For the past couple of years, Apple’s entry-level iPad has received mostly specification bumps.
It was starting to look stale with its large bezels and anachronistic Touch ID button. This year, however, Apple has finally decided to give its most affordable iPad a thorough makeover, with a fresh design, new accessories and the A14 Bionic chip.
The bezels are slimmer, the Touch ID sensor has been integrated into the power button, and the chassis now has flat sides. It’s a look that brings it in line with the current crop of Apple products. The display is larger too, at 10.9 inches (up from 10.2). In short, it’s almost indistinguishable from the iPad Air.
The front-facing camera has been moved to the long side of the iPad. This means the camera now sits above the display when you put the iPad in the landscape orientation.
This is good news for those who use their iPad for video calls. The Smart Connector has been relocated to one of the edges instead of being at the back. Also, the iPad comes in brighter colours. Apart from silver, there’s now pink, blue, and yellow.
The display is quite similar to the one in the iPad Air. They are the same size, support the same 2360 x 1640 pixels resolution, and neither supports ProMotion technology. However, the iPad’s display is not fully laminated, does not have anti-reflective coating, and supports only the sRGB colour space (not P3).
Even then, this is a mostly good-looking display. It looks crisp and sharp, and the colours look rich and natural. Reflections are bothersome only if you view the display from odd angles.
Another big update is that it is the first iPad to finally have proper stereo speakers on both sides of the screen when it is in landscape mode. Earlier iPads had stereo speakers, but they flanked the Lightning port, so when watching videos in landscape, sound comes only from one side. The sound lacks low-end oomph, but is good enough for casual watching.
USB-C and Apple Pencil woes
The new iPad also ditches the Lightning port for a USB-C port. Even though it supports only USB and not Thunderbolt, it can still drive a single external display at up to 4K resolution and at 30Hz. While the move to USB-C is much welcomed, it also causes some problems. Mainly, it is because this iPad is compatible only with the first-generation Apple Pencil, which requires a Lightning port not only to charge but also to pair.
Apple’s solution is to sell a dongle that it calls the USB-C to Apple Pencil Adapter. But you need more than this little dongle to charge because it is a female USB-C port and a female Lightning port. This means you still need a USB-C cable to connect this dongle to the iPad before you can pair and charge your Apple Pencil.
Why Apple hasn’t simply made it a male USB-C to female Lightning port cable is puzzling. Now, the integration with the Apple Pencil is terribly convoluted. This could have been avoided completely if it supported the new second-generation Apple Pencil.
Once you get over the clumsy pairing and charging process, the first-generation Apple Pencil works well with this iPad. It does not have the cool new hover feature that is available only on the new iPad Pro, but it feels responsive, smooth and intuitive.
Don’t worry that this new iPad does not have a ProMotion display – any input lag is barely perceptible.
Magic Keyboard Folio
This is an all-new accessory for the iPad and it is similar to how Logitech’s Combo Touch iPad keyboards work. Unlike the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air, which is a single-piece unit, the new Magic Keyboard Folio comprises two components that attach to the iPad. The keyboard attaches to the Smart Connector, while a separate protective panel doubles as an adjustable stand.
The obvious upside is that you can detach the keyboard whenever you do not need it and reduce its footprint. The downside is that you have to remember that there is an adjustable stand that you need to deploy before you can start typing. This is not an issue with the earlier Magic Keyboard because the stand is an integrated part of the keyboard.
The new Magic Keyboard Folio has a row of function keys that the earlier Magic Keyboard did not have. But the keys do not have back illumination – unlike the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air.
Like any of Apple’s Magic accessories, the Magic Keyboard Folio is pricey at $379. Comparatively, Logitech’s Combo Touch keyboard case for this new iPad is $229.