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iPad 9.7in (2018) preview

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iPad 9.7in (2018) preview
Apple has unveiled its first new product of 2018! It’s a mid-size, budget iPad aimed primarily at school buyers, but the low price tag and new Apple Pencil compatibility are sure to appeal to bargain hunters of all ages.
This article will turn into our review once we’ve spend some lab time with the new tablet. But in the meantime, here’s our preview and first impressions of the iPad 9.7in (2018), which is officially being branded as “sixth-generation iPad”. If you’d like to read about the 2017 model take a look at our iPad 9.7in (2017) review, and more general advice can be found in our iPad buying guide.
Design & build quality
There’s little to talk about here, because little has changed. Physically it’s the same design, with the same bezel sizes – no sign of the edge-to-edge iPhone X look coming to iPads just yet – the same dimensions, the same weight and in name at least the same colour choices… although, as we saw with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, what is officially the gold option has now veered into rosy territory and has a distinct pink blush to it.

From left: old gold, Rose gold, new gold, old gold
It’s about halfway between the old gold finish (still available for the three other iPads) and the Rose Gold on the Pro 10.5in. If you have a collection of older devices in gold and/or Rose Gold you may find this new hybrid finish clashes with them, and we certainly find it odd that the colour palettes are not consistent, but it looks pleasant enough on its own.
The only other physical/external difference we are aware of concerns the screen, and it’s not something you’d notice unless you were told. The screen is now compatible with the Apple Pencil (as well as a range of third-party styluses), having been equipped with what Apple’s spokesperson referred to as “a high-resolution touch system” to “enable ultra-low latency”.
We infer that this will be the same tech and the same spec as on the Pro models, and Pencil performance should consequently be the same (which would be excellent news – it’s a brilliant stylus that we love using). But we can’t confirm that until we’ve tried it out.
Another aspect of the screen that we’re looking forward to testing out is the screen ‘flex’, and here by contrast we are not terribly optimistic. The iPad 9.7in (2017), unlike the various Pro models or even the much older iPad Air 2, had an unlaminated screen, which ‘gives’ (bends inwards) a tiny but still noticeable amount when you press it. Our chief complaint with last year’s 9.7in iPad was that its screen felt cheap, so it’s a bit of a blow to hear that the same type of screen will be used again this year – but who knows, maybe this one won’t feel so bad.

Features
Again, there’s little new to talk about here: the exciting flagship features will be saved for the next round of Pro upgrades.
(Which isn’t to say that the existing feature set that this model is building on is a poor one. You get Touch ID – albeit still first-gen Touch ID like on last year’s 9.7in model, rather than the quicker second-gen version you find in the Pro range – Live Photos, Apple Pay, Siri, Retina Flash and more.)

But we can discuss the Pencil a little more, since Apple sweetened the deal by simultaneously announcing updates to its free iWork apps with support for the stylus. In effect, an existing feature carried over from the Pro range just became significantly more tempting.
Pages, Numbers and Keynote will all now let you write or draw directly on to a document using a stylus. And a new (beta) feature in Pages called Smart Annotation means handwritten annotations will be anchored to a specific position within the text of a document and move around as the document is edited.
Tech specs
As well as adding Pencil Support (the eye-catching change here) the new iPad also has a new processor. The rest of the specs are the same as last year.
We were mildly disappointed to hear that Apple wouldn’t be raising the storage cap from 128GB to 256GB for this model (the Pro iPads, after all, go up to 512GB), but this was offset by news that school users will be offered 200GB of iCloud storage for free.
A10 Fusion chip with 64bit architecture; embedded M10 coprocessor
2GB RAM
32GB or 128GB storage (plus 200GB iCloud storage offer for schools)
9.7in screen (2048 x 1536 at 264ppi)
8Mp rear-facing camera, f/2.4, Live Photos, no flash, no OIS, Panorama mode up to 43Mp, 1080p HD video, slo-mo video at 720p and 120 fps
1.2Mp front-facing camera, Live Photos, Retina Flash, 720p HD video
Battery life up to 10 hours (video, music or web browsing via Wi-Fi) or 9 hours (web browsing over cellular)
Stereo speakers
802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.2
Touch ID
Digital compass
Accelerometer
Barometer
240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm; 469g/478g
Release date
The iPad 9.7in (2018) was announced on 27 March and pre-orders began right away. Apple hasn’t given a date for when it will appear in shops, but stated in a press release (sent out on the 27th) that shipping and store availability will start “later this week”, so the 30th is a possibility.
We went through the ordering process on 28 March, selecting a gold model with 32GB and no cellular, and were given a shipping estimate of 3-5 April, but that slight delay might simply indicate that we were late in placing our order and the cheaper models are selling out.

Price
Despite adding Pencil support and a new chip, Apple has brought the tablet in at the same US price as last year, and a slightly lower UK price. There’s a nice discount for school buyers too.
iPad 9.7in (2018, Wi-Fi, 32GB): £319/US$329
iPad 9.7in (2018, Wi-Fi, 128GB): £409/US$429
iPad 9.7in (2018, cellular, 32GB): £449/US$459
iPad 9.7in (2018, cellular, 128GB): £539/US$559
You can pre-order the iPad 9.7in (2018) here.
Apple has announced that schools will be able to buy the new iPad for $299, a $30 discount. We’re not sure what the discount is in the UK, but Apple has said that there will be one.

OUR VERDICT
We’ll start by conceding that this product is not intended for the likes of us. It’s aimed squarely at the education section, and at the large segment of the population who fancy a cheapish tablet that runs iOS and runs it well. We will also point out that this is merely a preview based on our experience with the 2017 model and the announcement of specs and features in the new one – our verdict will have to wait until we’ve spent time testing it out.
However, for a schools and higher-ed audience (or at least the wealthier end of that audience, since three hundred quid is still three hundred quid, and the Apple Pencil is extra) this looks like a nice deal. It’s cheaper than last year’s model (if you live in the UK, or are an education buyer, or particularly if both apply), which was already at the bargain end of Apple’s range, and you get Apple Pencil support, a faster new processor and – again, if you’re in education – a tasty iCloud storage deal that makes up for the lack of a 256GB or higher option, and adds to the appeal of the entry-level model.
Apple Pencil support itself becomes more appealing thanks to the iWork updates, with Pages’ Smart Annotation a particular highlight.
It remains frustrating that the budget still doesn’t stretch to a laminated screen, which we were taking for granted back in 2014 when the Air 2 came out. We really don’t like the way unlaminated screens feel! But it didn’t put people off in 2017, when the 9.7in model led the iPad range back into positive growth, and we don’t suppose it will put people off now.
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