Apple iPad (2021) review

The iPad (9th Generation) makes some welcome tweaks to a winning formula Tested at £319 / $329 / AU$499

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 2021 9th Generation
(Image: © Apple)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The ninth-generation iPad cements its status as the benchmark for everyday tablets, though a more thoroughly revamped design is overdue

Pros

  • +

    Excellent picture quality

  • +

    Refined sound for headphone listening

  • +

    Sophisticated front camera

Cons

  • -

    Short on meaningful upgrades

  • -

    Design starting to look dated

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Once upon a time, handheld devices were much like Matryoshka dolls, shrinking and becoming more refined and sleek with each generation. But for the last few years, time and evolution have stood still for the classic iPad, with each new model seemingly a slightly modified replica of the last. 

The latest iPad – now in its ninth generation – is now the only model in Apple’s line-up to retain the style of the company’s original tablets, courtesy of its aluminium frame, physical Home button and sturdy, thick bezels. Compared to Apple's other iPad models, it's a design that looks almost retro now. However, despite being nearly identical in both build and spec to its predecessor, the few changes that have been made for the iPad 9 are timely and considerably improve its usability as an entry-level, multi-purpose tablet.

Price

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

Often, a new Apple device launches at the same price as the model it replaces, but for the iPad 9th Generation, Apple has actually lowered the price in some territories.

The entry-level 64GB Wi-Fi-only model costs £319 / $329 / AU$499, which is £10 cheaper than the 8th generation iPad (the US and Australian prices remain the same). 

Wi-Fi + Cellular models, meanwhile, start at £439 / $459 / AU$699. So although it has the exact dimensions, 10.2-inch retina display, 8MP rear camera, 3GB RAM and 10-hour battery life of its predecessor, the new iPad still feels like remarkably good value.

Features

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

And it’s not as if there are no significant changes. Upgrades for this model include an ultra-wide-angle 12MP front-facing camera, a beefier A13 Bionic chip processing and, in recognition of our ever-swelling digital libraries, the storage options have doubled in size, up from 32GB and 128GB to 64GB and 256GB – without a bump up in price.

It's long been a perplexing feature of iPads that the rear camera got all the glory while the selfie lens languished in low res. After all, tablets aren’t exactly ideal for pointing and shooting great images. Despite Apple turning the tables to give the iPad 9th Generation’s front-facing camera some much-needed love, the 8MP rear camera still produces decent quality images with plenty of colour and contrast.

For anyone looking for a tablet to use for video calls, the upgraded front camera of the iPad 9th Gen will make it a very attractive prospect. Boasting ten times the megapixels of the iPad 8th Gen, this wide-angle camera also features the same Centre Stage technology found in the iPad Mini 6, which tracks your movements to keep your face in focus and shot. It’s remarkably effective without being distracting and would be useful both for those who want to look professional while presenting on Zoom and those who can only ever seem to get their eyebrow in the frame when FaceTiming their family.

Apple iPad 9th Gen (2021) tech specs

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

Storage 64GB or 256GB

RAM 3GB

Screen 10.2in

Finishes Silver, Space Grey

Camera 8MP/12MP

Dimensions (hwd) 25 x 17.4 x 0.75cm

Weight 487g

Compared to the 1.2MP selfie camera on the iPad 8, the difference is stark, with far less noise and light flaring as well as more accurate tonal presentation. Unfortunately, the lens is still located on the short top edge, which isn’t ideal when using the tablet in landscape mode – you’ll look crystal clear in your conference meetings but you’ll also look as if you’re avoiding eye contact.

The iPad 9 runs using the same OS as other iPad models but is powered by the A13 Bionic chip that was introduced with 2019’s iPhone 11. While it’s not up there with the latest and greatest Apple silicon, the company says it provides an increase in performance of 20 to 30 per cent over the iPad 8, which was powered by the A12 Bionic. In truth, the upgrade isn’t hugely noticeable for most general use, but we find that videos and apps launch slightly quicker and, when streaming, the image processing is marginally improved, with less tearing.

For creative multitasking, the iPad 9th Generation can be used in landscape with the Apple Keyboard and is compatible with the Apple Pencil 1 (£89 / $99 / AU$145). This is Apple’s older stylus, which is designed for quick note-taking and sketches but is less advanced than the Pencil 2 that's compatible with all other current iPad models.

Picture

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple / Apple TV+, Servant)

Apple has maintained the same 10.2-inch screen size as last time around – a decent middle-ground between the iPad Mini’s 8.3-inch display and the iPad Air’s 10.9-inch screen. Physically, it’s an identical Retina Display to that of the iPad 8th Generation, with a 2160 x 1620 resolution, pixel density of 264ppi and brightness of 500 nits. It’s still the only model in the iPad family to lack Dolby Vision HDR; however, the iPad 9 does feature Apple’s True Tone technology, a longtime staple of its higher-end iPads and the iPhone.

True Tone uses an ambient light sensor to adjust the screen's tonal temperature depending on your ambient surroundings, so in a dark room, the screen will adopt warmer tones to make it easier on the eyes. It’s a nice touch and offers a more comfortable and consistent viewing experience from daylight to darkness, but we leave it toggled off for films and TV.

Playing the Willow Springs race in Ford vs Ferrari on Apple TV, the iPad 9 (2021) displays an authentic colour palette with a detailed and smooth picture as the cars zip across the screen. It’s very close in performance to the iPad 8 (2020), but the newer model renders some colours, particularly skin tones, with greater accuracy. For example, Christian Bale’s sweat- and grease-encrusted face has a natural hue compared to the iPad 8, which has a warmer, slightly jaundiced tinge.

It’s easy to take for granted just how slick the picture quality is across the iPad range, but switching to Aquaman on Apple TV, the superb performance of the iPad 9’s display is evident. From the gaudy fluorescence of Atlantis to the dark, shadowy recesses of the Russian submarine, the colours are punchy while remaining naturalistic, and there’s plenty of sharp detail and refined textures to enjoy. Watching films on a small screen is often considered a compromise, but the iPad 9 reminds us that needn’t be the case.

While viewing angles are less of a concern with a tablet than a TV, it’s worth noting that the iPad 9th Generation’s colours and blacks fade noticeably less when viewing off-axis than do its predecessor’s.

Sound

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

Plugging in our Sennheiser HD-25, there’s a refinement to the audio quality of the iPad 9th Generation over its predecessor that becomes apparent before the first song has even properly started. Hit play on The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, and the airy expletive softly muttered by Lindsey Buckingham amongst the studio hiss is even more audible thanks to a nicely insightful treble. Once the acoustic guitar starts, it's altogether rounder and sweeter in tone than when listening on the iPad 8th Generation, which sounds a bit flat in comparison. The infamous bassline that segues into the last section of the track seems to have greater depth, too. There’s also plenty of detail in the subsequent crescendo, from the texture of the vibrating springs of the snare to the final electric guitar solo, which sparkles without any harshness.

Similarly, when paired with the Cambridge Melomania 1 wireless earbuds, the typical hallmarks of Apple’s neutrally precise sound are present but delivered with more spirited dynamic expression. This means that on songs such as Joe Cocker’s Space Captain, everything from delicate hand claps to brass stabs and Cocker’s gravely howl are full of vibrant detail and character that’s less pronounced in the iPad 8th Gen’s delivery.

The iPad 9th Generation has the same driver array as previous models – a left-right pair packed closely together on the iPad’s bottom edge – so there’s not much in the way of stereo separation on offer if watching a video in landscape mode. The added presence from the iPad 9’s audio processing means that, even on the in-built speakers, in busy films the dialogue tends to cut through with more clarity, and listening to Self Esteem’s intricately textured I Do This All The Time, we find ourselves notching down the volume slightly to maintain consistency with the boxier-sounding older model. It’s obviously not how we’d recommend enjoying films and music, but it's a subtle but useful enhancement for calls, conferences, and YouTube.

Verdict

Tablets and smartphones: Apple iPad 9th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad 9th Generation doesn’t have many significant upgrades over its predecessor (which itself was an iterative update on the iPad 7th Generation), and this feels like a model for those who haven’t upgraded for a while. However, the improvements are relevant and well executed, keeping this affordable tablet at the forefront of the ‘all rounder’ domain.

With a camera set-up better suited for our increasingly online lives, as well as sound quality that maximises Apple’s own much-improved music streaming service, the iPad 9th Generation is still the best tablet in its field. If your current device has seen better days, or you're looking for an entry-level model for video calls that can also hold plenty of content to keep family members occupied, then this is an excellent option. 

SCORES

  • Picture 5
  • Sound 5
  • Features 5

MORE:

Read our review of the iPad Mini (2021)

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