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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Large, crisp Retina display
Full Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil support
Excellent multitasking features on iPadOS
Supports external storage
Good battery life
Still a sizable bezel
Speakers could be louder
The 7th generation 10.2-inch iPad combined with the latest iPadOS results in an affordable tablet that’s excellent for multimedia, productivity, and multitasking.
I’ve long been skeptical of the idea of using a tablet for serious productivity. Laptops just have too much going for them—keyboard, touchpad, ports, a full OS to run any program you want, and support for external storage and accessories. The latest 7th generation iPad combined with iPadOS 13 seems designed to make me eat my words.
With the new iPad you get a larger 10.2-inch screen, just a tad smaller than the iPad Air and bringing it closer to the 11-inch iPad Pro. The larger screen gives you more space for multitasking and split-screen applications, and a better surface for Apple Pencil. More importantly, the new iPadOS supports better multitasking features and SD cards for additional storage. You’re also getting mouse support, and a better browsing experience with sites loading in desktop mode rather than defaulting to mobile. Combine all this with a Smart Keyboard and you have an affordable 2-in-1 multimedia slate that’s capable of a fair amount of productivity at an affordable price.
I wrote a good chunk of this review on the iPad, watched videos, browsed, took notes, and was generally able to do the majority of my job without ever needing to use my MacBook. That said, I still wouldn’t trade my Macbook for an iPad—there’s something to be said about having a larger screen with a full-fledged OS—but the iPad is now a much more viable device for travel or day-to-day.
If you’ve used the 5th or 6th generation iPad, the design of the latest model won’t surprise you. You get a metal unibody slate (in Space Gray, Gold, or Silver) with the glossy Apple logo on the back, a pair of stereo speakers and Lightning port at the bottom, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. On the left side, you have the magnetic connectors that let the iPad work with the Smart Keyboard. A pair of clicky volume buttons are on the right and the power button is up top.
In terms of dimensions, the iPad measures 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.07 pounds for the Wi-Fi model and 1.09 pounds for the cellular option. In terms of footprint, it’s actually bigger and heavier than the 11-inch iPad Pro despite its smaller screen (9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches; 1.03 pounds). This is largely due to the minimized bezels, which cram a bigger screen into a similar footprint. Speaking of the front of the tablet, you still have the physical home button with Touch ID’s fingerprint unlock, a feature the iPad Pro has scrapped in favor of Face ID.
I wrote a good chunk of this review on the iPad, watched videos, browsed, took notes, and was generally able to do the majority of my job without ever needing to use my MacBook.
In terms of overall portability, I carried the iPad around in my backpack every day between home and work, took it with me to meetings, and used it to watch Netflix while lying in bed. In all regards, it’s an incredibly portable device that’s easier to tote around than my office-issued MacBook Air. The one caveat is that trying to type with the Smart Keyboard on your lap isn’t stable or comfortable—you’ll need to find a sturdy surface.
Anyone who’s ever used an Apple device knows how seamless the setup is. Powering on will prompt you to choose language, connect to a Wi-Fi network, and then log into your Apple ID. After that, the iPad will give you the option of syncing the apps from an existing Apple device. I connected it to my work account and was able to get up and running within 10-15 minutes.
Upsizing the screen from 9.7 to 10.2 inches doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but makes a big difference in landscape orientation, giving you more screen space for working on Google docs or drawing and note-taking apps. The 2,160 x 1,620 resolution is just as crisp as the previous year’s iPad (2,048 x 1,536) and the IPS screen has a maximum brightness of 500 nits. This means rich colors, great viewing angles, and a screen that’s bright enough that you can use it in well-lit settings (though not quite high enough for direct sunlight). Text is crisp and video and games looked great.
Placed next to an iPad Pro (2,224 x 1,668) there are a few noticeable differences. The main one is that the Pro gets brighter (600 nits), making it easier to use outside. The vanilla iPad also lacks lamination and anti-reflective coating, making it a bit more difficult to use outdoors without glare. It also doesn’t have True Tone, a feature that adjusts the screen temperature to accommodate the lighting of your surroundings. This makes using the screen easier on your eyes, but the effect is fairly subtle and you can still take advantage of Night Shift to warm your iPad’s screen temperature at night and minimize blue light.
This means rich colors, great viewing angles, and a screen that’s bright enough that you can use it in well-lit settings (though not quite high enough for direct sunlight).
Ultimately, none of these features are enough to make a significant difference to the iPad’s overall screen quality. It’s big, sharp, and bright. It’s hard to ask for much more at this price.
Audio isn’t the strongest point of the iPad. You get bottom-firing stereo speakers that are loud enough to handle streaming and games when you’re lying in bed, but I wouldn’t blast music on these—they lack the depth and thunderous sound of the quad-speaker array on the iPad Pro. That also means you can muffle the sound depending on how you hold it, which is why I preferred to keep it in the Smart Keyboard case with its handy kickstand. Fortunately, you also have the option of plugging in wired headphones or connecting wirelessly via Bluetooth.
The iPad supports Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band and 5GHz. It had solid range and connectivity both at home and at work. In my heavily congested office, I measured top speeds of 97.3Mbps down and 165Mbps up. The model I tested was enabled for cellular connectivity with an eSIM, but I didn’t activate service during testing. When you’re traveling internationally, you’re able to pick a roaming plan right from the Settings menu no matter where you are, potentially even on the plane.
Apple is open about the fact the iPad doesn’t have the strongest processor in the lineup. In fact, the A10 Fusion chip is the same one used in the previous generation. It’s no match for the A12X Bionic processor on the latest iPad Pro or the A12 on the iPad Air or Mini. The benchmarks show accordingly, with the iPad Air scoring 372,545 on the AnTuTu benchmark, a measure of overall system performance. The Mini scores similarly at 360,977. Both devices score head and shoulders above the iPad (203,441).
I saw similar results in graphics benchmarks, with the Air hitting 4,985 on 3DMark’s Slingshot test and the Mini getting a slightly lower 4,176. Both numbers nearly double the iPad’s 2,538.
What this means in practical terms is that the iPad probably can’t do the same level of video editing or high-end gaming, but in terms of day-to-day use and multitasking you shouldn’t have any trouble. I found switching between apps seamless, including running apps in Split View, which allowed me to work in Google Docs or Google Sheets and watch a YouTube video side by side.
Despite the performance gap to the Air and Mini, the vanilla iPad runs games just fine. I played nearly an hour of Fortnite during testing and it was smooth and responsive. There were some frame drops but not enough to significantly impact gameplay. It got warm while I played, but never so hot that I feared it was overheating. You’ll get higher, more consistent frames on the Air and the Pro, but for the average user the gap isn’t enough to justify picking one over the other unless you’re very keen on tablet gaming.
My review model had 128GB of storage, which I found ample for writing, editing, streaming, and web browsing. Even 32GB probably would’ve been ample space since most of my work is done on the cloud. It’s worth noting that iPadOS now supports external storage devices, meaning you can use an SD card with an adapter to access photo or video files for editing. It won’t replace the iMac or Macbook for pro photographers but it’s nice to have a robust, slightly more portable option.
Cameras on tablets, especially the rear camera, have always struck me as a bit unnecessary. Most people only want to use the front-facing sensor for FaceTime, while the rear one can serve in a pinch, but should be discouraged because no New Yorker wants more tourists standing in the middle of the sidewalk using a tablet the size of a dinner platter to take a snap.
That said, the cameras are capable enough. The rear one is an 8-megapixel sensor that includes software image stabilization and is capable of recording 1080p video at 30 frames per second (fps). Photos taken in well-lit settings and outdoors are fine, but in lower light they tend to get a bit grainy. The 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera is exactly what it says on the tin. It does fine for FaceTime but don’t expect Instagram-worthy selfies.
According to Apple, the iPad is capable of 10 hours of web surfing on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music. I found the claim to be largely accurate. I was able to use it throughout the standard workday and at home for web browsing, working on documents and spreadsheets, and watching Netflix without having to reach for a charger.
Most of the time I had the screen on maximum brightness in order to simulate a higher battery drain. Despite this, I felt comfortable leaving the charging brick at work and topping it up when I arrived. I got a comfortable two day’s worth of regular use out of a single charge. Standby time was also excellent—when left unused over a weekend, I still had 94 percent of battery life left on Monday.
The iPad ships with iPadOS 13 and over the course of my testing, I received an update to iPad OS 13.1.2. There are a lot of changes here, but the big ones all have to do with improving multitasking and productivity, Dark Mode, and support for accessories like mice and SD cards. As mentioned before, the addition of these accessories is a game-changer for establishing a viable productivity angle.
Being able to use the Smart Keyboard to type up documents and Apple Pencil to take notes was invaluable in meetings. I’m not much of a drawer so I didn’t find much use for the Apple Pencil in that regard, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s one of the most seamless experiences I’ve had with a stylus. It’s highly responsive, pressure-sensitive, and if you’re the artistic sort you can use SideCar to use it alongside a MacBook.
As for the software itself, the big boost comes from the new home screen, which brings the widgets onto the home page along with your apps. No more swiping to get access to weather, calendar, shortcuts, and notifications. This makes it much more practical to treat the iPad as a MacBook substitute, letting you keep frequently-used widgets pinned to the home screen while increasing main screen real estate.
If you don’t currently own a tablet and you’re in the market for one, buy the iPad (7th Generation): it’s that simple.
There are also optimizations when browsing the web. Rather than opening a website in mobile view by default when browsing in Safari, you’ll get a view best optimized to your device. In the case of the iPad that’s often going to be the desktop view.
In terms of visuals, you have Dark Mode. You can enable it by going to Display & Brightness in the Settings menu and ticking Dark Mode under Appearance. This will set the background of most apps to black or a darker gray, making it easier on your eyes. All of Apple’s default apps should work with it out of the box, and a fair number of third-party apps have been updated to support it. I kept it on Dark Mode at all times and much preferred it to the white background, but you can also schedule it to shift automatically based on sunrise and sunset, similar to Night Shift.
The real selling point of iPadOS 13 comes from the various new multitasking features and gestures. The main one I used was Split View, which lets you open an app, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the Dock, and pick an app to open on the left or right side of the screen. I found this particularly useful because I would have Google Docs open on one side and Safari, Chrome, or Google Sheets open on another, letting me transcribe notes or write emails.
There are several other features with varying degrees of functionality. Slide Over is similar to Split View in some regards, but it opens an app in front of any open app, giving you a resizeable window you can move around. This allows you to potentially open a third app even while in Split View, letting you do something like answer an email or iMessage when you have two other apps open. Finally, Picture in Picture is a feature you’ve likely seen when using YouTube. If you’re watching a video and need to switch to something else, such as answering a message, the video scales down to a corner of your display so you can continue watching without interruption.
The iPad is availible in two storage sizes and three colors, along with a Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + Cellular model. The base 32GB model starts at $329 while upgrading to 128GB will cost you $429. Wi-Fi + Cellular will cost you $459 for 32GB and $559 for 128GB. Neither the Smart Keyboard ($159) or 1st generation Apple Pencil ($99) are included, nor are SD card adapters. That said, this the most affordable iPad you can buy, with the base model more affordable than the Mini ($399), Air ($499), or Pro ($799).
When it comes to recommending a tablet, it really comes down to iOS and all the rest. The closest competition the iPad has is the 5th generation Mini, which costs $50 more, comes in a smaller, sleeker build, has higher base storage, and boasts a faster processor. The Mini also supports the 1st generation Apple Pencil but there’s no first-party keyboard. The Mini’s 7.9-inch display is also too small to allow you to do serious multitasking or productivity, or to run apps in Split View without making content too hard to view.
The iPad Air comes with the same powerful hardware as the Mini, but it’s big enough that you can use the Smart Keyboard, while still thinner and lighter than the iPad. It’s a great option for travel and productivity, but runs $170 more than the base iPad configuration. The Pro is the flagship iPad with the best of everything in terms of specs, display, design, and features. It functions as a genuine MacBook replacement, but costs nearly three times as much as an iPad.
There’s not a lot of other competition in the tablet market. On the high-end, there are a handful of nice tablets from Samsung like the Galaxy Tab S6, which offers a feature set that can match the iPad Pro. It has a gorgeous 10.5-inch AMOLED display, a fast processor, plenty of RAM, DeX to boot into a desktop-like OS, and support for an S Pen and keyboard. That said, it costs $650, twice as much as an iPad that offers similar functionality. The Tab S5e is a more affordable option, but I use the term loosely since it’ll still run you $400 and, bizarrely, doesn’t support Samsung’s own S Pen.
Finally, we have the ultra-affordable Amazon Fire tablets that come in various sizes and prices, between $50 to $150. They look and feel budget, but function great as family and kid’s tablets. However, the lack of default access to Google apps means they’re not really viable for productivity.
The 7th generation iPad is the best tablet you can buy for the price.
If you don’t currently own a tablet and you’re in the market for one, buy the iPad (7th Generation): it’s that simple. It’s the slate I recommend to anyone who wants to do a little of everything: browsing, streaming, and gaming. Buying the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard transforms it from a multimedia device into a surprisingly capable productivity tool that’s great for students, office workers, travelers, and artists alike. With its mix of excellent multimedia, solid productivity, and affordable price, it’s the best iPad on the market.