iPad 9 vs iPad 8: What's the difference?

iPad 9 vs iPad 8
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's new iPad 9 (2021) is here and... well... it looks (physically) quite similar to the iPad 8 (2020) that just dropped last year. But before you say that the iPad is stuck in a rut, know that there are some pretty neat under-the-hood differences in an iPad 9 vs. iPad 8 comparison. 

So, we thought this was a great time to show you how this year's iPad differs from last year's, which is one of the best iPads you can buy.

When comparing the iPad 9 (2021) vs iPad 8, you'll soon see that the perks are likely in the cameras and performance. Also, Apple's finally made the right call to get rid of the 32GB entry-level storage capacity, so you have more space for photos and apps. 

iPad 9 vs iPad 8 specs

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPad 9 (2021)iPad 8
Starting price $329 ($299 for schools) $329 ($299 for schools)
Screen 10.2 inches (2160 x 1620)10.2 inches (2160 x 1620)
Battery life (claimed)Up to 10 hours (rated)12:57 (tested)
ProcessorA13 BionicA12 Bionic
Storage 64GB or 256GB32GB, 128GB
Rear camera8MP (f/2.4) 8MP (f/2.4)
Front cameraCameras12MP (f/2.4) 1.2MP (f/2.4)
Video recording Up to 1080p HD at 30 fps Up to 1080p HD at 30 fps
SecurityTouch IDTouch ID
Apple Keyboard support Smart Keyboard Smart Keyboard
Pencil supportApple Pencil (1st generation)Apple Pencil (1st generation)
Dimensions 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches
Weight 1.07 pounds (1.09 with cellular) 1.08 pounds (1.09 with cellular)H
PortsLightning, headphonesLightning, headphones
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, LTE optionalWi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, LTE optionalWi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, LTE optional
ColorsSilver, space gray Silver, gold, space gray

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Price and storage

iPad 9 vs iPad mini 6: the iPad 9 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad 9 has the same $329 price, and the same $299 offer for those in education, that the iPad 8 had. The difference is that Apple's now starting you off with 64GB of storage and not 32GB. That's a win.

Apple used to charge $100 for a jump from 32GB to 128GB, while it's now charging $150 for a boost from 64GB to 256GB. That may be more money, but it's also more storage. 

Refurbished 32GB iPad 8 models are out of stock at the moment, but they're $269 when they're in stock, and maybe worth checking out if you don't think the iPad 9 has enough reasons to pay $60 more.

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Design

You can hear The Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime" when you stare at the iPad 9, specifically the part where David Byrne sings "same as it ever was," as the song fades out. 

The iPad 9 looks just like the iPad 8, and also the iPad 7. Apple's kept the same 10.2-inch design since since 2019, in a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Even the iPads before that were more or less the same, though some had slightly smaller screens. 

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: iPad 8th generation review back

This could be either of the iPad 9 (2021) or the iPad 8. You can't tell. And that's the point. (Image credit: Future)

The familiar machined aluminum back has returned for another year, but this is where we start to see differences. Apple only sells the 2021 iPad 9 in Space Gray and silver, whereas the iPad 8 was also available in (a pinkish) gold.

Apple's also shaved off a fraction of the iPad 8's heft, as the 1.07-pound iPad 9 is probably indiscernibly lighter than the 1.08-pound iPad 8.

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: iPad 9 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

Outside of that, the Home button with Touch ID, Lightning port, Smart Connector for the Smart Keyboard and headphone jack are all in the same place. It's the same iPad you know.

And, yes, about that Lightning port. Yes, we want Apple to move onto USB-C, but it seems like the company wants to keep everything the same to maximize compatibility with previous iPads. Not a terrible idea, but Lightning's getting pretty old in the tooth, as it's been here for 9 years (just as long as the 30-pin connector port it replaced).

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Display

iPad 9 vs iPad mini 6: iPad 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

These panels may looks similar, but the new iPad 9 has an improvement. It's got the True Tone display tool for automatically adjusting white balance when ambient light shifts.

Other than that, these panels are the same 10.2-inch, 2160x1620-pixel panels, with a pixel density of 264 ppi. Apple rates them for up to 500 nits of brightness, though the 2020 model had an average of 484 nits in our testing. 

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: iPad 8th generation display

(Image credit: Future)

The color output should be good for both, if the screen is retained, as the previous model produced 97% of the sRGB gamut in our testing.

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Performance

The difference between the iPad 9 and iPad 8's performance will come from the gap between a single generation of Apple's A-series system on a chip (SoC) silicon. Apple rates the iPad 9 for having 20% faster performance in its CPU, GPU and Neural Engine.

We can't be sure of that until we test the iPad 9 out for ourselves, but we can look to the past and see how the A13 Bionic has fared before. Apple may implement the A13 Bionic differently, but that SoC pushed out Geekbench 5 multi-core scores on the iPhone 11 Pro (3,509), iPhone 11 (3,251) and iPhone SE (3,226) that surpass the 2,685 result that the iPad 2020 earned. 

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: iPad 8th generation performance

(Image credit: Future)

Apple's 20% improvement claims make sense even if we use the lowest score from those A13 Bionic iPhones, as 2,685 x 1.2 = 3,222 — which is just under the iPhone SE's score.

Apple also claims that machine learning-based features will also run more smoothly. It cited the fantastic Live Text, which allows you to copy text out of images. 

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Cameras

iPad 9 (2021) vs iPad 8: iPad 8th generation camera

(Image credit: Future)

Performance isn't just limited to benchmark scores, as Apple notes that the A13 Bionic will enable improvements in photography. Specifically, it's got an improved image signal processor in the SoC, for improved auto focus in low light and selfies. 

But the big camera news on the iPad 9 is that Apple's upgraded the front-facing camera from a 1.2MP sensor to a 12MP ultra wide lens. This change is great because it acknowledges that we live in a time that requires many more video calls. The front-facing cam is also better for capturing video, with 1080p recording at up to 60fps (the iPad 8 capped out at 720p). The new camera also has a 2x zoom out, for wider shots.

iPad 9 (2021) vs iPad 8: Center Stage

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

Apple's also added one of its most recent clever features to iPad 9: Center Stage. When you're on a video call, the camera will zoom in slightly to follow your face as you move, keeping you framed in the center. And it works on more than just FaceTime, with Zoom, BlueJeans and WebEx support. It even works on videos you record and post to other apps later.

The rear camera stays the same across models, with an 8MP sensor.

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Battery life

When it comes to battery life, iPad 9 will likely last as long as the iPad 8. The lack of any changes to the design of the iPad, plus both tablets having the same "up to 10 hours" rating for usage while surfing the web on Wi-Fi or watching local video files. 

That said, the iPad 9 may last even longer on our web-surfing based battery test. We say that because it drained the iPad 8 at 12 hours and 57 minutes (with the display at 150 nits of brightness).

We look forward to testing the iPad 9 out to see how long it lasts.

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Accessories

The old iPad 8 and new iPad 9 support the same accessories: the iPad Smart Keyboard cover and first-gen Apple Pencil. We wish they'd have added second-gen Apple Pencil support, but that would require a design similar to the iPad mini 6.

Without that flat-edge design, which we hope makes it to the regular iPad some day, the Apple Pencil 1 will continue to be the only Apple-made stylus for the iPad. 

iPad 9 vs iPad mini 6: iPad 9 with Apple Pencil

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad 9 vs iPad 8: Outlook

The iPad 9 (2021) isn't the most exciting new iPad (that's the iPad mini 6), but it's proof that Apple is continuing to evolve its most affordable (and likely most popular) tablet. The performance gains this year should be nice, and help folks make the most out of iPadOS 15's new tricks.

The iPad 9's big evolutions in its cameras and processor should make sure it's an investment that lasts even longer, but we're not sure iPad 8 owners should feel pressure to upgrade. And it doesn't seem like Apple's intent on making sure people upgrade their iPads on annual cycle, as some do with phones.

But this is all on paper. And we can't wait to revisit this iPad 9 vs. iPad 8 face-off once we've tested the new model to see how much better it is. Stay tuned, readers.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.