Apple iPad (2018) review: B+ for effort and execution

£319
Price when reviewed

If there has ever been a more low-key Apple event, I can’t remember it. But like it or not, education focus or no, Apple’s newest iPad is a major release for the company. That’s not least because it’s the first time it’s released a relatively low-cost, £319 iPad with productivity and students as its focus.

With Apple having fallen behind Microsoft and Google recently in the education space, thanks to the slow up-creep of prices for its MacBook and iPad Pro products, this could perhaps be seen as an inevitable development. 

READ NEXT: Apple unveils “most affordable” 9.7in iPad 

That’s not to say the launch isn’t a welcome one. In fact, this announcement has been a long time coming and the new iPad looks ready to usher in a new era of more affordable Apple products, which has to be a good thing. It’s just a shame Apple wasn’t more brave with the price. Knocking off a mere £20 won’t be seen by many as a major step forward.

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Apple iPad (2018) review: Specifications, release date and price

Here are the key specifications of Apple’s new iPad compared with the previous cheapest iPad, released this time last year and which the new iPad replaces.

iPad (2018)iPad (2017) iPad Pro 12.9 (2017)iPad Pro 10.5 (2017)iPad mini 4
Display9.7in9.7in12.9in10.5in7.9in
Resolution2,048 x 1,5362,048 x 1,5362,732 x 2,0482,224 x 1,668 2,048 x 1,536 
ProcessorA10 FusionA9A10XA10XA8
Rear camera8MP8MP12MP12MP8MP
Front camera1.2MP1.2MP7MP7MP1.2MP
Dimensions (WHD)169 x 240 x 7.5mm169 x 240 x 7.5mm220 x 305 x 6.9mm174 x 250 x 6.1mm135 x 203 x 6.1mm
Storage32/128GB32/128GB64/256/512GB64/256/512GB128GB
WeightWi-Fi: 469g; Cellular: 478g469g; 478g677g; 692g469g; 477g298g; 304g
StylusApple Pencil: £89; Logitech Crayon: $49N/AApple Pencil: £89Apple Pencil: £89N/A
ColoursSilver, grey, redesigned goldSilver, grey, goldSilver, grey, goldSilver, grey, gold, rose goldSilver, grey, gold
PriceFrom £319; discounted for schoolsDiscontinuedFrom £769From £619From £419

As the chart demonstrates, the new iPad (2018) comes in both Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi and cellular models, in both 32GB and 128GB. Prices are as follows: 

  • 32GB Wi-Fi only: £319 inc VAT
  • 32GB Wi-Fi and cellular: £449 inc VAT
  • 128GB Wi-Fi only: £409 inc VAT
  • 128GB Wi-Fi and cellular: £539 inc VAT 

In the US, the school discount on the new iPad drops the price to $299. In the UK, the way schools buy technology depends on their local authority, and is often via a third-party seller, so the discount varies. As a guide, a school would expect to pay between £306 and £309 per iPad under education scheme. Additionally, higher education students can get a discount across the entire Apple range of products on presentation of valid ID. 

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Apple iPad (2018) review: Apple Pencil support

What’s just as important as the new price, though, is that the new iPad is the first non-iPad Pro product to come with Apple Pencil support, with all the same tilt and pressure-sensitive features as the iPad Pro range.

 The Apple Pencil itself is now £10 cheaper than before (£89 down from £99), but it hasn’t had any upgrades. This means it feels and works in the same way as before. There were no discernible differences between using the Apple Pencil on the new, cheaper iPad and using one on the iPad Pro; it simply offers a new opportunity for Apple to convince people of the benefits of styluses and to shift more units. 

When used with education-focused apps, the Apple Pencil really does come into its own. More so than when I’ve used it to take notes in meetings, or when I’ve attempted to draw the most rudimentary pictures. The Smart Annotation feature on Pages is slick with the Apple Pencil and you soon forget you’re annotating a digital file on a touchscreen. Of course, you don’t get the same feedback (and satisfaction) as using a pen on paper, but it’s incredibly close. 

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Even more interestingly, with the launch of the new iPad, it’s now possible to purchase a third-party stylus for the iPad called the Logitech Crayon. Announced alongside the new tablet, the chunkier, more rugged Crayon will retail for $49, a big price reduction on the £89 Apple device.

There has been a shift in recent years of Apple partnering with very select third-party manufacturers for products it either offers already, or plans to offer in the future. When it announced the iPhone 8 range, and iPhone X, with wireless charging, Apple recommended wireless chargers from Belkin and mophie, despite the fact it’s working on its own AirPower charging mat. It similarly sells Logitech keyboards for iPad alongside it’s own Smart Keyboards.

The Crayon is focused very much on children, or even stylus noobs. It’s heavy, chunky and “rugged”, making it perfect for smaller hands to grip, and for it to be passed around a classroom. It leverages the tech inside the Apple Pencil, meaning it has the same latency and tilt features, but it isn’t Bluetooth-enabled. Instead, you plug it into an iPad using a Lightning connector. This means it can be shared easily with other students, yet, because it can’t use Bluetooth, it can’t offer the same level of pressure-sensitivity seen with the Apple Pencil which uses the Bluetooth connection with 3D Touch features.

There is something very elegant about the Apple Pencil, and its weight and design make it feel much more expensive than its £89 price tag. Understandably, the Crayon is the complete opposite. It’s not as enjoyable to use and its accuracy doesn’t feel as slick as the Apple Pencil, but for $49 it’s still a decent addition and serves it main purpose well. 

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Apple iPad (2018) review: Design and key features

Elsewhere, the new iPad is distinctly less interesting. In terms of its looks and physical attributes, it’s identical to the previous £339 iPad. We’d challenge even the biggest Apple fanboys to correctly identify last year’s iPad alongside this new model. It has the same measurements and weights as before, right down to the gram. Hardly surprisingly, it feels the same in the hand as well, with an excellent display and a highly responsive feel, operated either with your finger or the Apple Pencil. 

As before, the new tablet has a 9.7in, 2,048 x 1,536 display filling most of the front of the device, which is beginning to look a little old-fashioned in the face of the chassis-filling displays we’re seeing on tablets, laptops and phones these days. On the rear is an 8-megapixel f/2.4 camera accompanied by an f/2.2 1.2-megapixel “HD FaceTime” camera at the front and, yes, there’s still a Touch ID button below the screen.

Apple iPad (2018) review: Performance

Although there are upgrades, there’s nothing to get particularly excited about inside the new iPad.

There’s an Apple A10 Fusion processor running the show, backed up by 32GB or 128GB of storage and a choice of either Wi-Fi only or a pricier cellular version. This A10 Fusion chip is a significant upgrade on the 2017 model, but falls significantly short of the A10X seen in the iPad Pro. This isn’t so much a criticism – the different iPads do vary wildly in price after all – than it is an FYI. The charts below show the split. 

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The new iPad  is excellent, too. It’s a 9.7in IPS panel as before with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 and it’s as techically competent as you could expect from a product costing this little. It’s vibrant and highly colour accurate, the contrast ratio is slightly better than the previous model at 1,023:1 while brightness reaches 507cd/m2. That should ensure that any artwork created on the iPad should look more or less as envisaged at the point of creation and that the screen is readable in even the most demanding of school environments.

Battery life, surprisingly, isn’t as impressive as previous iPads, though. In our standard battery life tests, the 2018 iPad lasted 8hrs 43 mins, which compares unfavourably with pretty much all recent iPads as you can see from the graph below. That’s still pretty good compared with, say, a Windows 10 laptop, though, so for productivity in the classroom you needn’t worry about it running out halfway through a lesson – it should make it through a school day.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise with the new iPad is that, despite its target audience, there’s no Smart Connector contact for the addition of a keyboard. Given that in the classroom there’s going to be a fair degree of typing, that’s surely a critical omission. That doesn’t mean you can’t use a keyboard at all. For schools specifically, Apple, is instead relying on Logitech to provide more rugged keyboards and cases that can be dropped from a height of 4ft and can be shared among students, similar to how the Crayon can be used. 

Apple iPad for students (2018) review: New core apps

Beyond the Apple Pencil capability and the price, the new iPad is a pretty ordinary update. More interesting is the way Apple has updated the core apps and enabled collaboration, and also the fact students buying the new iPad now get 200GB of free iCloud storage; that’s quite an upgrade from the measly 5GB they got before.

There are new versions of the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps for that, complete with extensive support for the Apple Pencil, plus a whole host of education-focused software, teacher aids for use in the classroom and the IT management suite.

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With the addition of Apple School Manager and the new Schoolwork app, which lets teachers assign homework and track progress, the new iPad ought to be more suitable for use in schools than ever before. It’s tricky to truly test the effectiveness of such apps, given that I’m not the target user. That said, it’s easy to see how such apps can streamline what appear to be complex processes, such as managing more than 30 students and their varying abilities and progress. 

Pages, in particular, could easily become my go-to notes program now that I can use it with the Apple Pencil, and the Smart Annotation features are such an obvious, welcome addition, it’s a surprise they haven’t been introduced before. Building on the existing markup and annotation features, Smart Annotation lets you select entire blocks of text and mark up and move them around the page.

This is useful if you’ve edited a chunk of text and then want to move that text to further down the document, as a simple example. Tapping the document with the Apple Pencil brings up the controls along the bottom of the screen and they’re incredibly straightforward to recognise and use. 

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As with many Apple apps, all of the new software tweaks are intuitive. It doesn’t take long to master many of the key features if you’ve used iOS before, because the apps look and work in a similar way to other core Apple apps; icons are instantly recognisable, menus are where you’d expect and it’s easy to undo something if you make a mistake. 

Beyond the core apps, a software highlight for me from today’s event was GarageBand. Apple has added features to make it more kid-friendly, namely adding animal sounds in the library, introducing colourful icons to represent changes in vocal tone (such as a robot to make a voice more robotic), and more automated features to help children – and 33-year-old music noobs – create compositions. I laid a sick drum beat over vocals of me singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and learnt the basic guitar chords to go with it. 

Apple iPad (2018) review: Verdict

There’s a lot to like about Apple’s new tablet offering. It’s more affordable than ever, it works with the Apple Pencil and, with a more school- and teacher-focused software offering, it will have greater appeal to educators than before. 

But if Apple really wants to worry Google and Microsoft, it needs to cut prices more heavily and offer an affordable keyboard option as well. There is more work to be done. B+

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