Apple iPad 2017 Review: Has Apple finally embraced low cost?

Alex Kidman 3 May 2017

Apple iPad 2017 review

The Good...

  • Improved processor performance
  • Lowered asking price
  • Good battery life
  • Lots of available tablet-optimised apps

The Bad...

  • Doesn’t work with Apple Pencil
  • Screen is more reflective than on iPad Pro
  • 4G LTE is hard to justify at the cost
  • Can’t upgrade internal storage

Quick Verdict

Apple’s 2017 iPad is still the tablet to buy if you need a new device, but there’s little here to tempt upgraders beyond the substantially lowered price point.

Apple’s updated iPad isn’t a radical reinvention, except in terms of how much it costs.

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When Apple first introduced the iPad back in 2010, it was widely derided as simply "a huge iPod Touch", with many uncertain as to how well consumers would react to Apple’s take on the already-existing tablet computing form factor. The iPad was a roaring success, and seven years later Apple has iterated on that core design, making them thinner, faster and more seriously focused on the productivity community rather than just apps for fun and media consumption via the 12.9 inch iPad Pro and 9.7 inch iPad Pro.

All of this evolution made the news that Apple’s newest iPad would be a model that instead updated the regular iPad line. To give that some context, the last non-Pro iPad was 2014’s iPad Air 2, and in computing terms, that’s a long time. What has Apple brought to the table with what’s now just called the Apple iPad?

Apple iPad: Design

One of the key reasons those early critics of the iPad could call it a "big iPod Touch" was because that’s precisely what it looked like. For the most part that hasn’t changed apart from iPads getting thinner by generation, but here the new iPad is something of a departure. At 240x169.5x7.5mm, it’s actually 1.4mm thicker than the iPad Pro 9.7 inch or the now-defunct iPad Air 2.

Apple loves to tout how thin their devices are, so this is quite a design step backwards, it would seem, because the new iPad sits in the chassis of the original iPad Air, more or less. One slight design uptick there is that if you are upgrading from an original Air, many of the accessories including cases should fit without minimal issues.

Part of the new iPad’s slight extra chunkiness comes from the fact that, unlike the iPad Pro 9.7 inch, there’s once again a very slight air gap between the display and the actual LCD screen. It’s not super-noticeable unless you’ve used the Pro extensively, but it does mean that it has slightly more reflectivity in bright light than the Pro model.

The iPad is sold in Apple’s familiar Silver, Gold and Space Grey colour schemes. Sorry, iPhone 7 fans, no sign of Jet Black or PRODUCT(RED) finishes for the iPad, at least for now.

ipad2017_back_738

Apple iPad: Why you’d want one

  • Upgraded processor: If you keep within the non-Pro family of iPads, the new iPad is most definitely an upgrade in raw processing power, grabbing the A9 processor already found in the iPhone SE and iPhone 6s to throw under the hood. The end result is very good performance for the price, although predictably not quite up to the rate of the A10 Fusion found in the iPhone 7 Plus. Anecdotally apps load without fuss in almost every case, although that should be expected given the now wide range of devices iOS app developers need to qualify for. Essentially most of them are shooting for the lowest common denominator for app performance, which means that the new iPad easily sails past. It’s not quite an (ahem) apples to apples performance comparison, but here’s how the new iPad compares against the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7 and the A9X in the 9.7 inch iPad Pro in Geekbench 4’s CPU test and 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test:
    AppleiPad 2017iPad Pro 9.7iPhone 7
    Geekbench 4 CPU Multi-Core445552135599
    3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited282793358737717
  • Good battery life: Battery life usage figures are by their nature somewhat elastic, because what you use a tablet for will impact its overall performance markedly. Apple itself rates the new iPad as being capable of up to 10 hours of video, web surfing or music listening, and that’s an entirely achievable battery goal. Using Geekbench’s older Geekbench 3 battery test, we managed to eke out 12:41:20 of battery time with a battery score of 7613. By way of comparison, the 9.7 inch iPad Pro only managed a battery life of 11:42 with a score of 7020, although it does pack in less battery capacity due to its lighter carrying weight. The larger battery in the new iPad should deliver better battery performance, and in our tests it did just that.
  • Wide variety of tablet-optimised apps: Apple didn’t invent the tablet computing concept, but there’s little arguing with the idea that it made it truly popular. Popularity brought developers into the fold, and they’ve largely stayed there. What that means is that you get a library of seven years worth of tablet-specific apps to choose from, whether your tastes run to straight entertainment apps or more productivity-centric fare. You can buy even cheaper Android tablets, but that’s a much more fragmented market where apps may behave erratically depending on screen resolution and how much work the developer has put in to cover your specific tablet situation.
  • Lowest cost full iPad: There’s really very little doubting that this particular model iPad runs out the door due to the asking price. Apple’s Australian pricing for the new iPad starts at just $469 for a 32GB Wi-Fi only iPad. By comparison, the iPad Pro 9.7 inch starts at $849 for a 32GB model, and the iPad Mini 4 starts at $579, although that is for a model with 128GB of onboard storage.

ipad2017_lightning_738

Apple iPad: Why you might not want one

  • Could be more powerful: The iPad 2017 represents a step up in power from the iPad Air 2, but it’s still a step behind the iPad Pro 9.7 and its A9X processor. Apple’s very deliberately made the choice to equip the new iPad with the same processor found in last generation’s iPhone models, and that means that if performance is your focus because you want an iPad to be your primary computer, the iPad Pro would be a better choice.
  • Low base memory specification: Apple has been consistent in not offering a way to easily upgrade the storage on iOS devices, and it’s certainly not changing tack for the new iPad. The baseline 32GB is arguably just workable on an apps basis, but when you consider the growth of video services such as offline Netflix or offline Stan, you could fill that up pretty quickly. If you want to jump up to a 128GB iPad, it’ll cost you $130 to do so. That’s some expensive memory you’re selling there, Apple!
  • Your existing iPad works fine: Apple sells a lot of iPhones every single year, and it’s not hard to see why. We carry our iPhones everywhere, wearing them out and often dropping and breaking them, requiring replacement, at which time an upgrade makes perfect sense. iPads are less portable and likely to be less heavily used over the same time period, which means they’re likely to last longer. The new iPad isn’t some radical reinvention of the iPad concept. It’s just a little faster and a bit cheaper, but if your existing model does what you need, there’s not much here to push you towards an upgrade.
  • 4G LTE is pricey: The new iPad is priced to sell, as they say, but there’s still the option to go for the 4G LTE model, which incorporates a nano SIM card slot so you can stay online as long as you have a mobile broadband service. This works well, but it’s a hard sell given that the price difference for that feature is a full $200. You could easily pick up a Wi-Fi hotspot and service a whole range of devices for that kind of money. When you’re only paying from $469 for the device itself, a $200 increase is quite noticeable.

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Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?

While Apple itself will never use the word "cheap", there’s little doubting that the key appeal of the new iPad is that it’s the "cheap" iPad option across the board.

If you’re replacing a broken iPad, or updating from a couple of generations prior, the new iPad is an easy recommendation. If you’ve never owned a tablet before, or you want one as a gift for somebody else, this is also a very easy recommendation as the tablet to buy, without a doubt.

If your iPad Air 2 is still humming along nicely, however, it’s a tougher sell, and that’s something that’s pretty much par for the course with most tablets. If all you need is basic browsing, email and Netflix, your need to upgrade is minimal.

The other obvious competitor in the iPad family would be the iPad Pro 9.7 inch, and there the pricing contrast is rather stark, because you start there at an $849 price point compared to $469. That extra cash buys you a much faster and lighter iPad, as well as one that supports the Pencil accessory if that’s important to you.

There are of course even cheaper Android tablet competitors, including multiple Samsung models you could opt for, with a variety of price points. They’re entirely serviceable options for the essentials of tablet usage, but the way that an individual Android app treats tablet sizing and resolution can vary pretty widely. It’s something that Apple had a much better grasp of (and control of) from day one.

ipad2017_3_738

Where can I get it?

Apple sells the iPad 9.7 inch model in either straight Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi+Cellular configurations starting at $469/$669 for a 32GB model, or $599/$799 for the 128GB version. There’s no pricing difference based on colour choices of Space Grey, Silver or Gold.

ipad2017_1_738

iPad (2017) Specifications

DeviceApple iPad Pro 9.7 inch
Screen size9.7in
Storage32/128GB
Weight469/478g
ProcessorApple A9
Rear camera8MP
Front camera1.2MP
Battery32.4Wh (10-hour life)
Resolution2048x1536
Display density264ppi
Pricing$469/$669/$599/$799

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