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Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review

The iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) offers more storage, a nicer screen, and a clever new front camera for video calls.

iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) makes itself a stronger competitor to the iPad Air thanks to some smart new additions, but it would be a huge quality of life upgrade if it had Apple Pencil 2. Still, as a budget drawing tablet, nothing else matches it.

For

  • Great screen
  • Good storage options
  • Apple Pencil support

Against

  • No USB-C support
  • Not Apple Pencil 2nd Gen
  • Mediocre rear camera
Specs

Size: 250.6x174.1x7.5mm
Weight: 487g (Wi-Fi only); 498g (Wi-Fi+cellular)
Processor: Apple A13, 3GB RAM
Resolution: 2160x1620
Screen: 10.2-inch IPS LCD
Storage: 64GB/256GB
Battery: 32.4‐watt‐hour

The iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) doesn't change a lot about Apple's cheapest iPad, but almost everything it does change was on our wishlist of things to improve on the previous model, so we're pretty happy with the end result.

The headline new features here are that it comes with double the storage, there's a faster processor, the screen now supports True Tone technology, and it includes a 'Centre Stage' front camera, just like the iPad Pro M1 12.9-inch (2021) and the iPad Mini (6th Gen).

It keeps the iPad 10.2-inch relevant, and means it's still the budget tablet of choice for the creative minded, thanks to the quality of features it already has, such as its Apple Pencil support, sharp and bright display, and the excellent quality of apps available.

It might be beaten for design and features by the other tablets in the iPad model list, but if you just need an affordable and reliable creative tool, Apple gets almost everything right here.

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: price and availability

The iPad 10.2 is available now, and was released on 24 September 2021.

The entry-level version of it costs £319/$329/AU$499, which gets you 64GB of storage – that's double what you got in the base version last time, and is pretty much ideal for those buying it as a general media and fun tablet on a budget.

For those who want to be able store more things, you can get the 256GB version for £459/$479/AU$729, which should be plenty for 99% of buyers.

These prices are for the Wi-Fi-only version – you can also add 4G connectivity, but you'll need to add £120/$130/AU$200 to the price of whichever size you go for.

iPad 10.2-inch review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: display

The 10.2-inch screen here hasn't changed its quality at all from the previous version, but that's no issue as far as we're concerned. It's a 2160x1620 IPS panel, with a brightness of 500 nits, and excellent viewing angles.

At 260 pixels per inch, it's plenty sharp and detailed – and it's the same sharpness as the iPad Air (2020) or iPad Pros anyway, so you wouldn't even improve in that regard if you spent more (expect for the iPad mini, which is over 300ppi).

It doesn't support the DCI-P3 colour gamut, unlike all the other iPads, but we think you can live without that if budget is your main concern – it doesn't stop the colours from being punchy, rich and accurate.

As mentioned, you now have True Tone support in this model for the first time. This is Apple's technology that adjusts the colour balance of the screen to match the ambient lighting in the room, so that white on the screen looks the same to your eyes as a piece of white paper would in the room.

Obviously, anyone doing something with specific colour concerns may want to turn this off, but in general use – while reading, writing, playing, making music, whatever – it makes using the screen so much more pleasant, avoiding the blue tint computers screens are known for.

The only real downside of the screen compared to the more expensive models is that it's not fully laminated and doesn't have as much anti-reflection design put into it, so you might find it getting lost more on bright days.

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: Apple Pencil

The first-gen Apple Pencil is supported here, which means you've got really accurate and responsive drawing potential. The Apple Pencil is a pro-quality drawing tool, detecting tilt and pressure with precision, and Apple says that the latency is now 9ms – though you'll actually see up to 16ms because it's a 60Hz screen.

Really, the only knock against the Apple Pencil in terms of drawing ability is that it doesn't have any controls on the device (the 2nd Gen version adds a single virtual button). We're also not totally keen on the glossy finish, given how greasy and slippery it can get from your fingers, but that's a minor thing. Both are easily forgiven, because it works so well.

However, we should note that the Apple Pencil first gen has always been a little bit of a pain. To charge it, you'll generally need to take the end off and plug it into the iPad's Lightning port for a time, which is clumsy to say the least. It is also possible to charge it from a cable, but only if you carry a tiny and easily lost dongle around with you.

There's also no way to connect it to the iPad unless you buy a third-party case, so it's easy to forget or misplace.

The Apple Pencil 2nd Gen solves all of these problems. It connects to the side of any other iPad model magnetically, and charges wirelessly while there. It also has a matte finish.

So, it's great that you can draw (or take notes, or make precision photo edits) to a really high quality with the Apple Pencil, and it's a key thing that makes this such a good device for creatives on a budget. But we just wish it had the better version of Apple Pencil (hard to please some, I know).

We mentioned note-taking there, so we'd also like to mention how good the iPad is for notes and diagrams now – you can handwrite and then copy and paste what you wrote into a text doc as plain computer text. And little drawings in your notes can be copied and pasted into something else too – and you can even then edit them. And draw an arrow or circle and it'll become a proper shape, not your rough line. It's great.

iPad 10.2-inch review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: power and performance

The Apple A13 chip used here is a solid step up compared to the A12 chip used in the previous version, though it doesn't cause some massive transformation in what this machine can do. The previous version was plenty fast enough for almost any task, and the issue would only be with trying to create very large creative projects that push what its amount of RAM can really deal with.

Well, this version has the same amount of RAM, but the faster processor means it's more future-proof for receiving iPadOS updates for years to come, and it should handle the increasing number of machine learning tasks that Apple is having its OSes tackle with ease.

We haven't had any issues when sketching, editing photos or video, creating songs in GarageBand, running apps side by side, switching between lots of apps quickly, or anything like that.

Apple rates this for 10 hours of battery life for light casual web browsing, which is its standard for all iPads. You'll probably get a little more than that, though it'll vary depending on everything from what sites you visit to whether you're playing video in PiP mode too.

As a more intensive battery test, we streamed video from Netflix for two hours, with screen at full brightness and the volume at 50%, and that used 30% of the battery.

And if you play a high-end game, or use a creative app where you're constantly taxing the processor and graphics together in the same way, you can easily half the 10 hours. But that's not out of line with what we'd expect at all.

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: key features

The iPad 10.2-inch features essentially the same rear camera as before, which is a very basic 8MP wide-angle unit. It can take decent shots in good light, but is far behind any other Apple camera as soon as conditions drop below 'optimal'. It exists, it takes digital photos and video (up to 1080p resolution), that's it.

On the front, though, is something new and great – a 12MP ultra-wide (122°) camera that uses Apple's Centre Stage feature. This means that the camera can follow you around when you're on a video call, because it doesn't use the whole camera view for its video: it just crops in where it detects your face. If it detects two people, it provides a slightly wider view to fit them both in.

If you then move around, it tracks to follow you, as long as you're still within the ultra-wide lens' view. It's clever, it's genuinely useful (even if you don't actually move, because it centres you in the cameras view without any fiddling. 

The iPad 10.2-inch has one feature that might actually make it the preferred option for music makers, and it's nothing to do with budget. It still has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and is the only iPad that still has this feature.

You've also got the Lightning connector for charging and for attaching accessories (if you have the necessary adapter).

This model includes Apple's Smart Connector, which means you can use it with Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio Case, which is a pretty good keyboard… or it would be, if not for the £159/$159/AU$299 price, which is very hard to stomach given the price of the entire tablet.

iPad 10.2-inch review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: build and design

The iPad 10.2-inch is built with an older design than all the other models in Apple's range now, but really the only disadvantage of this is that it means it's a bit larger than it needs to be, considering the screen size.

The chunky bezels make it easy to grab and hold without smearing the screen, and the big Home button with Touch ID sensor on the front makes it really easy to unlock this tablet without even picking it up.

And, of course, Apple's build quality is never poor, so being more budget doesn't mean the glass and aluminium feel any less premium.

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review: should you buy it?

The iPad 10.2-inch is a great cheap tablet, with features and power that makes it a good buy for creative work. There are things we'd like to improve in an ideal world – particularly the version of Apple Pencil that it supports – but it's massively capable for its price.

Obviously, the more expensive iPads offer more – in particular, we'd look at whether the iPad mini could be a replacement, if you can deal with a smaller screen, or whether you just want to step up to the iPad Air, which is basically this tablet with all of our complaints removed – but for the price, this is just a damn good tablet for work and play.

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The Verdict
8

out of 10

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review

The iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) makes itself a stronger competitor to the iPad Air thanks to some smart new additions, but it would be a huge quality of life upgrade if it had Apple Pencil 2. Still, as a budget drawing tablet, nothing else matches it.

Matt has been testing technology for over a decade, working in specialist Apple publications as well general technology and creative journalism. By day, you can find him covering TV, audio, smart home gear and more at T3.com, as Home Tech Editor. By night, he's probably updating or pairing or installing some new piece of technology in the quest for the perfect setup.