iPad (2017) review: how does the latest iPad stack up?

The iPad Air 3 may be dead, but the new iPad is a worthy successor

Price
£282
  • Cheaper than previous iPads; Strong performance; Generous storage options; Excellent battery life
  • Screen is a step back; Slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2

When Apple revealed it would be releasing a new 9.7in tablet in March last year, it was generally expected that we'd get a glimpse at the new iPad Air 3. Instead Apple revealed the 9.7in iPad Pro, and since then the future of the iPad Air 3 has been in serious doubt. With the launch of Apple's latest tablet (simply called 'the iPad'), it's safe to say Apple has killed off the iPad Air range altogether.

On first glance, Apple appears to have made some odd choices with its newest device. What we have now is a hybrid of the original iPad Air and Air 2 that is both thicker and heavier than the previous models, with a screen that isn't as fancy. In other words, it should have been a disaster.

Price and competition

However, it seems Apple has attempted to deliver an attractive alternative to the rather pricey iPad Pro 9.7. Instead of packing in more expensive tech and bumping the price up, the new iPad is Apple's cheapest tablet on the market. At 339, it's by no means a budget device, but it's a full 60 cheaper than the iPad Air 2, and even offers twice the storage capacity at 32GB.

There is also a 128GB version available for 429, and 32GB and 128GB models that include 4G connectivity, priced at 469 and 559 respectively.

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Even against competing Android tablets, the new iPad's price holds up well. The recently released Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, which is gloriously slim and slight and has a fantastic AMOLED display, is rather pricey at 599. Even the equally fantastic Tab S2 has held its price well at 329.

Features and design

Designs within the iPad range never seem to deviate too much from Apple's distinct look, and this time is no different. The visual appearance of the new device may look similar to that of its predecessors, but Apple's nailed one of the most popular designs ever - hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

You will find the home button, lightning connector, and headphone jack in all the typical places, and it even features the same 8MP iSight HDR camera on the rear and 720p 1.2MP front-facing camera found on the iPad Air 2. Apple has once again chosen the familiar aluminium casing, and offers the same colour variations as the iPad Pro 9.7: gold, silver, and 'space grey'.

Instead of the 'smart' keyboard connector found on the iPad Pro range, Apple has chosen to fit the new iPad with a series of magnets for the attaching of folding cases or compatible type covers, although for the latter you will need to use bluetooth. The downside to this change is that there's no officially supported keyboard cover from Apple, and it also doesn't support the Apple Pencil - but given the price of the tablet these are forgivable omissions.

The only tangible change we could see was the added weight and size of the newer model: 7.5mm and 478g over the iPad Air 2's 6.1mm and 437g. However, this is so slight you're unlikely to notice unless you're comparing them side-by-side, and it certainly won't make any difference when thrown into a bag.

Display

Sadly, the new iPad's display doesn't quite reach the standards of the iPad Air 2 or the iPad Pro 9.7. The anti-reflective coating found on older devices is missing, and there is a visible gap between the LCD panel and the surface glass, whereas this has traditionally been laminated. Screen vibrancy suffers as a result, and the presence of screen reflections and a poor contrast make on-screen images less impactful.

However, it is important to remember that this is not a pricier successor to the iPad Air 2, and for its price you are getting a very capable screen with some impressive features. The 4:3 Retina-class 2,048 x 1,536, 264ppi display has a superb maximum brightness that peaks at 520cd/m2, far superior to the 390cd/m2 on the iPad Air 2. The contrast ratio is a fairly average 861:1, almost identical to the original iPad Air, but the screen is able to cover more of the sRGB colour space, providing colours that are vibrant and highly accurate.

Apple has also included its Night Shift tech, which helps to reduce the amount of blue light generated by the screen. Unfortunately the iPad lacks the 'True Tone' feature found on the iPad Pro 9.7, which helps the screen adapt colour temperatures to match ambient conditions.

Performance and battery life

In terms of hardware, the big change is the move to an Apple A9 processor, the same used in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. While on paper it's not as powerful as the A8X processor found in the iPad Air 2, it's superior to the original iPad Air's 1.3GHz A7 chip.

Despite the apparent downgrade, the new iPad feels surprisingly nippy. Pinch-zoom and swipe gestures respond perfectly, and there is very little slowdown when running demanding apps.

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Surprisingly, the new iPad also outperformed both the iPad Air and Air 2 in benchmark tests. It scored higher than both devices in the Geekbench 4 CPU test, reaching 2490 using single-core, over scores of 1803 from the iPad Air 2 and 1321 from the iPad Air.

It's also massively more power efficient than previous generations. During our video-playback test, with the screen brightness calibrated to 170cd/m2, the iPad lasted 14 hours 47 minutes in one charge. That's four hours longer than the iPad Air 2, and two hours longer than the iPad Air.

Verdict

Apple's move to rein in the price of the lower-end iPad is a very savvy one. The iOS software is far better suited to devices of this kind than Android, and offering a more powerful, longer-lasting and more competitively-priced replacement to the previous iPad generation will doubtless help secure the company's place at the top of the pile.

Of course, there's a bittersweet element to all this, as it's pretty much the final nail in the coffin for anyone who was hoping to see an iPad Air 3. If you can get over your disappointment, however, you'll find that Apple has produced one of the best tablets on the market once again. If you can't quite stomach the price of an iPad Pro, this is the tablet to buy.

Verdict

Apple has taken a sensible approach with the new iPad, sacrificing a fancy screen for a more attractive price point and some meaningful performance upgrades.

CPUDual-core 1.84GHz Apple A9
RAM2GB
Storage32GB/128GB
Display9.7in 2,048 x 1536 LED screen
PortsLightning, headphone jack, nano sim slot (4G)
Dimensions240mm x 170mm x 7.5mm
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