Apple iPad 9.7in (2018) full review
In March 2018 Apple launched a new iPad. Like 2017’s iPad before it, the 2018 iPad has a 9.7in screen, starts at 32GB storage with a 128GB upgrade option, has an 8Mp camera with 1080p HD videos and a front-facing camera that is still 1.2Mp with 720p HD, battery life is still 10 hours, and the dimensions remain the same.
There are some significant improvements and changes to the 2018 iPad compared to the one that came before it. The new feature that Apple is bragging about the most in terms of the 2018 iPad is its support for the Apple Pencil. The other new feature that will set this iPad apart from other iPads is the fact that it is the first iPad to come in the new shade of gold, that combines the best of the Gold and Rose Gold shades from the older models. There are a lot of other new features that we will look at in more detail below and in our review of the 2018 iPad.
So, that’s the 2018 iPad, but what we are interested in here is how it compares to the iPad mini, Apple’s other diminutive and budget-friendly iPad option. The iPad mini (which we review here) hasn’t had a lot of attention from Apple over the past few years. It was last updated in September 2015 so it’s specs look a little dated now. Probably the only thing the iPad mini has going for it is the fact that it is smaller and lighter than the other iPads. If that’s what is most important to you then it’s still worthy of your consideration.
In this article we will compare the specs, features and design of Apple's two smaller, and more budget-friendly tablets, and help you decide which is the one for you. You may also be interested in our iPad buying guide 2018.
If you reach a decision after reading our article, you can buy the iPad 2018 or the iPad mini 4 from Apple. The iPad 2018 is also available from a number of other retailers, including John Lewis, Argos, Currys PC World and Very.co.uk. US visitors can find the iPad 2018 at BestBuy and some models from Walmart.
You might be thinking that it would be a bargain to buy an iPad mini, assuming that since they are now so old, Apple would have cut the price, but you’d be wrong. The iPad mini costs £80 more than the 2018 iPad does at £399/$399 - although as we will discuss below, you do get more storage for that price.
Not only is the 2018 9.7in iPad cheaper than the iPad mini, it’s cheaper than the 2017 9.7in iPad, at least in the UK. In 2017 the iPad cost from £339 for the 32GB Wi-Fi version, to £559 for the 128GB cellular version. Now the iPad 2018 starts at £319/$329 and rises to £539/$559.
When it comes to getting the most for your money it’s simple. The 2018 iPad is the best deal. Even if you want to boost the storage in the 9.7in iPad to 128GB and opt for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version, it would cost you £539/$559, as opposed to £529/$529 for the 128GB iPad mini with Wi-Fi + Cellular. Be crazy and spend that extra £10, go on.
The only way you can get lower prices is by looking for an older iPad second-hand.
Here’s a breakdown of prices:
iPad mini 4 prices
- iPad mini 4 (WiFi, 128GB): £399/$399
- iPad mini 4 (cellular, 128GB): £529/$529
9.7in iPad prices
- iPad (WiFi, 32GB): £319/$329 (also available from BestBuy, Walmart, John Lewis, Argos, Currys PC World and Very.co.uk)
- iPad (WiFi, 128GB): £409/$429 (also available from BestBuy, Argos, Currys PC World and Very.co.uk)
- iPad (cellular, 328GB): £449/$459 (also available from BestBuy and Argos, pre-order from Very.co.uk)
- iPad (cellular, 128GB): £539/$559 (also available from BestBuy and Very.co.uk)
Design & build quality
The iPad mini 4 and the 2018 iPad have very similar looks. Both iPads offer lightning docks at the bottom for charging and plugging into peripherals. Both iPads have headphone jacks (unlike the iPhones). Both feature the Home buttons with Touch ID that scans your finger print before unlocking the device. This latter point is It’s likely that the iPad Pro will lose the Home Button in the next generation so this may well be the last new iPad to feature the Home Button.
The big exception is that the iPad mini is smaller and lighter. We’ll discuss dimensions below, but first there is a significant change to the colour options that we will address first.
The 2018 iPad is identical in shape and structure to the 2017 iPad with one major difference - there is a new shade of gold. Where the iPad mini and iPad used to share the same colour options: silver, gold and Space Grey, now there is a significant difference between the shade of gold.
If you choose the gold finish for your 2018 iPad you will find that it has more pink tones to it. We’d say it is a slightly muted version of the Rose Gold shade that’s available for the 10.5in iPad Pro. Compared to the gold finish on the iPad mini, we’d say that this newer gold-finish is the more attractive option. We think it’s nice, but it might be too pink for some. (Incidentally, it’s the same gold finish that’s available for the iPhone 8, so it’s only a matter of time before the new shade makes its way to other iPads).
Back to the dimensions. There is no disputing the fact that the iPad mini, with its 7.9in display, is smaller than the iPad, with its 9.7in display, and if that’s what’s important to you then there’s not much more to say (other than maybe you could consider at an iPhone 8 Plus with its 5.5in screen).
Here’s how the iPad and iPad mini compare in terms of weight and dimensions:
- Screen: 9.7in diagonal
- Dimensions: 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm
- Weight: 469g/478g (Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi+cellular)
iPad mini 4:
- Screen: 7.9in diagonal
- Dimensions: 203.2mm x 134.8mm x 6.1mm
- Weight: 298.8g/304g (Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi+cellular)
Both iPads are slim. The iPad is 1.4mm thicker than the iPad mini (we doubt that you’d notice). Although, it should be noted that this generation of iPad (as was the case with the 2017 iPad) is thicker than the old iPad Air models were.
You may notice the extra 3.5cm of length and the 3.5cm of width if you have a small bag (you won’t fit an iPad mini in your pocket). But it’s not likely to be hugely significant unless you really need to have a smaller iPad for some reason.
Don’t get us wrong though - the iPad mini (pictured below) is indisputably smaller than the iPad and we have to admit that we have always thought that the iPad mini was the perfect size. It fits comfortably in one hand for book reading, being light enough not to strain your wrist if you are reading for long periods of time. The screen is a good size for watching video on public transport without feeling that the whole train carriage can see it.
But the iPad is a lot smaller and lighter than the original iPad was. If in the past you opted for an iPad mini over the iPad because you felt that the iPad was too big, we suggest that you look again.
In comparison to the iPad mini, that extra 3.5cm of length and width on the iPad translates into 1.8in more display (or an additional 4.57cm if you are metric.) This seems like a good deal to us.
There are a couple of things to say in favour of the iPad mini display though. The iPad mini display is sharper, with a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch compared to the 2018 iPad's 264ppi. This actually means that both devices have the same number of pixels - the mini's have just been squeezed into a smaller space.
Another thing in favour of the mini's screen is the fact that it is laminated, like the screens on the iPad Pro models. The iPad 2018 (like the 2017 iPad before it) has an unlamented screen, which 'gives' slightly when you press it. This isn't a huge problem but we’ve always thought it makes the device feel a bit cheaper.
Here’s how the two screens compare:
- 9.7in (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology.
- 2048x1536-pixel resolution at 264ppi.
- Unlaminated display.
iPad mini 4:
- 7.9in (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display.
- 2048x1536 resolution at 326ppi.
- Anti-reflective coating.
- Laminated display.
In terms of features, the iPad mini and 2018 iPad are a close match, except for one big difference: The 2018 iPad gains compatibility with the Apple Pencil (something only the iPad Pro models had previously - read our comparison of the iPad 2018 with the iPad Pro here).
Like the iPad mini the iPad doesn’t offer Smart Keyboard compatibility (although you can link it to a Bluetooth keyboard); or quad-speaker audio; or True Tone display tech.
But they do both get Touch ID and Apple Pay and the Retina display.
Both iPads can take 8Mp photos (the iPad Pro models offer 12Mp photos). The two smaller iPads also feature a ƒ/2.4 aperture lens (compared to the ƒ/1.8 aperture on the iPad Pro models).
Only the iPad gets Live Photo - the ability to take a moving image (basically a short video clip).
The iPad also gets body and face detection, while the iPad mini only detects faces.
Features that the Pro models get that both the iPad and iPad mini lack include the rear-facing Quad-LED True Tone flash and Optical image stabilisation.
There are a few differences between the front facing ‘FaceTime’ cameras on the iPad and iPad mini. Both are 1.2Mp (while the Pro models get 7Mp). However, the iPad mini FaceTime camera can’t take Live Photos and there is no Retina Flash option - so it won’t be as good for talking selfies, if that’s what you are in to.
As for video recording - the front-facing camera on both the iPad and iPad mini has the same capability: 1080p HD video recording, Slo-mo video support for 720p at 120 fps. (The Pro models offer 4K HD video recording).
Moving onto the internals. The iPad 2018 has a faster processor chip and a larger battery, however, in many other respects the two devices' specs are the same or closely matched.
The new iPad gets a processor that's two generations more advanced than the mini 4.
The 2018 iPad has an A10 Fusion chip while the iPad mini has an A8 chip.
Apple says the A10 Fusion, which first appeared in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, is 2x faster than the A8 in the iPad mini. The company also claims that the graphics will be 2.7x faster in the iPad compared to the iPad mini.
But the degree to which the difference is noticeable will depend on the tasks you set your tablet. High-powered games, for instance, will showcase the A10's capabilities; browsing the web and using email will not.
Both tablets come with a fairly standard (for Apple) 2GB allocation of RAM. Only the iPad Pro 12.9in gets more, with 4GB.
You get less choice if you choose the mini 4, which is only available with 128GB of storage. The iPad 2018 (like the iPad 2017) is also available with 32GB storage. That’s not a lot of storage, but it means that the starting price can be lower, and you may find that you don’t require as much physical storage if you choose to pay for iCloud storage instead (you can get 50GB for 79p a month, 200GB for £2.49 a month and 2TB for £6.99 a month.
Both iPads offer battery life of up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, up to 9 hours using mobile data network, according to Apple. However, there are some differences in the battery specs.
iPad 2018: 32.4-watt-hour (8,827 mAh).
iPad mini 4: 19.1-watt-hour (5,124 mAh).
While Apple gives the same estimated battery life for both devices - 10 hours using Wi-Fi, nine using 4G - our experience suggests that the iPad 2018 should last longer away from the mains.
Apple iPad 9.7in (2018): Specs
- A10 Fusion chip with 64bit architecture
- Embedded M10 coprocessor
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB or 128GB storage (plus 200GB iCloud storage offer for schools)
- 9.7in screen (2048 x 1536 at 264ppi)
- 8Mp rear-facing camera, f/2.4, Live Photos, no flash, no OIS, Panorama mode up to 43Mp, 1080p HD video, slo-mo video at 720p and 120 fps
- 1.2Mp front-facing camera, Live Photos, Retina Flash, 720p HD video
- Battery life up to 10 hours (video, music or web browsing via Wi-Fi) or 9 hours (web browsing over cellular)
- Stereo speakers
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- Touch ID
- Digital compass
- 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm