The iPad 7, the latest generation entry-level iPad for the masses, is one of the best deals in tech at only $329, and often found for much less on sale. It’s the first entry-level iPad to feature Smart Connector support, allowing users to conveniently connect a Smart Keyboard. It also features a larger display with more on-screen real estate.
In this hands-on review, I discuss why the iPad 7 is indeed the best iPad for most people, and why it’s $329 entry-level price point is a steal given the amount of features packed inside this slab of aluminum and glass.
- 10.2-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
- 2160-by-1620-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
- 500 nits brightness
- Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
- Supports Apple Pencil (1st generation)
- Supports Smart Keyboard
- A10 Fusion chip with 64‑bit architecture
- Embedded M10 coprocessor
- 8-megapixel camera with ƒ/2.4 aperture
- 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera
- Touch ID
- 10 hours of battery life
- Silver, space gray, and gold color options
- 32GB and 128GB capacity
- Starting at $329
iPad 7 review – the best iPad for most people
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iPad 7 review: Form factor
On paper going from a 9.7-inch display to a 10.2-inch display might not seem like much, but it makes for a discernible amount of extra on-screen real estate, and also makes the iPad compatible with the Smart Keyboard originally designed for the second-generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro. The new iPad 7 is just slightly larger than its predecessor, and the size increase doesn’t affect the overall portability of the tablet, while yielding significant productivity benefits.
When compared to the 11.5-inch iPad Pro, the 7th-generation iPad is thicker — 7.5mm vs 5.9mm — but its tapered design helps to hide that fact. The iPad Pro is significantly more svelte and beautiful than the iPad 7, but that’s to be expected given the price difference and generation gap.
But one of the biggest things to consider is that the iPad 7 is so much more portable and easier to carry than a laptop, including the 13-inch MacBook Pro. If you’re looking for a computer that’s easy to take with you anywhere on a whim, then the iPad 7 fits the bill nicely.
iPad 7 review: Power and usability
The A10 Fusion system on a chip, which initially appeared in the iPhone 7 back in 2016, is nowhere near as powerful as today’s Apple-designed chips, but it’s a capable processor that can handle the majority of tasks that most iPad 7 users will need.
It’s also a capable CPU for multitasking with iPadOS 13, although it does suffer from occasional stutters and hiccups when running two apps side by side. If you’re a power user looking to multitask with multiple apps, then a more powerful iPad, like the iPad Air 3 or iPad Pro, might be a better choice.
What I’m getting at is that the iPad 7 lacks the type of power that you’ll find in recent high-end hardware releases like the iPhone 11 and the iPad Pro, but its performance speaks to how well Apple’s in-house-designed chips hold up, even years after their debut. It’s a testament to just how far ahead of the competition these chips are upon their release.
From a usability perspective, Touch ID, while lacking in the speed and ease of use of Face ID, is still a very good biometric technology. Touch ID allows users to not only unlock their iPads with just the touch of a finger but also authenticate within utility apps like 1Password.
Since Face ID would require the design found exclusively on third-generation iPad Pro hardware, it’ll probably be a while before face detection hardware appears on the entry-level iPad. Thankfully, Touch ID is a proven technology that’s good enough.
Non-laminated display – a big deal for nerds like me, but most people won’t care
The biggest downside about the iPad, from a nerdy usability perspective, is that it lacks the laminated digitizer found on higher-end models like the iPad Air 3 and the iPad Pro. This comes as no surprise since that’s been a characteristic of the baseline “iPad” lineup since its inception.
The lack of a laminated digitizer, as I’ve made sure to lament about in every entry-level iPad review, means that there’s a noticeable air gap between the glass on top of the screen, and the digitizer below. It means that content appears to rest a layer beneath the screen, making the experience feel less immersive when compared to iPads with laminated digitizers.
This, coupled with the fact that there’s no anti-glare coating on the entry-level iPad model, makes for a display that embraces reflectivity, which can make it difficult to see in environments with lots of ambient light. Using the iPad in direct sunlight, for instance, can prove to be difficult, even with the brightness maxed out.
But generally speaking, one can work around the issue with reflectivity by simply repositioning the screen, pumping the brightness, or changing the ambient light in the environment.
The lack of a laminated digitizer is a big deal for people like me who know what a good iPad display looks like, and who obsess over details like this. The every-day user, on the other hand, probably won’t care, and most likely won’t even notice that the screen isn’t laminated.
And even if you are the type of person to obsess over display quality, the iPad 7 is far from being unusable, even with the air gap in the display. If I had to, I’d be perfectly fine using this tablet as my main machine, and would most likely get used to the display with continued usage.
The iPad 7 features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with ƒ/2.4 aperture and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera. These cameras are just enough to get by, but just barely.
The 1.2-megapixel 720p FaceTime HD camera is particularly poor, especially in medium to low light situations, and the 8-megapixel camera is okay for scanning documents and receipts, but it’s probably not the type of camera you’ll want to compose serious photos with.
Battery life and storage
Like most iPads, the iPad 7 will yield users about 10 hours of battery life on average, which is good. Battery life will vary depending on screen brightness and the types of apps you use, but 10 hours is a good ballpark figure according to my months of experience with the iPad 7.
Storage-wise, there are just two configurations, the 32GB base model starting at $329, and a 128GB config with four times as much storage for $429, although you can often find it on sell for much less. The typical user should be okay with 32GB, but if you’re wanting to use your iPad to download movies for viewing while away from Wi-Fi, the higher storage tier should be considered. Of course, there’s always the cellular model, which allows you to stay online even when away from Wi-Fi, but that comes at a $130 price premium.
If I were going to recommend a specific iPad configuration for the majority of users it would be the 32GB Wi-Fi only version in space gray. I prefer the space gray color option because, unlike the gold or silver options, it features black bezels that surround the display. I find the black bezels to be less distracting than white bezels, especially when used in a dimly-lit room.
iPad 7 review: Extensibility
The biggest difference between this iPad and its predecessor, besides the larger display, is its compatibility with Apple’s Smart Keyboard. Thanks to the presence of the Smart Connector on the side of the iPad 7, users can quickly attach a Smart Keyboard.
The thing that makes the iPad so compelling when compared to a traditional laptop is the speed at which you can pick it up and start working. Smart Keyboard support fits right in hand with this idea, because you don’t have to charge it and you don’t have to finagle with Bluetooth pairing.
But what really makes the Smart Keyboard such a nice option for iPad users is that it’s actually a fairly decent keyboard. Obviously it won’t compare to a standalone Magic Keyboard in terms of key response and travel, but given its portability and pick-up-and-use functionality, it’s a compromise that I’m willing to make.
Although the Smart Keyboard’s origami-style unfolding process takes a bit to get used to, I enjoy the portability that its design affords. Once you’re done using it, it’s simply a matter of folding it up against the iPad and sticking it in your bag. It’s way more portable than a traditional laptop, which makes it very appealing to me.
Although Apple launched the second-generation Apple Pencil alongside the 2018 iPad Pro, the iPad 7, like every non-Pro iPad only supports the original first-generation Pencil. That means that you don’t get added niceties like a matte surface with flatted design to inhibit rolling, or the magnetic attachment to the iPad with inductive charging and easy pairing. It also means that you don’t get the tap gesture support found at the base of the Apple Pencil 2.
The good news is that the original Apple Pencil works very well with the iPad 7. Apple’s stylus is super-responsive and has both pressure sensitivity and tilt sensitivity in tow.
When coupled with apps like Procreate, Linea, and even the built-in Notes app or first-party apps like Pages, it shines. The biggest downside of the first-generation Apple Pencil is that it’s easy to misplace due to it lacking a magnetic connection to the iPad, and that can be incredibly annoying.
When paired with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard, the iPad 7 is basically a baby iPad Pro. It’s nowhere near as fast as an iPad Pro, but functionality-wise, there’s more overlap than not.
Software: iPad grows up with iPadOS 13
The release of iPadOS, a fork of iOS dedicated for tablets, has reinvigorated the iPad in ways that no other software release has done up until now. For example, in iPadOS 13 you can enjoy multitasking with two windows from the same application, which has proven to be extremely handy for productivity.
Side by side windows from the same application is just one of the many new multitasking enhancements that make iPadOS 13 such an improvement over iOS 12 for iPad. Be sure to watch our full hands-on review of iPadOS 13 for more details on all of the multitasking features.
iPad 7 related video: iPadOS 13 Top Features
Speaking of productivity, Safari on iPadOS lets you download files similarly to a browser running on a traditional laptop. Other key enhancements include the ability to access files directly from an external source like an SD Card via the Files app.
Without these key usability features, the iPad felt handcuffed by the rigidity of its software. With iPadOS 13, those handcuffs have largely been removed thanks to these major productivity improvements.
One can only imagine the type of year-over-year improvements that iPad users will benefit from now that there’s a separate branch of iOS strictly aimed at tablets. I cannot wait to see what Apple has in store for us with iPadOS 14 later this year, and you can be sure that the 7th generation iPad will support Apple’s big yearly updates well into the foreseeable future.
At $329, the iPad 7 is a remarkable value considering everything that it’s capable of. Oftentimes you can find it on sale for even less than $300, which makes it an even more obvious buy for those with the need.
The iPad 7 isn’t the most powerful iPad, and it isn’t rocking all of the latest bells and whistles that you’ll find supported on the top of the line Pro models. But dollar for dollar, it’s arguably the most value-laden product in Apple’s entire device lineup, and one of the most value-packed tech products that any company is offering in 2020.
If you’re looking for a new computer, especially if it’s for casual uses like web browsing, reading, media consumption, and word processing, it’s easy to recommend.
But even if you’re doing more advanced work, like video editing, script editing, project planning, or illustration, there are apps available for all of those disciplines that work well on the iPad 7 hardware. With last year’s introduction of iPadOS, iPad adopters can be sure that even entry-level models will keep growing beyond their iPhone roots. Indeed, this is a product line continues to prove that it’s a real computer for the 21st century.
What do you think? Sound off in the comment section below with your thoughts on the matter.
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