — web browser, video viewing and plenty of apps and games — at half the price.
Pencil iPad 9.7-inch
Apple’s Pencil is probably the iPad’s most exciting feature of the last few years. Its ability to draw on angles and also be pressure-sensitive results in excellent digital sketching. Apple is slowly working in support in its core apps, too. The Pencil’s also fast to recharge via Lightning. It’s expensive, though: At $99, £89 or AU$145, it’s nearly a third of the cost of the iPad. (Students and educators get a mere $10 discount in the US.)
And nothing has changed about the Pencil’s design, which is hardly kid-friendly: the rear cap covering the Lightning plug is way too easy to lose. The stylus tip can detach and get lost, too. And the Pencil still rolls across tables and has no way to clip onto the iPad. Unless you have a special case with a Pencil holder, you’ll have to stick it in your ear.