Apple has two current-model iPads. There’s the iPad Air (also known as the fourth generation, or 2020 model year) and the new entry-level iPad (also known as the 8th generation, or iPad 8). The new iPad Air stole most of the headlines with its complete redesign — including slimmer bezels, Touch ID and USB-C charging — bringing it more in line with the iPad Pro. The iPad 8, for better or worse, feels familiar. But it doesn’t have to be snazzy to be the best buy.
The 2020 iPad is identical to its predecessor, the seventh-generation iPad, in almost every way. It has the same exact 10.2-inch display, same front and rear camera system, and are compatible with the exact same accessories, such as the first-generation Apple Pencil (which awkwardly only charges when plugged into the iPad’s Lightning port). Despite these similarities, it’s still the best iPad for most people — and yes, that mostly comes down to price.
The 2020 iPad starts at $329, which is the exactly same as the seventh-generation iPad that it effectively replaces, making it the most affordable iPad you can buy. Apple no longer sells last year’s iPad, although you can find it on third-party sellers like Amazon.
I’ve been using the 2020 iPad for the last few weeks and it won’t blow your socks off. It’s just like the iPad I tested last year. The primary improvement is its new A12 Bionic processor, the same chip that’s in the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, all of which were released in 2018. According to Apple, this gives the new iPad a 40-percent boost in CPU performance and twice the graphic capabilities of last year’s iPad.
And it does feel fast — like, very fast. I had no problem playing various games on Apple Arcade, streaming The Boys on Hulu, and even taking some video calls via Zoom and Google Hangouts for work. But that is not exactly a new development. Last year’s iPad, which runs on a A10 Fusion chip from 2016, feels just about as fast for day to day use.
The iPad 8 inherits its biggest flaws from its predecessor. The base model comes with just 32GB of storage, which is ridiculously little, and the only upgradable option is the 128GB model, which drives the cost up an extra $100. There’s still no multiple user support. It doesn’t work with Apple’s new iPad-specific Magic Keyboard (just the Smart Folio Keyboard, which isn’t the best). And the speakers are only on one side of the iPad, so if you want a show or movie in landscape mode without headphones, it sounds a bit lopsided.
The truth is that if you’ve bought an iPad in the last two years, you probably don’t need to upgrade to this new iPad. It’s an iPad that’s designed for two types of people: those don’t already have an iPad, or those with devices so old that they won’t be getting the update to iPad OS 14, which is available on the fifth-generation iPad or later.
But if you’ve been wondering, is the standard, old-fashioned iPad still good enough compared to the Air and the Pro? If you find yourself asking, then the answer is almost certainly yes.
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