The New Cheap iPad is Better Than Ever

By Adam Clark Estes on at

If you want to buy a brand new iPad for not much money, the choice is obvious: get the new 10.2-inch, seventh-generation iPad. It’s a great value! Unfortunately, however, Apple is not in the bargain business. Although this iPad is now closer in size to the 11-inch iPad Pro, the significant gulf in the quality of its components is still reflected in the £400+ difference in price. The new cheap iPad is still, by all accounts, cheap and, by many measures, better than the last cheap iPad. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The new £350 iPad comes with a bigger display than its predecessor, Smart Connector capabilities for better accessories, and 3GB of RAM. That’s it. Virtually everything else about the iPad 7 is the same as the iPad 6. And like the older cheap iPad, the new cheap iPad is a great device.

iPad (Seventh Generation)

WHAT IS IT?: The cheapest iPad

COST: £350

LIKE: Nice and cheap, capable

NO LIKE: Outdated components

The new entry-level iPad is bound to be an awesome addition to schools, where students and teachers can buy it with a discount. The new cheap iPad works with the £90 Apple Pencil, and thanks to a new feature in macOS Catalina called Sidecar, it can work as a secondary display or input for a MacBook. This thing is nearly as cheap as an iPod Touch and can practically replace a laptop. The only problem is that you could say all of these things about the older cheap iPad. The new one is not so new in many ways.

The new 10.2-inch model replaces the 9.7-inch iPad that Apple released in spring 2018 and includes most of the same dated components. Announced at a splashy education-themed press event in Chicago, last year’s model was special because it essentially offered many of the features of much more expensive iPads, including Pencil support, for a surprisingly low price. The new iPad 7 sports a similar sales pitch, but now that it’s almost 2020, Apple seems to be selling outdated hardware in a slightly upgraded shell.

The new iPad, for instance, is powered by the Apple A10 Fusion chip. This is the same chip that made its debut in the iPhone 7 back in 2016. It’s also the same chip that was in the iPad 6, although it was much fresher when that device came out. It’s not a total surprise that Apple didn’t upgrade the cheap iPad’s chip to the A11, which still powers the iPhone 8. That 10nm chip is undoubtedly more expensive to produce than the 16nm A10, and all newer Apple chips include the Neural Engine, which helps power things like Face ID. The new iPad doesn’t offer Face ID, so why bother. The cheap A10 chip is still good enough for most things most people want to do on this device and it’s established as Apple’s budget, do-everything chip, as it’s also still being used in the iPod touch and Apple TV, too.

The Smart Connector keyboard design makes it look like the iPad has a tumour, but the tumour is a keyboard.

Speaking of repurposing old parts for new models, the new iPad also has the same battery as its predecessor, according to the iFixit teardown. Despite the bigger 10.2-inch Retina display, however, Apple claims that the new iPad still gets 10 hours of battery life, the same as the iPad 6 and it’s 9.7-inch Retina display. The teardown also revealed 3GB of RAM, a nice bump over the previous iPad’s 2GB. But otherwise, based on external appearances, Apple has simply stretched out the old cheap iPad by a couple of inches to make a slightly larger new cheap iPad. The result is impressive, too. Even with a little more power and a little more screen, I didn’t notice a difference between the battery life on the new iPad and the old one, which was exactly the result Apple was aiming for.

There is one other proper upgrade on the new iPad: the Smart Connector. This is a completely new feature on this device that will only matter if you want to connect a compatible keyboard, of which there were only a few at the time of this review. This is not to say that the Smart Connector isn’t cool, but it remains to be seen how third-party accessory makers will integrate the Smart Connector into new accessories for the cheap iPad. So considering that – aside from the bigger screen – the Smart Connector is the biggest upgrade on the new iPad, you might start wondering if you should buy a used iPad 6 instead of the new one.

The Smart Connector is positioned on the long side of the iPad which should make it easier for accessory makers to design sleek keyboards.

To be frank, deciding to buy the new cheap iPad over the old one might just depend on how you want to use it. By adding the Smart Connector and supporting its Smart Keyboards, Apple clearly wants people to think of the new iPad less as a budget tablet more as a laptop replacement. Without the Smart Connector, the old cheap iPad certainly wasn’t that. The addition of a keyboard and new iPad OS features like mouse support and multitasking could make the new iPad even more laptop-like.

If you’re using it as a straight up tablet, the new cheap iPad probably won’t feel life-changing. The new iPad’s screen is a little over half an inch bigger which isn’t nothing, but also won’t change your life. That extra little bit of RAM on the new device should make it a little snappier, but frankly, I didn’t notice any more lag running beefy Apple Arcade games on the old iPad versus the new one. The display has a slightly higher resolution thanks to its larger size, but it has the same pixel density as the earlier model. Battery life is the same. The processor is the same. Honestly, the biggest improvements all-around came from the very nice (and free) iPad OS upgrade.

I’m inclined to call the new cheap iPad an effective effort by Apple to maintain the status quo. The company could have kept selling the 9.7-inch device with all of its old guts, but then, gadget bloggers like me would have been barking about how Apple never does meaningful hardware upgrades anymore. Instead, you get a blogger like me scratching his head over whether Apple’s very minimal upgrades mean anything. After all, it’s not like you can walk into an Apple Store and decide to buy the old 9.7-inch cheap iPad or the new 10.2-inch cheap iPad. The new cheap iPad is the only one Apple is selling right now.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a confusing mess of cardboard.

So let me circle back to my original point. The new cheap iPad is a great value! You can buy a very similar device on eBay for a bit less money, but for now, Apple’s cheapest iPad is all the iPad most people need. And while we’ve known for some time that Apple innovation is more incremental than ever, this device hammers home the message that, if you want Apple’s very best tech, you’re going to a pay a tremendous tax for it. The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at starts at £770. For the price of two-and-a-bit seventh generation iPads, the Pro offers the A12X Bionic chip, Face ID, a Liquid Retina display, Apple Pencil 2.0 support, and that handy Smart Connector in a beautifully boxy tablet design. I have an iPad Pro myself, and honestly, using it on a daily basis is not £400 better than using the new 10.2-inch iPad Pro.

Thus concludes another Apple review where I enjoy the product and wish Apple had done more. The new cheap iPad could have felt amazing with a sleeker new design, perhaps one that replaced the iPad Air. The new cheap iPad could have been easier to use with the addition of FaceID, a feature that would have needed a beefier processor. Then again, these kinds of things would have driven up the price, which would have defeated the purpose. After all, Apple’s cheapest iPad is great, first, because it does all the things an iPad does and, second, because it’s cheap.

README

  • Great tablet for the money
  • Not much greater than the previous generation
  • Full of outdated but capable components
  • More Smart Connector accessories could make this great