Apple iPad (10th gen): Good entry-level device, Pencil connection perplexing

Apple has finally decided to give its most affordable iPad a thorough makeover with new accessories and the A14 Bionic chip. PHOTO: APPLE

For the past couple of years, Apple’s entry-level iPad has received mostly specification bumps.

It was starting to look stale with its large bezels and anachronistic Touch ID button. This year, however, Apple has finally decided to give its most affordable iPad a thorough makeover, with a fresh design, new accessories and the A14 Bionic chip.

The bezels are slimmer, the Touch ID sensor has been integrated into the power button, and the chassis now has flat sides. It’s a look that brings it in line with the current crop of Apple products. The display is larger too, at 10.9 inches (up from 10.2). In short, it’s almost indistinguishable from the iPad Air.

The front-facing camera has been moved to the long side of the iPad. This means the camera now sits above the display when you put the iPad in the landscape orientation.

This is good news for those who use their iPad for video calls. The Smart Connector has been relocated to one of the edges instead of being at the back. Also, the iPad comes in brighter colours. Apart from silver, there’s now pink, blue, and yellow. 

The display is quite similar to the one in the iPad Air. They are the same size, support the same 2360 x 1640 pixels resolution, and neither supports ProMotion technology. However, the iPad’s display is not fully laminated, does not have anti-reflective coating, and supports only the sRGB colour space (not P3).

Even then, this is a mostly good-looking display. It looks crisp and sharp, and the colours look rich and natural. Reflections are bothersome only if you view the display from odd angles.

Another big update is that it is the first iPad to finally have proper stereo speakers on both sides of the screen when it is in landscape mode. Earlier iPads had stereo speakers, but they flanked the Lightning port, so when watching videos in landscape, sound comes only from one side. The sound lacks low-end oomph, but is good enough for casual watching.

USB-C and Apple Pencil woes

The new iPad also ditches the Lightning port for a USB-C port. Even though it supports only USB and not Thunderbolt, it can still drive a single external display at up to 4K resolution and at 30Hz. While the move to USB-C is much welcomed, it also causes some problems. Mainly, it is because this iPad is compatible only with the first-generation Apple Pencil, which requires a Lightning port not only to charge but also to pair. 

Apple’s solution is to sell a dongle that it calls the USB-C to Apple Pencil Adapter. But you need more than this little dongle to charge because it is a female USB-C port and a female Lightning port. This means you still need a USB-C cable to connect this dongle to the iPad before you can pair and charge your Apple Pencil.

Why Apple hasn’t simply made it a male USB-C to female Lightning port cable is puzzling. Now, the integration with the Apple Pencil is terribly convoluted. This could have been avoided completely if it supported the new second-generation Apple Pencil.

Once you get over the clumsy pairing and charging process, the first-generation Apple Pencil works well with this iPad. It does not have the cool new hover feature that is available only on the new iPad Pro, but it feels responsive, smooth and intuitive.

Don’t worry that this new iPad does not have a ProMotion display – any input lag is barely perceptible. 

Magic Keyboard Folio

This is an all-new accessory for the iPad and it is similar to how Logitech’s Combo Touch iPad keyboards work. Unlike the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air, which is a single-piece unit, the new Magic Keyboard Folio comprises two components that attach to the iPad. The keyboard attaches to the Smart Connector, while a separate protective panel doubles as an adjustable stand. 

The obvious upside is that you can detach the keyboard whenever you do not need it and reduce its footprint. The downside is that you have to remember that there is an adjustable stand that you need to deploy before you can start typing. This is not an issue with the earlier Magic Keyboard because the stand is an integrated part of the keyboard.

The new Magic Keyboard Folio has a row of function keys that the earlier Magic Keyboard did not have. But the keys do not have back illumination – unlike the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air.

Like any of Apple’s Magic accessories, the Magic Keyboard Folio is pricey at $379. Comparatively, Logitech’s Combo Touch keyboard case for this new iPad is $229.

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Performance analysis

The new iPad is powered by the A14 Bionic chip, which made its debut in the iPhone 12 Series in 2020. Its central processing unit performance was around 20 per cent better than 2021’s iPad, which means workflow is faster.

Graphics performance is also faster by around 12 per cent. It can even run computing-intensive games such as Asphalt 9: Legends and Genshin Impact without a hitch, although the games take time to load.

Comparatively, the iPad Air and iPad Pro with their M-series chips are significantly more powerful.

Even so, the new iPad (10th generation) aces more speed tests than Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Fold4 5G, which is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip. The area that the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 does better is graphics performance. 

Battery life

A standard battery test was run by looping a 720p video with maximum screen brightness and volume, and with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on. Compared with last year’s iPad, this year’s model lasted nearly an hour shorter on battery life. That’s the price to pay for a slightly more compact form factor. Practically, most users should get around six to seven hours of non-stop use, even with a brighter screen over cellular data connectivity.

This new iPad is considerably more expensive than the model it replaces. Prices now start at $679 for the Wi-Fi-only model with 64GB of storage and top out at $1,139 for the model with cellular connectivity and a maximum of 256GB of storage. Compared with its predecessor, for the same amount of storage, the Wi-Fi-only models cost $180 more while the cellular models are $210 more.

For most people who are going to use their iPads only to check e-mails, browse the Web and watch videos, spending nearly $700 (excluding accessories) might be a tad hard to swallow, particularly since there is no shortage of cheap Android tablets that can arguably do the same.

But if you are already using other Apple devices and intend to keep the device around and use it for years to come, you may want to stick to the same brand. For instance, if you have a Mac, Apple’s Sidecar function lets the iPad work as a second display. 

Some might be tempted to upgrade to the slightly faster iPad Air, which costs about $200 more for the same amount of storage. That is if Apple Pencil use is crucial. But note that the iPad Air’s accessories cost more too. HWZ

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