The iPhone 13 isn’t the only Apple device launching on September 24th — and we’re not just talking about the 2021 iPad Mini. The company also announced a new entry-level iPad during its recent “California Streaming” event, which comes outfitted with a new front-facing camera, a faster processor, and double the base storage. But are the improvements enough to justify an upgrade from last year’s iPad, or even picking it over its predecessor should you find the 2020 model on sale?
To answer those questions, we’ve put together a comparison outlining the similarities and differences between the 2020 iPad and the forthcoming model, ahead of our official review.
What’s improved on the 2021 iPad?
- A 12MP ultrawide front-facing camera
- Greater storage capacity, with base storage starting at 64GB
- The A13 Bionic chip, replacing the A12 Bionic from 2018
- A True Tone display that adjusts color temperature to match your environment
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest selling points of the new iPad is its front-facing camera, which is a higher resolution than the 1.2MP camera found on the 2020 model. On paper, this should translate to better video quality, whether for videoconferencing, livestreaming, or other activities. The newer model also provides support for 1080p recording at 25fps and 30fps, while the 2020 version only supports 1080p at 30fps. Additionally, the newer iPad can “follow” the subject as they move around the frame thanks to Apple’s new Center Stage feature, once reserved for the iPad Pro.
There are also some notable improvements when it comes to the display, storage capacity, and performance. Unlike last year’s model, the latest iPad sports twice the capacity at 64GB and 256GB storage variants instead of 32GB and 128GB. In addition, thanks to Apple’s True Tone technology — something Apple introduced in 2016 with the first-gen iPad Pro — the display on the new entry-level tablet can adjust its color temperature to match your environment. If you’re outside, for example, the display will automatically adjust to be easier on your eyes. Finally, the 2021 model features Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, which Apple says is 20 percent faster than the A12 Bionic chip found in the eighth-gen model.
What’s the same on both models?
- The 8MP rear camera with f/2.4 aperture and digital zoom
- Slo-mo video support for 720p at 120fps
- The overall design — height, width, depth are identical
- Lightning connectivity (no USB-C)
- They both have a headphone jack
- The list of compatible accessories
- Battery life, which Apple quotes at nine to 10 hours
- Wi-Fi 5 and optional LTE connectivity
- Both run iPadOS 15
In most other ways, the 2021 iPad is identical to its predecessor. The improved front-facing camera should mean better video calls, but aside from that, the device sports the same 8MP wide camera with an f/2.4 aperture on the rear, support for HDR, and a digital zoom. Both tablets also feature similar video recording capabilities, offering slo-mo video support for 720p at 120fps.
Design-wise, they’re nearly the same, meaning the newer tablet remains compatible with existing accessories like Apple’s Smart Keyboard and still has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a novelty among Apple’s current device lineup and modern devices in general.
Unlike the all-new iPad Mini, however, the 2021 iPad still features a home button with a Touch ID sensor and a Lightning port instead of USB-C, a frustrating liner note that’s also applicable to iPhone 13 models. Both are only compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, too, which isn’t nearly as convenient to charge as the second-gen model released in 2018. While the new model charges wirelessly while magnetically docked to the side of the iPad Pro and latest iPad Air and iPad Mini, the last-gen Pencil still relies on the tablet’s Lightning connector and awkwardly juts out the bottom of the device when charging.
Both iPads are available in space gray or silver — no gold colorway this time around — with a 10.2-inch display and 2160 x 1620 resolution. They even weigh about the same; only the Wi-Fi version of the new model weighs a little less: 1.07 pounds, as opposed to 1.08.
Apple claims battery life is also identical across both devices, with the new iPad offering between nine and 10 hours of battery life, depending upon whether you’re using a cellular connection or Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, the 2021 model boasts twice the storage for the same price. The Wi-Fi-equipped iPad with 64GB of storage now starts at $329 — the same price the last-gen model started at with 32GB of storage. The newer model is also available in a 256GB configuration for $150 more, whereas the 2020 model could only be purchased in either 32GB or 128GB varieties.
As for the operating system, both models are compatible with iPadOS 15. The only difference is that the 2021 iPad comes with it pre-installed — eighth-gen iPad owners will need to download it. That means no matter which model you choose, you’ll be able to make FaceTime calls with Android and Windows users in a pinch, resize your widgets, filter notifications via Focus mode, and make use of a host of new iPadOS 15 features. With the final release of macOS Monterey later in the fall, you’ll also be able to drag and drop content between devices using Universal Control.
Why might you stick with the 2020 iPad?
- It’s still a good tablet, likely with years of support ahead of it
- You really dig the gold colorway or the white bezels on the silver model
Unlike the forthcoming iPad Mini, the latest entry-level iPad is more of a refinement than a notable overhaul. It doesn’t feature a USB-C port or compatibility with the second-gen Apple Pencil, nor does it ditch the home button in favor of an edge-to-edge display. It’s still the most economical tablet in Apple’s lineup, however, and even the incremental upgrades are enough to render it an even better value at $329 than it was before. The faster performance afforded by the A13 Bionic is welcome, as is an upgraded 12MP camera at a time when we’re still all connecting virtually more often than we are in person. It even offers double the storage for the same price.
For some people, the subtle improvements will be enough. But for most? Probably not.
If you’re currently in the market for a new tablet and not just to upgrade, though, the choice gets a little easier when you consider availability. Apple officially discontinued the 2020 iPad with the introduction of the ninth-gen model, and though we routinely saw last year’s model discounted to as low as $300 over the past year, it’s recently been unavailable at nearly every retailer. Even if you wanted to pick up the 2020 model, you can’t, making the 2021 iPad the cheapest Apple tablet you can pick up outside of a used or refurbished model.
If you regularly use your iPad to make video calls or livestream, the new front-facing camera may be enough reason to upgrade — or if you’re really hard-pressed for storage space. Outside that, though, you might be better off waiting for a more substantial refresh to Apple’s entry-level tablet or spending the extra $200 or so on the 2020 iPad Air, a tablet equipped with an even faster processor, a larger display, and a USB-C port, along with a host of other improvements.