New iPad still top of the tablets - but add-ons eye-wateringly expensive

by Peter Griffin / 02 June, 2018

The Apple Pencil, a Bluetooth-enabled stylus allows you to create art with any number of apps.

The debut of the iPad in 2010 was for me, as or more significant than the arrival of the iPhone in 2007.

Here was a tablet-sized device that promised to shake up the publishing industry I was a part of, delivering enhanced, interactive magazines, newspapers and books and a great way to watch movies and TV shows on your own.

I remember the thrill of swiping through interactive magazines like Wired that were engineered to work with the iPad. They were works of art. The early experimentation faded - it was expensive to engineer publications to suit the iPad. But the A4-format of the iPad screen still makes content look great.

I still read my Kindle books and work-related documents on my seven-year-old iPad 2. That’s the thing - the iPad stays useful for a long time because the basic features don’t really change. The iPad is great for browsing documents, surfing the web and watching videos, though they’ve also come into their own as handy devices for creative types painting, sketching and making movies and music.

A newer feature, augmented reality, offers a whole new area of possibility, particularly in education, which the iPad is keen to exploit.

Just like drawing - but on a screen.

Borrowing from the Pro

The new iPad released in March looks almost identical to its 2017 predecessor but has two important improvements. The Apple Pencil, which previously only worked with the far more expensive iPad Pro tablets, is now available on the standard iPads, which also come with the more powerful A10 processor.

The Apple Pencil is a Bluetooth-enabled touch-sensitive stylus that when wirelessly paired with the iPad lets you scribble on documents and create art in the numerous compatible apps available on the App Store.

I’ve never really got used to the feeling of scribbling with a plastic-tipped pen on a glass screen, it is just not natural. But the Apple Pencil on the iPad is about as good as an experience as I’ve had. The iPad is super-responsive to my gestures and the digital ink results are a pretty good representation of my handwriting. The pencil is great for highlighting passages in documents and annotating them.

If you need to do a lot of this kind of work - board papers, class assignments, letter edits, the iPad could revolutionise how you work.

But the Apple Pencil will cost you an extra $159 - that’s 30 per cent of the cost of the entry-level iPad itself. What was a reasonably priced gadget leaps up in price significantly to enable this new feature. I could live with it costing $50, but at over three times the price it is marginal.

Still, even if you bypass the Apple Pencil, there is enough to make the new iPad remarkably good value for $539.

There’s that A10 Fusion processor I mentioned, which is 40 per cent more powerful than its predecessor, the same chip that is in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and which deals easily with video and mobile games.

That processing grunt isn’t deployed in most applications of the iPad, but will increasingly come into its own with augmented reality, which allows you to overlay interactive graphics on the real world, using the iPad’s camera and its gyroscope and accelerometer to sense what you are pointing at.

It is early days for AR stuff, but already the App Store has numerous apps, such as Froggipedia (US$3.99), which lets you do a virtual frog dissection on your iPad, and WWF Free Rivers where you can overlay a map of the rivers fed by the Himalayas to learn about water flows - and our growing water shortages. AR had its gimmicky gaming side in Pokemon Go, but its educational potential is perhaps best realised so far on the iPad.

On the software front, the addition of Garageband and iMovie set you off with two powerful and user-friendly apps for movie and music/audio making.

Fancy a frog dissection?

Same look and feel

The iPad is largely unchanged design wise with the sleek metal chassis of the 9.7 inch model unchanged. There’s a Touch ID sensor for unlocking it.

The iPad is just 7.5mm thick, which is great, but between that and all the metal and glass makes it prone to dropping. You’ll likely want to invest in a case for it to prevent that, but that will, of course, add cost. There’s still a thick black bezel around the iPad’s screen, which isn’t annoying but does eat into the screen real estate. With bezels diminishing or disappearing from smartphones I’d expect that to be less conspicuous on the iPad too, but you’ll have to go for the 10.5 inch iPad Pro to get the minimalist trim.

The cameras on the iPad do an adequate job for Face Time and Skype conversations, the AR features and the odd photo or video, but let’s face it, you are likely to be taking most of your photos and videos on your smartphone. Apple does claim the cameras have been upgraded to perform better in low-light situations.

The iPad’s retina display (1536 x 2048 pixels) has always impressed and it is no different here, with bright, vibrant images and the screen isn’t overly reflective. There’s no high dynamic range support which allows you to get the best out of Netflix and Amazon shows in that format. That again, is a feature you’ll need to upgrade to the iPad Pro for.

Battery life remains at an estimated 10 hours, or more than enough to get you through the day and usually several days for casual use. The Apple Pencil charges by plugging into the iPad itself, which looks slightly ridiculous.

Apple’s iOS software powers the iPad and the layout is familiar. The locked down nature of Apple’s software makes things really simple and easy to navigate but will continue to frustrate those looking for the flexibility they enjoy in the desktop world.

Those extras add up

At $539 for the version with 32GB of storage, the new iPad is very good value for money. The Apple Pencil is overpriced and you’ll probably lose it before long, but its addition will appeal to artistic types and those who like to scribble in the margins.

A keyboard for this iPad will cost at least $150, while Apple’s admittedly very good smart cover will set you back $65. Apple, always gets you on the accessories, so if you can keep them to a minimum, you’ll be doing well, given that the 6th generation iPad costs less than half of the entry-level iPad Pro.

 

Pros - 2018 iPad

Fast, A10 processor

Bright retina display

Good battery life

Apple pencil compatible

 

Cons

32GB entry-level model storage is tight

Apple Pencil is expensive

 

Price: $539 ($699 for 128GB version. Wifi and cellular models start at $759)

 

Rating: 8/10

 

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