Apple iPad 10th generation review: Great tech, but who’s it for?
- Improved processing speed
- USB-C charging
- Attractive colour schemes
- 9th generation model is way cheaper and enough iPad for most users
- Doesn’t support the USB-C Apple Pencil
- Air or Pro models are better if you need a power-packed iPad
I can well recall when the very first model of the iPad hit the market. Apple didn't invent tablet computing, but the first-generation iPad was something distinctly different.
The problem with being different at the time was that nobody was really sure what the iPad was for. Some bemoaned its lack of Flash support – yes, that really was a complaint at the time – while others declared it simply a "gigantic iPod Touch".
Even Apple wasn't entirely sure what the iPad was for, but it clearly saw potential in the idea of the iPad.
Fast forward 12 years to the 10th generation iPad, and I'm struck with a very similar question.
The 10th generation iPad is a serious improvement on its 9th generation counterpart, with improved power and a nicer design than predecessors.
However, with a serious price hike, it's in direct competition with the even better iPad Air or iPad Pro models if you do need that power.
Meanwhile, the 9th generation iPad has seen a small price hike, but it still sits as Apple's most affordable tablet, ideal for those who just want a screen to the world.
With all that in mind, I can't quite work out who the ideal consumer for the 10th generation iPad is… which means you probably shouldn't buy one.
Design: Thinner and more colourful
The 10th generation iPad marks a big design shift from Apple. Where the 9th generation model shipped only in Space Grey and Silver colours, very standard fare from Apple for its cheap iPads, the newer model can be yours in Silver, Yellow, Pink or Blue. Sorry, Space Grey, it appears your time in the spotlight is done.
Apple sent me the Pink model to review, and it certainly is very pink. Not my personal style to be sure, but it's notably a lot more fun to have bright colours wrapping around the sides and back of the metallic body.
It has a thinner body too, much more akin to the iPad Air design than anything else, measuring in at 248.6x179.5x7mm. It uses a side-mounted Touch ID button in place of the Home button that's been a feature of the basic model iPad since that 1st generation 12 years ago.
At the front, the 10th generation iPad features a 10.9-inch 2360x1640 LED-backlit IPS display. That's a slight size and resolution bump up from the 9th generation model and the same resolution as the slightly more expensive iPad Air. Apple refers to it as a "Liquid Retina" display. As always, that's just a fancy marketing term, not any kind of technical specification that Apple has to stick to.
The other big change in the iPad for the 10th generation is the removal of Apple's proprietary Lightning port in favour of USB-C.
It's essentially the last iPad to make that jump, although Apple does still sell its 9th generation counterpart. USB-C is more convenient for direct plugging and wider charger compatibility. This leaves the iPhone and AirPods lines as the last true bastions of Lightning if that matters to you.
Not that Apple's all-in on this whole USB-C for iPad 10th generation business, but we'll get to that shortly.
Performance: More power, but not enough for all that iOS 16 can do
The 10th generation iPad runs on Apple's A14 Bionic chip, also found in the iPhone 12 line and the 2020 era 4th generation iPad Air (https://www.finder.com.au/apple-ipad-air-2020).
While it now offers M2 processors for the iPad Pro and M1 for the iPad Air, the regular model iPad gets by with reworked mobile phone chips.
Still, the A14 Bionic is a jump upwards from the A13 Bionic in the 9th generation model, so you'd expect better performance. At a straight benchmark level, you absolutely do get that. Here's how the 10th generation iPad compares against a range of current and prior iPad models, using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
There's more power to play with here, but the gulf between the A series iPads and M1-powered models is quite significant. That's an issue when the very similar iPad Air isn't that much more expensive than the 10th generation iPad.
Unfortunately, it's also a comparison that doesn't flatter the 10th generation iPad when you come to use applications. It's not that the 10th generation iPad is slow by any stretch of the imagination.
If you do indeed want a tablet for content consumption or light computing work tasks, it's more than adequate, with plenty of apps from gaming to word processing or even light video editing if that's what you want.
However, while it's compatible with iPadOS 16, you don't get full iOS 16 feature compatibility. Apple's fancy new "Stage Manager" app switching interface is an M1- or M2-only affair, so if you're looking for productivity boosts, you won't see them here.
Stage Manager might not matter to you – it's not as though Apple's classic task switching isn't also available – but it seems like a bad bet to buy a more productive tablet that starts its life missing iPadOS features. Either Apple's playing games with consumers and it could support them or future features may also be missed.
Not that Apple doesn't still try to sell the 10th generation iPad as a potential productivity machine. It also sells a 10th generation iPad-specific keyboard – the $399 Magic Keyboard Folio. Apple loaned me one of those for use in this review.
Like the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, this is a nicely designed bit of kit with good keyboard response. It does look a little weird having the all-white keyboard against the pink frame of the iPad, but that's a minor quibble. Still, at more than half the price of the base model iPad, like the Pro model, it feels like a hard sell.
Then there's the USB-C nature of the 10th generation iPad.
It's not the first time Apple has changed iPad connectors because the early generations used Apple's 30 Pin connector instead of Lightning.
When that switch was made, Apple produced a few adaptors but basically said to consumers that the new connector was the future, and you had to get on with it.
With the USB-C port on the 10th generation iPad, it's a much more mixed affair. Apple has always been a bit coy about whether other third-party accessories will or won't work with its USB-C equipped iPad Pro models for example, and the same is true for the 10th generation iPad.
For what it's worth, while testing I could get easy access to some USB Flash drives and external SSD drives, but not all of them.
Where the 10th generation iPad gets weird is with the Apple Pencil. The other USB-C iPads all work exclusively with the 2nd generation USB-C Apple Pencil, so you'd assume that would be the model to buy if you bought the USB-C equipped 10th generation iPad, right?
Wrong. The 10th generation iPad only works with Apple's 1st generation Apple Pencil.
That's the model with the Lightning connector that the 10th generation iPad does not have.
This is deeply weird, Apple, and the solution to "fix" it is ungainly and environmentally unsound.
Apple's solution to this problem is a $15 Lightning to USB Adaptor, not much more than a thin tube with Lightning at one end and USB-C at the other.
Apple apparently will start selling the Apple Pencil with this adaptor onboard as standard, but for now, you'll have to buy one to use any existing 1st generation Apple Pencils.
To rub just that tiny bit more salt in the wounds, the adaptor does not come with a USB-C cable, which you'll also need for pairing and charging.
Apple could have opted to simply say that this new iPad needs a new Apple Pencil, or optimally said that it would work with either solution if it really wanted to work with consumers.
This is a halfway-house solution that absolutely feels like Apple just wants to differentiate the regular iPad line from the current generation Air, Mini and Pro products.
On the network front, there's the usual expected split between Wi-Fi only models and Wi-Fi+Cellular models with support for 5G.
While we're still lacking mmWave support for any Apple product in Australia – and I wouldn't really expect the cheaper iPad line to break that drought – it's at least nice to see Wi-Fi 6 support built into this cheaper model. If you do want even faster Wi-Fi, you'll have to jump all the way up to the M2-enabled 6th generation iPad Pro lines.
The 10th generation iPad features a large change in camera orientation, at least at the front. At the rear, there's an adequate but unexciting 12MP wide camera that can take stills and 4K video, but it's still a terribly clunky way to capture content unless you're desperate.
At the front, however, there's a 12MP camera located on the long side edge of the iPad. Why would you put it there?
It's because Apple realises that the primary reason folks might want a camera there isn't so much for ego-satisfying selfies as it is needed for work Zoom meetings or social FaceTime calls.
Putting the camera on the landscape side means that you're always looking towards the camera in those kinds of calls. Apple's Center Stage tech is present, so it'll try to zoom around to capture all callers in the shot, although it's still sometimes quirky in how it chooses to do that.
Battery: No surprises, but don't expect all-day battery life
Apple's claim around the 10th generation iPad is that it's good for up to 10 hours of wireless web surfing or video watching for the Wi-Fi model or 9 hours if you opt for the LTE variant.
That kind of usage figure, and the use of phrases like "up to", gives Apple a lot of wriggle room when it comes to battery life. Hammer the 10th generation iPad with heavy gaming content and you'll sap it a lot faster than if you're just reading simple web pages, for example.
I've only had the 10th generation iPad for testing for 5 days now, but so far, it's mostly reaching towards Apple's 10-hour claim, but I've not quite seen it get there.
In a straight-line YouTube streaming test, the 10th generation iPad managed 7 hours and 41 minutes before it was exhausted, for example. Using it more as a gaming platform, I was lucky to hit more than 4 hours.
Apple doesn't supply chargers with the iPhone 14 line-up, but you do get one with the 10th generation iPad, along with a rather nice braided USB-C to USB-C charging cable.
Should you buy the Apple iPad 10th generation?
- Buy it if you really like the colours on offer.
- Don't buy it if you want a good value iPad or a good productivity iPad.
Technically, there's very little wrong with the 10th generation iPad beyond Apple's stupid decision to stick with a Lightning-connected Apple Pencil on a machine with no Lightning port.
What's wrong with it, really, is the surrounding iPad ecosystem.
At its $749/$999 price point for Wi-Fi or $999/$1,249 for cellular models, it's significantly more expensive than the 9th generation model that Apple still sells. If you just want that basic tablet experience, while Apple has rather sneakily bumped its price up in Australia at the same time, it's still the best value out there.
That might leave the 10th generation iPad as a good option if you wanted an iPad with more power because you're a creative type.
It would be, were it not for the fact that the iPad Air is even more powerful and compatible with the right type of Apple Pencil as well as the full suite of iPadOS 16 experiences.
If you really want to go all out on the power, the new M2-enabled iPad Pro line is pretty tasty too, but that's at prices that make the 10th generation iPad feel affordable all over again.
What does that leave the 10th generation iPad with?
You can get it in yellow. Can't get any other iPad in yellow, so it's got that market sewn up.
Is that enough for you? I'd argue that it's not.
Pricing and availability
The 10th generation iPad retails in Australia with pricing starting at $749.
How we tested
Apple loaned me a pink 256GB Wi-Fi+Cellular model for review purposes, and I've tested it for a little bit under a week (because of the review embargo) through standard benchmarks, battery testing and with the also loaned Apple Pencil 1st generation and Magic Keyboard Folio peripherals.
I have extensive experience with Apple's iPad platform stretching all the way back to the very 1st generation iPad – in fact, I've still got one of those and surprisingly it still works, albeit not in many very useful ways anymore.
As a product reviewer, I've got more than 20 years of experience covering the consumer tech space including all Apple products released in that time frame. I'm a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including winner of the 2022 Best Reviewer award.
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