With the tablet market slowing down, and upgrade cycles being so long, Apple could perhaps have been forgiven for focussing mostly on its laptop-challenging Pro series. In fact, it's been almost two and a half years since the regular full-size iPads got a refresh.
With the 9.7-inch iPad for 2017, Apple focussed on trying to give a great all-round experience, without canniblising its Pro series and making it as affordable as possible. In almost every way the company has succeeded and, simultaneously, brought sense to the iPad range naming scheme.
New iPad review: Design
- 7.5mm thin
- Weighs 469 grams
- Space Grey, Silver and Gold models
As far as looks go, the new 2017 iPad sits somewhere between the original iPad Air from 2013 and the iPad Air 2. That’s to say, it’s the same thickness as the first, but with refined ports, drilled holes and fingerprint sensor from the second.
Despite being slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2, the new 2017 iPad at just 7.5mm is still a slim device and rests easy in the hands thanks to weighing just under 470 grams. It has the Air-like rounded edges and corners to make it feel comfortable when held, and has the chamfered edges. Except they’re no longer polished, they’re given the same soft bead-blasted anodisation treatment as the rest of the metal casing.
You’ll find the usual selection of ports and buttons on the new iPad. This includes the Lightning port flanked by 13 milled mini-holes on either side on the bottom edge, pill shaped volume buttons recessed into a groove on the right edge and a power/sleep key on the top.
There’s nothing entirely new or exciting in the aesthetic department, but that’s not a bad thing. The iPad’s sturdy, slim and attractive minimal styling has long been one of its strong points. This remains, as does the series of under-the-hood magnets for using accessories like the Apple Smart Cover.
Unlike the iPad Pro, there are no connectors for smart keyboards, which means you need to stick with the usual Bluetooth keyboards for typing on the go, if you don’t like using the on screen virtual QWERTY. And yes, there is still a headphone jack.
Apple iPad (2017) review: Display
- 9.7-inch LCD IPS panel
- 1536 x 2048 resolution
- 264 pixels per inch
If there’s any area Apple has taken a slight step backwards, it’s on the display. Sure, it has the same 1536 x 2048 resolution panel based on LED backlit LCD technology as before, but it’s not fully laminated like the iPad Air 2 screen was. That means there’s a small gap between the surface glass and the actual display panel, where there wasn’t in the last model. This is why the 2017 iPad is slightly thicker, and cheaper, than the previous generation.
What that means in real life use for the average consumer: not a lot. You won’t get the same “floating on the surface” effect that gets you close to your content, but the screen is still full of attractive and natural colours. It doesn’t really take away any of the enjoyment you get from binge-watching your favourite Netflix videos in bed, or agonising trying to get those last few Disney Crossy Road characters unlocked.
It’s still more than 260 pixels per inch on display, meaning everything looks sharp at arm’s length, but you will see individual pixels if you hold it close to your face. Again, this isn’t something you’d notice in daily use, and the resolution is pretty much standard for 9.7-inch tablets. Even the much more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and iPad Pro have the same pixel density and resolution.
The most obvious difference between this and the iPad Pro’s display - apart from the Apple Pencil support - is the True Tone technology on the Pro, which adjusts the white balance based on ambient lighting conditions. It does, however, have iOS Night Shift which cuts out the blue light to help relax your eyes when you’re winding down in the evening.
On the whole, it’s as good a platform for your favourite content as it has been. No better, and not really any worse.
Apple iPad 9.7 review: Software
- iOS 10.3 at launch
- New messages app
- Split screen multitasking
- Apple Pay support
As with all new iOS devices, the 2017 iPad runs the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. In this instance, that’s iOS 10.3, which comes with all the latest features that aren’t iPhone or iPad Pro specific.
That means, just like the iPhone, your iMessages can be brought to life with bubble and full-screen effects, and various images and animations from the iMessage App Store. With some installed apps, the iMessage capabilities will also mean being able to share useful information and articles from apps like iMDB and Pocket or challenge your friends to a game of 8 Ball Pool, right from the Messages conversation.
- Apple iOS 10 tips and tricks: See what your iPhone and iPad can do now
- iOS 10 Messages explained: What's new and how to use it
You also get the new Home app which brings together all of your HomeKit enabled accessories into a simple, intuitive dashboard. If you want to - and you don’t have a fourth generation Apple TV - you can opt to use your new iPad as the central hub for HomeKit devices, providing it’s an iPad that never leaves the house.
One of the most useful features, which only made its debut in recent years, is the split screen multitasking. When using any app in landscape mode, you can drag your finger across from the right side of the screen and select any app to run alongside it. It’s particularly useful if you need to look something up while chatting to a friend, or if you need a constant reference point while working on a document.
As for things you don’t get: there’s no Raise to Wake feature like you get on the iPhone, and no quick actions shortcuts from app icons, since the screen isn’t pressure sensitive.
Where iPad does succeed, and where it always has, is in the richness of its App Store ecosystem. There are thousands of great apps which are optimised for the iPad’s larger screen. These include great games, as well as fantastic creative programs like Paper by 53 and Procreate. So far, despite many years trying, this is an area where the iPad consistently outdoes Android tablets.
New Apple iPad review: Performance and battery
- Dual-core A9 processor
- 2GB RAM
- 32 or 128GB storage
- 10 hour battery
Like most new iPads since the first model launched seven years ago, the overall performance of the 9.7-inch iPad is slick and smooth. Its game loading speeds might not blow anyone away, but the A9 chip inside is still one of the most efficient and speedy processors on the market.
Transitions between apps, interactions with content on screen and touchscreen responsiveness are all good. In short - it gets everything done with no hiccups and no drama. For an everyday tablet, that’s all you can ask for, and all you really need. Even running two apps side-by-side didn’t pose any real problems.
To keep it running all day there’s the non-removable battery which, as always, is built to survive ten hours of constant use, and many, many days on standby. Depending on your own usage, the results will vary, but we’ve found the 10 hour use target to be fairly accurate. Some days you might get less, other times more. If you only use the iPad for a couple of hours a day, it could easily survive four to five days without needing to be plugged back into a power source.
Perhaps one slight downside is, unlike many new smartphones and tablets from other manufactures, the iPad (like the iPhone) still doesn’t have any kind of fast-charging solution. The included 10W power adapter is the same as it has been for many years, and will charge your iPad from empty to full in the space of 2-3 hours.
iPad 9.7 review: Cameras
- 8MP rear camera
- Full HD video at 30fps
- 1.2MP FaceTime camera
While photography is never a primary focus on iPads, it can be useful to have both the front 1.2-megapixel and rear 8-megapixel snappers, especially for Facetime calls. Apple's tablet remains one of the most useful windows for video calling. It's easy to pick up and move around, and easy to switch between those two cameras to show what you're looking at.
Camera quality is decent enough too. Photos aren't as balanced as those you'd see from high end smartphones, but they're good enough for those who want to just snap something quickly to share with friends and family. It tends to struggle a little with over exposure and, like many, has a hard time focussing on objects that are really close.
This new iPad offers a solid, consistent tablet experience at the lowest price we’ve seen from Apple in a new, full-size tablet.
In essence, it answers the question for those with dying 2-3 year old iPads who want to know what they should upgrade to, without spending £500+ on an iPad Pro.
What’s more, it fits into the iPad range right in the middle, and brings cohesion to Apple’s tablet range. Now we have iPad mini, iPad, and iPad Pro.
This iPad is easy to recommend to anyone.
Alternatives to consider
As it stands, the Android tablet market is a little bare, but the Pixel C shows off the best, cleanest version of Android in a stunning piece of hardware. It's really well made, has a great screen and is fast enough to cope with pretty much anything. It costs nearly £500, however, which is some premium over the regular iPad.
Read the full review: Google Pixel C review: Pixel perfect?
iPad mini 4
If you want a great Apple tablet without the size of the 9.7-inch iPad, the fourth generation iPad mini is an easy choice. Because the screen is smaller than the regular iPad, it's considerably sharper. It shares many of the features with the iPad 9.7, but just has them in a smaller package. It does, however, cost a little more than the iPad.
Read the full review: Apple iPad mini 4 review: Compact without compromise