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Apple iPad (2017) review: Not the iPad Air 3, but still a great tablet


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Apple iPad 2017 review – The new Apple iPad (2017) surprised everyone when it was revealed on 21 March. We were all expecting the iPad Air 3. At least, that’s what all the rumours pointed towards. Instead what we got was a hybrid of the original iPad Air and the iPad Air 2 – simply called the iPad (2017).

That sounds like it should be bad news, and in some ways that’s very much the case. This new iPad is both fatter and heavier than the iPad Air 2 (which it replaces) and the screen isn’t as nice. On paper, the new iPad has a less capable processor as well.

But there’s good news, too. The big headline is that the new iPad is considerably cheaper than the iPad Air 2. In fact, at £339, 2017’s iPad knocks a full £60 off the price, plus you get 32GB of storage, which is double that of the tablet it replaces. If you need more storage, there’s a 128GB version costing £429, while the 4G version costs £469 for the 32GB model and £559 for the 128GB.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Price and competition

Apple iPad (2017) prices and options

Wi-Fi only Wi-Fi and 4G
32GB £339 £469
128GB £429 £559

Its pricepoint makes the new iPad Apple’s cheapest tablet. It even undercuts the iPad mini, which currently goes for £419.

In terms of competing Android tablets, the new iPad does pretty well, too. Our favourite Android tablet remains the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, which is gloriously slim and slight, and has a fantastic AMOLED display.

Notwithstanding the fact that Android isn’t the best OS for tablet use, the Tab S2 is a fabulous piece of hardware. However, even with the Tab S3 on the horizon, the Tab S2 is still quite pricey, costing £399 at most retailers, including John Lewis, Argos and PC World.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Features and design

There’s nothing bad to say about the look and feel of the new iPad. It’s built from metal and glass and is available in three different colours – silver, “space grey” and gold – all of which look great.

The physical layout follows a familiar pattern. At the front, the iPad’s 4:3 Retina-class 2,048 x 1,536, 264ppi display dominates affairs, with a FaceTime HD 720p webcam above it and a fingerprint reader/home button in the centre below the screen. The top edge hosts a 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button; the volume buttons are on the right edge near the top; and for charging, data transfer and sync, there’s a Lightning port in the centre on the bottom edge.

You don’t get the “smart” keyboard connector on the left long edge as you do with the iPad Pro 9.7 and 12.9, but there’s still a series of magnets here that allow you to quickly attach and detach Apple’s range of folding iPad covers.

The worst thing you could say about the new iPad is that, in fact, there’s nothing new about the design at all. The design is tried and tested, however, and despite the increase in size and weight over the iPad Air 2, you won’t notice the difference unless you’re holding one in each hand. Sling the new iPad in your bag and you’ll barely notice it’s there at all.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Display

The new iPad’s display isn’t as good as the iPad Air 2’s nor the iPad Pro 9.7’s. It doesn’t have the same anti-reflective coating as those tablets, and there’s a visible air gap between the LCD panel and the glass above it where those other tablets have laminated displays.

That means the iPad’s display isn’t quite as vibrant and the onscreen image doesn’t look quite as immediate. This is because the contrast isn’t as good and reflections aren’t dispelled as effectively.

That isn’t to say it’s a poor display, though. Maximum brightness reaches an impressive 520cd/m2, which is a good deal brighter than the original iPad Air’s screen and although the contrast ratio is at the same level – a rather disappointing 861:1 – Apple has been able to tweak things so it reproduces more of the sRGB colour gamut. Colours are well balanced and highly accurate, too.

Apple iPad (2017) Apple iPad Air Apple iPad Air 2
Maximum brightness 520cd/m2 388cd/m2 390cd/m2
Contrast ratio 861:1 860:1 1015:1
sRGB coverage 96.5% 90.7% 90.1%

Apple’s Night Shift tech, which reduces the amount of blue light emitted by the screen in the evening and at night, makes a reappearance here, but there’s no True Tone. The latter is the technology Apple introduced on the iPad Pro 9.7 that adapts the colour temperature of the display to match ambient conditions.

Read More: Microsoft Surface Pro review: Surface Pro 5 is laptop hybrid perfection

Apple iPad (2017) review: Performance and battery life

Performance is another area where the new iPad differs from previous iPads. The headline is the use of the Apple A9 processor, which is the same as used in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus smartphones. This isn’t as powerful on paper as the iPad Air 2’s A8X processor, but it is more accomplished than the Air’s dual-core, 1.3GHz A7 processor.

Apple iPad (2017) Apple iPad Air Apple iPad Air 2
Processor Dual-core 1.84GHz Apple A9 Triple-core 1.5GHz Apple A8X Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7
GPU Six-core PowerVR GT7600 Octa-core PowerVR GXA6850 Quad-core PowerVR G6430
RAM 2GB 1GB 2GB
Storage 32/128GB 16/32/64/128GB 16/32/64/128GB

If you were worried about the performance of this smartphone chip when you first heard about it, you needn’t have been. The new iPad feels perfectly responsive to swipe and pinch-zoom gestures, and there’s little to no slowdown in advanced iOS games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne.

In benchmarks, the iPad performs better than expected. Have a look at the scores in the graphs below. They show it’s faster overall than both the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2 in the Geekbench 4 CPU test, and on a par with it when it comes to graphics performance. Despite the fact that it’s “only” a dual-core processor, its higher clock speed clearly compensates for this.

When it comes to stamina, however, 2017’s iPad outstrips every recent iPad by a distance. In our video-playback test with the screen calibrated to 170cd/m2 and flight mode engaged, the latest iPad lasted 14hrs 47mins; that’s more than four hours longer than the iPad Air 2 and over two hours longer than the original iPad Air.

Apple iPad (2017) review: Software and verdict

With Apple’s iOS software so much better suited to tablet use than Android, the reduction in price for its standard 9.7in tablet looks as if it will further cement its grip on this sector of the technology market.

Not only is this new iPad well priced, with the 32GB model costing less than the company’s lowest-priced iPad mini 4, it’s also the cheapest tablet across Apple’s range.

Combine that with decent performance and excellent battery life, and it looks as if Apple has done it again. The new iPad (2017) may not be the iPad Air 3 we were all expecting and waiting for, but it’s the tablet you should buy if you don’t want to spend iPad Pro 9.7 money.

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