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Apple iPad 6th-generation review: The tablet to buy

·Technology Editor
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Last month, Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the Lane Tech College Prep High School to lay out his company’s plans to take over the education technology market. And the key to Apple-powered classrooms, Cook explained, was the iPad.

Not just any iPad would do, though. Which is why Cook and company debuted a new slate that packs a more powerful processor and Apple Pencil stylus compatibility, but costs the same $329 as the 5th-generation iPad.

But the 6th-generation iPad isn’t only meant for students and teachers. It’s also the company’s new mainstream consumer slate. In other words, the best tablet you can buy just got a lot better.

More of the same … in a good way

The 6th-generation iPad looks and feels exactly the same as the 5th-generation model. The slate is still 1-pound, still 0.29 inches thick and still easily fits in your bag. The company basically replaced the iPad’s guts and called it a day. And that’s fine by me.

Even the 9.7-inch Retina display is the same as last year’s offering, which is actually a bit of a bummer, as the iPad mini 4’s screen is fully laminated and has an anti-reflective coating. Both of those features are missing from the 6th-generation iPad.

The 6th-generation iPad doesn’t get the iPad Pro’s upgraded display, but it still looks great.
The 6th-generation iPad doesn’t get the iPad Pro’s upgraded display, but it still looks great.

The tablet’s 8-megapixel rear camera is also a carryover from the 5th-generation iPad, which isn’t quite as sharp as the iPad Pro’s 12-megapixel rear camera, but matches up with the iPad mini 4’s.

If Apple raised the price of this iPad, I’d be questioning its decision to keep so many aspects of the tablet the same. But since the company is still charging $329, which is a solid price, it’s not really an issue.

Different where it matters

What makes Apple’s decision to maintain the size and weight of the iPad especially interesting is the fact that this slate packs the same A10 Fusion processor found in both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. In order to do that, Apple told me, the company had to build a completely new logic board.

The A10 chip allows for the use of augmented reality apps. One such app Apple offered up was Froggipedia. The app allows users to set a virtual frog down on a flat surface and interact with it using the iPad. A dissection tab even lets you dissect a digital frog without having to deal with the awful smell of the real thing.

The base iPad now gets Apple Pencil support.
The base iPad now gets Apple Pencil support.

It’s not that the 5th-generation iPad was underpowered. The tablet had more than enough oomph to tackle any task you threw at it. But if Apple wants to ensure its 6th-gen tablet can keep up with new apps and updates, it needed to bring along the faster chip.

The 6th-generation iPad is also the first non-Pro iPad to offer support for the Apple Pencil stylus, and packs all of its features including its impressive pressure sensitivity and tilt functionality. Using the Pencil on the 6th-generation iPad is every bit as flawless as it is on the iPad Pro. The stylus’ tip glides across the tablet’s display with ease. It’s not quite a pen and paper, but then, nothing else is.

The vast majority of consumers are unlikely to purchase the $99 Apple Pencil. I’m sure it’ll be great for graphic artists and their ilk, but for the average person it’s an expensive add-on that they won’t use much.

The Pencil’s real value is in the classroom, where students and teachers can write directly on the slate to take notes, annotate articles and grade quizzes. Still, even with the $89 student pricing option (the iPad is also reduced to $299 for students and teachers), the Pencil might be a tad bit expensive for classrooms with younger pupils who are bound to misplace the stylus.

To alleviate those concerns, Apple teamed up with Logitech to create the Logitech Crayon, a $49 Apple Pencil alternative. The Crayon offers many of the Apple Pencil’s features including its tilt functionality but sacrifices pressure sensitivity.

Compared to the iPad Pro

So, if the 6th-generation iPad offers Apple Pencil capabilities, what’s the difference between it and the iPad Pro? A lot, actually. First off, the 12.9-inch and 10.5-inch iPad Pros cost significantly more than the 6th-generation. The base 10.5-inch carries a $329 premium over the iPad tablet, and for good reason.

The 6th-generation is physically identical to the 5th-generation model.
The 6th-generation is physically identical to the 5th-generation model.

Not only are the Pros’ screens larger than the 6th-generation iPad’s panel, they are also fully laminated, have anti-reflective coatings, use Apple’s ProMotion and True Tone technologies and feature wide color capabilities. Put the 6th-generation iPad next to the Pro and you’ll immediately notice the difference. The Pro simply looks cleaner and more colorful. The 6th-generation is certainly no slouch, but the Pro offers a better picture.

The Pros also have more powerful A10X Fusion processors, which means you’ll get slightly better performance from the Pros versus the standard iPad. That said, I haven’t had any issue with the 6th-generation iPad. Games and apps all ran smoothly including titles like “Flower” and “Inside” “Player Unkown’s Battlegrounds Mobile” and “Fortnite.”

The iPad Pros also have one major difference compared with the iPad, which is that they have Smart Connectors that allow you to physically connect a keyboard to the tablet. The 6th-generation iPad, on the other hand, uses Bluetooth to connect to a keyboard. That’s because the Pros are meant to serve as laptop replacement devices, while the standard iPad is largely meant to be used as a tablet.

In terms of battery life, Apple claims up to 10 hours of use on a single charge across the iPad line. I’ve used my review unit on and off for a day or two and still had plenty of juice left.

Naturally, both the 6th-generation iPad and its more expensive brethren can run the millions of iOS apps available through Apple’s App Store.

Should you get it?

The iPad is the go-to tablet for consumers for a good reason: it’s the best there is. No Android or Amazon Fire tablet can compare, especially when it comes to app availability and overall capabilities.

For the average consumer looking to update their old iPad or simply wants to purchase their first slate, the 6th-generation iPad is the gold standard.

If you want something that can replace your laptop, then you might want to opt for the iPad Pro with its larger screen and more powerful processor, or something like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, which is a full-on Windows 10 machine.

But for everyone else who just wants a fantastic slate with plenty of functionality, the 6th-generation iPad is easily the tablet to buy.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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