The new iPad is now just plain old ‘iPad’. But in contrast to the revolutionary original, this latest Apple tablet looks like a regression – half-way between its two Air-branded predecessors.
It might be easy to give this latest iteration a cursory glance and conclude it doesn’t do anything new, but take one look at the price and you'll change your tune. RM1549 for this iPad suggests that Apple is shooting for the masses.
Spend a few days using one alongside either iPad Air incarnation, and it’s entirely appropriate to wheel out two overused cliches: ‘beauty is only skin deep’, and there’s ’power under the hood’.
APPLE iPAD (2017) DESIGN: Down to earth
From a design standpoint, though, this iPad offers no real surprises, bar Apple’s obsession with thinness apparently coming to a screeching, juddering halt. If you’d been expecting the new iPad to be so thin it might give you a nasty paper cut, prepare for disappointment.
It’s 1.4mm thicker than the Air 2 and about 30g heavier, too. In other words, just like the original iPad Air. And honestly? Good. I’ve long been sick of devices getting thinner over and above practical considerations. This apparent compromise seems like the right choice.
The tiny extra heft to this iPad doesn’t make it feel worse in use. If you can tell the difference when one tablet is the equivalent of a packet of crisps heavier than another, congratulations – you never need buy weighing scales again.
The extra thickness does feel very slightly worse in the hand if you’re holding an iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro at the same time, but if you're doing that regularly, it might be time to seek help. It's a smart trade-off for a flush camera and bigger battery.
Said battery does – marginally – outperform the iPad Air 2’s, whether you’re looping videos like a tech writer for Stuff, or doing sensible things like playing games and faffing about on Facebook.
APPLE IPAD (2017) DISPLAY: On reflection
A bigger concern with this latest iPad is the display.
In many ways, it’s excellent. As anyone who’s used a Retina iPad before will attest, Apple does screens well. The 9.7in display used here is almost eye-searingly bright at maximum settings - more so than any iPad but the Pro. It's clear, and with an identical resolution to previous iPads. In other words, content is pin-sharp, unless your nose is wedged against the glass.
But presumably in an attempt to save costs, the new iPad’s LCD panel isn’t fused to the glass, and it lacks an anti-reflective coating. The first of those things supposedly results in lower contrast and less vibrant colours. But there’s little appreciable difference when using it alongside an iPad Air 2. You do get a noticeably hollow ‘thunk’ when tapping the display, though, and the newer iPad is much more of a fingerprint magnet than its predecessor.
The anti-reflective coating is the bigger problem, reverting the tablet to being a mirror as soon as there's even a hint of bright light nearby. To be fair, it’s not like the iPad Air 2 was perfect in this regard – no tablet that’s essentially a slab of glass can be – but this feels like a cost-saving too far, and I found this hard to get past when switching over from the older model.
APPLE IPAD (2017) PERFORMANCE: Raw power
Fortunately, things step up significantly when you hurl apps and games at the new iPad.
In pure benchmarking terms, this new tablet meaningfully outperforms the iPad Air, at worst edges ahead of the iPad Air 2, and is no slouch compared even with the iPad Pro. Real-world testing has more subjectivity, but this was the area in which my disappointment with the display started to fade. So much for it being a ‘budget’ iPad.
Feeding my Korg Gadget addiction, I fired up the app, and created a loop with several iterations of the notoriously processor-hungry Lexington gadget. The iPad didn’t bat an eyelid. On duly flinging the track across to an iPad Air 2, the older tablet choked horribly until some tracks were frozen.
This pattern continued elsewhere. Games would at worst play identically to on the iPad Air 2, or sometimes a touch more smoothly. In Split View, there were no wobbles. The combination of the A9 first seen in the iPhone 6s and 2GB of RAM seems perfectly suited to current App Store goodies. And it also bodes well for Apple’s future plans – this isn’t another iPad 3-style compromise.