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Apple iPad (2017) Review: In Depth

4.5
Pure and simple

The Good

  • Respectable battery life
  • Sturdy and lightweight
  • Beautiful design
  • Affordable*

The Bad

  • Screen could be less reflecive
  • No expandable memory
  • No 'raise to wake'

Apple iPad (2017) review: Apple released an iPad this year, not (to bastardise T.S. Eliot) with the usual bang of its San Francisco-based keynotes but rather the whimper of an innocuous press release. However, despite Apple’s apparent disinterest in touting its new tablet, it really is a bit of a gem.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Design

If you’re at all familiar with 2013’s original iPad Air than this 2017 model will look incredibly familiar, or more accurately, practically identical. Were it not for the Touch ID fingerprint sensor-laden home button, from the outside it's effectively the same tablet; the same dimensions, weight, bezels, thickness and rounded metal unibody with diamond-cut chamfers skirting the cover glass.

Apple iPad 2017 front Apple iPad 2017 back

These aren't criticisms by any means though. The Air was and still is one of the best looking and feeling tablets for its size, trumped only by Apple's fractionally thinner Air 2 and 9.7-inch Pro slates, so naturally, the same is true of this new iPad.

The cellular model we tested features a plastic region along the top edge of its back for the additional antennas, but otherwise, it’s a continuous sheet of sandblasted aluminium with a pleasing softness to the touch whilst offering a reassuring amount of rigidity in the body. The metal volume and power keys all live up in the same corner near a flush rear camera and offer a satisfying feel when pressed.

Apple iPad 2017 thickness

Unlike the iPhone 7 Apple isn’t forcing your hand with this one, so you’ll still find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. There’s also a Lightning connector on the bottom, skirted by stereo speakers, and although we wish it had the Pro’s quad speaker arrangement actual audio quality is pretty solid.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Screen

You could argue that the 9.7-inch Retina Display is a step back in one way or another from its predecessors. It doesn’t offer the True Tone tech of the Pro line, nor does it have the full lamination of the Air 2, making it that little bit more reflective. However, in real-world use, it still looks great.

Apple iPad 2017 screen

There is a level of brightness drop-off at more extreme angles and a higher resolution would make it more competitive against Apple’s biggest rivals, but in everyday use, there’s little to complain about, especially if all you plan to do is respond to emails, browse the web and gorge on Netflix.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no 3D Touch or Apple Pencil support (or Smart Connector for that matter) so if you want to throw in an Apple Pencil or similar accessory look to third-parties like Wacom and FiftyThree to help you get your ‘creative’ on.

Apple iPad (2017) review: OS

Even if you’re still content with your original Air from a hardware perspective, one area where it pays to go with this newcomer is on the software front. Running iOS 10.3 out the box (which was immediately upgraded to 10.3.1 once we started using it), the 2017 iPad offers the latest and greatest take on Apple’s mobile operating system and is guaranteed to benefit from software updates longer into the future than the rest of the company's tablet family.

The latest tricks in iOS 10 include a richer iMessage experience, a smarter Siri, deeper Apple Pay integration and behind the scenes, a much more up-to-date, efficient and secure file system, no raise to wake feature, though.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Performance

On paper, one of the big bonuses of picking up this new iPad is its processor; Apple’s own A9 chip backed up by 2GB of RAM. It’s the same silicon found inside the iPhone 6S and SE, which for the likes of a classic iPad such as this is a great fit.

Apple iPad 2017 performance

Next to the A9X-powered 9.7-inch Pro, there’s basically zero difference in aspects like app load times, you can play rich, graphically intensive games from the App Store and you'll get around the same battery longevity as its predecessor despite a fractionally larger 8827mAh cell, close to Apple's quoted ten hours of use or around two to three days of mixed behaviour, with a recharge taking just under three hours.

Apple iPad 2017 camera

You also have just two storage options to choose from; 32GB or 128GB for £90 more, and as ever, there’s no expandability so iCloud is your best bet if you want more space, provided you’re willing to give Apple more money on the regular.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Cameras

The iPad’s snapper setup echoes that of the Air 2’s; an 8-megapixel primary camera with an f/2.4 aperture but lacking a flash and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing iSight camera with an f/2.2 aperture and Apple’s signature screen-based Retina flash.

Actual picture quality actually surpasses that of the Air 2, with lower noise being the most obvious advancement. True to form for Apple, the iPad possesses exceptional cameras for a tablet, with attractive colour reproduction, a fast shutter and respectable low light performance. There’s also a pleasing amount of detail from both the rear and front cameras, despite the latter’s comparatively low resolution.

You also get options like HDR capture, Apple’s Live Photos and a few other shooting modes like panorama and square for capturing stills as well as slow-motion video recording. Speaking of video, the iPad shoots at up to Full HD resolution at 30fps with an evident level of EIS at work adding a little judder to footage every now and then, but for the most part results are pleasing, well-coloured, there’s fast auto-exposure adjustment and only really fall down on the autofocus front, which needs a helping hand from time to time.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Verdict

It's hard not to compare this fifth-generation iPad to the tablets that came before it as it's essentially a hodgepodge of hardware and components Apple already had lying around with the latest iOS software slapped on top. But a Frankenstein's monster this is not.

Apple iPad 2017 table top

Apple’s imperfect new tablet does what iPads do best and whilst it loses out on the more versatile skill set of the Pro line, this is likely the slate that the majority of interested Apple fans will contemplate, especially considering its relatively low starting price* of just £339.

*for an iPad

Key Specs

  • 9.7-inches
  • 2048x1536
  • 469 grams (WiFi), 478 grams (WiFi + 4G LTE)
  • iOS 10.3
  • 1.2-megapixels
  • 8-megapixels
  • 1.8GHz dual-core Apple A9
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB/128GB (non-expandable)
  • Yes (optional)
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor, Siri voice assistant, Apple Pay support

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