Review: iPad 9th gen is an ideal entry level tablet

Daniel Rutledge of Newshub reviews the Apple iPad 9th gen.
iPad (9th gen) with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. Photo credit: Newshub.

Apple is keeping things looking very familiar with its most popular and affordable tablet.

The ninth generation standard iPad looks pretty much identical to the previous editions, unlike the latest Air, Mini and Pro versions which all aesthetically differed from the first generation device released in 2010.

The latest vanilla iPad still has a big home button similar to that of the first nine generations of iPhones as well as large bezels around the screen. It's still restricted to a Lightning cable instead of USB-C and you can't use newer Apple Pencils with it or the wonderful Magic Keyboard.

But inside, there's been a bunch of upgrades you won't notice until you're using this thing. 

For me though, these upgrades don't mean a lot as this is the first ever iPad I've had. Yep, it took nine generations before I thought I'd try out using a device that's smack-bang in between my phone and laptop.

Is it a good time to use an iPad for the first time? How does it compare to other tablets?

I've been using a new iPad (9th generation) for the past few weeks and here are my thoughts.

The good

This excels at the primary things I want a tablet to do. For reading news websites, scrolling through social media feeds, watching little videos on them, watching longer videos like movies and TV shows in bed - it does all the essentials.

It's basically a lot of the stuff I do on a mobile phone, just with a bigger screen. The 10.2-inch Retina display with True Tone makes all those types of basic usages a pleasure too.

Review: Ninth generation Apple iPad.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Given I use an iPhone, how the iPad and it are interchangeable is super convenient with the Notes app, Photos being automatically get shared via iCloud and everything else. Even setting this device up to begin with was a breeze as it just copied everything over from the phone.

But what about more demanding applications than simple browsing and playing videos?

Well I've had no issue gaming on it. Playing Call of Duty Mobile, Asphalt 9 and Grand Mountain Adventure was all sweet as, linking up an Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 controller was also very easy.

Where it did stutter a bit was in remote play - but that's due to network speed rather than the iPad itself. It's pretty amazing being able to play stuff like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart with the PS5 controller on this screen while lazing in a park a few kilometres away from my home and the actual console.

Playing Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on iPad with PS5 controller and remote play.
Photo credit: Newshub.

The combination of the touchscreen along with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil support mean this is a bit of an all-rounder, too, easy to switch between different modes of use pretty easily.

There's a solid 12 megapixel front-facing camera that can record 1080p video and is great for video conferencing. It also has Apple's Centre Stage tech which, with the ultra-wide lens, is very clever at framing your video call just right. It'll zoom out or in as multiple people join or leave the call, it's nice.

There's also a camera on the back of this thing, but I don't care what it's like as I can't see a time ever that it'd be handy to use. Maybe if my phone ever ran out of battery and I desperately needed to take a photo? I'm sure it'll be fine in an emergency, but otherwise I'm not holding this up to take normal photos with.

In terms of power, I understand the A13 chip that powers this iPad is old and slow compared to the mighty M1 that powers the Pro model and among other recent Apple computers, but the A13 is still better than other Android tablets I've used in the past.

That's probably helped a lot by the fluidity of iPadOS, too, which just makes everything easy peasy. Swapping between the aforementioned gaming, video streaming and other apps is all done quickly without stuttering.

Video conferencing on Apple iPad.
Photo credit: Apple

The latest version of this entry-level iPad starts at $570, which is pretty darned good considering how good it is and how much rival products cost, too.

One other small but important highlight for me: There is a headphone jack. Remember those? Plenty of folk still use wired headphones and it's nice this is one of the few 2021 devices that supports it.

The bad

As good as the latest iPadOS is, I do find it occasionally frustrating when I'm using this device more as though it were a laptop than a big version of an iPhone.

Unlike an increasing number of Apple devices and the vast majority of competitor products, this doesn't have a USB-C port, relying instead on the old Lightning cable.

While the display is lovely, the bezels are pretty large on this iPad. If you want your display to take up as much screen space as possible, this is not the tablet for you.

The speakers also aren't great. They're awkwardly only on one side when it's in landscape mode and have a tinny, little sound.

Playing Call of Duty Mobile on iPad with an Xbox Series X controller.
Photo credit: Newshub.

For your child watching videos or certain things like cooking instructionals where sound quality doesn't really matter, this is fine - just don't expect to comfortably listen to music on this. I generally use headphones or earbuds anyway, but still, it's definitely an aspect of this device that could be better. 

It's nice being able to use the Apple Pencil on this, but it sucks that it doesn't clip onto the side at all, or have a pouch or something as part of the smart keyboard. I guess on top of purchasing the pencil and tablet, you could buy some additional piece of kit to comfortably carry the pencil around but it'd be great if it just auto-clipped.

The verdict

There's some criticism online about how "boring" this iPad is, but I think that's the point. 

This is as stripped back as Apple tablets get in 2021, providing the bare basics as the entry-level iPad but still offering upgrades on previous year's models: It does video calls better, offers more storage space, more support for accessories, it's more powerful and has a better screen.

If you've never owned an iPad before - particularly if, like me, that's because you have both a smartphone and a laptop - this is an ideal, relatively cheap way to get one that's still far mightier than most Chromebooks or Android tablets.

An extra screen around the house is always handy and this one has been great.

Newshub was supplied an iPad (9th generation), Apple Pencil (1st generation) and Smart Keyboard for this review.