In 2017, Apple released a $329 iPad, and ever since the company has said that this basic tablet is its most popular. It’s easy to see why: When I reviewed last year’s model last fall, I found that this relatively modest device could do almost everything I normally do with my pricier 11-inch iPad Pro. That said, in a world where Apple has gotten rid of the home button and trimmed the bezels on all of its tablets, the basic iPad was starting to feel stale.
So this year, for its tenth generation, Apple rebuilt the iPad, taking obvious inspiration from the iPad Air. It has the same size screen, cameras, USB-C port, optional 5G networking and Touch ID-enabled power button, all of which are improvements over last year’s model. It also has an A14 chip, which doesn’t stack up to the M1 in the iPad Air and M2 in the new iPad Pro, but it’s still a capable piece of silicon. Apple even designed a new keyboard and trackpad folio, the first iPad keyboard that the company made with a function key row.
Of course, Apple had to cut some corners to differentiate this iPad from the Air. The usual compromises are here — namely, the screen isn’t quite as good as the one on the Air, with no full lamination on the front glass, anti-reflective coating or support for the wider P3 color gamut. It also still only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, which is a pretty major bummer for anyone looking for an improved stylus experience.
And all the changes Apple made means the iPad is no longer the tremendous value it was — it now costs $449, while last year’s 9th-generation iPad stays in the lineup at its original $329 price. I’ll be giving the new iPad a full review soon, but in the meantime, here are my first impressions after spending a few days with it.
While the new iPad is ever so slightly larger and thicker than the Air, my first feeling picking it up was one of complete familiarity. It feels almost exactly like the Air, but it’s obviously a completely different experience than using last year’s model with the old Home button. While the 10.9-inch display isn’t significantly bigger than the old 10.2-inch screen, it’s just big enough to make multitasking more comfortable. I miss things like the iPad Pro’s fully laminated display and 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, but I notice the “air gap” between the screen and front glass less on this iPad than any of the older basic models. While the iPad Air technically has a better screen than this tablet, the difference between the two models has been significantly reduced.
Between the bigger screen and the new trackpad-equipped Magic Keyboard Folio, I feel a lot more productive on the new iPad than I did on last year’s model. The trackpad may be small, but when you’re using the iPad with a keyboard, it’s a lot more convenient to use than reaching up to tap the screen every time you want to move a cursor or switch apps. And the row of function keys that Apple included on the Smart Keyboard Folio is something that should have been included on every other iPad keyboard the company has made, so I can’t give them too much credit for finally getting things right here.
That said, it’s still handy to have an escape key and a handful of other useful shortcuts right there when you need them. Between that and the trackpad, you can get away without not having to touch the screen for longer stretches than ever before (that might lead you to ask why you’re using an iPad in the first place, but I’ll save those philosophical questions for my full review). Meanwhile, the typing experience is significantly better than the one the old Smart Keyboard cover offered, and the keys feel quite similar to the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro and Air. I’m much more likely to use this iPad for long typing sessions than I was with last year’s model. As with most things Apple, though, this comes at a price — this new keyboard costs a whopping $249.
I’ve been using an M1-powered, 12.9-inch iPad Pro for much of the last four months as a testing device for iPadOS 16, so I had some concerns about the A14 chip on the new iPad. I shouldn’t have worried; while occasional things like swiping up to see all my open apps felt a little less smooth than I’d like, overall the new iPad is holding up extremely well so far. I can swipe through my library of RAW photos in Lightroom with no slowdowns, the games I’ve tried so far (including Skate City, Spire Blast and Mini Motorways) have all run perfectly and apps load quickly when I swap between them or pull up a few different ones at a time in Split View and Slide Over modes.
The only real catch I’ve noticed with the A14 compared to more powerful chips like the M1 is that apps often have to reload their content, probably because there’s less RAM here. For example, if I navigated away from the file I’m writing this in, I’d usually have to re-open it when I went back to Google Docs; it didn’t keep the file loaded in memory.
Before I can fully evaluate this new iPad, I need to push the A14 further with more intensive tasks; try out the new cameras (including the landscape-oriented front-facing camera!); dig more into the new features in iPadOS 16; and relive my frustration with the first-generation Apple Pencil. But at first glance, I’m slightly bummed about the price hike, but I recognize that these updates are a major improvement to the iPad experience. My thoughts so far are that spending the extra $120 to get this iPad instead of last year’s model is worth it, and that most people will even prefer it to the $600 iPad Air.