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Apple iPad (2018) hands-on review: B+ for effort and execution

Not the most inspiring update, but a price cut for the Apple iPad and support for Apple Pencil is welcome

If there has ever been a more low-key Apple event, we can't remember it. But, like it or not, education focus or no, Apple's newest iPad is a major release for the company. That's not least because it's the first time it's released a low-cost, 319 iPad with productivity and students as its focus.

With Apple having fallen behind Microsoft and Google recently in the education space, thanks in the main to the slow up-creep of prices for its MacBook and iPad Pro products, this could perhaps be seen as an inevitable development.

But that's not to say it isn't a welcome one. In fact it's an announcement, in our view, that's been a long time coming and the new iPad looks ready to usher in a new era of more affordable Apple products, which has to be a good thing. It's just a shame Apple wasn't more even brave with the price. Knocking a mere 20 won't be seen by many as a major step forward.

Apple iPad (2018): Specifications, release date and price

Here are the key specifications of Apple's new iPad compared with the rest of Apple's tablet lineup:

iPad (2018)iPad Pro 12.9 (2017)iPad Pro 10.5 (2017)iPad mini 4
Resolution2,048 x 1,5362,732 x 2,0482,224 x 1,6682,048 x 1,536
ProcessorA10 FusionA10XA10XA8
Front camera8MP12MP12MP8MP
Rear camera1.2MP7MP7MP1.2MP
Dimensions (WHD)169 x 240 x 7.5mm220 x 305 x 6.9mm174 x 250 x 6.1mm135 x 203 x 6.1mm
WeightWi-Fi: 469g; Cellular: 478g677g; 692g469g; 477g298g; 304g
StylusApple Pencil: 89; Logitech Crayon: $49Apple Pencil: 89Apple Pencil: 89N/A
ColoursSilver, grey, redesigned goldSilver, grey, goldSilver, grey, gold, rose goldSilver, grey, gold
PriceFrom 319; discounted for schoolsFrom 769From 619From 419

Apple iPad (2018): Features

What's just as important as the new price, though, is that the new iPad is the first non-iPad Pro product to come with Apple Pencil support, with all the same tilt and pressure-sensitive features as the iPad Pro range.

The Apple Pencil itself is now 10 cheaper than before, but it hasn't had any upgrades. This means it feels and works in the same way as before. There were no discernible differences between using the Apple Pencil on the new, cheaper iPad and using one on the iPad Pro; it simply offers a new opportunity for Apple to convince people of the benefits of styluses and to shift more units.

When used with education-focused apps, the Apple Pencil really does come into its own. More so than when we've used it to take notes in meetings, or when we've attempted to draw the most rudimentary pictures. The Smart Annotation feature on Pages is slick with the Apple Pencil and you soon forget you're annotating a digital file on a touchscreen. Of course, you don't get the same feedback (and satisfaction) as using a pen on paper, but it's incredibly close.

Even more interestingly, it will now be possible to purchase third party pressure-sensitive styluses for the iPad, such as new the Logitech Crayon, announced alongside the new iPad. The crayon will retail for $49, a big price reduction on the 89 Apple device.

Perhaps the biggest surprise with the new iPad, however, is that, despite its target audience there's no Smart Connector contact for the addition of a keyboard. Given that in the classroom there's going to be a fair degree of typing that's surely a critical omission.

Apple iPad (2018): Design and hardware

Elsewhere, however, the new iPad is distinctly less interesting. In terms of its looks and its physical attributes, it's identical to the previous 339 iPad. It has the same measurements and weights as before right down to the gramme. Hardy surprisingly, it feels the same in the hand as well, with an excellent display and a highly responsive feel, operated either with your finger or the Apple Pencil.

As before, the new tablet has a 9.7in 2,048 x 1,536 resolution display filling most of the front of the device, which is beginning to look a little old-fashioned in the face of the chassis-filling displays we're beginning to see on tablets, laptops and phones these days. On the rear is an 8-megapixel f/2.4 camera accompanied by an f/2.2 1.2-megapixel "HD FaceTime" camera at the front and, yes, there's still a Touch ID button below the screen.

And inside, although there are upgrades, there's nothing to get particularly excited about. There's an Apple A10 Fusion processor running the show, backed up by 32GB or 128GB of storage and a choice of either Wi-Fi only or a pricier cellular version. You probably won't be surprised to discover that the storage cannot be expanded via microSD.

Apple iPad for students (2018) review: New core apps

Beyond the Apple Pencil capability and the price, the new iPad is a pretty ordinary update, then. More interesting is the way Apple has updated the core apps and enabled collaboration, and also the fact that students buying the new iPad now get 200GB of free iCloud storage; that's quite an upgrade from the measly 5GB they got before.

There are new versions of the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps for that, complete with extensive support for the Apple Pencil plus a whole host of education-focused software and teacher aids for use in the classroom and the IT management suite.

With the addition of Apple School Manager and the new Schoolwork app, which lets teachers assign homework and track progress, the new iPad ought to be more suitable for use in schools than ever before. It's tricky to truly test the effectiveness of such apps, not only in the limited time spent with the new iPad, but also given that we're not the target audience. That said, it's easy to see how such apps can streamline what appear to be complex processes, such as managing more than 30 students and their varying abilities and progress.

As with many Apple apps, the software is intuitive. It doesn't take long to master many of the key features if you've used iOS before, because the app looks and works in a similar way to other core Apple apps; icons are instantly recognisable, menus are where you'd expect and it's easy to undo something if you make a mistake.

Beyond the core apps, a software highlight for us from today's event was GarageBand. Apple has added features to make it more kid-friendly, namely adding animal sounds in the library, introducing colourful icons to represent changes in vocal tone (such as a robot to make a voice more robotic), and more automated features to help children - and 33-year-old music novices - create compositions.

Apple iPad (2018) review: Early verdict

There's a lot to like about Apple's new tablet offering. It's more affordable than ever, works with the Apple Pencil and, with a more school- and teacher-focused software offering, it will have greater appeal to educators than before.

But if Apple really wanted to worry Google and Microsoft it needs to cut prices more heavily and offer an affordable keyboard option as well. There is more work to be done. B+

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