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Apple iPad (2017) review: the best feature is the price

Here’s what you need to know about the new iPad: it is an iPad, and it is good. Apple has named it simply iPad but we have to refer to it as “iPad (2017)” or “iPad (5th generation)” or “new iPad 9.7” because the world is a broken place. I am just going to call it the iPad. I am also in the enviable place of reviewing a gadget about which you already know everything there is to know because it is, as I said, an iPad. I don’t have to delve into complicated questions about the future of computing or weird hinges or software limitations. I simply need to tell you three things:

  1. It is an iPad.
  2. It costs $329 for the base model.
  3. You should get it if your old iPad is dying. You should not get it if your old iPad is fine.

That’s really it, but of course there are details to consider within each of those bullet points. I will go through them point-by-point since I just spent a week with the new iPad. After I do, you will discover that those are the main points and go on with your life until you need to buy an iPad to do iPad things, at which point you will buy this iPad.


It is an iPad

When I simply say “it is an iPad,” reasonable people know exactly what I mean. They know that it is a thin, fast tablet with a good screen, and it has a lot of apps so you that you can do iPad things. And with this iPad, we do not need to quibble about whether or not “iPad things” consist of “doing real work” or whether or not the iPad is just a “consumption device.” The iPad Pro might justify such ruminations, but this new iPad causes no angst.

The answers to those questions are different for everybody, but for most people, they know what they want out of an iPad because they have been doing their iPad things for years (often on the same iPad for all those years).

This particular take on the iPad is interesting to gadget nerds because it is a one-step-forward / one-step-back iPad, so let’s address that. At the end of which you will conclude that this is an iPad, because it is indeed an iPad.

It replaces the iPad Air 2, but it essentially has the same body and 9.7-inch screen as the original iPad Air. That means it’s slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2, but not enough for anybody to really notice or care. It has the same largish bezel around the screen, sturdy aluminum back, and magnets to hold smart covers. It does not support the Apple Pencil, nor does it have a smart connector for attaching keyboards — two features I wish it had, but it does not because it is not an iPad Pro. Those are two of the features that Apple uses to separate the iPad Pro from the regular iPad. This is not an iPad Pro. It is an iPad.

Every iPad is defined by its screen and the screen on this iPad is very good. It is a Retina display with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. It does not have the fancy True Tone display that the iPad Pro does, nor does it have some of the things that made the screen on the iPad Air 2 so nice: lamination and anti-reflectivity. If you look closely, you will see that the screen on the iPad sits a little further from the front glass than it does on the Air 2 because the two parts are not bonded. This might make repairs cheaper, but it also makes the screen less nice. It is also a little more reflective than the Air 2, so it’s a little less nice to use outside in bright sunlight.

iPad vs iPad Air 2: can you guess which is which?

But these are quibbles. This is an iPad, which means the screen is quite nice and unless you are a pixel pedant you will find little to complain about. Apple has said that the screen is brighter than the iPad Air 2, but I can’t really tell the difference.

The other notable thing about this iPad is that it has a new processor, Apple’s A9 chip. That means it’s significantly faster than older iPads, but not necessarily significantly faster than the iPad Air 2. It’s not as fast as the iPad Pro. But you use the iPad to browse the web and play Sudoku and watch some movies in bed, so these processor speeds shouldn’t really affect your purchasing decisions. It is an iPad, and iPads are fast enough to do iPad things.

I do wish that Apple had found a way to fit four speakers into this iPad like it did with the iPad Pro. Instead there are just two on the bottom (or on the side, depending how you hold it).

Fundamentally, what I am trying to tell you is that this is an iPad. You trust that iPads are decent tablets and that they have a basic level of quality, speed, and functionality.

It costs $329

The cost for the base model iPad is $329, with 32GB of storage and Wi-Fi. You can pay $100 extra to get 128GB of storage, and $130 more to get LTE. Choosing to spend that extra money is between you and your checking account, but I will note that if you’re in the business of getting upsold then maybe you should really consider the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It is slightly more likely to do more than the usual iPad things most people want iPads for.

What’s important about the $329 price is that it feels right for an iPad. (Reminder: this is an iPad.) It is a signal, I think, that Apple is finally done trying to get everybody to think of the iPad as some revolutionary device that will change everything. That may happen one day with the iPad Pro, but in the meanwhile people just want to spend a reasonable amount of money on a good tablet. Maybe their old tablet is cracked, or slow, or has been handed down to their kids.

Do you care that Apple is trying to reinvent the future of computing? Do you want to know all the many tips and workarounds and apps you need to get an iPad into a place where it can replace your laptop? Do you want to know about all the apps that have been optimized for iPad but still can’t really replace full desktop productivity apps? Do you want to spend an arm and a leg to buy into a vision that is more about future promises than current results just so you can be on the bleeding edge of where tablets are headed someday?

Or do you just want an iPad to do iPad things? Do you just want to play some games, watch some Netflix, browse the web, and read some books?

Well, good news: after spending years trying to make the rectangular iPad fit in a circular-future-of-computing-shaped hole, Apple just made the iPad for you. If you need one, that is.

Should you upgrade?

Here is my take: if you have an iPad that is annoying you for some reason, you should get a new iPad. This is a good iPad to get — but then again all iPads are pretty good (which is one of the reasons nobody ever seems to upgrade).

More specifically, if you have an iPad that’s older than the iPad Air you will notice a significant improvement with this iPad. It will be much faster, much lighter, and the screen will look better. If you have something newer than that — an iPad Air or Air 2 — then you probably won’t get much benefit from upgrading to this new iPad.

Should you get this iPad or an iPad Pro or maybe a refurbished iPad Air 2? I think that breaks down pretty simply, too:

  1. If you want an iPad, get this iPad. Because it is an iPad.
  2. If you want an iPad to replace your laptop, or if really like drawing, consider the iPad Pro
  3. If you are Very Serious About Screen Quality (aka a Pixel Pedant), it might be worth looking for a refurbished iPad Air 2.

I am a little nervous to recommend option 3, simply because the 2017 iPad will probably get software updates for a year or two beyond what the Air 2 will get.

But really, don’t let the stuff you hear out there in Apple Land bother you. Investors and tech writers are wondering what Apple is Going To Do now that we know that nobody upgrades their iPads to new models every couple years. In the real world, people just use their iPads until they don’t work and then they get new iPads. And what Apple is Going To Do is what it just did: just make a good iPad and sell it at a reasonable price.

Get one if you need one, but don’t stress that you’re missing out if you don’t. Because it’s an iPad.

Photography by Vjeran Pavic

Video by Tyler Pina and Vjeran Pavic

Edited by Dan Seifert and Lauren Goode

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