Apple iPad (2022) review: An expensive facelift

Apple made some radical changes to its 10th-generation iPad, including a more modern design, a faster chip, a bigger screen and a new keyboard folio. In a vacuum, it’s an obvious improvement over last year’s iPad. But it’s also more expensive, and Apple still sells the previous-gen model for $329. That makes this iPad a bit of a tough sell, despite its improvements.

Video transcript

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NATHAN INGRAHAM: Apple can rarely leave well-enough alone. A year ago, I thought each of the four tablets in the iPad lineup was differentiated well from the others. And it was fairly easy to see what features you got as things got more expensive.

The new 10th generation iPad throws a wrench in things, though. It's a complete redesign from last year's model that curbs heavily from the Air, while also bringing a handful of compromises to upsell potential customers on Apple's more expensive tablets. But the new iPad also contains a few puzzling decisions and a $120 price hike. The base model now costs $449.

Muddying the waters further, last year's iPad is still available for $329. And while I think the improvements Apple made to the 10th generation iPad are significant, I'm not sure how many people in the market for an inexpensive tablet will find these changes worth the cost.

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Unlike last year's iPad, which was essentially identical to the basic tablet Apple has been selling since 2017, this year's model has been completely overhauled. The Home button is gone. Touch ID has moved to the lock button.

The bezels are smaller. The display is bigger. The edges are squared off. And the front-facing camera has been moved to the iPad's landscape edge.

It's a significant set of changes but only if you haven't seen an iPad Pro or Air recently. Inside the iPad is an A14 bionic chip-- a modest update over the 813 in last year's model. It's a strong performer, but it wasn't slow to begin with.

Of course, if you're to raise the price, you'd better boost the performance. My modest work needs didn't tax the iPad in the least, nor did any of the Apple Arcade games I played. And more advanced tasks, like editing raw photos in Lightroom or transcoding and exporting 4K video clips to 1080P, were similarly smooth. Sure, the A14 trails the M1 in the iPad Air and the M2 in the new iPad Pro, but the vast majority of iPad buyers will be plenty happy.

As for the battery life, Apple continues to meet or exceed its 10-hour estimate it provides for every iPad. And I got about two hours more than that in our standard video playback test. Compared to last year's iPad, the screen here is bigger but not better in any measurable way.

It's the same 10.9 inches as the iPad Air, up from 10.2 inches. And that does make working with multiple apps feel a bit less cramped. And a bigger screen in a body that's essentially the same size is always a nice improvement.

But this display still lacks a lot of the niceties you'll find on the Air. Specifically, the display isn't laminated to the front glass. It's missing an anti-reflective coating. And it doesn't support the P3 wide color gamut.

These missing features were easier to ignore when it costs $329. But this new iPad only costs $150 less than the Air. That's not to say this display is bad, but it is clearly the worst in the iPad lineup.

This redesigned iPad also arrives alongside a redesigned accessory. The new Magic Keyboard Folio is now comprised of two separate pieces-- a back that magnetically attaches and has a kickstand and a keyboard that attaches to the side of the iPad. It then uses the smart connector located on its edge to sync and power the keyboard.

The Folio design has one big deficiency compared to the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Air and Pro. That keyboard is much better for lap typing. The Folio, on the other hand, is not nearly as stable.

Fortunately, the typing experience itself is much better than the old smart keyboard cover that works with last year's iPad. These keys have one millimeter of travel. There's a 14-key function row up top, and the trackpad is large and responsive.

It's actually a bigger than the trackpad on the more expensive Magic Keyboard for the Air and Pro. While I don't care to use a Folio style keyboard on my lap, it was totally fine for long typing sessions at my desk. And the bigger trackpad and function keys are major improvements that I hope to see implemented on other iPad keyboards soon.

The elephant in the room is that this keyboard costs a painful $250. This means that the basic iPad with 64 gigabytes of storage and the Magic Keyboard Folio would cost $700. Apple also made some significant improvements to the camera system on the new iPad.

It now has the same 12 megapixel back camera as the Air. It's not the best camera out there. As I always say, chances are good the camera on the phone in your pocket is better. But for anyone who wants to shoot video, it now offers 4K capture, while last year's model maxed out at 1080P.

More significant is the front-facing camera. It's exactly the same as last year's with one notable exception. Apple finally put the front-facing camera on the landscape edge of the iPad, which means your face will actually be centered if you're taking a video call while the iPad is in its Keyboard Folio or just prop it up with the kickstand.

Amazingly, this iPad is the only iPad with this feature. The iPad Pro-- the best tablet Apple sells-- still has its camera on the portrait edge. Basically, then budget shoppers went out here. As you've already likely noticed, Apple has made some compromises to keep this iPad from infringing too much upon the Air and Pro.

Nowhere is that more obvious than the fact that this tablet still uses the first generation Apple Pencil, introduced way back in 2015. While the original pencil is still a capable tool for drawing and note-taking, it does have a number of issues. It has a built in lightning connector on the end.

To charge it, you literally plug it into the lightning port on your iPad or use a dongle to connect it to a cable. It's a very awkward setup, compounded by the fact that you can easily lose the cap that covers the charging end of the pencil. Its rounded shape also means it rolls away easily, and there's nowhere to store the pencil on the iPad itself when you're not using it.

All these problems persist. But now the iPad uses USB-C for charging, which means there's no lightning port to plug the pencil into for charging. Instead, you have to attach the pencil to a new lightning to USB-C adapter, plug that mess into a USB-C cable, and then plug that into your iPad. It goes without saying, but this is far from a good experience, especially when compared to the far superior second generation Apple Pencil and its magnetic charging system.

Every other iPad Apple sells, besides last year's budget model, uses this accessory now, making this an obvious case of upsell. The second generation pencil is so superior to this setup that I would recommend anyone who is interested in using the Apple Pencil, just buy the iPad Air instead. For $150 more, you get a more powerful processor, a significantly better pencil experience, and a better screen.

iPadOS 16 was just released a few days ago. And it's mostly made up of a number of tweaks that came to iOS 16 a month ago with features like unsending and editing messages, undo send and scheduling in mail, an iCloud photo library you can share with your family members, extensive collaboration features, the ability to copy text straight from a video, and a number of other features. But Stage Manager-- the new iPad multitasking system-- only works on recent iPad Pro or Air models.

In a vacuum, the new iPad is an obvious improvement over its predecessor in a number of ways. By that measure, it's probably worth the extra cash Apple is asking for it. A bigger screen, better cameras, a more powerful chip, and a more modern design are all solid and, in some cases, badly needed updates.

But putting it in context with the rest of Apple's iPad lineup makes it a harder sell. If you have an older iPad, you'll need a new keyboard. And both the iPad and keyboard Folio cost more than the older options.

And Apple didn't upgrade the pencil, which isn't bad if you already have one. But it's going to have to cut the cord on the old one at some point. And this would have been a smart time to do so.

This iPad is more like an Air Light. In 2020, Apple took the iPad Pro design and put it in the iPad Air and subsequently bumped the price. Now Apple is doing that again, taking the Air design, putting it in the base model, and making it more expensive.

My hope is that within a year or two, Apple adds support for the second generation pencil to this model and cuts the price below $400 again. That would make for an iPad that is easy to recommend. But for now, despite a number of improvements, this iPad is sandwiched between two models that probably make more sense for most buyers.

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