iPad 2021 review

Iteration in small steps, the latest iPad to date gains in power, storage, and two or three functions that enhance everyday comfort, all for a price that is still just as attractive.

The “historic” iPad is a special object in the Apple world. Its ancestral design could make us believe that it is abandoned, whereas it is one of the products which is updated each year, with metronomic regularity. 

But it is above all its price that sets it apart. Among Apple’s capital products, it is the least expensive, the one that takes on, even more than the iPhone SE, the role of gateway to a range.

If some will blame it for its borders, its screen, or its Lightning port, one certainty has become clear in recent years, Apple is changing it in small steps, never revolutions, but always steps in the right direction. 

Not the one that makes the iPad the best Apple tablet, but the one that makes it the best value-for-money tablet in the range, and perhaps even on the market. And in these times when money still doesn’t grow on trees, that’s a hell of an argument.

Let’s see what is changing this year, and what is not changing. But beyond these points, let’s also consider the proposal, with regard to what we may need.

Screen borders, like in the good old days
Screen borders, like in the good old days

Outside At Night?

Since September 2019, the iPad has grown, dropping its original 9.7-inch diagonal. The 10.2-inch panel now offers a larger surface and allows you to consider using the iPad for something other than just viewing content, and sometimes even as an extra laptop PC. 

But the design hasn’t changed, or so little, since 2010 and the birth of the device, to the point that we don’t even dare to consider asking for a switch from Lightning to USB-C for the instant. 

Some annoyed minds cringe and point to this lack of renewal to disqualify Apple’s tablet. It is a mistake. It is above all taking the problem upside down and forgetting what it brings.

Yes, it is true that the wide borders and the immutable Touch ID button are something of a snub, at a time when the design of the iPad Pro, Air, and mini seems much more modern.

But let’s focus, not on an expected design, but on what we have in our hands, on the Retina panel. Its definition of 2160 x 1620 pixels, for a resolution of 264 dpi, is decent and comfortable enough to surf the Web, play games, and watch movies. 

Its measured brightness is close to the 500 cd/m2 announced, since it was found at 489 cd/m2, and its contrast reaches 1511:1. It’s clearly not the best of what iPads, and even the competition, can offer, but it’s sufficient for most uses if you don’t find yourself using the iPad in direct sunlight.

With the arrival this year of True Tone technology, the panel adds a new string to its bow, in order to ensure you more comfort of use, depending on the ambient light in which you are moving.

Ultimately, the only real criticism that we will make of this iPad screen is that it is not laminated. It’s probably quibbling, but it would reduce the somewhat unpleasant reflections, and also remove this disconcerting impression of space between the display and the touch surface. 

It’s just a detail, but it hurts the immersion a bit, it creates a distance between the user and the interface with which he interacts.

The Touch ID button is still there, well seated, in the middle of the lower edge.
The Touch ID button is still there, well seated, in the middle of the lower edge.

A13 Bionic, Iterative Ramp-Up

Now let’s look inside the iPad. Apple has decided to replace the A12 Bionic (from 2018) with its successor the A13 Bionic, which took its first steps in the iPhone 11, in 2019. The chip is therefore only two years old and powered at reselling.

On a daily basis, the iPad 2020 was not lacking in fluidity and already allowed you to play all the titles available on the App Store, or via Apple Arcade. Of course, this is still relevant. You can even start creating audio with GarageBand with even more resources or editing your video creations.

The results above, obtained with Geekbench 5, show quite clearly that the A13 Bionic brings a nice boost in power. More than 25% better in multicore mode, and almost 40% for Compute results, which measure a chip’s ability to process the calculations required to process heavy photos, edit videos, or display 3D graphics.

The two results provided by 3DMark WildLife correspond to what emerges from a stress test, understand a long test that tests the ability of a chip to maintain its effort over a fairly long period (between 20 and 30 minutes).

The higher number gives an idea of ​​how the chip is performing when it hasn’t overheated yet, while the lower number corresponds to the worst loop, often when throttling is greatest when the chip reduces its performance because it heats up too much.

For the top score, we see that the 2021 iPad performs around 38% better than its direct elder, while for the lowest score, the new iPad turns out to be 60% better. This gap, which marks indisputable domination, is explained by the ability of the A13 Bionic to maintain a constant and high effort for longer. The stress test, from 3Dmark WildLife, gives a performance stability index of 87.8% to the iPad 2021, against 75% for the iPad 2020.

In other words, more power and for longer. Hard to say no.

The iPad 2021 still benefits from Smart Connectors to connect a keyboard and transform it into a small extra PC.
The iPad 2021 still benefits from Smart Connectors to connect a keyboard and transform it into a small extra PC.

Autonomy

“Power without control” is nothing, said a great sage or an advertiser. Is the arrival of this chip accompanied by an increase in autonomy or, on the contrary, by a regrettable decrease?

The answer lies between the two. Our versatile battery life test, which simulates intensive daily use until the battery dies, grants 22 minutes more battery life to the new iPad. 

Suffice it to say that there is no big progress and that the traditional autonomy of Apple tablets is maintained. When we turn to autonomy in video streaming, the trend is reversed: we note a drop of 39 minutes.

Contrasting results, but which allow the iPad to do better than the iPad Air, which does not pass the ten-hour mark (9:59 a.m. in general purpose, and 9:45 a.m. in video streaming), or even than the iPad mini of sixth grade generation, which has just come out. Ultimately, the iPad at 389 euros only gives way to the iPad Pro. Not bad is not it ?

At the rear, a single camera module, 8 Mpixels, and not much crazy to expect from it
At the rear, a single camera module, 8 Mpixels, and not much crazy to expect from it

A Kind Of Revolution For Apple

Before going any further, let’s salute a small revolution. As on the iPhone 13 and 13mini, Apple has decided to double the storage capacity offered with its iPads, without touching the price of the first model. Farewell to the 32 GB which made us systematically recommend the 128 GB model.

Now, the first iPad model sold from 389 comes with 64 GB. This may still be short if you keep a lot of data locally, install a lot of applications or regularly store a lot of films or series. But for those who use it primarily as a “thin client”, a device connected to the cloud, 64 GB can be more than enough.

The second storage option, on the other hand, is increased to 256 GB. Much more comfortable on a daily basis and in the long term – it is this capacity that we would recommend for you to be quiet the longest. Remember that Apple provides updates over several years to its installed base – we are at around six years for the moment.

The Smart Keyboard, once folded, protects the screen from shocks during transport, for example.
The Smart Keyboard, once folded, protects the screen from shocks during transport, for example.

iPadOS and uses

Let’s talk about the new iPadOS which has recently been available. Its use on the iPad is pleasant, and despite the presence of a physical button to return to the home page, you quickly get used to interacting with the interface of the iPad with the many multi-gestures available. 

Whether it’s showing all open windows, dragging a minimized app to the side, or swiping a second app that will share the screen with another – the 10.2-inch panel is large enough to work like this for a few hours, or in addition.

For the management of the distribution of apps on the screen, we welcome the small menu which allows you to quickly activate the Split View or the rows of applications that make the use of the tablet more fluid on a daily basis.

If you have decided to add a keyboard to the iPad, sold separately, let yourself be tempted by a model compatible with Smart Connectors, whether it is from Apple or Logitech. This is the guarantee of greater ease of use on a daily basis, really.

iPadOS 15 also paves the way for new uses around FaceTime, to watch content via Apple TV+ or Netflix, with friends and remotely. Apple’s videoconferencing service is also gaining interest because it allows, via links, to organize video calls with contacts who use Android smartphones. 

This will then be an opportunity to test the new 12 Mpix camera placed on the front. It is equipped with a wide-angle lens, which serves the Center Stage function, or Centered Frame in French. It’s all about making sure you’re in the center of the frame, even when you move or lean a little to one side or the other while talking. Of course, the optics are not motorized, so tracking has its limits, nevertheless,

We will ignore the rear camera, 8 Mpix, which provides honest shots in bright light, but not very flamboyant when the sun goes down. Apple is clearly not betting on this function, the iPad is content to film in 1080p, at 30 frames per second, maximum, while the slow motion tops out at 120 frames per second in… 720p.

Among the new features that we like in iPadOS 15, and that we enjoy using with this new iPad, we will mention Quick Notes. It’s a good way to always have a quote, a reference, or a document extract on hand. 

Handwritten note-taking still has a long way to go in iPadOS in our opinion, even if a function allows those who have legible handwriting to scan and transform their notes into typed text. 

This small downside is, in our opinion, especially true for this iPad, which is only compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil. The stylus has a few ergonomic flaws that would almost make us recommend alternatives on the market, including the one offered, once again, by Logitech.

Apple iPad 9 2021 256 GB Wi-Fi + 4G Technical Sheet

SystemiPadOS 15
ProcessorApple A13 Bionic
Size (diagonal)10.2″

Apple iPad 9 2021 256 GB Wi-Fi + 4G Verdict

The iPad doesn’t have the trappings of the latest Apple tablets, nor does it benefit from the latest components and processors. Nevertheless, it regularly benefits from the technological trickle, by touch, on its screen, its SoC, its storage… and above all it brings iPadOS to life in full. 

The 2021 iPad is not a second-rate iPad. It is an entry tablet into the Apple experience. It’s also by far a better tablet than what the competition offers. Admittedly, it is technically below on certain points, but Android on tablets is far from worth iPadOS… What is better? A tablet with a splendid slab, which will not be used for lack of good applications or regular updates, or a slab of technical compromise, but which is affordable and benefits from an unequaled ecosystem?

The iPad is a product that, at 389 euros, will cover all possible uses for the general public. It will serve both a family in its daily uses, a student, note taking, writing through leisure, or even a nomadic professional. All this without ruining them. The iPad 2021 is also and above all the best value for money in the iPad range. We can only recommend it to you.

Read more about MacOS 13 Ventura Beta 6

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Abram left his e-business studies to devote himself to his entrepreneurial projects. In 2017, he created the company Inbound Media and wrote articles about high-tech products for his Chromebookeur site. In 2019, Chromebookeur was renamed Macbound and became a general purchasing advice site. Today, Abram manages the development and growth of Macbound, surrounded by a young and talented team.

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