2018 Apple iPad full review: practical and cheap, it’s still an excellent choice for your first tablet
Simplicity matters more than style for iPads, so the new model gets the job done, with the iOS 11.3 operating system delivering improved performance, outstanding Apple Pencil support and superb battery life
Competition in the tablet market is less cutthroat than that for smartphones. Google, despite building a superb operating system that has a legitimate claim to be superior to Apple’s iOS on phones, somehow has been unable to optimise Android to run as well on tablets.
Companies such as Samsung and Huawei pump out pioneering phone hardware every year but seem to put half as much effort into doing the same for its tablets.
That may explain why Apple’s newest, sixth-generation iPad feels more like a cursory update than a significant advance.
Design and hardware
When it comes to physical design, the iPad (2018) doesn’t change much from last year’s device (or even the original iPad): there’s that 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1536 LCD display, surrounded by chunky bezels, and Apple’s iconic (but dying) circular home button/fingerprint sensor combo.
The back is made of aluminium, and the unit is about 7.5mm thick, like just about every iPad before it.
Place this iPad next to an iPhone X, and the former looks like it was built half a decade earlier. But iPads have always been more about functionality than style, and this model gets the job done, even if its design is very long in the tooth.
Some of the hardware features found on the Pro line, such as quad speaker set-up and 120Hz screen refresh rate, are missing here (instead it’s a standard two-speaker combo and 60Hz rate), but that can be forgiven considering this standard iPad’s much lower price tag.
This iPad does get the most crucial Pro feature of all: support for the Apple Pencil (which is sold separately).
Software and features
As mentioned in our iPad Pro 10.5 review from last year, the release of iOS 11 improved the iPad significantly as a productivity machine, and the iOS 11.3 found here improves performance across the board. It’s now easier to activate split-screen mode, though the 9.7-inch display is less ideal for the task than the 10.5- or 12.9-inch iPad Pros.
Apple Pencil support, however, works just as well here, thanks to the same Broadcom BCM touch screen controllers embedded underneath the display. Using the pencil is a joy: whether it’s pressure sensitivity, tilt detection, palm rejection, or latency, Apple’s stylus is among the very best available.
iOS 11.3 also brings with it improved augmented reality (AR) support. Because Apple has wisely been promoting AR development among iOS app developers, AR apps for the iPad and iPhone are far superior to anything found on Android.
Apple is using these AR tricks to push this year’s iPad as an educational tool, promoting apps such as Froggipedia, which lets users dissect a photo-realistic, virtual frog; or Complete Anatomy, whose use is self-explanatory.
Performance and battery life
The A10 Fusion chip set inside this iPad is a generation older than the A10X found on Apple’s recent iPad Pros, but there’s more than enough processing power here for almost all tablet tasks, with the only noticeable performance hiccup occurring when juggling three apps at once (via split-screen mode and slide-over) due to the measly 2GB of RAM.
The main 8-megapixel camera can shoot in 1080p resolution and is serviceable; the selfie camera, however, has a puny 1.2-megapixel, 720p sensor, so expect dim and pixelated video calls.
Battery life is superb, as is usual with iPads. This thing can easily go a full eight or nine hour work day on a single charge, with another 10 per cent of juice left. Apple’s claim to a 10-hour battery life is definitely doable.
Consuming media on this iPad is an enjoyable experience unless you’re jumping over from the larger iPad Pro. The LCD panel gets plenty bright with accurate colours, but 9.7 inches just doesn’t immerse like 12.9 inches. Likewise for audio – the two bottom-firing speaker grilles pump out flatter audio than the Pro’s four-speaker set-up.
There is a headphone jack, however, so plug in a good pair of cans and problem solved.
Considering that the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, introduced this iPad at a Chicago high school, and spent so much time talking up educational AR apps, it’s easy to see Apple’s goal with this iterative update: to regain the lost US education market.
American classrooms were filled with Apple Macs in the 1980s and ’90s, but in the past few years Google’s budget Chromebook laptop lines have replaced Apple products as de facto school computers. The combination of Apple Pencil support, new apps, plus a low price tag do make the iPads more of an option for students.
For the rest of us? This 2018 edition may not offer anything new, but with prices in Hong Kong starting at HK$2,588 (US$330), it’s still an excellent choice for those looking for their first tablet. More serious creative types will still want to go for the iPad Pro, however, and those already with an iPad bought in the past two or three years will have little need to upgrade.
Dimensions: 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm
Weight: 469 grams
Display: 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1536
Battery: 30.4 Wh
OS version reviewed: iOS 11.3
Processor: Apple A10
Cameras: 8-megapixel, 1.2-megapixel
Memory: 32/128GB, 2GB RAM
Colours: space grey, gold, silver
Price: HK$2,588 (32GB, Wi-fi); HK$3,588 (32GB, Wi-fi + 4G); HK$3,388 (128GB, Wi-fi); HK$4,388 (128GB, Wi-fi + 4G)