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The new iPad Air has been getting rave reviews and, amid the recent blizzard of high-profile Apple product launches and headline-grabbing financial results, the arrival of the 8th generation update for the entry-level iPad has gone almost unnoticed. Admittedly, this is not a major upgrade, essentially consisting of a speed bump that replaces the A10 Fusion processor of the 7th generation iPad with the newer A12 Bionic chip. But it's a welcome speed bump nonetheless, and ensures that the 8th generation iPad with its 10.2-inch Retina Display provides an affordable, high-performing tablet for working from home, education, or simply relaxing after hours.
Price & (limited) options
Pricing for the 8th generation iPad starts at £274.17 (ex. VAT; £329 inc. VAT) or $329 for the standard wi-fi-only model; adding cellular connectivity for mobile broadband raises that price to £382.50 (ex. VAT; £459 inc. VAT) or $459.
Those prices only include a rather meagre 32GB of storage, so the iPad offers just a single upgrade option to 128GB, which adds an extra £100 ($100) to each model. That brings the fully loaded review unit -- with wi-fi+cellular and 128GB of storage -- to a total price of £559 (inc. VAT; £465.83 ex. VAT) or $559. However, that top-of-the-range price is still less than the starting price for the new iPad Air (£579 inc. VAT or $599), so it's clear that the 8th-generation iPad is being positioned as Apple's most affordable iPad model, with an eye on the education market, as well as business use and entertainment.
Oddly, the starting price for the 7.9-inch iPad Mini (£399 inc. VAT or $399) is £70/$70 more expensive, although its base configuration does include 64GB of storage. So, again, the iPad's 32GB of storage is clearly a compromise that Apple considers acceptable in order to keep the price as low as possible.
Design & features
The basic design of the iPad remains unchanged, measuring 174.1mm wide by 250.6mm deep by 7.5mm thick, and weighing 490g (7g heavier than its predecessor). It's fractionally larger than the new iPad Air, but there's a chunky border surrounding the iPad's screen, which remains at 10.2 inches, while the edge-to-edge glass of the new iPad Air allows that model to edge up to a larger 10.9-inch display. For the record, the screen-to body-ratio for the 8th-generation iPad is 73.9%, compared to 81.3% for the 2020 iPad Air.
The iPad's 10.2-inch display and 2160-by-1620 resolution (264dpi) is still very good -- it's sharp and bright (up to 500 nits), with good colour balance, and will be ideal for web browsing, watching video or word processing -- with Apple's Smart Keyboard case, which costs an extra £159/$159. But in these days of edge-to-edge glass displays, that conspicuous border running around the edge of the iPad's screen looks dated compared to the sleeker, larger displays on other models.
Aesthetics aside, there are a few other features that make the 8th generation iPad look a little behind the times. It still uses Apple's proprietary Lightning connector rather than the more versatile USB-C, and only supports 802.11ac wi-fi, whereas most other iPad models have already updated to WiFi 6 (802.11ax). It's also still using Bluetooth 4.2, rather than Bluetooth 5 with its increased range and bandwidth. That particular set of features perhaps suggests that the iPad is still based on an older motherboard and chipset design, with the A12 Bionic processor simply being slotted into place to provide a performance boost for this year's update.
The A12 chip does include Apple's Neural Engine technology, which supports machine learning for features such as the Scribble handwriting recognition technology in iPadOS 14. However, the 8th generation iPad only works with the first-generation Apple Pencil (£89/$99), rather than the more advanced second-generation Pencil (£119/$129), which is more suitable for professional graphics and illustration work. And, for those who are using Zoom or Microsoft Teams for video calls while working from home, the iPad's FaceTime camera is still limited to 720p video, although the rear camera does record at 1080p as before.
It may be showing its age, but the 8th generation iPad is still quick on its feet. Apple has claimed that the A12 Bionic chip, which runs at 2.5GHz, provides 40% more CPU performance, and a full 2x increase in graphics performance. Our tests with the Geekbench 5 test suite were a little more mixed, but still produced strong all-round results.
The 8th generation iPad achieved a score of 1114 for single-core CPU performance, which is almost 50% better than the A10 Fusion-based 7th generation iPad (749). The multi-core result is even better at 2700 -- a 95% improvement on its predecessor (1380).
Graphics performance isn't quite twice as fast, though: the Geekbench 5 Compute test recorded a score of 5380, which represents a 70% improvement over the 7th-generation model (3182). In contrast, the A14 Bionic processor in the new iPad Air achieves CPU scores of 1585 (single core) and 4178 (multi-core) respectively, and an impressive 12511 for graphics performance.
Professional users who need high-end graphics performance should probably opt for the more expensive iPad Air, but the 8th generation iPad is still more than powerful enough to handle routine web browsing and simple sketching and photo-editing, as well as productivity apps such as Apple's Pages and Numbers, or their Microsoft Office counterparts.
The 8th generation iPad also exceeds expectations with its battery life. Apple quotes 10-hour battery life for web browsing, which is unchanged from the previous generation of iPad. But, when streaming full-screen video from the BBC iPlayer, with the screen brightness set to a perfectly visible 50%, the iPad breezed to 11 hours before showing a 'low battery' warning, and kept going for a full 11.5 hours before finally shutting down.
This isn't a particularly ambitious upgrade, and the meagre 32GB of storage is disappointing. Still, the 8th generation iPad provides a big performance improvement over its predecessor. It's also affordable enough for home users yet powerful enough for business users, and with strong battery life to back it up, the 8th generation iPad represents excellent value for money.