It just works well, and that's a pretty big compliment. I never found myself wondering why something was taking so long to load. Our usual slew of benchmarks bear out my experience: While less powerful than either of the two iPad Pro models, the 2017 iPad showed healthy gains compared with the iPad Air 2.
There's really not much to say on the software front -- the iPad comes loaded with iOS 10.3, which should be plenty familiar by now. You can check out the broad strokes in our iOS 10 review, but you'll now benefit from Apple's new, more-stable file system and the ability to locate errant AirPods. If nothing else, the iPad is a capable foundation for features like split-screen multitasking.
Running two apps in side-by-side windows worked well enough on my old Air 2, but the extra power produced by the new iPad's A9 kept everything running more smoothly. It's clear why Apple wanted this iPad to exist. It isn't just because the company needed a low-cost tablet to boost its bottom line; it also wanted to provide a stronger base level of performance to help iOS really shine.
More important than the software that comes on the iPad are the updates it will eventually get. With the introduction of the 2017 model, people can go out and buy a relatively cheap iPad that'll continue to be supported for years. That's a pretty big deal when you consider the Air 2 — the previous budget-friendly 9.7-inch iPad — is more than 2 years old. Future versions of iOS and the apps they enable will continue to tax our hardware, and a longer support window is reason enough to buy this model over an aging Air.
I was concerned that Apple's choice of chipset might have had some effect on battery life, but I shouldn't have been. In terms of pure longevity, this is one of the best iPads we've tested. Consider the standard Engadget video rundown test, where we loop an HD video with the screen set at 50 percent brightness: The 2017 iPad lasted for 12 hours and 41 minutes. That's well ahead of either the iPad Pro and the Air 2. (The only model that came out ahead was the iPad mini 4, which obviously had to drive a much smaller screen.) That's also well past the 10-hour figure Apple trotted out once again, which isn't exactly a surprise. Apple, after all, is notorious for low-balling its battery estimates. It holds up well when you're doing more than bingeing on The Night Manager, too. When it came to my usual working-and-gaming cycle, the iPad stuck around for five or six days of consistent use before needing a recharge.
With a price starting at $329, there aren't many good, direct competitors to the 2017 iPad. Devices like the new Galaxy Tab S3 are more expensive and are meant to stack up against the iPad Pro. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 could be a worthy alternative if you haven't pledged allegiance to an operating system. It packs an incredible Super AMOLED display and a surprisingly clean, if not quite up-to-date, build of TouchWiz'd Android 6.0.
If you plan to pick up a low-cost tablet for gaming, you might also want to check out NVIDIA's Shield K1, which starts at $199. It packs a smaller 8-inch screen, but the included Tegra chipset and mostly clean build of Android 7.0 Nougat make it one of the better inexpensive tablet picks. That said, the 2017 iPad would still be our pick -- it's the most tantalizing choice for the money.
This iPad, perhaps more than any in recent memory, is an exercise in compromise. Yes, Apple has said that the iPad most clearly represents its vision of "people should get things done," and the development of products like the iPad Pro speak to that belief. There is a time for innovation, and this wasn't it. This time, Apple was just trying to build the best iPad it could for the masses. In that respect, it did a great job, even if the result isn't as exciting as everyone hoped.
I feel for people who wanted something a little sleeker or more powerful: They have no other choice than to pay up for the Pro line. For everyone else, though — people who have never had iPads or people stuck with really old ones — this thing is a tempting buy that won't let you down.