These extra millimeters and grams may be a point of contention for some in the Apple community, and to them I say, "Whatever." Those minor changes barely registered after the first moments. (And this is coming from a guy who toted around an Air 2 until it died.) This thicker design was palatable once before, and while it's not as technically impressive as Apple's more recent iPads, I didn't notice my hands, arms or wrists getting more fatigued than usual while reading Kindle books for a few hours. And there's a plus side hidden inside this aluminum frame: Apple went with a 32.9Whr battery, which is much bigger than the Air 2's and even a little more capacious than the original Air's. Now, I miss the Air 2's design as much as anyone else, but it's nice to see a company — especially Apple — offer up better battery life, even if it comes at the expense of sleekness.
Also inside the new iPad is one of Apple's A9 chipsets, which we first met in the iPhone 6s. It's paired with 2GB of RAM and either 32 or 128GB of storage. And no, that's not a typo: There's no 64GB option available. As always, you'll be able to shell out extra ($130, in this case) for an LTE-enabled model, which adds a few grams to the iPad's weight. The new iPad is also home to an 8-megapixel rear camera that takes surprisingly good photos, and there's something to using such a big screen as a viewfinder. But you'll still look a little silly doing it, and your phone is probably the better camera anyway.
And then there are the little things. The Touch ID sensor embedded in the home button works as fast as the iPhone 6s' -- which is to say you'll probably never have trouble with it. Oh, and Apple moved some magnets around, so most original iPad Air cases won't work correctly with the 2017 model.
Display and sound
The 2017 iPad's screen runs at the same resolution as the Air 2 and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, but there are a few key differences. See, all of the new iPads Apple released in the past three years had optically-laminated displays; that is, the screen was physically bonded to the glass, leaving no gap between them. Not so with this iPad. This saves Apple some money in the manufacturing process but it keeps the iPad from feeling like a seamless window onto the digital world. That said, if you hate the hollow thunking sound that comes with tapping a nonbonded screen, maybe just stay away from this one.
You also won't find an anti-glare coating on this iPad's screen, either, likely another cost-saving measure that I wish Apple had reconsidered. The display itself is actually slightly brighter than the Air 2's (500 nits, compared to the earlier models' 400), which keep visuals nice and legible in most situations. Things get a little hairier when you take the iPad outside or into a bright room; reflections that seem dull on the iPad Pros are more distracting on this model. For an iPad that's mostly great, this stands out as one of its most pronounced bummers.
Those compromises, while not ideal, aren't deal-breakers considering the price. That gap doesn't matter much when you're looking at the iPad dead-on, where colors are bright and vivid. Viewing angles are still quite good, so (assuming you dodge those reflections) you won't have trouble sharing videos with the people sitting next to you.
The sound, meanwhile, hasn't changed much since the days of the Air 2. There's a single row of speaker holes drilled into the iPad's bottom, and the output gets plenty loud without distortion. You'll miss out on some bass relying on these built-in speakers, obviously. But, thankfully, Apple isn't taking a stand here -- there's still a headphone jack, so you can plug in your go-to cans.
Performance and software
While we've tested some faster iPads, make no mistake: Cheap or not, the 2017 model is a big step up from most earlier models. That's all thanks to the included dual-core A9 chipset (clocked at 1.85GHz, or so Geekbench says) and 2GB of RAM, which allows for comfortable web browsing, app use and multitasking. Over my week of testing, I mostly used the iPad as a productivity and gaming machine, so I'd punctuate long stretches of email triaging and Slack messaging with a few rounds of that Elder Scrolls card game or cruising around in Galaxy on Fire 3. The iPad handled all of these tasks with only the occasional hiccup when I was trying to flummox it by rapidly jumping in and out of apps.