Apple iPad 2021 – Yearend Buying Guide
The new iPad from Apple isn’t a huge step forward in terms of design or features, but it’ll suffice as the line’s most affordable tablet.
For nearly a decade, the iPad has been a cornerstone of Apple’s product line. Despite the year-to-year adjustments, some significant and others minor, it has always been instantly recognizable as Apple’s flagship tablet and remains the default choice for those looking for an affordable option.
While the iPad is released concurrently with the iPhone lineup, it rarely undergoes significant upgrades year after year. This is largely true for the model introduced in 2021.
- Size: 10.2 inches
- Resolution: 2160 x 1620 pixels, 4:3 ratio, 265 PPI
- Technology: IPS LCD
- Refresh rate: 60Hz
- System chip: Apple A13 Bionic (7 nm)
- Internal storage: 64GB, 256GB not expandable
- OS: iPadOS (15.x)
- Main camera: 8 MP (Autofocus)
- Front: 12 MP (HDR)
- Aperture size: F2.4
- Video recording: 1920×1080 (Full HD) (30 fps), 1280×720 (HD) (120 fps)
- Bluetooth: 4.2
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac, dual-band; MIMO, Wi-Fi Direct
- Location: GPS, A-GPS, Glonass, Cell ID, Wi-Fi positioning
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Barometer
Familiar Design and Screen
From the outside, it’s clear that the ninth-generation iPad hasn’t undergone any significant changes, as it has the same design as the seventh-generation device.
This is the third iteration of a 9.8 by a 6.8-inch tablet that’s 0.29 inches thick and weighs the same 1.07 pounds as the previous two.
While this makes the iPad instantly recognizable, it’s beginning to seem dated in comparison to the recently updated iPad mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro lines.
The front-facing display is also a continuation of the iPad’s tried-and-true 10.2-inch non-laminated LED-backlit IPS display, which is now in its third generation. There are no changes to the 2,160 by 1,620-pixel screen, which features a pixel density of 264ppi and a maximum brightness of 500 nits.
This time, Apple added support for the sRGB color spectrum and True Tone to the display, which are welcome additions.
A new iPad usually means a processor upgrade, and 2021 is no different. The ninth-generation iPad replaces the A12 Bionic processor with the A13 Bionic.
This is two generations behind the current iPhone SoC, the A15 Bionic, but in comparison to its competitors, it is still a very capable and strong chip for ordinary tablet usage.
Geekbench benchmarks put the A13’s single-core performance at slightly over 1,300 points, multi-core performance at around 3,000 points, and Metal performance at roughly 7,200 points. These are all projected gains over the previous iPad model’s 1,100 single-core, 2,400 multi-core, and 5,300 Metal scores.
For an entry-level iPad that is the least expensive and serves as the foundation for the entire range, the power increase need not surpass that of the iPad mini or iPad Air.
It still has more than adequate power for the average iPad user who does not require the cutting-edge performance of the iPad Pro. When it comes to media consumption, web surfing, and reading, processing power is not particularly demanding.
Those in need of a little more punch should be prepared to pay a little more for the iPad mini, iPad Air, or iPad Pro.
Notable Camera Changes
On the back, you’ll find the standard 8-megapixel Wide camera with an f/2.4 aperture, 5x digital zoom, and support for HDR. That hasn’t changed in two generations, nor has the 1080p video recording at 30 frames per second with 3x zoom or the 720p 120 frames per second Slo-mo feature.
The most significant enhancement is that Apple has finally upgraded the FaceTime HD camera from its long-standing 1.2-megapixel configuration to a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide setup. That is not a typographical error; this is a true 12-megapixel camera.
Along with the increased resolution, you now have a 2x zoom capability and an improved dynamic range for video up to 30 frames per second. Even video recording options have been upgraded from 720p to 1080p at 60 frames per second.
All of this contributes to the upgrade’s primary objective: Center Stage support, including the automatic tracking and zooming of the camera frame to match the user’s motions during a video conversation.
With so many people using the iPad for video conversations, it’s only natural to update the camera sensor as well as add Center Stage. At the very least, home-based video conferencing will continue to exist for several more years.
Improved Storage, Gold Model Discontinued
It’s encouraging to see Apple increasing storage options this time around. The eighth-32GB generation’s and 128GB capacities have been replaced by 64GB and 256GB capacities.
This could have signaled a price increase, but it did not. Apple’s entry-level iPad, the 64GB model with Wi-Fi, remains $329. A cellular variant with the same capacity costs $459.
You’ll pay either $479 or $609 for the 256GB model, depending on whether you go for Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and Cellular.
While Apple has maintained the status quo or enhanced certain areas, one minor component has been reduced. While you may still purchase a Silver or Space gray iPad, the formerly available Gold model has been discontinued.
It’s unlikely that there will be widespread internet outrage over the loss of the Gold iPad. It makes little difference if you’re planning to put it in a protective case.
Power and Connectivity
The rest of the iPad’s features were taken straight from the 8th generation’s specs, so there wasn’t much of a surprise.
The battery is expected to last up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi and up to 9 hours on cellular, a figure that hasn’t improved in the last two years. This appears to be roughly accurate in our tests. Obviously, when the user increases the computing demands on it, it will decrease.
The iPad’s power supply remains unchanged since Apple continues to use Lightning rather than USB-C.
Support for the first-generation Apple Pencil will remain in place for another year, while the Smart Connector will continue to keep the iPad compatible with Bluetooth keyboards.
Wi-Fi continues to support 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) with MIMO, which is adequate but not optimal. Given that the target market is unlikely to own Wi-Fi 6 routers, this is acceptable.
The use of Bluetooth 4.2 remains unchanged as well, which is uncommon given that virtually every other significant device in Apple’s portfolio uses Bluetooth 5.0 or above. This is a bit more surprising than the Wi-Fi 5 support, but it does not appear to affect functionality.
There are cellular alternatives once again, with compatibility for both nano-SIM and eSIM, but unlike the iPad mini, you’re limited to LTE at best. The ninth-generation iPad does not support 5G connectivity.
As with the iPad mini, the iPad 10.2 ships with iPadOS 15, Apple’s tablet-optimized version of iOS. Along with many of the features present in iOS 15, it is optimized for the tablet’s form factor, and as such, it improves multitasking.
The ability to run two applications concurrently and manually manage how much of the screen each takes up was introduced in iPadOS 14, but the feature has been streamlined with the addition of a new Multitasking option at the top of any app.
Previously, when creating a split-screen setup, the second app had to be on the home page or in the app dock at the bottom of the screen, but with the addition of the App Library, all your apps are now accessible from the dock, which means that any of them can be used to multitask.
Additionally, widgets may now be moved across the screen – previously, they were restricted to a panel on the left-hand side of the home screen – and the Notes app has been improved.
We observed that iPadOS 15 provides a smooth experience on the new iPad 10.2 — this is Apple’s best tablet operating system to date.
The 9th generation iPad is largely similar to the previous generation but more powerful and with no dramatic improvements.
As with the iPhone, Windows PCs, and virtually any other computing segment, the one-year gap does not create a “must-buy” situation for the entry-level iPad market segment.
The most significant change in 2021 is undoubtedly the front-facing camera, albeit this may not be a significant selling point for the model. However, given that video calls remain a significant part of everyone’s lives, this is a much-needed upgrade.
The entry-level iPad’s feature package is not going to set the world on fire. The iPad Pro does so in order to maximize performance, whereas the iPad mini includes all of the new design features and other quality-of-life enhancements that a user seeking cutting-edge technologies could desire.
The features of higher-end iPads will continue to transfer downstream over time. There will ultimately be an entry-level iPad with a mostly edge-to-edge design – but not this year.
As has been the case since Apple upgraded the iPad with the iPad Pro line, the iPad without the Air, mini, or Pro names fills a sizable hole in Apple’s portfolio for those who only require a tablet. There are no frills or gimmicks; this is a straightforward offering.
Considered from all of these angles, Apple’s new iPad will be a perfect fit for the market it intends to reach with it. If you require an iPad of any kind to complete a task, this is suitable and will work just fine.