iPad 9.7 (2017) review

Cheaper and better than an iPad Air 2

Editor's Choice

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Interface and reliability

  • Running iOS 10.3 software out of the box, but you can upgrade to iOS 11
  • iOS is a great interface for tablets that's easy to use
  • Access to millions of apps that work with your new iPad
  • Get ready for iPadOS in mid-2019

iOS is arguably the best interface out there for tablets, and this new iPad is the first to come running iOS 10.3 right out of the box.

In mid-2019, that interface could change when Apple releases iPadOS, its new operating system designed for iPads, as the name suggests. It'll bring plenty of new features, and could change the way your iPad looks, so check out our coverage on it now.

iOS means you have more than a million apps that will work with your iPad, and all of them are optimized for the platform. During our time with the iPad we didn’t find any apps that wouldn’t work with the latest iOS software, with each fitting the platform remarkably well.

The odd app won’t be perfected, but most developers ensure their apps work on both iPhone and iPad before submitting them to Apple’s Store. There isn’t such a large selection of apps there as on the Google Play Store, but all the highlight apps you’ll need are available.

If you’ve owned an Apple product before, you’ll find the interface easy to understand. If you haven’t, it’s easy enough to learn from scratch.

All of the apps you download will appear on your home screen – there’s no app drawer to hide things away, as on Android. You can put your apps into folders though, by holding down on an app’s icon and dragging it onto other apps.

Apple has chosen not to port the Force Touch screen sensitivity from its recent iPhone models onto the new iPad, which is a bit of a disappointment. It would have been interesting to see what third-party app developers could do with a larger touch-sensitive screen.

If you’re looking for an easy to use interface, the new iPad will certainly suit you – personally we find iOS devices a touch easier to use than comparable Android products.

In terms of reliability we’ve found the new iPad to be one of the best for keeping apps running throughout the time we’ve used it. No apps crashed during our time with the slate, and that’s exactly what you expect from an Apple product.

It’s also worth noting that the new iPad launched on iOS 10 and it now comes with iOS 11 too, so we expect it to be included in Apple software updates for the next few years. 

Here's everything you need to know about iOS 11 and we'll update this review soon with how it runs on the tablet.

Apple will usually keep products from the last few years up to date with the latest software, so this iPad should last a lot longer than, say, the iPad Air 2.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Perfect size screen for watching movies and TV while on the go
  • Good speaker setup, but not as great as the iPad Pro models
  • 32GB or 128GB storage sizes, no 256GB option

Movies, music and gaming is likely why you’re looking to buy the new iPad. Apple’s App Store offers a variety of apps you can download to watch movies and listen to music, and myriad games, plus there are a couple already included on the new iPad to get you started.

For movies, Apple includes the iTunes Store, so you can directly buy a selection of the latest films, or upload them to your tablet’s storage and play them through the Videos app.

The bright and high-res Retina display makes this the perfect device for watching movies while on the go. While the larger 12.9-inch iPad gives you a larger screen you lose out in terms of ease of holding the device, and we found the new iPad offered a nice compromise between these competing requirements.

The iPad is also a great way to access apps such as Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services, making it easy to play video on the slate.

When it comes to music you have ready access to Apple Music streaming service, or you can buy tracks from iTunes. There’s also the built-in storage if you want to upload tracks from your computer.

The speakers on the new iPad are similar to what we’ve seen before on the iPad Air 2, but this is still a fantastic setup that will suit you when listening to music or watching movies.

They're suitably loud, and don't sound as tinny as the speakers on most phones. You’ll find that it’s easy to block off sound here though, if you’re holding the iPad at the bottom where the drivers sit.

The iPad doesn’t offer four speaker drivers like the iPad Pro models do though, so that may be a reason to go for the more expensive iPads if you think you’ll need it to be louder.

The iPad should also keep you happy if you’re a gamer too. Many of the best games available on the App Store cost quite a bit of money, but every big-name game is here for iOS if you want to download it.

We took Rome: Total War, a very graphically intensive game, for a spin, and the GPU managed to keep up with everything that was happening.

As we’ve mentioned, there’s a 32GB version of the new iPad, which is the cheapest model and should give you around 20GB of free space, or a little bit more, for your apps and media.

For this review we used the 128GB version, and found we had 102GB spare for our media. That’s enough room for a huge amount of movies, music and games, and you shouldn’t be filling it up any time soon.

For some reason Apple isn’t offering a 256GB of the tablet at the moment, although it may decide to do so in the future. If you’re looking for an iPad with truly enormous storage capacity you’ll need to go for the iPad Pro.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Running an Apple A9 chipset, which was first seen in the iPhone 6S
  • Not the fastest iPad on the market, but should still suit most of your needs

Gaming was one of the most intensive tasks we put the iPad through, and we found it didn’t struggle at all. The iPad did get a little warm when running some high-end apps, but we never found it too hot to hold.

One of the major upgrades on the new iPad is the inclusion of Apple’s A9 co-processor tech. It’s a chip that made its debut in the iPhone 6S back at the end of 2015, and isn’t the top-of-the-range tech you’d find in the iPhone 7 or the iPad Pro range.

This is something Apple has had to limit due to the price, but it has included an improved processor compared to the iPad Air 2. If you’re looking for the highest-end chipsets you’ll want to go for one of the iPad Pros, but they’re only a little more powerful, with the A9X chipset inside.

Most recent iPad models have included 2GB of RAM, and although we don’t know for certain what’s in the new iPad it’s likely to follow suit.

In our benchmarking we found the new iPad returned an average multi-core score of 4351 in Geekbench 4. For comparison, both the iPad Pro 9.7 (5227) or the iPad Pro 12.9 (5472) scored much higher, but they do use the slightly better A9X processors.

For everyday usage though, the new iPad will be able to handle all the apps you want it to. It may struggle a little with multi-tasking or some productivity apps, but apart from that you’ll be happy with how fast everything loads and works.

James Peckham

James is Managing Editor for Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.