iPad, 9th generation — a review

The 9th generation iPad is the latest entry-level iPad, and it’s not such a bad pick if you have limited needs. The size is decent, with its 10.2” screen, and thanks to the bump to the A13, it feels snappy enough for most things. It’s a great tablet, especially if you compare it to non-Apple alternatives out there.

That isn’t to imply that the iPad isn’t getting a little long in the tooth. The processor bump from the previous generation is nice, but it’s still a step behind both the iPad mini (A15) and iPad Air (A14). For most users, that won’t really matter, just as the amount of RAM in your device matters less than you’d think.

No, my issue with the iPad is that it’s still in the old form factor, featuring substantial, if not big, bezels by today’s standards. I have less against the home button, Touch ID is solid as always, but it obviously requires that extra space. Comparing the iPad to the iPad Air or mini, with Touch ID built into the power button, the plain ol’ iPad feels a little long in the tooth. Add Lightning and Apple Pencil 1 to that mix, compared to USB-C and Pencil 2, and it feels like it’s time to put this form factor to rest. But hey, at least the Smart Connector is the same, and there’s a Smart Keyboard as well. That’s more than you get with the new iPad mini, although why you’d want such a small keyboard is beyond me.

12.9” iPad Pro, iPad mini, 11” iPad Pro, and the iPad
12.9” iPad Pro, iPad mini, 11” iPad Pro, and the iPad

Who is this for?

It’s pretty clear that Apple keeps the old iPad form factor around to keep costs down. If you start comparing this iPad to any other iPad in the line-up today, the differences are huge in terms of power on paper, but actual usage might not be such a big difference.

And it’s true, browsing the web in Safari, answering emails in Mail, taking notes in, err, Notes, watching videos on YouTube — that sort of everyday light usage isn’t an issue on this new iPad. It wasn’t an issue on the previous generation either, but this performs a little better, or at least that’s what I want to believe. The truth is, iPads have been powerful for a long time, and even though A13 is a couple of years old, it’s still a great processor.

So, who should get this, besides schools, which Apple keeps targeting?

  • Anyone looking for a tablet for couch-surfing, TV in bed, reading ebooks, and the like.
  • People who have light computing needs, such as email, web browsing, note-taking, or writing. Paired with a keyboard, this iPad is certainly big enough to be useful.
  • Kids (it’s entry-level, after all), and less computer-savvy users, which may or may not be your grandparents.
  • Let’s not forget using the iPad to keep in touch with video calls. It’s got Center Stage support, which is pretty awesome.

For light usage, this iPad gets the job done. I could easily run Switch to iPad on it, no problem. In fact, you could do just about anything on the iPad that you do on an M1 iPad Pro, it just might not run as fast. That said, while the first generation Pencil is good and all, the screen refresh rate isn’t Pro level, just like it isn’t Pro level on the iPad mini. This means that drawing on it isn’t as smooth as it is on an iPad Pro, so if you’re an artist, spring for the faster screens, if you can. The same goes for video, while A13 is fast, it isn’t nearly as fast as the M1, or even the A14 and A15 when it comes to rendering video.

All of this is expected, this is the entry-level iPad after all, and as such, it does what it should.

iPad and 11” iPad Pro
iPad and 11” iPad Pro

The iPad comes in silver or space gray, and in 64 GB ($329 for Wi-Fi, or $459 with cellular too) or 256 GB ($479 or $609) variants. It’s about the same size as the 11” iPad Pro, as seen above, and just a wee bit heavier. The same goes when comparing it to the iPad Air, which is very similar in size to the 11” iPad Pro.

Two things are worth noting, before we wrap this up. The first is that the iPad camera is an 8 megapixel wide variant that won’t shoot 4K video, and slo-mo is capped to 720p. It’s not a very good camera, but the front-facing 12 megapixels one, used for video calls and the like, is the same as in the new iPad mini, so it’s great. Second, the display is great, got the same 500 nits brightness as most other iPads, but it isn’t P3 wide color, it’s sRGB. That might matter to you if you’re working with photography. It’s a good display, though, so if you didn’t know what P3 meant, you probably don’t need to worry about it.

I got the new iPad for my bonus kid. He’ll be ecstatic, it’ll serve him well for years, with games and video, drawing apps and the like. I’d buy or recommend it to some relatives as well, when their laptops gets too sluggish — it’ll mean less phone support for me.

This new entry-level iPad is the right choice for many users, the majority would certainly do well with it. I do hope this is the last year we see this form-factor, though. It has served us well, but it’s time to take another step forward with the iPad line-up.