iPad (9th Gen) review: Apple's cheapest tablet is still going strong

Despite being replaced this year, Apple’s cheapest tablet, the iPad 2021, is still a great choice for budget tablet shoppers.

Close up photo of the Apple iPad 2021
(Image: © Future)

Live Science Verdict

The iPad 2021 is Apple’s cheapest tablet, and well worth the cost of entry, but its dated design won’t be for everyone. If you want into the Apple ecosystem, but don't want to pay Apple prices, this is the one for you though.

Pros

  • +

    Fantastic value for money

  • +

    Solid performance

  • +

    Nice display

Cons

  • -

    No USB-C

  • -

    Dated design

  • -

    Won’t get some iPadOS 16 features

Why you can trust Live Science Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Key specs

Price: $329/£369

Screen size: 10.2-inch

Weight: 1.07 lbs (487g)

Memory: Apple doesn’t disclose

Battery life: Up to 10 hours wireless web browsing

Storage: 64 GB or 256 GB versions

Warranty: 1 year, extendable with AppleCare

Operating system: iPadOS 15 (iPadOS 16 compatible)

Display: 10.2-inch Retina Display with 2160x 1620 resolution

CPU: Apple A13 Bionic chip

Graphics: Apple doesn’t disclose

Ports: Lightning connector

It might have been recently replaced by the 10th generation model, but Apple is still selling 9th generation iPads (aka the iPad 2021) by the bucket load. That’s largely down to its very attractive price tag ($329 and regularly discounted), but also because it's the cheapest possible way to get access to the Apple ecosystem and the App Store.

That makes it an ideal tablet for casual tech users looking for something to browse the internet, manage their calendar, or post on social media, but also for kids that want to play the latest games on Apple Arcade and beyond.

There are some niggles, naturally – the design feels really dated right now, and iPadOS is starting to diverge with new features skipping the A-series processors as found here. However, the iPad 2021 will do everything its more expensive siblings will do at a fraction of the cost, which makes it one of the best tablets for students who are very conscious of their budget.

iPad 2021 review: Set up and usability

Set up, as is to be expected from any Apple device in the last few years, is pleasingly simple. Connect to WiFi, log into your AppleID, and set up TouchID for security and you’re away.

There’s a handy migration tool to get your data from another device, too.

iPad 2021 review: Design and specs

Close up photo of the Apple iPad 2021

(Image credit: Future)

Available in Space Gray or Silver color options, the iPad 2021 looks, in many ways, like a slightly more rounded version of the first-ever iPad. It’s recognizable, sure, and keeping to the older design has undoubtedly meant Apple can keep the costs down (and makes the tablet cheaper), but it’s hardly an impressive gadget to look at.

The 10.2-inch display is plenty large enough, but it’s bordered by sizeable bezels that aren’t found on its siblings in the product line-up. The top bezel contains a 12 MP front-facing camera and there’s also an 8 MP camera on the back.

On one side of the iPad 2021 you’ll find a volume rocker and on the top there’s a sleep/wake button, with the only other button being the circular Home button that doubles as a TouchID sensor. And at the ‘bottom’ you’ll find a pair of speaker grills that flank a Lightning Port (more on that shortly).

While we understand the reason for not drastically changing the design, the iPad 2021’s familiarity may mean that relative newcomers or those that aren’t tech-savvy will be able to find their feet with ease since they won’t need to use gestures for multitasking.

iPad 2021 review: Features and performance

Close up photo of the Apple iPad 2021

(Image credit: Future)

The iPad 2021’s “classic” design aside, there’s nothing creaky to be found within. In fact, the A13 Bionic Chip may not be the company’s latest or greatest, but it does offer impressive performance across apps.

Hop on the App Store and you won’t find anything that won’t run on the iPad 2021, with the talented tablet very capable of playing games from Apple Arcade, organizing your day through productivity apps, and everything in between.

In fact, the only enemy of the A13 chip is in its successors, the A14 chip you'll find in the newer 10th Gen iPad, and the M1. This more powerful chip, found across Apple’s iPad Pro, iPad Air, and MacBook Air lines, enables additional features within the upcoming (at the time of writing) iPadOS 16.

The features in question are more aimed at power users, though – connecting to an external display for accessing more apps, resizing windows, and the new “Stage Manager” multitasking display are hardly dealbreakers. If you want a more future-proof device, then you’ll want to aim your sights higher than the 2021 iPad.

The only other curious thing about the iPad 2021 is that while it supports the Apple Pencil stylus (opens in new tab) (sold separately), it only supports the older, first-generation one. That device’s less sensitive nib, paired with its awkward charging position in the Lightning Port, mean it’s likely you’ll want to skip the iPad 2021 if you’re a digital artist or keen notetaker.

It’s also worth drawing attention to the Lightning Port itself – it’s not only slower than the USB-C connection found on every other iPad, but it lacks the ability to connect many peripherals without some kind of adapter.

iPad 2021 review: Price

Close up photo of the Apple iPad 2021

(Image credit: Future)

It’s hard to overstate how important the iPad 2021’s pricing is to the device. Apple has traditionally tried to keep at least one iPad more affordable, and with the more powerful Air and Pro models, as well as the smaller Apple iPad Mini at much higher price points, the iPad 2021 may well be many people’s default choice thanks to its $329 price tag.

We’ve seen it discounted to below $300, so without breaking the bank, it’s a great entry point to those unfamiliar with iPadOS and Apple devices in general. However, if you’re using it as a primary device, it may be worth considering the 256 GB version because Apple doesn’t offer expandable storage.

iPad 2021 review: User reviews

With an impressive 4.8 out of 5 stars rating (opens in new tab), the 2021 iPad draws particular praise from Amazon customers for its ease of use, value for money, and being ideal for youngsters that have graduated from the likes of Amazon’s Fire 7 Kids (opens in new tab) tablet.

Many have also noted how it works very well as a standalone device, as well as something ideal for iPhone users that want a larger display to use the apps they already love.

Should you buy the iPad 2021?

If you want an inexpensive tablet, the iPad 2021 is the easiest way to get up to plunge into the Apple ecosystem. It’s fast, and while its design isn’t the freshest around, it’ll undoubtedly appeal to those not looking to learn a variety of gestures.

We find it hard not to recommend at this price point for more casual users, but would advise tech aficionados look to the iPad Air M1 if they’re looking for a longer-term tablet.

If this product isn’t for you

If you’d prefer a more modern design, the iPad Air marks an impressive step up from this base iPad. With thinner bezels, a larger display, and USB-C functionality, it also adds a powerful M1 chip. Still, it’s considerably more expensive, and outside of the aforementioned M1-specific iPadOS 16 features, it may not be worth the extra money.

Similarly, the iPad Mini offers a great, smaller alternative, but again is more expensive – although it doesn’t offer an M1 chip so you’d still have to forgo some of the new iPadOS 16 features.

Alternatively, if you’re after another budget tablet option then you might want to consider the Amazon Fire HD10 tablet (opens in new tab). It’s low cost (and Amazon often heavily discount their own products around Prime Day and Black Friday), easy to use, and has an excellent battery life. The main downside is that you’re limited to the Amazon App store so you might not have access to all your favorite apps, but you’ll still be able to use popular social media apps and streaming services, such as Facebook, Instagram, Netflix (opens in new tab), and Disney+ (opens in new tab).

Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games at Dexerto.com. He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.