Reviews

Apple’s updated 9th-gen iPad is still great, but I wanted a little more

Specifically, I really want a USB-C port

Apple has faithfully updated the internals of the base-level iPad again in 2021, making it better than ever before, but still the lowest-end tablet the company sells.

However, even without the flash of a new design or a USB-C port, it’s still the iPad most people should buy.

The $429 price tag, combined with what the tablet offers, keeps the entry-level iPad in that sweet spot as the best budget computing device for most — including kids in school, and elderly people who just want a device to FaceTime their family and check the weather on.

Still, I wish Apple would tweak a few things about the 10.2-inch iPad to make it the best tablet for everyone.

What’s new inside

There are only two significant changes that a lot of people will care about when considering this iPad. One is that it now supports ‘Cinematic mode’ with its 12-megapixel front-facing camera, making it a far superior FaceTime device than it was before. If you have an older family member who uses an iPad for video calls, this should help them stay in frame a lot more when FaceTiming.

The other significant new feature is the spec bump to an Apple A13 Bionic processor. However, in my time with the tablet so far, I haven’t noticed much difference compared to its 2020 predecessor. Still, if you’re upgrading from an older version of the entry-level iPad, the addition of the newer chip should, hopefully, mean that Apple will support this tablet for several years to come.

The new version also features a slightly better display that supports ‘True Tone’ and sRGB, making light Photoshop work a little more accurate and easier on the eyes.

Other than that, the iPad (2021) stills functions the same as the iPad (2019) that added first-generation Apple Pencil support to the tablet. It’s difficult to count this as a negative, since $429 for an iPad is a pretty great deal. It’s also worth noting that people won’t need the Smart Keyboard or an Apple Pencil unless they really want to up their productivity game.

What iPad accessories make sense for me?

I would look at it this way: If you’re committed to making the iPad your main computer and want to take advantage of iPadOS’ multitasking, you’ll likely want to buy a keyboard case. This gives you lots of screen real estate while you work, and typing on a physical keyboard/using shortcuts is hard to beat in terms of efficiency.

In that same vein, if you do a lot of drawing, Photoshop or anything else that requires precision, then the Apple Pencil is a worthy add-on. On the other hand, if you’re only watching YouTube, gaming or browsing the web, then you’re probably better off with just an iPad and a case.

I should mention that since iPadOS 15 features more accessible multitasking controls, the iPad feels a little more natural to use with a keyboard and a mouse. For example, navigating with cmd+tab and cmd+space to open Spotlight search feels great. That said, not all apps support the smart adaptive cursor, making the experience feel less polished once you step outside Apple’s core ecosystem of apps.

It’s still the best iPad for most people

Overall, there’s nothing notably wrong with this iPad, but compared to the rest of Apple’s tablet lineup, it sticks out as the only device still sporting a physical Home Button and a Lightning port. Apple likely did this to make sure the iPad continues to work with the numerous Lightning accessories.

While I’m sure this is a big deal for some, especially in the context of education and schools, I still think it’s time to refresh the iPad. Keeping the same footprint, but adding more screen real-estate to the device and a USB-C port would be a huge plus for consumers. This would also make the iPad an even better entertainment/work device.

It’s also worth mentioning that while I like this iPad and find writing on it to be pretty solid, I still find myself gravitating towards the iPad mini when I’m travelling and need a tablet on hand. I find that I’m usually doing single-app tasks, like editing photos or browsing the web, so it works better for me given it’s tiny and has a USB-C port. Still, I hate that it costs so much at $649, and you could argue that I’d be able to accomplish these same tasks with the entry-level iPad.

Regardless, it will be exciting when Apple finally updates the base-level iPad, but let’s hope that the company doesn’t raise the tablet’s price like it did with the new mini.

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