Apple iPad 2020 review
Quick verdict: Apple's entry-level iPad has really only had a processor update this year, but it remains the best tablet that you can buy.
- Apple A12 Bionic is fast and powerful
- Keyboard and Pencil support
- Huge range of iPad-specific apps
- No real design changes from 2019
- Still reliant on Lightning connector
- 32GB of fixed storage is almost insulting
Apple has trod a steady course with its entry-level iPad this year. Where in 2019 it redesigned the iPad by boosting the display and adding keyboard support, this year's iteration is basically more of the same, but with a more powerful engine under the hood.
But that's totally fine, because back in 2019, the Apple iPad was the tablet that almost everyone should buy anyway, and by making it more powerful, Apple's just made it an even more compelling prospect.
Looking for the latest model? Here's our full review of the 9th generation iPad from 2021.
- Looks similar to last year's model – because it is
- 10.2-inch display with prominent bezels
- It has a (gasp) headphone jack!
- Still Lightning powered
While Apple is often accorded the idea of being an innovator in design terms, that's a plaudit that largely only applies when it comes up with actual new designs, which typically only happens every few years. That's certainly the case for the Apple iPad 2020, which uses the exact same form factor, screen and inputs as its immediate predecessor.
It even uses the same colour schemes, so you can grab an Apple iPad 2020 in either Silver, Space Grey or Gold, depending on your personal style. The Silver and Gold models, as with previous generations, feature a white bezel around the display, while the Space Grey unit gives you a black bezel. I'm a big fan of that black bezel, if only because I find the contrast between the screen and the white bezel just a tad distracting.
That lack of fundamental design change means that you get an iPad with a 10.2-inch 2160x1620 pixel "retina" display – although that's a marketing term that's increasing in irrelevance with every year that Apple continues to use it.
The Apple iPad 2020 places its glass a millimetre or so above the actual LCD display. That's a rough measurement, because I'd have to crack the Apple iPad 2020 open to precisely gauge it, but the reason it's important is that it does allow for a little more screen reflectivity than you get on the fancier iPad models.
It's not a huge problem for most use cases, although if you do use an iPad outdoors a lot or in direct sunlight, you might find it irksome. Otherwise, the display on the iPad is genuinely quite nice for most everyday content consumption tasks, and even for a little light productivity work.
That's helped by the fact that the Apple iPad 2020 supports both the Apple Smart Keyboard case and the Apple Pencil, although not the fancier and more expensive Apple Magic Keyboard.
Apple supplied me with a Smart Keyboard and Pencil for review, but as a reminder, these are somewhat costly extras that do not come standard with the Apple iPad 2020.
While the fancier – and more expensive – iPad Air 2020 and iPad Pro lines are relatively bezel-free, the Apple iPad 2020 has some thick and chunky bezels in play, although that's also because it has to accommodate an actual TouchID sensor at the base of the tablet.
Fancy features – not that they're that fancy, given they've been in certain Android phones and Windows laptops for years now – such as power button fingerprint sensors aren't to be found here.
What you will find, though, is a headphone jack nestled at the top of the iPad, while the base houses a Lightning connector. Given that the iPad Air 2020 shifts over to a USB C connector, this might well be the last generation of iPad to use Apple's own proprietary connector for tablets, although we'll have to wait and see on that score.
- Rear camera is fine but unexceptional
- Front-facing camera has more utility for video conferencing
Cameras on tablets have long had the issue that they're present but rarely exciting, and they're often only a last-resort camera for most users. That's due to the fact that they're often underpowered, as well as because of the physical realities of shooting and framing with a camera body that measures in at 250.6x174.1x7.5mm.
Again, Apple hasn't changed the core iPad formula from 2019, which means that the Apple iPad 2020 features a single rear-facing 8MP f/2.4 camera, while at the front you'll find an even more rudimentary 1.2MP "FaceTime" camera. While "FaceTime" is just Apple marketing in play, in the reality of 2020, the use of a camera capable of video conferencing has suddenly been thrust into the foreground, making that secondary camera arguably more important than the rear-mounted one.
At the rear, in good light, you can shoot acceptable pictures, but there's very little of Apple's generally good photo processing or additional features at play here, and if you push it hard in any sense, whether that's low light, fast action or high contrast, you'll very quickly hit the limits of what the Apple iPad 2020's rear-facing camera can actually manage.
- Apple A12 Bionic runs well
- 32GB of fixed onboard storage ought to be illegal
- iPad OS works nicely for basic productivity tasks
- Keyboard and Pencil are fun, but pricey
It's under the hood that Apple has made substantial changes to the Apple iPad 2020. For the 2019 model, Apple stuck with its Apple A10 Fusion processor, which was the same engine that ran the 2018 model as well. It created an instant and rather noticeable performance gap, especially between it and the iPad Air 2019.
In 2020, however, the regular iPad runs on the Apple A12 Bionic Processor, which means that it's more or less the iPad Air 2019 in performance terms. That's borne out in benchmarking, where the line between the Apple iPad 2020 and its contemporaries is pretty slender, excluding the much more pricey Apple iPad Pro. Here's how they compare using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
While the internal processor has seen a very welcome speed bump that should see the Apple iPad 2020 through a good few years of iPadOS upgrades, Apple has stuck to its miserly ways when it comes to included storage.
As always, you can't upgrade the internal storage of an iPad at all, and the baseline model of the Apple iPad 2020 ships with just 32GB onboard. That's frankly awful for a 2020 tablet, and I'd strongly suggest that you opt for the 128GB model instead.
Sadly, Apple still charges way too much for storage upgrades across its entire product set, but you'll quickly feel the edges of just 32GB. It's probably not coincidental that Apple's going to suggest taking out an iCloud subscription to make up for the shortfall, right?
While Apple Pencil (1st Gen, Lightning only) and Smart Keyboard support aren't new for the iPad, that improved processor does give them more scope for productivity work.
Apple's keen to point out the "Scribble" functionality in iPadOS that can convert Apple Pencil strokes into keystrokes without having to put down the Apple Pencil. That's not a workflow that particularly appeals to me per se, but I can see the utility, so I gave it a red hot go using the supported apps.
Sadly, either my chicken scratch is worse than the average GP's, or Apple's implementation of this feature needs some serious fine-tuning, because my accuracy rate was only around 75% at best. That's not a strike rate I'd want to work with on an ongoing basis, although it does open up some use laudable cases around disability where keyboards might not be optimal.
All of this presumes of course that you're going to drop the extra cash for the Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard. Scribble is an iPadOS function too, so it's also going to be available on other iPad models capable of taking the latest iPadOS upgrades, not just the new Apple iPad 2020.
As with previous generations, you can opt to buy the Apple iPad 2020 in a straight Wi-Fi variant, or with LTE enabled at an extra cost. Wi-Fi is dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, while LTE is provided either via a nano-SIM or by using the embedded eSIM.
- Apple's battery claims are fair
- Expect less battery life if you opt for the LTE model
As has long been the case, Apple doesn't publish direct battery specifications for its products, instead stating expected "up to" battery life claims. At the time of writing, iFixit is yet to tear an Apple iPad 2020 apart to find out what's ticking underneath its surface, so all we can go on is the claim that it's good for up to 10 hours of general use for the Wi-Fi-only model, or 9 if you're using the LTE variant and working via 4G networks.
As always, battery drain is going to be a function of the apps that you throw at it, but like last year's models, Apple's tended on the conservative side for actual battery life figures. I can pretty easily get to that 10-hour figure over a day's on-again, off-again usage, and maybe a little more besides, although if I engaged in more heavy-duty gaming activities (not including Fortnite right now), that figure could drop rather markedly.
Now that the upcoming Apple iPad Air 2020 will use USB C, the Apple iPad 2020 stands alone in Apple's full-size tablet space as the only model that uses a Lightning connector. You technically do get USB C with the Apple iPad 2020, but only on the charger end, not at the point that you plug it into the tablet itself.
Should you buy the Apple iPad 2020?
- Buy it if you want the best-value tablet going today.
- Don't buy it if you need the additional shine of the fancier iPads.
The Apple iPad 2020 is Apple's entry-level iPad, and that should mean that it's rife with compromises to encourage you to "trade up" to a higher spec model.
However, that's not going to be the reality for almost every tablet user. The increase in power thanks to that A12 Bionic might seem like a small step, but it enables a lot of functionality that should meet the needs not only of those who simply consume content on a tablet, but also basic productivity workers. No, it's not a full laptop replacement, and sure, some higher-end users such as graphic artists will get more out of an iPad Air 2020 or an iPad Pro, but that's a very small niche of users.
Steer clear of that 32GB model – seriously Apple, up your storage game – and you'll be very happy indeed with the Apple iPad 2020.
And if you would prefer a smaller model, we have tested the new 2021 iPad Mini 6.
Pricing and availability
Images: Alex Kidman