iPad (2017) review: Here’s what $329 gets you
The 2017 iPad is the latest, but not quite the greatest: It replaces the iPad Air 2 in Apple’s tablet lineup, mimics the dimensions of the first iPad Air, and has several last-generation specs. However, the device does establish a benchmark for an entry-level tablet experience, and defines what it means to be an iPad.
At first glance, the iPad is nearly indistinguishable from the current and past 9.7-inch iPads. It retains the same characteristic brushed aluminum build, all-glass front with a black border around the display, and a below-the-screen home button.
The first suggestion that this isn’t a top-of-the-line device is the display. If you’re unaccustomed to handling the latest mobile flagships, the differences may not command your attention, but if you’re used to looking at a smartphone or monitor with an excellent display, the shortcomings might be immediately obvious.
While resolution is the same “Retina” 264-PPI we’ve seen in every 9.7-in iPad since 2012, color range and accuracy leave something to be desired. Streaming videos, we noticed that skin tones seem off and that high-resolution photos aren’t done justice. But even if you don’t have an eye for display details like color gamut or white point, you’ll probably notice its surface.
Lighter flesh tones skew red (even for Alec Baldwin) – and reflections can be a problem (Credit: Emily Ferron/New Atlas)
This iPad doesn’t have the anti-reflective coating or lamination that the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro series have. The lack of an anti-reflective coating seems like one of the most disappointing omissions. It’s a minor detail, but it cheapens the overall feel of the device.
Similarly, the physical home button skips the capacitive/solid-state format used in the iPhone 7, using what appears to be the older variant from other Apple products from the last few years. We suspect Apple used something less than the latest Touch ID sensors as well, as the new iPad doesn’t seem as quick and accurate to scan fingerprints as the newest Apple products.
Speakers are amply loud for streaming video or music. They avoid sounding tinny, but do veer toward fuzziness. This tablet has one pair of speakers, which are both positioned on the bottom of the device, below the home button. They’re sufficient, but the same-side placement does make us miss the higher-end tablet perk of four-speaker audio – and it helps make the case for benefits like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3‘s rotating sound.
The device is not strikingly light or thin, but we didn’t have any trouble holding it one-handed. Still, for those with wrist or hand problems like arthritis, we might suggest a smaller or lighter tablet like the iPad mini. At 1.03 lbs (469 g), this one feels like holding a dense hardcover book.
Battery life is strong – Apple estimates up to 10 hours of use, and that seems right on target with our actual use. Longer is always better, of course, but the battery life is long enough to use the device somewhat carelessly (and as a mostly entertainment-oriented device, that’s exactly how you’ll want to use it).
The iOS 10 experience on this tablet is pretty unremarkable. If you’re used to iPhones, switching to an iPad doesn’t throw any curveballs, though you may appreciate features like picture-in-picture videos and split-screen multitasking. This iPad doesn’t have the 3D Touch pressure-sensitive display that was introduced with the iPhone 6S – nor do any other iPads that have been released to date – but that doesn’t make much of an impact on navigating iOS 10. (In fact, I prefer the non-3D Touch experience.)
This iPad uses a last-generation A9 processor (it was introduced in the iPhone 6s in late 2015), but nothing in our experience suggested sluggish performance. Otherwise, the app experience on a tablet varies from app to app. We’ve found some that are excellent: Browsing news feeds on Feedly is pleasant and easy-to-read, and online shopping apps offer a catalog-like experience.
But others aren’t always developed optimally for tablets. Instagram, for example, still doesn’t have a tablet UI view. That can’t be blamed squarely on Apple, but it is something to consider if you’re thinking about buying an iPad for the first time due to its new lower price point.
With all said and done, the iPad’s specs, features and presentation combine to create an on-the-go experience that’s great for light-use apps, multimedia consumption and web browsing. In other words, this device is far from pro-grade: It’s a basic device with well-rounded entry-level capabilities, without any flourishes or luxuries.
Since it’s not a productivity-oriented device, it doesn’t justify a high price. Still, starting at US$329 (Apple’s lowest priced tablet ever), it’s not exactly a thoughtless purchase, either. We’ve long thought that a lower price would go far in increasing iPad sales, but is the $300+ price point low enough to make iPad users out of a larger amount of the public?
For those eyeing an iPad for the first time, it doesn’t do much that can’t already be done on a phone or laptop. However, it does provide a chic and easy way to surf and browse. If you’re willing to splurge on a separate entertainment device that you can cozy up with, it could be well worth it.
If you already have an iPad, should you be in a rush to upgrade? It depends. If you own an iPad Air 2, it’s an easy pass. This iPad is heavier and thicker, with a glare-tastic display. If you have the first iPad Air from 2013, and your only gripe is speed, this could represent an affordable upgrade. (That tablet didn’t have an anti-reflective display, either, so you won’t be downgrading in that department.)
However, if you have one of the older, pre-Air iPads with thick bezels and a several generations-old processor (iPad 1st-gen through 4th-gen, which launched from 2010-2012), this one represents a solid upgrade at a favorable price. If you switch, you’ll notice a considerable performance jump and you’ll still get a lighter and thinner device.
To put it another way, this iPad has a late 2013-era exterior and late-2015 internals (almost like an iPad Air 1 with iPhone 6S-like performance). If you’re holding onto an iPad that is behind in either of those areas, the 2017 entry-level iPad is a good replacement.
When planning your purchase, consider that you’ll probably want a cover with some kind of kickstand. Not only for the protection, but so you can prop it up – there are times when you’ll want to go hands-free, such as watching videos or reading a recipe. The iPad also supports Bluetooth keyboard accessories (there are no snap-on Smart Connectors, like on the iPad Pro) but since most of our preferred iPad experiences need only swipes and taps, we don’t miss the physical keyboard.
The iPad (that’s just “iPad” – no suffixes or qualifiers) is available now, starting at $329 for a 32 GB Wi-Fi only model. You can also upgrade to a Wi-Fi + LTE device, or the 129 GB storage tier. Color options are silver, gold and space gray.