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Apple iPad (2018) Review: Still the Standard-Bearer

While it lacks some of the key features from the Pro line, the sixth-generation iPad still manages to impress.
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The secret to Apple’s success has never been about being first to market with emerging technology. Instead, the company's long-running strategy has been to patiently hone and refine. By waiting out the hype surrounding the latest innovations, Apple allows the reliability and efficiency of those innovations to evolve to a level that's in line with their own standards.

When the iPad was announced in April of 2010, it was far from the first tablet to hit the market. But like the iPhone before it, the iPad took an established concept and transformed it from a relative novelty into something genuinely useful, durable and reliable. It quickly became the archetype for tablet design.

Now in its sixth generation, the 9.7-inch iPad occupies much of the same space it did nearly a decade ago. While its specs are far from cutting-edge, the sum of its parts (and software) tell a larger story. But does the iPad still deliver a user experience compelling enough to lure buyers away from the alternatives? Read on to find out.

Special thanks to B&H Photo for loaning us an iPad for this review!

Apple iPad (2018)

Reviewed by
4.7
    Design 4.6
  • Build Quality 4.9
  • Performance 4.7
  • Cost 4.4
  • Overall Value 4.7

Pros

  • Fast A10 processor
  • Excellent build quality
  • Apple Pencil support

Cons

  • Not a huge leap from the fifth generation iPad
  • Cost climbs rapidly with accessories
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Apple iPad (9.7-inch, 2018) Full Specifications

  • 9.7-inch Multi-Touch Retina Display, 2048 x 1536 resolution
  • Apple A10 Fusion processor
  • Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.2
  • Front 1.2MP + rear 8MP camera
  • Apple Pencil support
  • Touch ID sensor
  • Lightning Connector
  • iOS 11

A Worthy – But Incremental – Update

If the aesthetic of the sixth generation iPad looks familiar, that’s because it’s nearly identical to the previous generation that debuted in 2017 — an evolution of the original iPad Air design. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does serve as a theme for the intent and execution of the sixth generation device.

Under the hood is Apple’s 64-bit A10 Fusion processor, which the company touts as delivering a 40% improvement in CPU performance and 50% increase in graphical processing power versus the A9 chip found in the fifth-generation iPad.

But when comparing the spec sheets of the fifth and sixth generation devices, the disparities seem to start and end right there. As with the previous generation tablet, this new iPad offers 2GB of RAM, 32GB and 128GB storage options, an 8 MP rear camera, a 1.2 MP front camera, and a 2,048 × 1,536 px (264 ppi) LCD display.

Although it’s still missing the IPS screen and Smart Connector features found on the pricier iPad Pro models, the new iPad makes a case for itself thanks to the capabilities provided by the additional horsepower of the A10 chip. Added support for the Apple Pencil stylus is also a notable highlight.

Behind The Wheel

The "Apple experience" starts as soon as you peel off the shrink wrap. Inside the box you’ll find the tablet, a Lightning cable, a wall charger, and a short guide to get up and running. Since this tablet still sports a headphone jack, you won’t have to worry about the lack of a 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter here. (Its days are likely numbered in the iPad lineup, though.)

If you already own an Apple mobile device running iOS 11 or later, getting the iPad up and running is hassle-free with the Quick Start process. We simply placed the devices within close proximity of one another, followed a few prompts, and the iPad was on our WiFi network and ready for show time in a matter of seconds. It really doesn’t get much easier than that. This is one of those nice touches that sets the tone for the experience that Apple intends to provide.

While it’s now two generations behind the A12 Bionic chip found in the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR models, the A10 chip still delivers solid performance, firing up apps and switching between tasks with hardly a hint of effort. It’s efficient, too. Apple pegs the battery life at 10 hours in mixed use, and we’d consider that a conservative estimate. Of course, your results will ultimately vary based on how you use the device.

As with all iPads, the sixth generation tablet runs on Apple’s mobile-specific iOS operating system. This stands in contrast to the Microsoft Surface Go we reviewed back in August, which runs Windows 10 S – ostensibly a reworked iteration of Microsoft’s desktop OS for use with mobile devices. Although Windows 10 S provides a more laptop-like user experience, iOS is simply a better fit with tablet hardware. And Apple’s “walled garden” approach has the benefit of ensuring that nearly all apps look and function as expected on the iPad.

As we mentioned mentioned earlier, the new iPad brings Apple Pencil support from the iPad Pro models into the mainstream. This allows users to draw, mark up documents, and even navigate through the OS with the Bluetooth stylus. Like Microsoft’s Surface Pen, Apple Pencil is pressure sensitive. In practice, it’s responsive enough to be legitimately useful for those who want to create art on their tablet.

The pen’s Lightning connector – used mainly for charging – is a little clunky though, and requires the use of a provided pass-through adapter to be charged using a cable. The recently-announced second generation Apple Pencil does support wireless charging, but is only compatible with third generation iPad Pro models.

Should You Buy The Apple iPad?

Although it doesn’t stray far from the previous generation, the latest iPad provides great design, excellent performance, and a lot of capability for the money. Fifth generation iPad owners may not see enough compelling reasons to upgrade, but anyone with an older Apple tablet certainly will. And while it may lack the Smart Connector and a few other iPad Pro-exclusive features, the sixth generation iPad is still the mainstream tablet to beat in 2018.

Full retail price for the 32GB WiFi-only iPad is $329, while our 128GB test model rings up at $429 with an extra $99 for the Apple Pencil, bringing the total to $528 for what you see here.

That’s a fair chunk of coin for a tablet and stylus that are intended for casual users. However, B&H Photo is currently offering the 32GB model for $309, and the 128GB model for $399, giving you a nice head start on savings.

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Considerable discounts on Apple products can be hard to come by, but if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops, the pay-off can be big.

Looking to save money without working too hard? See additional discount offers on Slickdeals' B&H Photo Store Page.


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About the Author
Bradley Iger Contributor

Relocating to Los Angeles after competing his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Brad translated his obsession with cars and background in information technology into a unique journalistic voice, lending his efforts to MTV Networks, Autoweek, Hot Rod Magazine, and others. When not behind the wheel, Brad can often be found standing too close to a dimed guitar amp, out on a cycling trail, or breaking something just so he can put it back together.


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