The Cheap iPad Is Still Good

The new iPad enables incredible artwork, like the illustration seen here.
The new iPad enables incredible artwork, like the illustration seen here.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Apple’s new wallet-friendly iPad is a good one. It looks the same as last year’s cheap iPad, and it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it offers plenty for the price. It’s the iPad I would give to my nieces and nephews to play educational games or read books, or the iPad I would buy for a grandparent who wants a larger screen for playing games and FaceTiming with me, their favorite grandchild.

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There is nothing—and I mean nothing—exciting about this iPad. If you want a giant, nearly bezel-free display, Face ID, powerful performance, and compatibility with Apple’s excellent Magic Keyboard for iPad, you’ll have to splurge on an $800 iPad Pro. But that iPad is too much iPad, in both specs and price, for a lot of people. Even the $600 fourth-gen iPad Air, due out next month, has a completely new design and cutting-edge processor that might be overkill for some.

I do wish Apple would spice it up a little bit for those in the cheap seats, though. Maybe throw in some extra storage for the base model, which starts at a disappointingly low 32GB, or make the switch from Lightning to USB-C for charging. Perhaps bump up the processor to last year’s A13 Bionic instead of 2018's A12 Bionic, or add some more features that make use of the A12's Neural Engine, like Face ID (though, you know, I’m okay with this iPad’s Touch ID, because plenty of people still want that).

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It’s an iPad! If that’s all you want, this is it.

The new iPad has a 10.2-inch display, just like last year’s. It has a fingerprint sensor that works perfectly well, though I find Touch ID a more useful feature for phones (like the iPhone SE) now that we’re wearing masks out in public and will be for the foreseeable future. I’m usually using an iPad at home, where my mask-free face could unlock this tablet just fine.

Like last year’s iPad, the 8th-gen version sports a Smart Connector for attaching the iPad to a keyboard without any pesky Bluetooth pairing. With iPadOS 13, the iPad is also compatible with trackpads and mice, but Apple has not made a keyboard-with-trackpad accessory for the cheap iPad. For that, you’ll have to snag Logitech’s Combo Touch keyboard case, which is bulky as hell but works well for much less than Apple’s fancy version for iPad Pros. In fact, most of the new iPad’s best features are possible with software improvements in iPadOS, but more on that in a minute.

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The iPad’s Smart Connector lets you use a keyboard, but Apple doesn’t make a fancy Magic Keyboard for this model.
The iPad’s Smart Connector lets you use a keyboard, but Apple doesn’t make a fancy Magic Keyboard for this model.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Like last year’s iPad, the new iPad is compatible with the first-gen Apple Pencil, which will cost you an additional $100 but unlock a lot of creative features. Just be warned that if you’re prone to losing things, this little sucker likes to roll away (and there’s no place to store it on or near the iPad).

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Between Apple Pencil and the features enabled by iPadOS 13 and 14, the $330 iPad has plenty to offer. Those features aren’t specific to this iPad—they extend across the lineup and are also available on last year’s iPad—but the overall experience is great.

A headphone jack still sparks joy.
A headphone jack still sparks joy.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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In addition to the trackpad and mouse support added with an iPadOS 13 update earlier this year, the A12 Bionic and iPadOS 14 unlock some productivity features that make the iPad a decent tablet for getting work done. The basic iPad is a great note-taker—if I were taking meetings in an office, whipping out this tablet and an Apple Pencil to jot some notes (or doodle) would be ideal. The iPadOS 14 Scribble feature, which lets you write by hand in any text box that then almost instantly turns into text, is incredibly cool. And when you scrawl entries in Notes or a third-party note-taking app, you can use the stylus to select text, strike out words, and even paste your handwriting as text. All of these features are great. None of them are specific to this iPad, but the fact that even the cheapest of Apple’s tablets support these tools is wonderful.

This iPad would not be my go-to in place of a laptop. For instance, you can edit photos in Pixelmator on the iPad using the Apple Pencil, but I much prefer doing work like that on a MacBook. I also need a larger screen—even for watching TV shows and movies, I find the 10.2-inch display to be a lil too small for me. (I am also a person who does not enjoy watching anything lengthier than 10 minutes or so on a phone, so I may be an outlier!)

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Watching TV on this screen is not my fave, but it gets the job done in a pinch.
Watching TV on this screen is not my fave, but it gets the job done in a pinch.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Personal preferences aside, I can’t deny that when it comes to performance, this iPad is great. App-loading times are snappy, and there’s absolutely no lag when using the Apple Pencil or when playing games. The battery life is also great, lasting more than 9 hours and 30 minutes on the Gizmodo battery test. That’s better than Microsoft’s rival $400 Surface Go 2 tablet by more than two hours, and higher than many pricier laptops out this year.

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If you need an affordable secondary display in your life, this iPad is very good. If you find it on sale for the holiday season, like I did with last year’s version, it makes for a great gift. This would not be the iPad I would buy for myself (I’m waiting for the new iPad Air to see if it hits the sweet spot between this model and the Pro). But for kids, seniors, or anyone who wants a basic tablet, I can’t deny that this one is worth every cent.

README

  • Support for Apple Pencil, mice, and trackpads make this iPad almost as versatile as its more expensive siblings.
  • Design is dated, and processor is two years old.
  • But the price is right!
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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

idelaney
Iain.Delaney

As much as I like Scribble, let’s not forget that Apple did this first twenty-five fucking years ago with the Newton. After the initial teething problems, the Newton was slick as fuck. And if you were a developer NewtOS and NewtonScript were really cool innovations that made app creation really easy. It really was a pity Jobs axed it out of spite.