Editors' note, Nov. 26, 2019: Apple's iPad strategy for 2019 was weird, with no new iPad Pro, but updates to the iPad Mini and iPad Air. The 10.2-inch iPad, however, might be the best bet. It has an older A10 processor, original Pencil support and a smart connector for smart keyboard (sold separately), and a slightly bigger screen. Spending as little as possible for an iPad makes a lot of sense right now, unless you have needs (or desires) that justify a fancier model. You could always look for last year's model on sale (which has the same processor, and also supports Pencil), but there's a case for the slight improvements here if you want to pay up for Apple's keyboard case. And, yes, iPadOS 13 generally runs just fine (except for the perpetual bugs, of course). As the dust settles on this year's iPad crop, this entry model is our Editors' Choice. Our original review of the 10.2-inch iPad is below.
My 6-year-old son saw the newest iPad from Apple sitting on a table in my living room. It had its keyboard cover on, an accessory Apple makes that now also works with the most affordable iPad. He asked me if the iPad has a keyboard, is it an iPad and a computer? I paused and half nodded. I mean, OK, well, welcome to the world of the iPad.
Yes, the iPad is a computer. And for $329 (£349, AU$529) as a starting price, Apple has made the iPad its lowest entry point for a computer, period. Of course, what a computer is to you may vary. My family uses an iPad on a daily basis, sharing it around the home. Just the basic 2018 model. No keyboard. My wife does all her everyday work on it. She doesn't look for a laptop. Crazy? I don't know, she seems happy. I use a laptop. But I commute with an iPad.
After living for a year with the 11-inch iPad Pro and its beautiful speed and features, I've moved into the new $429 128GB 10.2-inch iPad and $159 Smart Keyboard to compare.
iPads aren't things most people circle as a must-upgrade. They get one, live with them for years, kick them around to their kids, use them as a spare screen. That's the best compliment to the success of the iPad as what it was always intended to be: an easy, perfectly browsable tablet.
The new iPad isn't something you'll need -- unless, of course, you need one. If you're looking for a good versatile tablet, this is it. It's more than capable for browsing, doing basic work and playing games on Apple Arcade. It can use the multitasking abilities of iPadOS decently enough.
Welcome to the ever-larger iPad family
Now here's the weird part: Apple has many, many iPads now. Big ones, small ones. Expensive ones, cheap ones. Ones that have Face ID, ones that don't. Ones with Lightning ports and ones with USB-C. Picking through them is kind of a nightmare. For instance: The smaller iPad Mini has a better processor (and costs more). The iPad Pro is fantastic, but for its big cost bump (and with maybe a newer version coming), you probably don't need it. And Apple hasn't yet made it into a full Mac alternative, even with iPadOS' laptop-like advancements.
The 10.2-inch iPad also has a lot in common with the slightly more expensive 10.5-inch iPad Air. It's bizarre that these two iPads are available at the same time. The 10.2-inch iPad is thicker, but its body is the same length and width. It also uses the same Smart Connecter Keyboard Cover and Pencil accessories from Apple, which together will cost nearly as much as the iPad itself.
The iPad Air has a faster A12 processor (same as an iPhone XR/XS), instead of the A10 in the 10.2-inch iPad, which is the processor the iPhone 7 used. To me, that matters. Is the A10 fine in the basic iPad? Yes, it's fine. Weirdly, I miss the iPad Pro's Face ID and its touch-to-turn-on display. This basic Touch ID-enabled iPad doesn't access stored iCloud keychain passwords or make payments quite as quickly.
How much do you want to spend on an iPad, and how much does state-of-the-art matter? I'd say spend as little as possible, get this iPad, and you're fine. More aspirational iPad people can treat themselves to more powerful processors and Apple's slightly improved keyboard cases and side-connecting Pencils on the Pros. The iPad Air and iPad Mini from earlier this year feel like they're splitting the difference in the middle.
My only concern is that the older A10 processor could end up showing its age as new versions of iPad OS arrive. Apple has made efforts to have iOS run better on older devices, but with a new tablet, I like to start off with a more recent processor unless I'm getting a great deal.
I buy iPads when they're on sale, which happens a lot. I got last year's 128GB 9.7-inch iPad for $299 this summer. That's a great price for me. When this year's iPad goes on a similar sale, you should definitely go for it. For kids, $300 or more is still a lot for a tablet, even if the iPad is worth it. Amazon's affordable Fire tablets are great budget picks. The last version of the iPad, which has the same A10 processor, is frequently on sale.
There isn't much else in tablet-land anymore. Google's giving up the Android tablet game and Samsung's offerings are far more expensive. Apple has won the tablet war of attrition, and the affordable if unexciting iPad is probably its best budget product.
Would I like a nicer iPad? Sure. Would I pay for one? Well, maybe not.