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(Pocket-lint) - Apple announced two iPads at its annual September event in 2021: the high-spec iPad mini, and this, the more affordable iPad - which, now over 11 years after the original launched, is in its ninth generation.

If the above sentence sounds familiar, it's because it's virtually identical to the way that we started our review for the Apple iPad (8th Gen) back in September 2020. Talk about a case of history repeating. The updated iPad is also largely a repeat, sticking to its increasingly dated design principles, adding just a sprinkling of upgrades, such as True Tone automated colour adjustment.

So is the classic iPad still worthy of a look, or is approaching end-of-life when compared to the likes of the iPad Air and iPad Pro models? We've been testing out the 10.2-inch (9th Gen) model to see if it still has a place in this world.

Design

  • 10.2-inch Retina Display, 2160 x 1620 resolution (264ppi)
  • Adds True Tone display colour adjustment tech
  • Size & Weight: 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm / 487g
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor Home button
  • Wi-Fi (ac) & 4G cellular options
  • Lightning port connection

The 2021 iPad features an identical design to its 8th Gen predecessor. Indeed, it's the same as the 7th Gen model prior to that. That means you get a large 10.2-inch display, but now with Apple's True Tone colour correction system, a traditional TouchID-enabled home button for fingerprint login, even a headphone jack (increasingly rare in new products!), all in a metal-backed chassis that will withstand a few knocks and bumps.

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Cutting into that rear metal exterior is an almost blink-and-you'll-miss-it lone 12-megapixel camera lens - it's especially discreet compared to the more bulging lenses you'll find on the newer iPad designs. There's also a Smart Connector for adding accessories, such as Apple's smart keyboard, which is something that lacks in the more tablet-focused iPad mini. 

Charging is via the Lightning port - nope, it's still not gone to USB-C - making this is the last iPad to retain that connection type. There's also Apple Pencil (1st Gen) support, which is great for sketching and note-taking, but no support for the more-comfortable-to-use 2nd Gen Pencil. 

The iPad's design - which we'd once call striking and cutting edge - is now merely what is it: dated. Certainly compared to the more square iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro ranges of recent years. But it's by no means bad, it's just approaching the end of its run, we suspect.

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The screen - which isn't touch-to-wake like the FaceID-enabled iPhone 13 series, or TouchID-enabled iPad models - is big enough for you to enjoy all the various streaming services available, or to play games, write emails, and generally do what you've been doing on an iPad since its introduction way back in 2010.

Power & Performance 

  • 8-megapixel rear camera, f/2.4 aperture, autofocus
  • 12MP front camera, f/2.4, 122-degree ultra-wide
  • 64GB/256GB storage sizes
  • A13 Bionic processor

New for 2021 is an upgraded processor. Well, it's not new new - it's actually the A13 Bionic previously used in the iPhone 11 range released back in 2019. So while that doesn't come with all the whizz-bang excitement surrounding the newer A15 processor - as found in the 2021 iPad mini - it's more than capable for this device.

The processor means Apple has been able to add certain software features - mainly in the guise of Centre Stage thanks to the inclusion of a new 12-megapixel front-facing camera - while assuring that it will run the latest iPadOS 15 update.

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That's the same front-facing camera found on the 2021 iPad Pro and the 2021 iPad mini - which gives you a sense of how important Apple believes video calling is these days - and is very much an upgrade from the previous 1.2-megapixel camera that adorned the iPad prior. Indeed, it sports 10 times the resolution, and is wider-angle, too, allowing you to get more into the shot - perfect for family FaceTime calls.

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When you aren't all clambering to be on the screen talking to Gran, you can use Center Stage, where the camera software does its best to 'follow you' as you move around to keep you 'centre stage' - geddit? We're still not sold on it, though, as many of those receiving our calls have said "please turn it off" and we've heard others say it makes them feel almost seasick. Thankfully you can switch it off then.

On the storage front there are now 64GB or 256GB options - double that of the last generation - and unless you really are going to store lots of photos or games on the device we suspect you can easily get away with the lower storage option to help keep the price down.

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Battery life will depend on use. Chat on a video call for a while and you'll notice the battery deplete faster than a teenage boy can eat all the food on the table at dinner, but more select use and the battery keeps going. Apple claims around 10 hours from a single charge for surfing the web or watching video, a number that seems fairly spot-on during our testing. That's a couple of movies over a week - as it holds the charge well in standby mode - or a couple of long car journeys for the kids to play some games.

iPadOS 15

  • Better multitasking app support
  • App Library
  • Widgets

There's plenty of new features that have come to iPadOS 15 which the 9th Gen iPad takes advantage of - including widgets for the first time on the iPad, and better multitasking for side-by-side app use. You also get App Library so you don't have to have pages and pages of apps to search through, while Quick Notes lets you access the notes app by swiping up diagonally from the bottom right corner of the screen if you need to quickly jot something down. 

Verdict

This is the last bastion of the original iPad design - as it's clinging on for dear life not to be axed. Much as this design was cutting edge once, in its ninth generation form it's looking far more dated.

Chances are you won't care what it looks like, though, because otherwise you'd opt for the new shiny new iPad mini or a more advanced iPad Pro model. We suspect that'll make the 9th Gen iPad ideal for your kids, or for those who simply can't justify spending the kind of money Apple commands for those other slimmer-bezel iPads.

Therefore the 10.2-inch iPad is one for those who simply need a tablet that enables them to surf the internet, watch streaming services, and do the occasional other stuff - such as attach a keyboard via the Smart Connector for doing some work - rather than try to be something more glamorous. Just because it's getting on a bit doesn't mean this iPad doesn't deserve its place though.

Also consider

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Apple iPad Air (2020)

Sporting a slightly bigger screen and a more square design, this is the iPad for those who want something more than just the entry-level offering.

  • Read our review

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Apple iPad mini (2021)

If you're looking for something ultra-portable and aren't worried about the keyboard, the 2021 iPad mini certainly packs a punch. It's got the same processor as the iPhone 13 Pro, plus a host of other features to get excited about.

  • Read our review

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Writing by Stuart Miles. Originally published on 22 September 2021.