Article updated on November 1, 2023 at 7:00 AM PDT

Apple iPad 9th Gen Review: Low-Cost Option May Be Best Bet for Now

Apple took 2023 off for iPads. If you're looking for a solid low-cost choice in the meantime, this is it.

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8.1/ 10

Apple iPad (9th gen, 2021)

$250 at Best Buy


  • Better A13 processor
  • More storage (64/256GB)
  • Center Stage camera zooms in video chats
  • Works with older keyboard cases
  • Headphone jack


  • Older design
  • No USB-C
  • Uses first-gen Pencil

Editors' note, Nov. 1, 2023: It's 2023. Apple hasn't released any new iPads all year. Apple is likely to make refreshes across the lineup next year, which is why I recommend waiting on buying any iPad at all. While Apple's 10th-gen basic iPad has USB-C, a better processor, a larger screen, better-positioned front camera, newer keyboard case options, and it works with the newer low-cost Pencil introduced recently, it's also more expensive. Until we know what 2024's models might be, I lean towards recommending the least-expensive iPad (which is the 9th-gen) for kids and anyone who wants a basic tablet. If you want to spend more, consider the 10th-gen model, or an M1-equipped iPad Air if it's on sale.

My original review from 2021 is below.

The 9th-gen iPad isn't new. It isn't fancy. It has a big old circular home button. It still has big bezels around the screen. There's no USB-C. No Magic Keyboard or newer Pencil support. But I'm OK with that, for its price, and you or your kids might be, too. 

I wrote this review on the new ninth-gen iPad. I'm able to do this because the iPad allows connections to keyboard cases, like the Apple smart keyboard cover I'm using to write this. It's not as good as the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and Air, but it's good enough (and costs less). And good enough is exactly what the ninth-gen iPad is: In fact, compared with all other iPads right now, it still covers all the bases just fine. Let me explain.

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad

The ninth-gen iPad with a keyboard case and Pencil (not included). Same look as last year.

Scott Stein/CNET

iPads are secondary devices for most people. Maybe even tertiary devices. After phones and laptops, of course. But they're also pretty essential and useful for a lot of people. Families, kids. That's why budget factors heavily into iPad purchases. In that regard, the basic iPad (still called "iPad" on the box) should be your default pick. Right now, Apple has two basic iPads: the 10th-gen model, and this one. The 10th-gen is more future-proof, but the 9th-gen costs less. It's inexpensive but still versatile: This iPad works with the Apple Pencil for sketching (although it's the first-gen Pencil) and with keyboard cases (although not the Magic Keyboard), and has a big enough screen to feel laptoplike (unlike the Mini, which is lovely but expensive and for me, too small). And there's more storage, which helps.

The lowest-priced iPad has always been a trickle-down device, gradually getting upgrades other iPads got years ago. The same is true here: a new A13 processor, a zooming-in Center Stage camera that the iPad Pro got this spring and True Tone on the display for ambient color temperature adjustments. This iPad may eventually disappear from Apple's lineup, to be replaced by the 10th gen iPad released in 2022, but for now it's the safest low-cost iPad purchase if you don't want to spend a lot on something else. You could spend more on the 10th-gen model, too, but that model ends up going up above $500 for the accessories and storage you'd likely need.

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad

Next to the new iPad Mini (right), the new iPad (left) may seem a throwback. But hey, from a distance, it looks pretty similar.

Scott Stein/CNET

Design: The same

It looks exactly the same as last year. It has that old circle Touch ID button. It still uses Lightning, not USB-C. And, you know what? It's fine. It works with last year's iPad cases. And it's the last iPad on Earth that has a real headphone jack. And its starting price is the same. But Apple's bumped the storage up, finally, with 64GB on the $329 (£319, AU$499) version -- you could survive with that, just about -- and 256GB on the $479 version, which I'd recommend without a doubt if you're planning to download any movies for travel, or any content-making apps.

iPad Mini 2021 and 9th-gen iPad, compared

See all photos

If you didn't have any big emotions about last year's iPad, this year's basic model won't wow. It would be nice to have less bezel, switch away from Lightning and also, to have stereo speakers. (Sound only comes out of one side of the iPad in landscape mode, like always, but the fancier iPads fix that. Answer: Deal with it or use headphones.)

Pencil support is fine, but that older Pencil has nowhere to go unless you buy a case that has a loop to hold it (those do exist, like Logitech's keyboard folios). And the front-facing camera is still stuck on the side in landscape mode, which is how you'll have it set up for laptop-style use. 

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad

Yes, it still uses Lightning.

Scott Stein/CNET

Center Stage: Zooming-in FaceTime and Zoom calls

You'll notice that when you launch video chat on the new iPad, it'll start zooming in on your face. That's Center Stage, a feature that leans on the wider-angle iPad front-facing camera to zoom in during calls. 

In general, Center Stage is a useful tweak to the video chat experience, especially from a distance with families. Like a Facebook Portal and a few other devices, it'll follow you around. The autotracking works smoothly, almost like a panning camera. But on a few FaceTime calls, using a prerelease iPad, I found stutters. (Maybe a software update will fix that). It works with Zoom, and whatever video chat apps want to support it (it's openly available for any video chat app to incorporate).

Watch this: iPad Mini 2021 vs. iPad 9th gen, reviewed: Which to buy

Center Stage can be turned off by swiping down from the Control Center and toggling it with the Video Effects button, and some video recording apps like Filmic Pro use it. But Apple's built-in Camera app doesn't take advantage of it, oddly.

One note: On my review iPad I found a few times that Center Stage made FaceTime calls seem to stutter. It might be something Apple needs to address in an iPadOS update.

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad

Center Stage is toggled in the Control Center when you're on FaceTime or in other apps: you might want to toggle off auto-zoom sometimes.

Scott Stein/CNET

Performance: More than good enough

The added A13 processor upgrade makes it fast enough for most needs and then some. On benchmark tests, it's about as fast an iPhone 11 (no surprise, since it has the same processor). It's fine for multitasking, gaming and video and doesn't seem to lag.

And its front camera is notably better: crisper for video calls, with a digital-zoom face-following Center Stage mode that works with Zoom, FaceTime and other apps, making it a better family video-chat screen from a distance. They're not amazing cameras, but they're suitable, and better than on most laptops. The front camera went from a 1.2 megapixels to a 122-degree wide-angle 12 megapixels, which makes a real difference, and also lets that camera zoom in using Center Stage without losing effective resolution.

Battery life feels largely the same in daily use so far: Apple keeps leaning on the "10 hours of battery" promise as always, and I find that iPads generally last a whole day of normal use.

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad

Typing outside. Multitasking. Yes there's glare, but the 10-inch iPad splits the difference between portability and laptop-type stuff.

Scott Stein/CNET

Boring, but recommended

Seriously: The 10th-gen iPad has a lot of my favorite features, but it's more expensive and doesn't have the same case and Pencil situation as fancier iPads do. The iPad Mini costs more, lacks the same keyboard support and is probably too small. The iPad Air has a faster M1 processor, and I personally love its design, but it's a more expensive proposition. And the iPad Pro models (expected to get major upgrades in 2024) are in a totally different price tier.

For now, I still think the basic unexciting iPad wins out. Especially if the price hits $300 for holiday season sales. But other sales could change that metric fast. There's still no perfect iPad right now, and in the meantime I'd opt for the cheapest option until things maybe settle down a bit more in the future.