Home / iPad / iPad review: A low-cost tablet with tremendous value

iPad review: A low-cost tablet with tremendous value


In 2010, Steve Jobs infamously sat in a comfy leather chair and slowly went through the features of the original iPad. As Jobs walked us through the Photos app, browsing the web in mobile Safari, and sending emails, one question loomed: How much will it cost?

Pundits and analyst predictions ranged anywhere from $400 to $1,000, with the majority of guesses being on the higher end.

Ultimately, Apple priced the original iPad at $499 for the entry model. It was a price point that surprised nearly everyone.

Over the past seven years, Apple has released numerous models, ranging from a smaller iPad to a tablet aimed at replacing most consumers’ laptops.

Despite creating different iPad models, each one aimed at a different type of user, Apple has struggled to move the needle in the right direction for its tablet lineup. Apple’s iPad sales continue to struggle, all the while CEO Tim Cook has continued to profess his excitement for the iPad line and its success.

One of the problems Apple has faced with the iPad is a lack of incentive for users to upgrade. When older iPads continue to work well enough, users don’t need to update existing devices.

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Another problem has been that Android tablets are often priced well below the entry level model iPad or iPad Mini and have offered a cheaper alternative to the premium iPad line.

apple-ipad-2017-1.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Then, in March, Apple announced a new model, referred to only as iPad. Without any extra names or numbers, it’s priced at $329. There are two models, one with 32GB of storage and another with 128GB, and there’s only $100 separating the two.

Before you look at the spec sheet, the price alone makes it clear Apple is targeting new customers, enticing old customers to upgrade, and trying to regain a place in the education sector for its tablet.

But price alone isn’t going to turn iPad sales around. Apple needs to deliver a product that offers value in return. After using the newest iPad for the past week, it’s clear the company did just that.

Specifications:

  • Processor: Apple A9, 64-bit architecture
  • Display: 9.7-inch Retina display, 2048×1536, 264ppi
  • Size: 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches, 1.03 pounds.
  • Storage: 32GB or 128GB
  • Touch ID: 1st generation
  • Cameras: 8-megapixel rear, 1080p HD recording, 1.2-megapixel front
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.2, optional Cellular model.
  • Battery: 32.9Wh

Familiarity is key

apple-ipad-2017-5.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

For the past year, we’ve listened and watched as Apple touted the iPad Pro lineup as a means to the end of the laptop. Well, for some, at least.

So, when Apple announced a new iPad, it was reasonable to expect some of the iPad Pro features to trickle down to the entry-level iPad.

However, with the iPad, Apple decided to borrow some aspects — such as a brighter display, complete with the P3 color gamut — while leaving others, such as Apple Pencil support or using its True Tone display tech, to the Pro line.

The iPad Pro’s Smart Connector is also absent, but users can still use external keyboards with the iPad — albeit keyboards that rely on Bluetooth.

Aesthetically, the iPad more closely resembles the iPad Air 2, which is now retired. The iPad is slightly thicker, due to a bigger battery. Cases you own for the iPad Air 2 may or may not work with the new iPad due to the added thickness. Apple also moved the magnets case makers relied on to hold a cover in place with the new iPad, which could also lead to issues with earlier cases fitting the latest model.

Outside of a couple of slight changes to the size of the device, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and iPad. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Familiarity with the layout, size, and looks of a device can be a key selling point for education users who deal with small kids and have already invested in accessories for a device, as well as for those who are often intimidated by new technology.

Performance

apple-ipad-2017-4.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Inside the iPad is the same processor found in the iPhone 6S lineup, Apple’s A9 processor. It’s an older processor, sure, but it’s faster than the A8X in the iPad Air 2 and offers improved energy performance, IPS image processing, and enhanced graphical performance.

In other words, the new iPad isn’t the fastest iPad available, but thanks to the speed boost of the A9 chip, users should notice the fingerprint sensor is faster and photos are better. (The latter is despite the iPad using the same camera module as the iPad Air 2.)

I replaced my 12-inch iPad Pro with the new iPad during my testing and have zero complaints about its speed or performance. I enjoyed the portability and ease of handling the smaller form factor so much so that I ever so briefly contemplated selling my iPad Pro.

The iPad’s battery life was enough to get through a typical workday of using it to read news articles, catch up on email, and browse Facebook. Standby continues to remain impressive, with the battery only seeing minor depletion as it sits idle.

Apple’s advantage is the App Store

apple-ipad-2017-2.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

With a nearly identical design and upgraded internals, there’s not a feature that sets the iPad apart from the competition, as is often the case with smartphones.

Instead, the iPad’s differentiator is the sheer number and quality of apps optimized for Apple’s tablet lineup. Right now, Apple touts 1.3 million apps in the App Store built specifically for the larger screened devices.

In comparison, the biggest problem Android tablets face is the lack of dedicated tablet apps in the Play Store. Most Android apps are larger versions of the phone app, and that dynamic leads to a frustrating experience.

So much for so little

After unboxing the new iPad and setting it up, I remarked, somewhat under my breath, that this particular iPad is priced below its worth.

As someone who has, at times, completely replaced my laptop or desktop Macs with an iPad (both the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro), it’s exciting to me that a tablet that can do so much and yet cost so little.

Is it enough to turn the iPad ship around? Only time will tell.

I can say that those who are still holding on to an older iPad, many of which are too old to run iOS 10, as well as those who have never owned an iPad due to the entry cost, there’s no better tablet you can buy for $329.

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