Review: 9.7-inch $329 iPad (2018) – Should you buy it? [Video]

Apple entered new territory with last year’s budget model $329 iPad — largely popular for reducing the barrier to entry for first time iPad owners. This time around, the thought of a budget iPad isn’t so crazy, as we’ve had a whole year to marinate on the idea.

Like last year’s model, the 6th generation 2018 iPad can be a compelling device if it happens to fit your needs. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to determine where this new iPad may fit in, and whether you should buy it or not. Have a look at our hands-on video walkthrough inside for the details.

The biggest reason why one might consider upgrading from any previous non-Pro iPad model is for the Apple Pencil. The 2018 iPad is the first non-Pro iPad to feature Apple Pencil support, which can prove to be a major upgrade if it suits your needs. This enhancement falls right in line with Apple’s renewed focus on education, but it also results in a more capable, budget-friendly iPad for the general public.

Apple Pencil support means that you can draw, sketch, and annotate within apps that support this unique, low-latency input method. Apps like Procreate, Linea, the iWork suite, and others instantly become all the more valuable when paired with the Apple Pencil.

If you’re an artist, then the Apple Pencil can radically enhance your iPad experience, because it transforms it from a tablet requiring direct manipulation into something that’s capable of being an artistic extension of one’s self.

If you’ve yet to try the Apple Pencil, I highly recommend visiting an Apple Store and exploring its capabilities for yourself. The Pencil features minimal latency, pressure sensitivity, and supports tilt angles. Chances are you’ll be a believer after giving it a go.

But therein lies an interesting conundrum regarding this year’s budget iPad. To really justify upgrading from last year’s model, you’ll need to drop another $99 on the Apple Pencil, bringing the “budget” iPad to around $429 before tax.

But if you need a tablet with stylus input for as little money as possible, the 2018 iPad is your best option. Thankfully, it’s a very good option, it’s just not as inexpensive as it may appear on the surface when you add in the cost of the Apple Pencil.

The second notable enhancement to the 2018 iPad can be found under the hood. An A10 Fusion system on a chip now powers the 2018 iPad, compared to the A9 processor found in the previous model. The upgrade results in a notable difference as far as synthetic benchmarks are concerned.

As a result, users can expect a faster experience, which includes better performance for video and photo editing apps, video games, etc. With that said, there’s still only 2GB of RAM found in the 2018 iPad, which means that you won’t see the type of memory performance found in iPad Pro models with 4GB of RAM.

If you’re upgrading from anything older than an iPad Air 2, the new 2018 iPad will feel like a major upgrade with its A10 Fusion processor. It’s a highly recommended upgrade for anyone still using older iPad hardware, and the entry-level $329 model provides you with enough storage space (32GB) to be viable for long-term usage.

With the 6th-generation iPad upgrade, you’ll also get to experience iOS’ excellent multitasking features, which aren’t available on pre-iPad Air 2 hardware. If your budget allows, an upgrade from an older device like the original iPad Air (or before) is well worth the investment.

If you own an iPad Air 2, the upgrade decision becomes a little more hazy in my opinion. Because Apple’s budget iPad models lack the laminated digitizer found on the iPad Air 2 and more expensive iPad Pro models. Those used to iPad Air 2’s screen may not enjoy the 2018 iPad’s noticeable air gap between the glass and display. This gap, coupled with the lack of antireflective screen properties, means that the 2018 iPad’s display is substantially more susceptible to glare.

The 2018 iPad is also thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2, partly in thanks to its display technology. But if you can live with the glare, slightly thicker and heavier chassis, then you’ll benefit from noteworthy upgrades. Not only will you receive a much faster iPad with Apple Pencil support, but the new iPad also features Touch ID, and will better support iOS 11’s multitasking features.

If you can afford the extra money, iPad Air 2 upgraders may be better served by going with a refurbished 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It’s a device that’s similar to the iPad Air 2 from a build and form factor perspective, and provides Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard support, and other niceties like a True Tone display.

If you’re a 2017 iPad owner who’s decided to upgrade for Apple Pencil support, you’ll be happy to find a snappier system on a chip inside. Yet, outside of the performance increase and Apple Pencil support, there’s no other compelling reason to consider upgrading to the 2018 iPad coming from last year’s 5th-generation release. That is, unless you prefer the slightly modified gold color option, which is like a mix of traditional gold and rose gold.

This should be obvious, but if you own any iPad Pro model, you’ll want to avoid “upgrading” to the 2018 iPad, because it would be more of a downgrade than an upgrade. Not only will you lose the laminated digitizer, but the most recent Pro models feature 4K video capture, ProMotion display with better Apple Pencil performance, enhanced Touch ID, better speakers, True Tone display, additional RAM, etc.

It’s also well worth noting that although the 6th-generation iPad has Apple Pencil support, the Smart Keyboard remains exclusive to models in Apple’s Pro lineup. That’s because the 2018 iPad lacks the necessary Smart Connector found on the iPad Pro.

Conclusion

The answer to the question posed in the headline is yes — you should consider upgrading to the 2018 iPad, but only if you meet specific criteria.

If you own last year’s model, then you’d probably be better off skipping this generation unless you absolutely need Apple Pencil support. And keep in mind that even though this new iPad starts at $329, you’ll still need to pay $99 for the Apple Pencil.

If you own an iPad Air 2, the decision is a little tougher. It’s a solid upgrade, but you might be better served with a refurbished iPad Pro.

If you own anything older, then the 2018 iPad is a much easier sell, and almost a no-brainer. You’ll be downright ecstatic with the performance boost, not to mention all of the great hardware and software additions.

What do you think? Have you considered buying the 2018 iPad?

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