By Jason Snell
April 6, 2018 11:05 AM PT
iPad 2018 review: Practicality over luxury
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
The fact of our society is that nice things cost money and nicer things cost more money. What you buy depends on your means, but also your priorities. At $329, the new sixth-generation iPad doesn’t have a bunch of the features of the more expensive iPad Pro, but if those features aren’t your priorities, you can spend half what you would on an iPad Pro and get an iPad that’s faster than the 2016 iPad Pro.
For years I’ve driven a Honda Civic. It’s about as far from a luxury car as you can get. The new iPad is a little like that car: Not the fanciest thing you can buy, but it’ll provide you with a solid, reliable tool to get you where you need to go. There’s not a thing wrong with that.
Good things come to those who wait
Before detailing all the ways that the iPad is not like the iPad Pro, it’s worth listing what the iPad is: It’s a 9.7-inch display, otherwise known as the “classic” size of an iPad—only the iPad mini and iPad Pro models diverge. It’s thin and light, though not quite as much as either the iPad Air 2 or the iPad Pro.
As someone who’s been using a 12.9-inch iPad Pro as my main iPad since late 2015, I’ve become a big supporter of enormous iOS device screens, even at the expense of weight and ungainliness. But after spending a full workday writing articles on a 9.7-inch iPad, I’m reminded of the advantages of the smaller iPad.
Yes, multitasking is a lot less comfortable, there’s less room for a Picture in Picture video, and you can’t use other apps while activating a Slide Over window (due to a lack of RAM). But in exchange, you get a device that’s just so much smaller and lighter. And to be honest, most of the time I’m not working in Split View, I’m working in a single app—and on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, that extra screen space is frequently wasted.
Consider, also, that for $329 today you can buy an iPad that’s got more processing power than the $599 9.7-inch iPad Pro Apple released in April 2016. So by waiting two years, you’re getting almost half off the price. No, the products aren’t identical—there were some nice features in that iPad Pro that this current iPad doesn’t offer—but a quick look at raw speed tests will show you just how strong the iPad’s A10 Fusion processor is:
This new iPad is faster than that first-wave iPad Pro on GeekBench 4’s CPU tests, though it lags behind the old iPad Pro’s A9X processor on graphics tests. (Yes, the current-generation iPad Pros are faster on all fronts. They’re also much more expensive, and I’d wager that most iPad users aren’t left waiting in their apps because of slow processor speeds. There’s headroom to give there.)
When I bought my first Honda Civic, I sprung for a single optional feature: not the power windows (kids, we used to have to crank car windows by hand!), not an automatic transmission, but air conditioning. Similarly, the iPad comes with one fancy frill that’s suddenly on its way to becoming a standard item everyone takes for granted: support for the Apple Pencil.
One of the strengths of the iPad product line is its flexibility when it comes to user input. You can tap on screen, dictate by voice, or connect a keyboard and type away. The Apple Pencil adds an additional dimension, whether you’re taking notes or drawing, and it’s a big addition to the iPad—not just for educational uses, but in general. My son loves to draw and took to the Apple Pencil and Linea Sketch immediately, despite having never used an iPad with Apple Pencil support before.
Are these luxury items?
If you look at the speed of the current iPad Pro models and are tempted by them—and keep in mind, those are the 2017 versions, so there are undoubtedly new and even whizzier versions of the iPad Pro in the works—then perhaps the new iPad isn’t for you. The iPad Pros do provide a lot of extra features for their increased price tag. (My Honda Civic doesn’t have flashy styling, leather seats, auto-parking, or smart cruise control, and I had to install a stereo with Bluetooth myself.)
So here’s what you don’t get in the iPad, keeping in mind that unlike my Civic, you can’t fix any of these by buying parts after the fact:
Display features. The screens on the current iPad Pro models are better, across the board. In addition to more screen real estate and the corresponding boost in the number of pixels on the screen, they’re laminated (so the pixels are closer to the glass). The iPad Pro screens support the wider P3 color gamut, are brighter, offer True Tone to match the color of the light around you, and have an antireflective coating the reduce glare. They also support ProMotion, an increased refresh rate that makes everything scroll more smoothly.
Upgraded cameras and a bump. The iPad’s camera is definitely a step down from those in the iPad Pro, with fewer megapixels, no optical image stabilization, no flash, no 4K video support… and no corresponding camera bump, which some people will consider a fact in the iPad’s favor. The FaceTime camera is also much better, with a 7-megapixel camera on the iPad Pro compared to a 1.2 megapixel version on the iPad. If you care about taking pictures with your iPad, the iPad Pro is a better device, without question.
Speakers. The iPad Pro has four speakers, two on each side, so you can hear true stereo sound when you’re holding the iPad in landscape orientation. It’s a nice audio upgrade.
Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard. Apple introduced the Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard with the iPad Pro, and it’s a feature that hasn’t made the move to the new iPad. On one level, this is a bit of a bummer—the Smart Keyboard would be excellent with the iPad, as would the fantastic 9.7-inch Logitech Create Keyboard. (If typing matters a lot to you and you’re considering the iPad, you might want to see if you can find a used or refurbished 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the Logitech Create keyboard. It’s a great combination.) That said, Bluetooth keyboards and cases abound, and they work fine.
I know a bunch of people who buy luxury cars. They do it because they appreciate the features those cars offer, or because it’s worth it to them to be in the segment of the car market that gets exciting new features before the rest of the world. Or maybe they do it because it’s a part of their identity to drive expensive cars.1 I know people who lease Teslas that cost well more than double the price of the most expensive car I’ve ever bought2… while my family recently entered the exciting world of electric cars via a used Nissan Leaf3. What I’m saying is, everyone’s got different priorities, and that’s okay.
Are you the kind of person whose priorities include getting the cutting-edge features on products Apple has just rolled out? The iPad doesn’t have those. Those belong to the iPad Pro. If you really care about typing, or screen quality, or camera quality, the iPad is noticeably weaker than the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro provides an awful lot of nice features—for nearly twice as much money as the iPad.
It’s not so much about the iPad as about the person buying it. I’d wager that for most people, the $329 sixth-generation iPad is plenty of iPad at a pretty great price. For everyone who demands more, there are other options. As a fan of the iPad, I’m glad Apple has decided to offer both kinds, because not everyone needs to spend $600 or more on an iPad. For $329, you can get an iPad with the power and one of the banner features of the 2016 iPad Pro. That’s pretty great.
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