The past year has seen Apple blazing a new trail for its iPad line of products, further distinguishing the tablets from their iPhone roots and seeking to establish them as real productivity and creativity devices.
iPadOS and the features and performance found in the latest iPad Air, iPad, and iPad Pro models have made the best case yet for the iPad as a device for content creating—not just consumption.
But the base iPad, priced at under $400, was until recently very much stuck in the old mode.
This year, Apple has updated that iPad to bring it closer to the rest of the lineup in terms of available features. In many ways, this is a minor update to last year’s iPad, though. Most of the internals, including the cameras and the A10 chip, are the same. Performance is identical. Photo quality is identical. Battery life is close to identical. The main changes are in the design of the chassis, including the addition of Smart Keyboard support.
For that reason, this is a mini-review; we’re just going to focus on what’s new in a quick overview of the new iPad baseline. The price is clearly tempting, but that paragraph above may give some pause. Is the 2019 iPad worth buying when compared to other iPad models, Chromebooks, and tablet or hybrid options elsewhere?
|Specs at a glance: 2019 Apple iPad|
|Screen||2160×1620 10.2-inch (264PPI) pressure-sensitive touchscreen for the mini|
|Storage||32GB or 128GB|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 (LTE optional add-on)|
|Ports||Lightning, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Camera||8MP rear camera,1.2MP front camera|
|Weight||1.07 pounds (483g) for WiFi model; 1.09 pounds (493g) for cellular|
|Other perks||Apple Pencil support, Smart Keyboard support|
The 2019 iPad comes in 32GB and 128GB configurations at $329 or $429.
The internals in this model are very similar to last year’s iPad. Apple has included the same A10 chip for CPU, GPU, image processing, and more. As we’ll see in the performance section of the review, this is plenty for most use cases but is significantly outperformed by Apple’s latest iPad Pro and iPhone models with the A12X and A13, respectively.
Camera specs are the same, too. The rear-facing, 8-megapixel camera has an ƒ/2.4 aperture and the capability to capture 1080p video at 30fps or slow-motion 120fps video at 720p. On the front, we have a 1.2-megapixel, ƒ/2.2 aperture selfie camera that can record video at 720p. The camera is nothing special, but it doesn’t really need to be in an iPad, as long as you’re not treating it as a one-stop content-creation device.
But there are some differences from the old model, too. We’ve gone from 2GB to 3GB of RAM, for one thing. LTE speeds in the cellular models have been upgraded, too; Apple says they’re “Gigabit-class” and up to three times faster than what we saw in the sixth generation.
And Apple has increased the screen size from 9.7 inches (24.6cm) to 10.2 (25.9cm) here by reducing the bezels, while the pixel density is the same at 264ppi. The resolution is 2,160×1,620 pixels compared to 2018’s 2,048×1,536. This display peaks at 500 nits of brightness.
In terms of ports, we have Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector and a 3.5mm headphone jack. While I’m happy to see it still has a headphone jack (asking users to pay nearly $200 on AirPods for such an otherwise low-priced device wouldn’t be reasonable), I believe it’s time to move to the industry standard USB-C, and we haven’t seen that yet here.
The most significant change is the design. The new iPad strikes a curious balance between the 2019 iPad Air (which itself shares a chassis with pre-2018 iPad Pro models) and last year’s sixth-generation iPad. It has smaller bezels than the 2018 iPad but is markedly thicker than the new iPad Air.
Dimensions in this case are 9.8×6.8×0.29 inches (24.9×17.3×0.7cm). The Air comes in with the same height and width, but it’s 0.05 inches (0.13cm) thinner. It’s the bezels that make for the real distinction, though. Not everyone cares about bezels or how “modern” the design looks, but some people do, and there’s enough of a difference compared to the Air or Pro in the lineup here to give them pause.
At 1.07 pounds (0.485kg) for the Wi-Fi model and 1.09 (0.494kg) for its cellular counterpart, the iPad feels much heavier than the iPad Air at 1 and 1.02 pounds (0.453kg and 0.463kg), too. Holding the device with one hand while reading books, magazines, or longform Web articles (or watching movies for that matter) is maybe the #1 use case for a device like this, and it’s just heavy enough that this becomes uncomfortable after a short time. You’d think 0.07 pounds (32 grams) wouldn’t be that big a difference, but I was surprised to find that, somehow, it really does feel like one. For me, it feels like that small difference crosses a critical threshold of reading comfort, but I’m sure that varies from person to person.
Unlike the iPad Pro models (and unsurprisingly), the iPad has a home button with Touch ID instead of the TrueDepth camera array that powers Face ID. It still supports all the swipe gestures that Apple has developed for home-button-free devices, though, and I don’t think most people will see this as a major tradeoff.
All this comes together to form the impression that this is basically just a cheaper, less-good iPad Air. Given that the iPad Air is an outstanding tablet, that doesn’t seem so much like a bad thing. It’s an improvement over last year’s iPad, which really did feel long in the tooth.
The real weakness of this device’s value proposition is that the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil are key to many of the features that make the iPad attractive—especially the keyboard—and buying both of those will set you back around $260. That’s a lot to spend on peripherals for a device that is all about accessible pricing. Fortunately, the inclusion of a headphone jack means you don’t have to think about spending $160 on AirPods as well.
There is one other thing to commend Apple for here, though: the enclosure is entirely made out of recycled aluminum. I often criticize Apple (and most other mobile device manufacturers) for making devices that end up sending a lot of components to landfills or that are made via wasteful processes, so I’m happy to see any forward movement at all on sustainability for these products, no matter how small.