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Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire
Remains a good value for the price
Works with the Apple Pencil (1st gen)
Snappy performance from the A12 chip
Works with old cases and the Smart Keyboard
Still no USB-C despite other models making the jump
Limited storage, with only two storage options
FaceTime camera only 720p
Similar in most ways to the 7th gen model
Overall design remains unchanged
With the snappier A12 chip, support for the Apple Pencil, and the Smart Connector that enables use of the Smart Keyboard, the iPad 10.2-inch makes a strong case for itself as an unbeatable entry level tablet.
Apple provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test, which he sent back after his thorough evaluation. Read on for his full take.
The 8th generation iPad 10.2-inch doesn’t shake things up as much as its predecessor, but it introduces a few important improvements under the hood. The biggest change in the 2020 iPad is the inclusion of the A12 Bionic chip that was previously seen in the iPad Air 3. It also boasts improved battery life and better screen sensitivity when used with the Apple Pencil, among a handful of other tweaks.
Curious as to how these changes translate into real life, I tested an 8th generation iPad 10.2-inch over the course of a couple weeks. Pairing the iPad 10.2-inch with a Smart Keyboard, I put the tablet to work handling daily activities like writing, email, web browsing, and entertainment. While I wasn’t able to ditch my laptop altogether, the 8th generation iPad 10.2-inch presents a compelling confluence of usability, price, and portability that’s impossible to ignore.
The iPad line received a major facelift in 2019, and the 2020 iPad is still riding that wave. If you’ve used a 7th generation iPad, then picking up an 8th generation unit will feel like coming home. It has the same curved edges, the same lightweight aluminum, and glass construction, the same chunky bezels, and features the same Smart Connector that enables connectivity with old iPad Air and iPad Pro accessories like the Smart Keyboard. While Apple has ditched the Lightning port in some of its lines in favor of the more universal USB-C, that isn’t the case here.
You still get the same old Lightning port, which is a mixed blessing. All your old cables and accessories will still work without needing adapters, including the Apple Pencil, but it seems like Apple is just prolonging the inevitable. You do get a Lighting-to-USB-C adapter in the box though, so that’s a nice touch at least.
Like the overall design, the 8th generation iPad display remains unchanged from the previous generation. That isn’t a bad thing, as the 10.2-inch Retina Display features a resolution of 2160x1620 and 500 nits of brightness, and it looks great under most conditions, but it’s the exact same screen you’ve seen before if you have a 7th generation iPad.
The display is nice and sharp, and I didn’t have any issues working on drafts of articles on the go or dashing off emails. Colors are also great and really popped when I scrolled through some of my DSLR snaps stored in iCloud. When I loaded up the last episode of “Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, the light and shadow played together beautifully as Beth Harmon sat down for her final match with Grandmaster Vasily Borgov.
The display also felt very responsive when used with the Apple Pencil. I’m far from an artist, but I felt like the touchscreen was quite accurate both when doodling and when I jumped into a game of Champ’d Up on Twitch.
While Apple has ditched the Lightning port in some of its lines in favor of the more universal USB-C, that isn’t the case here.
With the A12 processor, it’s actually worth comparing the iPad 10.2-inch to Windows laptops, 2-in-1s and convertibles in the same general price range. These devices typically ship with low-powered Celeron processors to meet low price points, and they don’t compare favorably to the iPad 10.2-inch, even for basic productivity tasks like word processing, email, and web browsing.
The 8th generation iPad sails through all of those tasks without a hitch, juggling multiple apps and windows with the improved task management of iPadOS 14. I never noticed any real issues, although the A14-equipped iPad Air 4 is naturally even snappier.
Beyond basic productivity and video streaming, I loaded up the smash hit open-world adventure game Genshin Impact to see how the iPad 10.2-inch handles a modern game. The results were impressive, with the painterly world of Teyvat rendered gorgeously on the Retina display, and remarkably fluid gameplay.
The touchscreen controls were the only issue, as the iPad 10.2 inch is a bit big to hold like a controller for long gaming sessions, but the large screen meant my fingers never really covered up anything important.
Software keyboards have been the bane of my life as a writer since the introduction of smartphones and tablets. They’re fine for dashing off a quick email or text message, but I’ve never been able to get any real work done with them, and that’s the main reason I’ve always shied away from using an iPad as a laptop replacement. Sure you can prop the iPad up with any number of different cover options and pair a Bluetooth keyboard, but that has always seemed far too cumbersome for my liking.
Then the 7th generation iPad adopted the Smart Connector, enabling the use of the Smart Keyboard, and that all changed. When paired with a Smart Keyboard, the iPad transforms, for me, from a toy that’s fun to play around with to something that I can use to get legitimate work done both at and away from my office.
Combined with iPadOS 14, which makes it easier and faster to flip between apps, the combination of the 8th gen iPad and a Smart Keyboard was a reasonable replacement for my laptop in a lot of situations. I still prefer the extra screen real estate available from my HP Spectre x360, or even my much smaller Surface Laptop 3, but the iPad is so much easier to toss in my messenger bag and pull out whenever I find time to get a bit of work done.
The biggest improvement in the 8th generation iPad is undoubtedly the inclusion of the A12 Bionic processor. This is the same processor that Apple used in the previous generation iPad Air and iPad pro, which is pretty impressive considering the fact that the iPad 10-inch still has the same entry-level price tag it sported last year.
As I mentioned before, the 8th gen iPad also maintains support for the 1st gen Apple Pencil, just like its predecessor. That adds a nice boost to productivity if you’re a creative type, although the method of charging via the Lightning port remains just as cumbersome as it ever was.
The 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch features stereo speakers that work well enough for FaceTime and other methods of teleconferencing, but the sound quality isn’t that great for listening to music or watching videos. The sound is a bit hollow and shallow, but not so much as to be unpleasant. The good news is that this is the only full-sized iPad that includes a physical headphone jack, so you can plug in your favorite pair of wired headphones or earbuds and not worry about the speakers.
I tested the Wi-Fi + Cellular flavor of the 8th gen iPad, so I was able to get a good feeling for its capabilities on both types of connections. For Wi-Fi, I tested using a Gigabit connection from Mediacom, measured as just shy of 1Gbps at the modem, and an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system. For cellular, I used the AT&T data sim that I also use on a regular basis in my Netgear Nighthawk M1 mobile hotspot router.
The 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch performed well over both Wi-Fi and LTE connections, with more impressive Wi-Fi than cellular results. I saw higher speeds from other devices checked at the same time, but the speeds provided by the iPad were more than adequate for streaming music and video, working in Google Docs, web surfing, and playing online games.
When checked in close proximity to my router, the iPad recorded an impressive 387Mbps down and 67Mbps up. Measured at the same time, my Pixel 3 recorded 486Mbps down and 67Mbps up, so the iPad clearly provides a great connection but wasn’t using everything available.
At distance, the results remained impressive. About fifty feet from the router, and with no nearby access point, the iPad barely faltered at all with 368Mbps down and 62Mbps up. About 100 feet from the modem, down in my garage, it still recorded an impressive 226Mbps down, where my Pixel 3 only managed 149Mbps.
When connected to AT&T’s 4G LTE network, the results were less impressive. In the same location where my Netgear Nighthawk M1 recorded a download speed of 15Mbps and 2Mbps up, the iPad only managed 4.79Mbps down and 2Mbps up. I was unable to achieve speeds higher than that in any of the locations, indoors or outdoors, that I tried.
The Nighthawk was hooked up to an antenna though, while the iPad has to make do without such advantages, and 4.79Mbps is fast enough that I was able to watch YouTube videos without any buffering.
The 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch performed well over both Wi-Fi and LTE connections, with more impressive Wi-Fi than cellular results.
Aside from the dated design and large bezels, the cameras on the iPad 10.2-inch remain the biggest disappointments. They’re fine for basic use, and extra processing power from the A12 chip helps still shots look better than ever, but they’re still seriously lacking compared to the hardware found in the more expensive iPad Air and iPad Pro.
The 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch still has the same 720p front-facing camera as the previous model, and it feels a little anemic in a world where video conferencing has become the norm. It’s enough to make due, and better than the webcams offered in most budget laptops, but it still isn’t great.
Of course, the front-facing camera still suffers from the long-standing problem where it’s difficult to center yourself when using the iPad in portrait mode for video calls, but that’s a quirk we’ve had to deal with since day one.
Battery life is a big win for the 8th gen iPad. Apple’s estimate pegs it at lasting through 10 hours of general web surfing or streaming video over a Wi-Fi connection, but my own experience suggests that Apple is being pretty conservative with that estimate. It took several days of light use before I had to look for my Lighting cable and charger, and an always-on, always-streaming test saw it last nearly 13 hours before it finally petered out.
Scribble literally allows you to handwrite emails, fill out forms, and use chat apps with the Apple Pencil, and your handwriting is automatically translated into text on the screen.
The 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch comes with iPadOS 14, which is even more impressive than the version that shipped with the previous iPad. This latest iteration of the tablet-centric OS packs in some really useful features, like the ability to display larger widgets on the left side of the screen, and Smart Stacks, which allows you to stack up a bunch of different widgets for easy access.
Also new in iPadOS 14 is improved functionality for the Apple Pencil, which you can now use to write in any text field thanks to the Scribble feature. Scribble literally allows you to handwrite emails, fill out forms, and use chat apps with the Apple Pencil, and your handwriting is automatically translated into text on the screen.
This seems to be a fairly mature technology as well, translating my handwriting pretty accurately across the board.
In addition to big-name new features, iPadOS 14 also provided an almost desktop-like feel in a lot of instances, with a lot of sidebars and pull down menus to make a variety of tasks a whole lot easier.
The best thing about the 8th gen iPad 10.2-inch is the price, which remains unchanged from last year. With an MSRP of $329 for the base model, and topping out at $559 for a fully kitted out version, the baseline iPad remains Apple’s most affordable tablet despite the inclusion of the more powerful A12 Bionic chip. While it’s more expensive than a lot of non-Apple tablets, it’s still a great option for anyone who is working on a budget or perhaps looking for a viable laptop replacement for their kids.
The iPad 10.2-inch is positioned as a more affordable alternative to the iPad Air 4, while the iPad Air 4 is positioned as a more affordable alternative to the iPad Pro, so this isn’t exactly an even matchup.
The iPad Air 4 has a base MSRP of $599, which nearly doubles the MSRP of a baseline iPad 10.2-inch. For that extra money, you get a slightly larger display that looks a whole lot better, a significantly more powerful A14 chip, compatibility with the superior Magic Keyboard and 2nd gen Apple Pencil, better cameras, a USB-C connector, and more.
The iPad Air 4 is undeniably the far superior device, but you have to take into account that you could come pretty close to buying two iPads for the price of a single iPad Air, and exactly how much functionality are you losing? Both tablets use iPadOS 14, so they offer very similar utility in terms of productivity. The Magic Keyboard is superior to the Smart Keyboard, but Logitech offers a competent alternative keyboard and touchpad cover combo for the 8th gen iPad that’s nearly as good as the Magic Keyboard.
The bottom line here is that the iPad Air 4 is the better tablet if you have the money to spare, but the iPad 10.2-inch is a great alternative if you’re on a budget, need to purchase several tablets, or just don’t feel like you need the iPad Air 4’s superior specs.
Combined with iPadOS 14, which makes it easier and faster to flip between apps, I found the combination of the 8th gen iPad and a Smart Keyboard to be a reasonable replacement for my laptop in a lot of situations.
The iPad 10.2 inch has clearly been outpaced by the iPad Air and iPad Pro, but it’s still in a really good place thanks to its much more affordable price point. The choice to up-size the line last generation remains beneficial, as you can use it with older iPad Air and iPad Pro accessories, and the combination of the powerful A12 chip and iPadOS 14 make for a truly enjoyable experience across the board. The iPad 10.2-inch does remain mired in the past a bit thanks to its Lightning connector, but money talks, and this is still a tablet worth listening to.
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