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Apple’s latest iPad revision looks dated, but packs a punch for the price

Wags have referred to the latest revision to the vanilla iPad as the ‘parts bin iPad.’ That’s harsh, but unlike the rest of the line-up, this iPad does in many ways point to the past.

From a design standpoint, it’s the sole iPad that echoes the original, sticking with chunky bezels and a Home button rather than a sleek all-screen get-up. The chip that powers the tablet is an A13 – which debuted with the iPhone 11, back in 2019.

The 9th-gen iPad still uses the old Apple Pencil

There’s a Lightning connector, rather than USB-C, and you have to make do with the inferior first-generation Apple Pencil. Its successor snaps to a flat iPad’s edge to charge. The older one you use here precariously sticks out of the iPad’s Lightning port while charging – and is prone to battery death if left uncharged for long periods.

But. This is still an iPad. Moreover, it’s an affordable iPad, starting off at $329/£319 for the 64GB Wi-Fi model – which nets you double the storage found in the 8th-gen iPad. Sure, that’s not Amazon Kindle Fire tablet cheap; but you do get a sense of ambition and quality with the iPad that equivalent Android-based rivals cannot match. Moreover, Apple has made several meaningful updates.

The display remains unlaminated, making it a mirror in bright light, but the addition of True Tone improves color reproduction under varied conditions. The 8MP rear camera is best described as ‘adequate,’ but the revamped 12MP ultra-wide front camera is a massive upgrade from what you got with the 8th-generation iPad. It ramps up the picture quality you send in video chat and lets you use iPadOS 15’s Center Stage feature, which aims to keep you in frame as you move around.

The A13 chip is two years old, but still perfectly capable for work and play

The A13 chip, while not cutting-edge, is capable of running even the most ambitious iPad apps and games. During testing, we never faced any problems, whether blazing along in Asphalt 9, continuing our quest for pop superstardom in Korg Gadget or getting all arty in Procreate. When lost in such fare, you quickly forget about the Home Screen and bezels, although the speaker set-up remains disappointing. It assumes you’ll use your iPad in portrait and places both speakers on the same edge as the Home button. Consequently, in landscape when playing games, music or video, audio blasts out of one side only.

iPad 9th-gen (2021) verdict

Sit down with the 9th-generation iPad and everything feels familiar, yet old-hat. But does that matter? You might reason that the iPad Air and iPad Pro exist with nicer designs, better audio, and chips that’ll likely make them last a year or two longer. You’d be right – but they’re also much pricier.

Moreover, the standard iPad is powerful enough to do anything you need from a tablet. The display’s quality lags behind other iPads but betters anything else at this price point. And although it’s the last generation of iPad that will have Lightning, there is a rich ecosystem of accessories if you need something extra. On that basis, dated aspects aside, this standard iPad arguably remains the best iPad for most people, even if it now feels unremarkable.