Apple iPad (2017) review: It isn’t the iPad Air 3, but it’s still a great tablet
Here’s an interesting fact for you: if you take the iPad mini out of the equation, Apple’s sales of larger iPads actually rose last quarter. The release of the iPad Pro 9.7 coupled with the enduring popularity of the iPad Air 2 meant that, far from being in decline, the iPad was on the up.
The challenge for Apple is that the iPads it has released in the past have been almost too good. According to analyst Neil Cybart, there are around 300 million iPads currently in use (around double the number of Macs). But around 100 million of them are either older 9.7in models from the iPad 2 to 4 or iPad minis. Customers seem to keep hold of their iPads for a long, long time.
The company is betting that its latest low-cost iPad, which drops the “Air” bit, will persuade quite a few of those people that it’s time to upgrade. It’s certainly priced to tempt, with the 32GB Wi-Fi-only model costing only £339. Against a background of a pound that’s sinking and an industry that’s increasing prices across the board, that’s pretty remarkable.
Apple iPad (2017) review: Performance and features
Despite this low price, Apple hasn’t simply taken an existing model and made it cheaper. In fact, this is a significant upgrade over the model it replaces – the iPad Air 2 – in almost every way.
First of all, there’s the processor, which is an A9, as featured in the iPhone 6s. Note that this isn’t an A9X, which powers the iPad Pro, something that’s reflected in our benchmark results for graphics performance. However, what it is is fast: in fact, other than the two iPad Pros, this is easily the fastest iPad Apple has ever made. And did I mention you can get it for £339?
This use of the A9 rather than A9X is an example of the well-chosen compromises that Apple has made to drive down the price. A second example is the screen. Now, this is in every way a gorgeous screen. The colours are vivid, and it’s sharp thanks to its 2,048 x 1,563 resolution (which equates to 264ppi, comfortably in the “Retina” category).
But there’s a noticeable air gap between the surface of the screen and the LCD beneath it. I say “noticeable” – in all likelihood, you’ll only notice it if you’ve been a user of the even-better screen on the iPad Pro series and iPad Air 2. The new iPad also lacks the Pro’s exceptionally good anti-reflective coating, but again you’ll probably only notice this if you have got used to a Pro. And, of course, there’s no True Tone automatic colour adjustment.
There’s also no support for the Apple Pencil, and no Smart Connector so you can’t use compatible keyboards (although you can, of course, use Bluetooth ones if you wish). A Pro, this is not.
Better news comes with the storage configurations: there’s no 16GB model, which I would have thought would be a compromise Apple was willing to make at this price point. Instead, you can get 32GB (which is perfectly acceptable) or 128GB. There’s no 256GB model, but there are options for a 4G cellular model, so you can use your iPad everywhere if you wish.
The iPad is a little thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2 it replaces. However, it’s not thick or heavy: it’s just that the iPad Air 2 was really thin and light. It’s unlikely you’ll notice, even if you’re replacing an Air 2.
Apple iPad (2017) review: Touch ID and cameras
If you wanted to understand just how much importance Apple places on Touch ID, look no further than this iPad. It would have been easy for the company to drop Touch ID support. After all, you’re paying less than ever and fingerprint sensors aren’t free of charge. But it hasn’t and that’s a very good thing.
Cameras are effectively the same as on the iPad Air 2, with an 8-megapixel “iSight” camera with an aperture of f/2.4 on the back and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, which you’ll only ever want to use for FaceTime.
You can shoot 1080p video with the rear-facing camera at 30fps, which is reasonable enough, although if you’ve used the iPad Pro 9.7 camera, you’ll be disappointed: images produced by the new iPad are noticeably grainier and noisier. However, if you’re updating from something old – which is the market for this model – you’ll think it’s amazing.
Apple iPad (2017) review: Battery life
One area where Apple has not compromised, though, is the battery. The new iPad has the best battery life we’ve seen on any recent Apple tablet, and even on Android you won’t find anything better.
Apple quotes the iPad as having ten-hour battery life, as it does with almost every model. However, our standard battery test delivered 14hrs 47mins of performance, which, compared to 8hrs 56mins on the 9.7in iPad Pro, 9hrs 32mins on the iPad Air 2 and 12hrs 9mins on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, is fabulous. This is more than “goes all day”; this is “take it away for a weekend and you might not have to charge it” territory.
Apple iPad (2017) review: Conclusions
I’ve focused a lot in this review on what the new Apple iPad (2017) doesn’t have and, although the existence of the iPad Pro series makes that inevitable, it isn’t a particularly fair way to view it.
What Apple has managed to do is make an exceptionally good tablet at a price that’s only a little bit more than comparable Android devices. Yes, you could spend £50 less and get something from Samsung, or Huawei, or a dozen other tablet makers. Yes, you could spend quite a bit less and get a 7in or 8in Android tablet.
But you wouldn’t be getting an iPad, which means you wouldn’t be getting access to the biggest and best tablet software library there is. You wouldn’t be getting a camera this good, fantastic performance and battery life that will make you weep with happiness.
As an iPad Pro user, I was fully expecting to be disappointed by this model. Yes, there are some obvious compromises, but you’re getting an iPad that’s only bettered by the much more expensive Pro series, at a price Apple has never reached before.
I’m left seriously consider whether I could get one of these as a second iPad, leaving my 12.9in Pro as my workhorse machine. And if I’m left thinking that, I suspect a lot of people who have older iPads or even those who felt like they had to move to Android because of price will feel the same way. The new iPad (2017) is a compromise – but it’s a brilliant one.