apple 8h gen ipad underscored first impressions
CNN  — 

At this point, overhauling the iPad would be like reinventing the wheel. So, with the brand-new eighth-gen iPad (starting at $329), Apple continues to finesse it.

It keeps the classic (and iconic) design that the seventh-gen and previous generations before it set forth. There’s no flashy multi-camera setup on the back or even a more modern design. The screen has been stretched closer to the edges to meet 10.2-inches, but you still have bezels. And the latter serves a purpose: the iconic Home Button with Touch ID is still here. And boy do we still appreciate it.

The big news for the eighth-gen: the A12 Bionic processor inside, which without a doubt supercharges the iPad experience. As the entry-level iPad, you shouldn’t expect the world. But, after all, you won’t get much more value from a cheaper or more expensive Android tablet. And that’s kind of the magic of the eighth-gen iPad.

It’s all about the processor

Let’s start with what’s new. Apple’s A12 Bionic processor powers the eighth-gen iPad. For starters, it’s a six-core CPU, a four-core GPU and a Neural Engine. The latter lets this iPad breeze through machine learning, while also delivering enhancements with nearly all use cases.

The A12 Bionic isn’t a super old chip either. It’s only two years old and premiered inside the iPhone XS and XS Max. It’s a big upgrade over the A10 Fusion Chip, which powered the seventh-gen, and Apple says it delivers a 40% faster CPU and a 2x increase for graphics. Those match up with our experience as well.

And to put the eighth-gen iPad to the test, we used it for a full workday’s worth of tasks. We loaded up the new entry-level iPad with Slack, our mail account, Outlook, Word, Pages, Ulysses (a word processing app), Photoshop, Trello, Twitter and a few others. Of course, we also took FaceTimes, responded to Messages and jammed out via the Music app.

We were easily able to multitask between Slack and Mail. And then swapped Mail out for a word processing app. Our go-to three were Ulysses, Pages and Word. All three worked quite nicely, even in segmented windows. When needed, we were able to drag and drop elements from the other app open directly into the word processing app.

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Via picture-in-picture, we were able to watch content and even take FaceTimes while in two other applications. It’s handy, just don’t tell our editors that we caught up on The Morning Show or Ted Lasso.

With more high-power tasks, like editing an image or working on a video file, we experienced a few slowdowns. But, it should be expected on the entry-level iPad; it’s not like this thing is powered by the latest Apple Silicon like the iPad Air with the A14 or the iPad Pro with the A12 Z. You need to set proper expectations and understand the balance that Apple took here.

For most people, the amount of power in the eight-gen iPad will get you through core tasks. We’re talking emailing, productivity, web browsing, messaging, school work, data runs in spreadsheets and even some light gaming. And viewing all that on a 10.2-inch Retina display with True Tone is a joy. It works just fine for watching videos, chatting with family and even writing long reviews.

The support for the first-generation Apple Pencil is handy. And it even supports Scribble, a new feature in iPadOS 14 that lets you write in text fields and the iPad does the hard work of translating it. There was some lag with this, but nothing crazy noticeable unless you were writing a lot. The iPad, admittedly, is quite good at recognizing poor handwriting as well.

Most importantly, though, the benchmarks don’t lie here either. As we do with every CNN Underscored review, we ran the eighth-gen iPad through GeekBench 5 to quantitatively see how the device measures up. We use this to match with our qualitative thoughts and tests after over eight days with the device. On GeekBench 5, the eighth-gen iPad scored a 1132 on single and 4663 on multicore. That’s pretty impressive and does beat out the previous seventh-gen iPad. GeekBench 5 shows the A12 Bionic inside along with 3GBs of RAM.

Battery life is pretty impressive for $329, as our tests averaged out to about nine and a quarter hours. Apple estimates 10 hours of playback and nine hours surfing the web on the cellular model. Our test involved us running a video on a loop with airplane mode engaged and the brightness set to 50%.

A classic design that works

Besides the processor improvements and upgrade, there isn’t much new to the eighth-gen iPad, and Apple didn’t really need to improve on much else. As the entry-level iPad, like the iPad mini, it maintains thick bezels around the display. Would we like to see them smaller? Yes, but at least they serve a purpose here. Not only does it give you a grip for holding the iPad, but it’s home to Touch ID in the Home Button. It works fast enough for authentication with Apple Pay, buying an app and even unlocking the iPad itself.

There’s still a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera on the front and it’s good enough for FaceTimes and selfies. You can tell that it’s a little lower quality than other iPads or iPhones with the True Depth front facing setup. On the back, you get an 8-megapixel lens.

Apple is sticking with a Lightning port on the eighth-gen iPad and we’re cool with that. We especially like that a Lightning to USB-C cable is included in the box along with a faster 20-watt power brick. It makes charging a breeze.

You also still get a smart connector on the left-side, which makes for easy pairing with supported accessories. Apple’s Smart Keyboard connects this way and we highly recommend checking out the Logitech Combo Touch. It’s essentially a keyboard and trackpad folio case that uses the Smart Connector for easy pairing and power. No more hustling to pair via Bluetooth. It also lets you get the full iPadOS experience complete with a trackpad.

Bottom Line

In a nutshell (or maybe rather an apple seed), that’s the eighth-gen iPad. It still delivers an insane value at this price point. Our only small qualm would be the base storage is just 32GBs and, for most users, that should be alright. But if you love apps and using lots of data, opt for the 128GB variant at $100 more.

It’s very likely that this will replace the seventh-gen as the best overall tablet in our eyes. The A12 Bionic delivers some serious improvements and breathes new life, alongside iPadOS 14, into the entry-level (just $329 starting) eighth-gen iPad.