Tom's Guide Verdict
The Apple iPad 2021 is a well-made tablet with a dated design that offers a great screen, smooth performance, and good battery life for a reasonable price.
Bright, vibrant screen
Great front-facing camera
Speedy performance thanks to A13 Bionic
Good battery life
Design feels dated
No support for Magic Keyboard/2nd Gen Apple Pencil
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
OS: iPadOS 15
CPU: A13 Bionic
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Display: 10.2-inch (2160 x 1620 pixels) Liquid Retina
Rear camera: 8MP wide (f/2.4)
Video: Up to 1080p at up to 30 fps
Front camera: 12MP Ultra Wide (f/2.4)
Wireless: Wi-Fi 6, optional 4G LTE
Battery: 32.4 watt-hour
Battery life: 11:59 (tested)
Size: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches
Weight: 1.07 lbs (Wi-Fi), 1.09 lbs (Wi-Fi + Cellular)
The Apple iPad 2021 (starting at $329) is little different from its predecessor, offering the same winning combination of beauty and speed in a slim, relatively affordable package. It's still one of the best tablets and best cheap tablets you can buy, and this year’s model sports a faster A13 Bionic chip and an impressive new front-facing camera that set it apart from earlier models.
However, I could stand to see Apple do a little more to improve the base iPad’s design. It still has thick black bezels around the screen, especially around the top and bottom, and it’s still limited to charging via Lightning cable when most iPads now support USB-C charging. On the bright side, it still has a headphone jack too, which for some people will make this the only iPad worth buying.
But is it worth your hard-earned money? Should you upgrade if you already own an iPad? This iPad 2021 review aims to help you answer those questions, so you can make a more informed purchasing decision.
We've also outlined the differences between the different types of iPad in our dedicated guide to Which iPad should you buy? iPad vs. iPad mini vs. iPad Air vs. iPad Pro, so take a look at that if you want more information.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Price and release date
- Upgraded storage capacity brings the dark days of 32 GB iPads to an end
- Expect to pay between $329 - $609
The Apple iPad 2021 is available for purchase via Apple’s website, in your local Apple store and at third-party retailers. Stock is currently hard to come by, though, so make sure you check out our where to buy the 2021 iPad guide.
Like the previous model, the iPad 2021’s price starts at $329 for the Wi-Fi model and $459 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version, though anyone working in education can get a discount that brings the starting price for the Wi-Fi model down to $299.
Apple has doubled the storage capacity of the iPad compared to previous generations, bumping the entry-level $329 model up from 32 to 64 GB and the $479 upgraded storage model up from 128 to 256 GB. If you splurge for the iPad with cellular connectivity and the upgraded storage, you're looking at a $609 price tag. The storage upgrade is a significant and welcome change, as it’s hard to enjoy all the functionality of an iPad when you have less than 32 GB of storage for all your photos, movies, apps, and games.
Of course, the price of upgrading to the model with more has storage also increased, up to $150 instead of the $100 it used to cost. Still, we recommend paying the upgrade cost if you plan to be downloading a lot of apps and HD media, as 64 GB still isn’t an impressive amount of storage space.
Accessory-wise, the iPad 2021 is, like its predecessor, compatible with Apple’s $159 Smart Keyboard and the $99 1st Gen Apple Pencil and not the company's more-recent accessories. They’re decent add-ons, but it would have been nice to see Apple find a way to make the iPad compatible with its improved Magic Keyboard and/or the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil.
Our testing unit is a Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad 2021 with 256 GB of storage, which we used with a Smart Keyboard and 1st Gen Apple Pencil. To buy it all directly from Apple, you’d spend about $867 plus taxes and fees.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Design
- Design feels dated, with glaringly thick bezels and outdated accessories
- Silver lining: this is the only iPad that still has a headphone jack
The new iPad looks the same as the old iPad, which looked roughly the same as the iPad before it. Apple seems uninterested in updating the look and feel of its entry-level iPad, making it feel like an almost charming throwback to the early days of tablets.
Still, I can’t help but wish Apple would redesign the base iPad to have the same flat edges, rounded corners, and thin bezels of siblings like the iPad mini 6 or the iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch). Of course, those tablets are hundreds of dollars more expensive than the iPad 2021, and it’s hard to quibble too much with what you get for that price: the iPad is still a thin, light tablet, weighing just over a pound and measuring 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches. It still sports the same machined aluminum chassis, and comes in the same two familiar colors: silver and Space Gray.
When held in the portrait orientation, the Home button is still prominently featured in the center of the bottom bezel, with a TouchID sensor built in so you can unlock the device with a fingerprint.
Along the right edge you’ll find the volume buttons and the SIM card slot on cellular models, while the power/wake button sits at right side of the top edge. On the far left of that top edge you’ll find a headphone jack, making the iPad 2021 the only iPad model which supports wired headphones.
This is also now the only iPad to still rely on a Lighting port for charging, rather than USB-C. As nice as the upgrade to Lightning was from Apple’s old 30-pin proprietary connector, it’s starting to feel silly to have to dig out a Lightning cable to charge the iPad instead of grabbing a ubiquitous USB-C cable.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Display
- 10.2-inch display still delivers bright, vibrant image quality
- Glare renders it nigh unusuable in direct sunlight
Look down at the iPad 2021 and you’ll find yourself staring into a 10.2-inch, 2,160 x 1,620-pixel panel that’s quite similar to the screen in last year’s model. It’s still rated for up to 500 nits of brightness, but this year the iPad’s panel has gained support for Apple’s True Tone tech, which automatically adjusts the screen’s white balance in response to ambient light.
In person, it’s an eye-catching display that looks bright and vibrant. While streaming Good Omens the slight color variations in outfits worn by Aziraphale and Crowley really popped, and even while streaming older works like the original Dune, the iPad delivered a sharp, vivid picture. There is a bit of glare if you’re under bright lights, and it gets bad enough to render the iPad nigh unusable if you’re outside at high noon on a sunny day.
When we tested the iPad 2021 in our lab we found the screen’s brightness maxes out at 494 nits in the center of the display, but it gets significantly less bright near the top and bottom, delivering an average maximum brightness of 473 nits across the whole panel. That’s a bit worse than the panel on last year’s iPad, which achieved an average maximum brightness of 484 nits in the same test. It also falls a bit short of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, a more expensive Android tablet that maxed out at 499 nits of brightness in our lab testing.
As far as color accuracy goes, we pointed a colorimeter at the iPad 2021 and found it delivers 105.3% of the sRGB color gamut. That’s pretty good (100% is typically the ideal for accurate color reproduction), and comparable to the 97% covered by last year’s iPad.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Performance
- Upgraded A13 Bionic processor delivers respectable performance
- Playing games, editing photos, and multi-tasking feels great
The Apple iPad 2021 has an A13 Bionic chip under the hood, the same chip that drives the iPhone 11 family of devices. It’s an improvement over the A12 Bionic in last year’s iPad, and what it means is that you should notice almost no lag when playing the latest games, noodling around in apps, or editing photos.
I happily spent way too much time playing games like Asphalt 9, Genshin Impact, and World Flipper, with no noticeable slowdown or missed inputs. Editing and retouching photos in Darkroom feels nice and snappy on the iPad 2021, as does the process of quickly swapping back and forth between apps.
When we put this tablet to the test using the Geekbench 5 multi-core CPU benchmark, which measures CPU performance, the iPad 2021 and its A13 Bionic chip earned a score of 3,387.
That’s a good score, and a notable improvement over the 2,685 its predecessor earned in the same test. It’s also better than competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 (3,074), though even the iPad 2021 can’t quite match the performance of the A14 Bionic-powered iPad Air 2020 (4,262) or the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (4,878), with its 10th Gen Intel CPUs. Of course, the Surface Pro is more expensive than the iPad 2021, even after you factor in the cost of optional Apple accessories like the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Audio
- Speakers sound good but get tinny at high volume
- Headphone jack lets you plug in high-quality cans
The speakers along the bottom edge of the iPad 2021 sound good enough that I didn’t mind watching movies or playing games without good headphones. They get surprisingly loud, too, though to my ears the sound quality gets very tinny when you crank the volume up.
However, you can definitely enjoy a better listening experience if you plug in a good pair of headphones via the headphone jack, a simple pleasure that feels like a luxury now that Apple’s removed the headphone jack from all other iPad models.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
- Smart Keyboard feels mushy and cramped, but good in a pinch
- 1st Gen Apple Pencil still a great stylus
Speaking of which, the optional Smart Keyboard ($159 extra) and 1st Gen Apple Pencil ($99 extra) work as well as they always have with Apple’s entry-level iPad. The Smart Keyboard is versatile, serving as a front cover for the iPad when closed and a decent stand for the tablet when open.
If you’re anything like me you’ll likely find yourself using it as a stand more than anything else, since the small membrane keys aren’t very satisfying to type on and they’re so close together that typing for long periods feels cramped and uncomfortable -- at least, for my oversized mitts. Still, it’s nice to have in a pinch, and those with more reasonably sized hands may find the Smart Keyboard renders the iPad a reasonable laptop replacement.
The 1st Gen Apple Pencil is more comfortable to use, and having one turns the iPad into a pretty decent digital canvas for doodling and painting. There are a bunch of intriguing iPadOS features that take advantage of the Apple Pencil too, including Scribble, which lets you write into any text field and see it converted into text right there on the page. It’s a small but neat feature that works in apps like Safari, Gmail, and Slack, making communicating across the Internet feel a bit more tactile.
Such small but useful features make the Apple Pencil a decent investment if you’re planning to use your iPad regularly, especially if you like to doodle. As I tested the stylus by writing emails (literally) and painting digital art (badly), the Pencil felt precise and I never noticed any lag or missed inputs. The only meaningful drawback is its dated design: unlike its successor, the 1st Gen Apple Pencil charges via Lightning port, which can be a pain since you have to pop a plastic cap off one end and plug the Pencil into either a charger or the iPad itself, while trying not to lose said cap. There's also no convenient place to stow the Pencil when you're not using it, so you just have to tote it around with you as best you can.
Apple iPad 2021 review: iPadOS 15
- iPadOS 15 makes the iPad feel more useful
- New multitasking menu is a welcome addition
Apple launched iPadOS 15 the same week as the iPad 2021, and the new operating system deliver some valuable new features that make the iPad a little more versatile.
As you can read in our iPadOS 15 review, Apple’s latest tablet OS delivers some welcome improvements. Most notably, you can now put widgets anywhere on the home screen, just like on iOS, and there’s a helpful new multitasking menu accessible via a small icon at the top of every app. It looks like three small gray dots in a horizontal line, and when you tap it a little window pops up with icons for viewing the app three different ways: in fullscreen, split view, or slide over view.
Split view does what you might expect, splitting the screen down the middle and putting one app on either side, while Slide Over view fullscreens one app and displays the other atop it in a thinner window. While it’s been possible to pull off tricks like this in prior iPadOS iterations, the new multitasking menu makes it much easier to do, which is great since having two apps open at once in landscape mode feels like something the iPad 2021 was built for.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Cameras
- 8 MP rear camera still decent for taking photos
- Upgraded 12 MP selfie camera works great, and Center Stage is a neat addition
The Apple iPad 2021 has the same 8 MP rear camera as its predecessor, and it does a similarly solid job of capturing details and color. It works well enough to capture good photos both indoors and out, though if you own a recent iPhone or premium Android smartphone, it probably takes better photos.
No, the really exciting camera news about the iPad 2021 is the fact that Apple’s upgraded the front-facing camera from the measly 1.2 MP sensor on last year’s model to an excellent new 12 MP TrueDepth ultrawide camera with support for Apple’s new(ish) Center Stage feature.
As seen first in the iPad Pro 2021, Center Stage is a novel feature that kicks in during video calls using the front-facing camera and uses machine learning to try and ensure the face of whoever is speaking stays on camera. It does this by capturing an ultra-wide video feed and then digitally panning and zooming to center on the face of the speaker, ensuring you can set it up for a call and then walk around a bit without worrying about going off-screen; if someone else enters the camera’s field of view it will also try and keep them in the frame.
I tested this out a few times, perching the iPad 2021 in my kitchen and taking calls with friends and colleagues while walking around preparing meals. It works well, and the camera can follow you out to a surprisingly wide angle — I had to nearly walk behind the iPad before it stopped tracking me. It’s a neat trick that seemed to impress folks on the other end of the call, but beyond that it doesn’t really offer much practical benefit: the people I was video calling with could hear me just as well whether I was on camera or off. If you don’t enjoy the feature, you can switch it off from within apps like Google Meet and Zoom.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Battery life
- Lab-tested 12-hour battery life beats Apple's 10-hour estimate
- It charges quickly, too, gaining 40% battery in an hour
Apple advertises the iPad 2021 as lasting up to 10 hours of use (surfing the web or watching video) on a full battery, or up to 9 hours if you’re on a cellular connection. But as is often the case, the company is commendably conservative in their battery life promises: in our tablet battery test, which tasks the slate with endlessly surfing the web over Wi-Fi with its display set to a brightness of 150 nits, the new iPad 2021 lasted a good 11 hours and 59 minutes.
12 hours is very respectable battery life for a tablet, though it’s about an hour less than last year’s iPad 2020 achieved (12:57) in the same test and over an hour less than the runtime of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 (13:16). However, this year’s iPad delivers better battery life than the Apple iPad Air 2020 (10:29), which ran out of juice about 90 minutes sooner in the same test.
Plus, the iPad 2021 charges pretty quick: I plugged it in at 9% power, and an hour later the battery was charged to 50% capacity.
Apple iPad 2021 review: Verdict
Apple’s iPad 2021 is, like its predecessors, a well-made tablet that offers a great screen, smooth performance, and good battery life for a reasonable price. It’s the cheapest iPad Apple sells, but it doesn’t feel cheap, and the upgraded internals and selfie camera are meaningful improvements over the prior iPad.
However, I don’t think they’re meaningful enough to merit upgrading from last year’s iPad to the iPad 2021. Apple’s latest iPad is one of the best tablets you can buy, but if you already own the iPad 2020 the performance improvements over last year’s model aren’t worth the cost of upgrading — unless you do a lot of video calls (thanks COVID) and want to try out Center Stage, but don’t want to shell out for an iPad Pro 2021.
But if you're shopping for a new tablet, it's hard to find something better than the iPad 2021 in the same price range. If you're open to Android, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is a more expensive tablet with a great screen and better battery life than the iPad 2021, plus it comes with a stylus packed in. If you'd like to ditch the dated design of the iPad, upgrading to the $599 iPad Air 2020 gets you a speedier Apple tablet with support for the Magic Keyboard and 2nd Gen Apple Pencil, but it costs hundreds of dollars more and offers slightly less battery life.
Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.