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It may fall short of its other iPad siblings, but the iPad 2021 is leagues ahead of external competition, all for an affordable price.
From the iPad Mini all the way up to the iPad Pro, there are numerous ways in 2021 to buy an Apple tablet, with various storage, colours and connectivity options. The range has grown so far and so wide over the years that just for the iPad Pro alone, there are as many as 20 combinations to choose from.
Yet while smaller, larger, lighter and more colourful iPads have all made their debut, Apple has remained true to the original – a tablet simply called iPad. The latest of which was launched at an event in September 2021.
In our iPad review, we look at how well the 10.2-inch tablet performs both as a standalone tablet and in comparison to its siblings and assess whether there is enough about this device to make it an obvious choice when it’s surrounded by so much of its own competition.
Price: £319 (64GB, Wi-Fi); £439 (64GB, Wi-Fi and Cellular); £459 (256GB, Wi-Fi), £579 (256GB, Wi-Fi and Cellular)
The iPad was one of two tablets launched at Apple’s September 2021 event, alongside the iPad Mini 6 and four handsets in the iPhone 13 range. It’s the ninth time Apple had refreshed the iPad since the original in 2010, yet it’s only the third to be released with the larger 10.2-inch display. Until 2019, the iPad always measured 9.7-inch.
The iPad has always been the cheapest way to buy a large – as opposed to a mini – Apple tablet, and it comes with a number of cheaper, entry-level specifications in comparison. The 2021 model runs on the older A13 Bionic Chip, whereas the current iPad Air runs on the A14, and the latest iPad Mini 6 is powered by the A15. The 2021 iPad still has a physical Home button with TouchID built-in; the majority of the range has switched to on-screen controls and FaceID. The 2021 iPad still has a Lightning Connector, whereas the rest of the range has been upgraded to USB-C, and it’s missing support for the most recent Apple Pencil (although it does support the first-generation model).
On the rear of the tablet is an 8MP Wide sensor, and on the front is a 12MP Ultra Wide camera with support for Center Stage. With Center Stage, the camera remains fixed on you and your face as you make video calls or join conferences. This means you can walk around the room, and it will follow you. It even widens automatically when new people enter the scene. Center Stage was introduced on the iPad Pro 2021 but is now available on the iPad Mini 6 as well as the 2021 iPad.
Software-wise, the launch of the ninth-generation iPad coincided with the release of iPad OS 15 – the tablet-friendly version of the standard iOS mobile software.
The iPad comes in two storage sizes – 64GB and 256GB – and is available with Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and cellular.
The prices, when bought directly from Apple, are as follows:
You can also buy the iPad from the following places:
With the launch of the latest, larger and more expensive iPad Mini 6, the iPad 2021 is now not only the cheapest way to buy a large-screen Apple tablet, but it’s also the cheapest way to buy an Apple tablet full stop. The sacrifice you make for the iPad’s lower price is lower specifications. However, even running an older chip and not using Apple’s flagship display technology or cameras, the iPad is still a superb device. It’s head and shoulder above similar-sized rivals, and it comes with a host of software improvements that means, in reality, this tablet feels much more flagship than it should. The iPad is fantastic value for money, and you get much more than what you pay for or what the on-paper technical details suggest.
Like all iPads, the 2021 10.2-inch tablet runs on iPad OS. iPad OS is a slightly redesigned version of the iOS software seen on iPhones. It comes with the same features and apps seen on iOS but adds a number of tablet-friendly tweaks and additions to make apps render properly and to make better use of the larger screen when it comes to creative and productivity tasks. To accommodate the latter further, the iPad and the current iPad OS 15 are compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil.
This latest-generation software offers a host of multitasking features, including Split View and Center Window, which helps you see all of your tasks at a glance while also focusing or prioritising certain jobs. The Widgets and App Library have been redesigned to make them easier to use and control, and iPad OS 15 comes with a new shelf that lets you see all the open windows for an app and quickly switch between them – akin to adding tabs on a browser.
Apple’s App Store on iPadOS comes with the same range of millions of apps available on iOS. The tablet also comes with a number of Apple apps installed by default, including Music, Apple TV, Podcasts, Books, GarageBand, News, Clips, iMovie, Fitness, Health, Voice Memos, Reminders, Notes, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Files, and a university app called iTunes U. During our testing, we found that some third-party apps don’t render well on the larger screen – Instagram being the worst offender – but this isn’t a fault of Apple and is down to individual developers.
The downside to having loads of pre-installed apps is that they use up the built-in storage, and Apple doesn’t let you physically expand the storage on any of its products. You can remove any or all of these apps, or you can pay for up to 2TB of iCloud storage, but this either takes time or comes with an extra cost. This is even more of a pain when you consider that the iPad 2021 only offers two relatively low storage options – 64GB and 256GB.
Through the iTunes app, you can get access to millions of TV shows, films, and songs via the iTunes Store. This is where you’ll find any previously purchased content stored in your iCloud account. By connecting the iPad to an existing iCloud account means you’ll also get full access to all your settings, photos, videos, downloads and more on every device linked to the same account. This is great if buying this tablet for a family member or if you’re using it as an on-the-go alternative to your MacBook or similar.
Security-wise, Apple has stuck with a physical Home button on the front of the latest iPad and has embedded a TouchID sensor inside. There is no FaceID module or notch on this tablet. Other hardware features include a 12MP front-facing Ultra Wide camera and a Wide 8MP rear camera. Apple knows that people don’t buy iPads for their camera technology, and the fact that the rear sensor on the new iPad is so average, relatively, is testament to this.
Although you have to pay extra for it, a standout feature of the iPad is support for the Apple Pencil. The first-generation Pencil doesn’t quite come with gesture controls seen on the second, more advanced model, but it still supports the ability to handwrite in any type box, known as Scribble to iPad. This means that if you don’t want to fiddle with the on-screen keyboard or a physical one for that matter, you can simply handwrite Google searches, fill in forms and more using the Pencil. The software then converts it to text.
The iPad is also compatible with Smart Keyboard.
While its siblings, including the iPad Mini, use Liquid Retina displays, Apple has opted for the original Retina technology for the 2021 iPad. This means it’s not quite as bright as the more expensive models, but it still packs a hefty punch when watching HD content and playing games. Plus, the difference is barely noticeable when the two technologies are placed side-by-side, so this is more for reference than for critique.
For the first time, the 10.2-inch iPad comes with Apple’s True Tone technology. This technology automatically adjusts the display to the colour temperature of the room you’re in and, while this sounds insignificant, it makes TV shows, games, and more look more realistic.
The majority of the remaining display specs are near-on identical to those seen on the iPad Air, despite the latter starting at £579. The 2021 iPad has a resolution of 2160 x1620 at 264 PPI and up to 500 nits of brightness. It has the same fingerprint-resistant coating but lacks the anti-reflective technology, which lowers the viewing angles of the iPad a tad.
The size of the 2021 is the same as last year’s model, but it comes in at around 3g lighter, at 487g. The Wi-Fi and Cellular model is marginally heavier (498g), but this is to be expected in order to accommodate the extra components. Neither feels heavy or uncomfortable to hold for long periods.
Design-wise, the iPad is only available in Space Grey and Silver. This is in stark contrast to the host of colours available on the iPad Air and iPad Mini, which have five and four finishes, respectively. It is equal to those offered on the iPad Pro range, though. We always feel that offering a wide range of colours is pointless because the colour is covered if you’re adding a case or keyboard folio. This lack of colourways certainly wouldn’t be a reason not to buy the iPad 2021.
The tablet is well-balanced and easy to hold, but it feels bulkier than the iPad Air and even the iPad Pro. This is because extra space is needed for the physical Home button. As is the case with most iPads, the bezels are larger than those seen on rival tablets, and this is particularly the case on the iPad.
In terms of ports, the iPad has a Lightning connector rather than USB-C. However, Apple does ship a USB-C adaptor in the box. This isn’t necessarily a mark against the iPad; the iPhone 13 phones all still use Lightning Connectors, but we can’t imagine this will be the case for much longer as the rest of the ecosystem switches to the faster, USB-C ports.
Apple makes it incredibly easy to set up iPads, iPhones and Macs by walking you through each step. If you’re already an Apple customer, the process is even easier because once you’ve signed in using your Apple ID, the tablet will automatically pull in all of your existing settings and app downloads and will sync all relevant data from your latest backup.
Through this step-by-step guide, you are given the option of setting up or disabling, TouchID, Siri and sharing settings. At any point, you can skip these steps and manually set them up via the Settings menu at your convenience.
If you’re not already an Apple customer, you’ll need to create an Apple ID and manually download the apps you want. Apple has created an Android switching feature, though, which helps you switch from one software to another with ease, so even this setup process is straightforward.
Apple promises up to ten hours of surfing the web or watching video over Wi-Fi, which drops to nine hours when you’re connected to a mobile network. During our review, it lived up to these promises. In our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat until the battery dies, the 2021 iPad went from full to flat in 10 hours and 15 minutes.
In real-world use, however, it lasted much longer. Over the course of a day, we used the 10.2-inch iPad in the way we would typically do. This involved playing SimCity, watching TikTok, a handful of video conference calls – for which the Center Stage feature came into its own – as well as writing and editing on Google Docs. For the latter, we used the on-screen keyboard and the Apple Pencil.
The iPad lasted all day and was still going first thing in the morning. We didn’t have to plug it in to charge until 10am, meaning it lasted a total of 27 hours.
Although the iPad runs on an older processor, we never once struggled to do anything we wanted to do with this tablet. This is likely because the hardware has been optimised to work as efficiently as possible with the iPad OS software.
Apple reports that the A13 Bionic delivers a 20 per cent performance boost over the A12 Bionic found in the 8th-generation iPad. It claims that this makes it “up to 3x more powerful than the bestselling Chromebook and up to 6x faster than the bestselling Android tablet.” Although we weren’t able to confirm these claims, we can confirm that the iPad is incredibly fast when multitasking and switching between apps. The tablet never overheated either, even when we were streaming video. Plus, connections to Bluetooth devices such as the Apple Pencil and our Powerbeats Pro never faltered.
In the wider iPad ecosystem, the iPad falls short – at least on paper – in terms of speed, power and specs. It’s running an older processor, it’s using lower-spec camera technology, and it’s still carrying features, such as TouchID and the Lightning Connector, that other iPads largely ditched many moons ago.
However, in the wider tablet market, the iPad is miles ahead. Especially at this price point. It’s incredibly well designed and sleek. It’s powerful and lasts all day. Support for Apple Pencil (albeit just the first-generation) is welcomed and highly useful, and we never once felt like we were using outdated hardware. If you’re looking for an iPad, and you aren’t a power user, then this is the iPad for the masses.
The iPad (2021) is available from a number of UK retailers.
For more Apple product guides and reviews, head to our Technology section or read our iPhone 13 review. Looking for present ideas? Check out our tech gifts guide.
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