An iPad is basically a screen you hold in your hands, so the screen quality is important, and Apple didn’t skimp on this one. First of all, it’s plenty bright. Apple says it tops out at 500 nits, thanks to a stronger backlight, which is the same brightness as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and 25 percent brighter than the iPad Air 2. It can still be tricky to see in the very brightest sunlight, but overall you can notice the improvement.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the P3 color gamut as well as SRGB, and iOS manages the colors so you always see the most accurate image. The same iPad Pro also has True Tone, which further adjusts the display to match the color temperature of the room’s lighting. This new iPad has neither of those: no True Tone (although it does have Night Shift), and just SRGB color. But since those features are available on the higher-end tablet, it makes sense to cut them from the lower-cost model—they’re nice-to-haves, not need-to-haves, and I haven’t missed them when using the new iPad in a variety of lighting situations.
The new iPad also lacks Apple Pencil support, the iPad Pro’s four-speaker setup, as well as the Smart Connector. Again, I don’t miss them much. The iPad gets loud enough to watch movies and TV and enjoy music without relying on headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, even if the sound doesn’t have all the gravitas of the iPad Pro’s. Yes, it has a headphone jack, and let’s pray that iPads always will.
Under the hood
The main reason the new iPad is nearly as good as the iPad Pro is how well it runs the thousands of iPad apps. The A9 chip is the third generation of the 64-bit A-series chips, and it also brings a better image signal processor and more accurate M9 motion coprocessor than the iPad Air 2’s A8X. Apple says the new chip is more battery efficient, plus the new iPad has a slightly larger battery than its predecessor. (The battery is 32.9 watt-hours, the same as the first iPad Air. The slimmer iPad Air 2 shaved the battery down to 27.6, and interestingly, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s battery is 27.9.) I had no trouble beating Apple’s 10-hour estimate consistently, with one video-streaming test stretching to 12 hours, 44 minutes.
The iPad starts up quickly, unlocks in a flash with the speedy Touch ID button, and runs heavy apps like Pixelmator, Lightroom, and GarageBand with no sweat. It scored 2251 in Geekbench 4.1’s single-core CPU test, and 4417 in the multicore CPU test, putting it right between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro in terms of performance—right where you’d expect.
This iPad is great for families, schools, businesses looking for a point-of-sale system, and just anyone who wants a workhorse of an iPad without the bells and whistles of the more expensive iPad Pro. It’s everything great about the iPad at a lower cost to entry than ever, and if your kids are as nuts about the iPad as mine is, this is the one to get them.