When it comes to dedicated tablet devices, there’s the iPad and there’s everything else. The performance, features, and app ecosystem of Apple’s iPad line make it the tablet to own. The new 8th-generation iPad is still the best tablet you can buy for the price ($329), but it’s hard not to be disappointed by such a small upgrade.
The new 8th-gen tablet is exactly the same as the 7th-gen iPad introduced a year ago, except that the A10 processor has been swapped out for the A12. That’s it. That’s the update.
A12 versus A10
Last year, Apple updated the iPad with a slightly bigger 10.2-inch display (up from 9.7), making the bezels slimmer. It also added the smart connector to work with the Smart Keyboard. Those were welcome upgrades, though the System-on-Chip (SoC) inside didn’t change at all—it remained the A10—and Apple didn’t really make any other improvements.
This year’s update finally steps up the processor all the way to the A12 (not the A12X as found in the iPad Pro). What does that mean for performance? Quite a lot, actually.
CPU performance is almost 60 percent better on single-threaded tasks and nearly double on multi-threaded tasks, in our GeekBench 5 benchmarks. GPU compute performance has a more sober improvement at around 15 percent.
Graphics performance in 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme test is on the order of 60 to 85 percent better. Note that 3DMark hasn’t been updated in years, and we had a lot of trouble getting it to run in a stable fashion.
That might explain why our 3D graphics benchmarks are lower than last year’s iPad Air, which has the same A12 SoC. It’s still close enough in performance—in both CPU and GPU—to the iPad Air that you’ll never really notice the difference in regular use.
The shift to the A12 has a big positive impact on battery life, too. Despite having the same battery capacity as the 7th-gen iPad (32.4Wh), our battery rundown test ran over 20 percent longer, nearly as long as the 2019 iPad Air at just over 8 hours.
The move to the A12 has big benefits for the 8th-gen iPad, but the dramatic uplift is in part only because the SoC wasn’t updated last year at all. We’re seeing two years’ improvement in a single yearly update.
No other upgrades
While the A12 makes a marked difference in performance and battery life over the A10, there are no other improvements over the 7th-generation iPad. The new 8th-gen model has the same shape, size, weight, color, Smart Keyboard support, Apple Pencil (first-generation) support, speakers, microphone, 8MP rear camera and 720p FaceTime camera, Touch ID, etc.
We would have liked to see even the smallest step up in any of the many other aspects that make a tablet what it is. Perhaps True Tone support or DCI-P3 wide color in the display. Maybe more storage, or a switch from Lightning to USB-C, unifying the iPad line around that port.
We’re left with the view that, once again, the regular iPad is the best low-cost tablet you can buy. It’s just $329 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and $100 more for 128GB. Android and Windows tablets at this price range suffer from performance problems and a severe lack of truly tablet-optimized apps.
And yet we can’t help but be disappointed. Perhaps it’s because Apple has no serious competition in affordable tablets that the last few years of iPad updates have felt so…uninspired. This is still the best low-cost tablet on the market, and we’re disappointed that it isn’t better.