9.7-inch iPad (2018) Review

Macworld | Apr 6, 2018

If you're looking for a tablet that delivers an experience much like the iPad Pro for a more agreeable price tag, the sixth-generation 9.7-inch iPad has you covered.

If you're looking for a tablet that delivers an experience much like the iPad Pro for a more agreeable price tag, the sixth-generation 9.7-inch iPad has you covered.

Place the new iPad next to last year's model, and you'll find that they almost look like twins. Touch ID and all the rest of the buttons are in same places, which makes it easy to recycle cases from the older model.

But it's the Apple Pencil support that truly sets this iPad apart from its non-Pro cousins. And depending on how you typically use an ordinary iPad, this single new feature can make it a massive upgrade.

Want to scribble out handwritten notes as though you're writing on a legal pad? The Apple Pencil lets you do that. Want to easily mark up PDFs and write marginal notes? That's possible, too. If you've got some artistic skill, you'll find the Apple Pencil's sensitivity for stroke weight and tilting makes it fantastic for drawing in apps like Procreate.

Before this iPad came out, you could only do all this with the iPad Pro. And for the current generation of the Pro, that means you'd be spending at least $649. With this iPad, though, you're getting much of that same experience for just $329. That's a phenomenal price for students or artists on a tight budget. Just keep in mind you'll have to plunk down an extra hundred bucks for the Pencil itself.

So what’s missing compared to the Pro? For one thing, this iPad doesn't have the recent iPad Pros' ProMotion technology, which boosts the display refresh rate to 120Hz. The refresh rate is around half that on this model, which technically means the iPad Pro registers tiny movements more accurately. But in real-world practice? It's comparable to how the Pencil performs on the first iPad Pro, which means it's still pretty darn amazing. In most casual cases, you'll barely notice any latency in your pen strokes at all.

You'll also need to keep in mind that the display isn't laminated, which means there's a tiny gap between the glass and the actual display. Apple appears to have compensated for it, though, as I could barely see where it made any difference when simply writing.

This iPad’s A10 chip isn't as flashy a new feature as the Apple Pencil support, but the performance difference over last year's A9 chip is striking with resource-demanding apps. I didn't notice much of a difference while opening and running ordinary apps, but graphics performance in the popular games Fortnite and PUBG mobile was clearly better on the newer model.

No matter how much I pushed it, the new iPad easily reached the 10 hours of battery life Apple claims it can handle. On the downside, the similarity to last year's form factor means it also lacks a Smart Connector for a Smart Keyboard. That's potentially bad news for anyone buying this for school, as you may find yourself spending another 100 bucks on a Bluetooth keyboard. And once you toss the $100 Apple Pencil into the mix, you're suddenly spending $500.

But make no mistake, this is a wonderful iPad. If you're fine with missing out on some of the technical goodies on the iPad Pro, this little guy delivers much the same experience for around half the price. It's not a huge upgrade over last year's 9.7-inch model aside from Pencil support, but if you've been holding off on buying a non-Pro iPad for a while, this tablet will make you glad you waited.

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