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Apple iPad 2021 review: still the best tablet for most people

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Apple’s updated low-end iPad looks set to continue its dominance of the market with newer chips, twice the storage and a brilliant new video-calling camera.

The 10.2in iPad costs £319 ($329/A$499) – £300 for students – making it Apple’s best-value tablet, sitting below the £479 iPad mini and £579 iPad Air.

Unlike most of its tablet models, Apple has taken to updating the internal components of the standard iPad once a year while keeping its cost and design the same, ensuring its long line of accessories such as keyboards, cases and pens remain compatible.

As such the experience of using the 2021 iPad is the same as the 2020 iPad, but with the updated iPadOS 15 and a few new additions that keep it firmly in pole position.

Faster chip, double the storage but same battery life

The iPad now has Apple’s A13 Bionic processor from 2019’s iPhone 11. It’s not Apple’s newest chip but it is considerably more powerful than most lower-cost rivals and easily able to handle anything you can do with an iPad. The tablet now comes with twice the minimum of storage compared with the previous version, at 64GB, which will be enough for those who mainly stream content rather download vast movie libraries.

Centre Stage camera and better screen

The new 12-megapixel wide-angle “Centre Stage” camera removes some of the annoyance of video calls by automatically panning and zooming to keep you and friends in frame without having to think about it. It also has much better low-light performance, meaning everyone gets a better, easier view, which will be particularly useful for remote education.

The screen has had a minor but welcome upgrade with the addition of Apple’s “true tone” technology, which keeps colours looking true to life adjusting to ambient light. The display is otherwise still crisp and bright and significantly better than many cheaper rivals.

Sustainability

Apple does not give a rated lifecycle for the iPad battery, typically 500 full-charge cycles in similar devices, but it can be replaced for £99. The tablet is generally repairable, with an out-of-warranty service costing £246.44, which includes the screen.

The iPad uses 100% recycled aluminium in its case, 100% recycled tin in the solder of its main board, more than 65% recycled rare earth elements and at least 60% recycled plastic in multiple other components. Apple breaks down the tablet’s environmental impact in its report.

Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

Observations

  • The iPad only has wifi5 and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, not wifi6 and Bluetooth 5 that has been available on most new devices for the last few years.

  • The rear 8MP camera is slightly improved, but still miles off a good smartphone camera.

Price

The iPad (9th generation) costs £319 ($329/A$499) with 64GB of storage or £459 ($479/A$729) with 256GB. 4G-capable models cost £120 ($130/A$200) more.

For comparison, the iPad mini costs £479, the iPad Air costs £579 and the iPad Pro costs from £749, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 costs £90, the Fire HD 10 costs £150 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 costs £519.

Verdict

The 10.2in iPad is still the best tablet for most people offering an unbeatable combination of value, performance, software and longevity.

It’s not flash and it has some older technology, such as the lightning cable and wifi5, but its old design means accessories made for many previous models still fit. Doubling the storage to 64GB is welcome, the faster chip and better display too, but it is the Centre Stage auto-tracking video call camera that is a biggest upgrade and will be particularly useful.

Pros: great performance, good battery life, good screen, iPadOS, plenty of apps, good speakers, very long support, recycled aluminium, Centre Stage camera.

Cons: older design, no USB-C, fairly slow charging, no multi-user support, more expensive than budget rivals.

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