Posts with «tablets» label

HP Chromebook X2 review: Do we really need a Chrome OS convertible?

Chrome OS tablets don’t have a pretty past. In 2018, Google released the Pixel Slate, its attempt to jumpstart the market, but poorly optimized software and expensive hardware made the device a non-starter for most people. Since then, Google stopped making tablets entirely, while most manufacturers making Chrome OS devices have also stuck with more traditional designs.

That started to change last year, when Lenovo built an inexpensive but useful Chrome OS tablet, the Chromebook Duet. This year, HP has followed a similar pattern with the HP Chromebook X2, an 11-inch tablet that’s pricier and higher-end than Lenovo’s Duet (the model I’m reviewing costs $600). But, like the Duet, it uses a mobile processor (in this case, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c) and includes a keyboard and pen at no extra charge. Based purely on specs and design, the Chromebook X2 should be a fine performer — but is its convertible form factor worth the premium over a more standard laptop?

Hardware

We’ll get into how useful Chrome OS tablets are soon, but based purely on hardware alone, HP’s Chromebook X2 makes a great first impression. The tablet itself is a metal-clad slap that feels sturdy and well built. There’s a small camera bump on the back, along with metallic HP and Chrome logos, but overall it’s a simple device with few adornments. The device has squared-off sides with rounded corners, much like the iPad Pro and iPad Air, but it feels different enough from those devices despite the fact there are only so many ways to make a tablet.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

When looking at the front, you’ll notice a small camera on the top bezel, with stereo speakers positioned near the top of the screen. On the left side edge you’ll find two USB-C ports and a volume rocker. In the top left corner there’s a multi-function power button with a fingerprint reader. When you’re using the Chromebook X2 with a keyboard attached, pressing the power button shows options to shut down, log out or lock the device. When you’re using it as a tablet, though, the button has the more standard “lock the device and turn off the screen” function. The fingerprint scanner is easy to set up, and I wish that more Chromebooks had them.

The right side of the tablet is basically unadorned, aside from a mark that shows where you can magnetically attach the Chromebook X2’s pen to its side for easy access. The iPad Pro and various Microsoft Surface devices also let you magnetically attach a stylus, so this isn’t really a big innovation — but it’s still nice to have.

When I reviewed the Pixel Slate back in 2018, my main takeaway was that Chrome OS still required a keyboard. As such, I was glad to find that the Chromebook X2 had one included. To turn the X2 from a tablet into a functional laptop, HP designed a two-piece case. The keyboard cover goes on the front, much like Microsoft’s Surface Keyboard. But instead of having a built-in kickstand, the X2 has a second cover that serves as a kickstand which magnetically snaps on to the back. Once you have that set, the X2 is basically identical to the Microsoft Surface Go, at least in looks.

The Chromebook X2’s keyboard is pretty good considering it has to fit a relatively small device. The keys have solid travel and are quite responsive, though they’re a little bit loud. It feels a little cramped, but not any worse than the Surface Go’s keyboard. But it definitely feels more cramped than the Magic Keyboard I use with my 11-inch iPad Pro. (That’s a $300 accessory, though, so it really should be better than a keyboard HP includes with every X2.)

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The main issue with the X2 keyboard is that it’s not ideal for using on your lap. As I’ve noticed with some other keyboard folios, applying just a little pressure on palm rests often causes the trackpad to register a click, which can be infuriating when you’re, say, typing a review and keep getting interrupted. It’s much better on a desk, where the keyboard is more stable. Microsoft’s Type Cover for the Surface lineup doesn’t have this problem, so it’s just a matter of build quality in the end. And for a small, light device meant to be used on the go, having a keyboard that only works on a hard, flat surface is less than ideal.

Despite occasional accidental clicks, the X2 trackpad is pretty good. It’s larger than the one on the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard and as well as the Surface Go’s keyboard, and it’s fast and responsive for both single-finger and multi-finger gestures. It’s still pretty small, though, so you might prefer an external mouse for extended work sessions.

The Chromebook X2 may be a small machine, but its 11-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio is a standout. It’s a high-resolution display, coming in at 2,160 x 1,440, and the taller aspect ratio makes it feel a lot less cramped for work than a 16:9 screen would, especially at this smaller size. It’s also a very bright screen, almost painfully so — even when working in a sunny office, I rarely turned brightness up higher than halfway.

As I mentioned earlier, HP included a stylus with the Chromebook X2. I’m no visual artist, so I’m not qualified to really judge its performance — but there’s no question stylus performance on this device lags behind Microsoft's Surface Go 3 and any iPad I’ve tried. But again, HP included a stylus for free, whereas Microsoft and Apple charge extra for it. That doesn’t make performance better, but at least you’re not shelling out additional cash for a sub-par experience. The pen might be fine for quick sketches or notes, but it doesn’t feel like something I’d want to use for very long.

Tablet mode

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Even though there aren’t many Chrome OS tablets, Google has made improvements to the OS’s tablet mode over the years. It’s quite a bit more stable and user-friendly than it was when the Pixel Slate came out in 2018; the main UI concepts are a mix of what you’ll find on iPadOS and Windows. Apps automatically launch in full screen, and the home screen is a grid of all the apps you have installed. Swiping up when you’re using an app brings you back to the home screen, and a more deliberate swipe from the bottom shows the Chrome OS dock. Finally, you can run two apps in split-screen mode when you want to multitask.

I haven’t used the Chrome OS tablet mode in a while. I’ve reviewed a ton of Chromebooks with 360-degree hinges that can be used in tablet mode, but they’re usually too heavy for that. But the Chromebook X2 feels great in the hand; with its 11-inch screen and a weight of 1.23 pounds, it’s not too big or heavy to be used as a tablet. The main issue with Chrome OS on a tablet is familiar to anyone who has used Android tablets: there just isn’t much software optimized for a large screen. That said, using the X2 to casually browse the web, watch videos and play the occasional game worked well. HP knows that this isn’t the primary way anyone should use a Chrome OS device, hence the included keyboard — but for casual couch browsing or watching a movie on a plan, the X2 does the trick.

As a laptop

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The main way I used the Chromebook X2 was as a laptop, with the included keyboard attached. The biggest question I had was whether the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c processor was enough for my normal workflow. The answer was “more or less.” The X2 ran better than I expected, and I could usually have most of my normal apps running at all times. That means a couple Chrome windows with a handful of tabs in each, plus Chrome apps for Slack, Todoist, Keep, Trello and Tweetdeck. I also often had the Android version of Spotify running for music.

This all ran acceptably, but it definitely wasn’t the fastest — particularly if I had too many Chrome tabs going. The X2 that I tested has 8GB of RAM, and that helped keep most of my programs running without the need to refresh when I switched between them, but I ended up instinctively limiting how many tabs I had going at any given time to avoid pushing the X2 too hard. I also didn’t play music directly from the X2 much when I was running a lot of other apps, as I eventually would run into slowdowns or low memory skips if I had too much going on.

While I wish performance was a little better, it’s important to look at it in the context of how HP designed the device. Given its small size, I thought of it more as a secondary or travel computer rather than something most people would sit down and use for hours on end every single day. The display is certainly too small and performance not quite robust enough for me to use it that way, anyway.

One advantage of using a Snapdragon processor is that the Chromebook X2 had excellent battery life. While it’s too small of a computer for me to comfortably use all day long, I routinely got around eight hours of work when I used it as my primary machine, and still had charge left at the end of the day. It also performed extremely well in our battery drain test, which loops an HD video with the screen set at 50 percent brightness. The X2 lasted about 11 and a half hours in that test, which means this device should be a solid movie-watching companion if you’re on a long flight.

At only 1.23 pounds as a tablet and a little over 2.25 pounds with the keyboard and kickstand attached, the Chromebook X2 is an extremely portable computer for when you don’t need the full size and power that you get in a larger laptop. It again reminds me of Microsoft’s Surface Go 3, not just in the way it looks. Both devices are a bit underpowered, and I wouldn’t recommend either be someone’s primary computer. But, they can be great secondary computers if you’re aware of their limitations.

Pricing and the competition

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Of course, price is a big part of the equation. That was probably the biggest problem with the Surface Go 3 when I reviewed it recently: The kit I tested cost $860, and for that money it should be powerful enough to use as your only computer. But the Chromebook X2 is cheaper; the model I reviewed costs $600. That gets you the aforementioned Snapdragon 7c processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, the keyboard and pen. And the X2 has already been on sale numerous times at Best Buy for only $400. At that price, it’s a pretty great portable secondary computer.

At $600, it’s a little pricey for what you get, though. That’s mostly because you can buy a larger, more powerful Chromebook for a little more money. Both the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 cost $700 and come with faster Intel chips, better keyboards and larger displays. You have to be really committed to the tablet form factor to not give those computers a look instead. Or, you can get Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook for only $300 on Amazon as of this writing; you’ll save yourself money and have a better overall experience. If you can find the Chromebook X2 on sale for $400, it’s a much more compelling buy, but it’s still not the best Chromebook in that price range.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

The main issue with the Chromebook X2 is neither its price nor its performance. It’s the fact that most people will be better served with a standard, laptop-style Chromebook. Sure, most Chromebooks are a little bigger and heavier than the X2, but they’re also generally more powerful and have better keyboards. The X2 only makes sense if you value portability and battery life over performance. If you can find the X2 for $400, it’s worth considering if you’re a Chrome OS user looking for a secondary computer that you can take with you anywhere. Otherwise, you’re probably better off considering one of the many other Chromebooks on the market.

Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Third time isn't quite the charm

Microsoft has been trying to straddle two different worlds with the Surface Go. When it launched in late 2018, Microsoft positioned it as an inexpensive way to get the 2-in-1 Surface experience. Three years later, that’s still true: The Surface Go 3, which Microsoft unveiled in late September, is an exceedingly well-built tablet, with a lovely screen and strong kickstand. For a device that starts at $400, it feels great.

But the full truth of the Surface Go 3 is a little more complicated. You need to shell out at least another $100 for a keyboard. And, seeing as Windows still doesn’t offer a great tablet experience you need the keyboard. Not to mention the basic $400 Surface Go 3 is underpowered – so by the time you’re buying a keyboard and bumping up the processor, storage and RAM, you’re spending as much money as you might on a full-fledged laptop with a larger display and more powerful internals.

Our review unit came with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3-10100Y processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But that configuration costs $630, not including the $130 Alcantara-clad Type Cover and $100 Surface pen Microsoft sent along as well. It’s a fairly capable machine despite its tiny size, making it a potentially great travel companion. But if you’re going to spend $860 for the kit that I’m testing, you should know exactly what you want to do with it that you can’t do with a standard laptop.

When we reviewed the Surface Go 2 last spring, we noted that it was nearly identical to the first version, with the notable exception of a larger screen. This time out, I’m pretty sure the external hardware is completely identical. The Surface Go 3 is the exact same size and weight as its predecessor, and the display is the same 10.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen as before.

That’s not a knock on the hardware, though, as the Surface Go 3 is a wonderfully designed and constructed device. I haven’t used previous Surface devices extensively, but Microsoft’s reputation for thoughtful hardware is well deserved. The screen is bright, sharp and colorful, with great viewing angles. I also very much appreciate the taller 3:2 aspect ratio – a 16:9 panel here would feel very cramped for vertical space.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I’m also a big fan of the infinitely adjustable kickstand. I’m no visual artist, but the way you can push it nearly all the way around to prop up the tablet for drawing is a brilliant design decision, and the way the Surface Pen magnetically snaps to the side for easy access is very handy. It really makes me wish I could draw, but alas.

As before, the Surface Go 3 only has a few ports and buttons. There’s a USB-C port on one side as well as a headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary charging port. The good news is you can use the USB-C port for faster charging (as well as any other peripherals you have) and use the cables you probably already have instead of the slower charger. Up top, there’s a power button and volume rocker; an 8-megapixel camera stares out from the back of the tablet. Two stereo speakers flank the display, and there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a 1080p resolution for video calls. It also works with Windows Hello for face unlock. Finally, under the kickstand you’ll find a Micro SDXC card reader, but you really have to go searching for it.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Every time Microsoft releases new Surface tablets, questions follow about whether Windows is actually a viable platform for touchscreen use. With Windows 11, the answer is still “not really.” But purely on the strength of its hardware, the Surface Go 3 is a lovely tablet. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes it work well when holding it in either portrait or landscape mode. And at 1.2 pounds it’s a little heavier than an iPad, but not so much so that you’ll get tired of holding it.

We typically recommend Surface buyers use the device with some kind of keyboard, so nearly all my time testing the Go 3 was with Microsoft’s Type Cover attached. It’s unchanged from last year’s version, but that’s OK because Microsoft’s Surface keyboards are surprisingly good. Given the Go’s small size, it felt a bit cramped at first, but after giving my hands a little time to adjust it wasn’t an issue. 

The keys have decent travel and feel very solid, despite the Type Cover’s extremely thin design, and the magnets that attach it to the Go are very strong. The touchpad is fine given its rather small size, but – like the keyboard – it's not something I want to use for hours on end. When I was using the Go 3 at my desk for extended work sessions, I preferred using a Bluetooth mouse.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Type Cover weighs just over half a pound, so the tablet plus its keyboard cover is a good bit less than two pounds total. While the overall design hasn’t changed, the Surface Go 3 and its keyboard cover are still a very compact and well-designed set. There aren’t many devices that can provide the full Windows experience in such a portable package.

Unfortunately, as with the prior Surface Go models, you’re trading portability for performance. The Core i3 powering the $630 Go 3 that I’ve been testing is enough for basic tasks, but if you try and push things too much you’re going to be disappointed. My workflow is fairly modest: I mostly live in a browser (I used Edge for this review), and I also run apps including Trello, Slack, Todoist and Spotify. I also wrote this review in Word, to get the full Windows experience. Usually, the Surface Go 3 kept up with these tasks, but I had occasional music stutters and tabs often had to be reloaded if I navigated away from them for more than a minute or two.

Occasionally, things got worse. The Surface Go 3 mostly ran Adobe Lightroom fine, but moving through the interface definitely required patience as UI elements and photos took a while to load. And if I had it open along with any other programs, things slowed down significantly. Browser tabs were more likely to reload, and opening or switching between other apps took a lot longer. Lightroom performance itself was not terrible, though exporting an edited RAW file to a JPG took long enough that I did most of my photo editing and exporting for this review on my MacBook Pro. Exporting a single image probably took about 10 seconds, compared to a second or two on my Mac.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that being on a video call also led to serious performance issues. When I was on a Google Meet call with some co-workers, switching that and Slack was painfully slow, and Slack had to refresh entirely as if I just opened it. While we’re at it, Slack performance was mediocre on this machine; jumping between different channels and conversations led to noticeable delays. (I’m willing to put some of the blame on Google and particularly Slack, because Slack's Windows app is not good. But not all of it.) That sums up the Surface Go 3 experience pretty well — I often just had to wait a lot for things to catch up.

Running our usual suite of Windows benchmarks confirmed my impressions – indeed, according to Geekbench 5 and PCMark10, the new Core i3 processor is nearly identical to the m3 that it replaces. This just highlights that Intel still doesn’t have a great solution for smaller devices. Apple’s $330 iPad, which I just reviewed, hit 1,336 (single-core) / 3,349 (multi-core) on Geekbench 5, compared to the 859/1,450 I got running it on the Surface Go 3.

GeekBench 5 CPU

PC Mark 10

3DMark (Night Raid)

ATTO (Top reads/writes)

Microsoft Surface Go 3 (Core i3-10100Y, Intel UHD)

859 / 1,450

2,601

2,637

1.65 GB/s / 808 MB/s

Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y, Intel UHD)

800 / 1,590

2,737

3,848

1.6 GB/s / 265 MB/s

Acer Aspire 5 (Intel Core i3-1115G4, Intel UHD)

1,316 / 2,583

3,790

6,723

2.26 GB/s / 893 MB/s

Lenovo Flex 5 14 (AMD Ryzen 3 4300U, AMD Radeon)

730 / 1,879

4,186

6,271

1.40 GB/s / 925 MB/s

The battery situation also leaves something to be desired. I got about five hours using the Surface Go 3 during normal use doing my normal work routine — not awful, but given how low-powered the processor is, I expected more. It also makes the Go’s portability less useful, because if you can’t be away from a charger for a full work day, what’s the point of having such a small device? The device did last quite a long time in a lower-power test. The Go 3 lasted almost 11 hours while playing back HD video, which matches up with Microsoft's estimates for 11 hours. 

The Surface Go 3 isn't the fastest to charge, either. I had the device plugged in while running some benchmarks, and it took a whopping three hours to charge from 50 percent to 100 percent using the included charger. I was pushing the system pretty hard during that time, but even when I was doing less intense work, it took a good long while to charge. When the Go 3 was asleep, it still took about two hours to fully charge it up from 20 percent. 

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Benchmarks don’t tell the entire story, but they should give you a good idea of what to expect with the Surface Go 3. I could see the Go 3 making sense as a second computer, a companion to a more powerful Windows desktop for travel. If I was still commuting, I’d be happy to use the Go 3 on my hour-long train ride to go through email, do a little writing and manage all my to-dos. I could also see it being a good companion for running around at events like CES or E3. But I’d probably get tired of writing on that tiny screen.

But $630 plus another $100 minimum for the Type Cover is a lot of money for a device that feels rather slow and rather cramped. For that kind of money you could certainly get a more capable Windows laptop. Apple’s iPad is also a great option for a secondary computing device, and has the benefit of an OS that was built with tablets in mind; it’s also far more responsive than the Surface Go 3, and there are plenty of keyboard covers out there for getting real work done.

The value calculus does change if you’re a visual artist, I think. I have zero drawing ability, so the Surface Pen isn’t terribly useful for me. But it’s a very good stylus, and I could see artists who like to use Windows appreciating the Go 3 as a portable drawing tool that can also be a full-fledged computer when you need it. But once again, an iPad probably has better app support for artists who prefer a stylus.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Probably the biggest issue with the Surface Go 3 is that nothing has significantly changed since Microsoft released the Go 2 almost a year and a half ago. The design is still good, but performance and battery life are essentially unchanged, despite the new chip. I can’t recommend that anyone get a Surface Go 3 with the Pentium Gold processor; it feels like the low-end model exists only so Microsoft can say it sells a $400 tablet.

Just like its predecessors, the Surface Go 3 can be a pretty useful tiny Windows device, though you’re paying a premium for the portability. And the price for performance ration is seriously out of whack. If you’re a Windows fan, it'a decent option as a secondary device for casual work and for when you want something extremely portable. There aren’t a lot of comparable Windows devices out there, and the hardware’s design and built quality remains outstanding. Just make sure you buy the Type Cover, don’t expect much from tablet mode and be patient if you’re running a lot of apps.

Apple iPad (2021) review: Another modest update

Apple says the basic iPad is its most popular tablet. And why not? Back in 2017, the company introduced its cheapest-ever iPad as a budget option for schools or people who don't need top-of-the-line specs. This device has always used hardware that’s a few years old — but Apple’s chips are so powerful that this hasn’t been an issue. Now in its ninth generation, though, the form factor is starting to feel stale; it's virtually unchanged from the iPad Air that Apple released back in 2013. Then again, at this price who cares?

It’s not a tablet meant for early adopters like me. It’s for those who want a fast, lightweight tablet with a nice display and tons of apps, without having to spend too much or consider whether a device like the iPad Pro is the future of computing. As such, there are just a few basic questions I want to answer with this review. If you have an old iPad, what’s new and better about this one? And if you don’t have an iPad, is this the one to buy?

What’s new

To make that evaluation, let’s recap what’s new about the ninth-gen iPad. The processor powering it is Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, which first appeared in inside the iPhone 11 from 2019. It’s one year newer than the A12, which powered last year’s iPad, and it’s faster and more efficient than its predecessor. Naturally, it’s slower than the newer chips powering the iPad Air and the just-updated iPad mini, but it still delivers more than enough horsepower for a $330 tablet.

I didn't experience any noticeable slowdowns, whether I was multitasking between Slack, writing this review in Google Docs, juggling various tabs in Safari or playing Apple Arcade games. Since this iPad has less RAM than the iPad Pro I use as my daily driver, I noticed that apps needed to refresh their content more frequently when I was heavily multitasking. But everything was quick to load up and I was back on my way again in no time.

For most people’s “standard iPad” use cases — browsing the web, editing photos, playing games, watching movies, messaging, drawing or taking notes with the Apple Pencil, writing emails or working on documents with the Smart Keyboard folio — the A13 Bionic is more than powerful enough. In fact, in our review of last year’s iPad, we found the device capable of easily transcoding and exporting 4K video into 1080p clips. It wasn’t as fast as the iPad Pro, but it was still faster than we anticipated. The A13 will only help if you’re the kind of person who likes to push their hardware.

Another new thing about the 2021 iPad is you get double the storage for the same amount of money. That means the $329 iPad has 64GB of storage this year, while the $479 comes with a healthy 256GB. As usual, you can also add LTE connectivity to these devices for an additional $130. (I reviewed the 256GB model with LTE, which costs $609.) This change is easy to evaluate: More storage is better, and it was sorely needed, particularly on the base model. 64GB should be enough for most people, but if you want to load up the iPad with games and save a lot of movies and photos to local storage, spring for the 256GB model.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The iPad’s display is essentially unchanged from the prior two models. It’s a 10.2-inch touchscreen with 2,160-by-1,620 pixel resolution. There is one change to the screen, though: It has Apple’s True Tone technology for the first time, which automatically adjusts the color temperature based on the ambient light in the room around you. Apple has offered this feature on more expensive iPads and all of its iPhones for years now, so it’s nice to see it finally in use at the lower end.

The display otherwise looks good whether you’re watching videos, playing games or browsing the web. It’s not nearly as good as the screens on the other iPads that Apple sells, though. I’m used to my iPad Pro screen, which is laminated directly to the front glass and has a 120Hz refresh rate with support for the wide P3 color gamut. But, after just sitting down and using the new iPad, I mostly didn’t think about these things. For a $330 device, it’s perfectly usable; pleasant, even. I did notice the “air gap” on the new iPad that comes from not having its display bonded to the glass, but I can accept that as a cost-cutting measure.

Finally, Apple put a new front-facing camera on the new iPad. In a somewhat surprising move, it’s the same one used on the iPad Pro (minus all the depth sensors and extra hardware needed for Face ID). It’s also identical to the one inside the new iPad mini. It’s a 12-megapixel shooter with an extremely wide field of view. That wide angle enables a feature Apple calls “Center Stage.” When you’re on a FaceTime call, the camera automatically crops in around you, rather than show the full 122-degree field of view. But since the camera has all that space to work with, it can follow you as you move around the frame. It’s an interesting feature, though usually I’m stationary during video calls. It does do a decent job of making up for the fact that the iPad’s front camera is off-center when you’re using the iPad in landscape mode, though.

I imagine Center Stage is something that will feel handy once you start to use it regularly, and I’m generally glad to see that Apple seems to have recognized that the iPad needed a better front camera. The 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera on older iPads just doesn’t cut it in this current moment where we're all constantly on video calls.

What’s old

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Everything else about the new iPad remains unchanged. It’s the same size and weight as the last two models and features the same size screen. It has the same sizable bezels, 8-megapixel back camera, Lightning port for charging (not USB-C) and a home button with Touch ID built in. It works with the first-generation Apple Pencil (sold separately for $99), which Apple has offered since late 2015, plus the Smart Keyboard folio ($159) that Apple built for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro back in 2017. There are still two speakers at the bottom when you’re holding it in portrait orientation, which means audio still comes at you from one off-center spot when you’re watching a video. But, there’s a headphone jack!

This means it’s not the most exciting device for someone like me, but there are otherwise a lot of benefits to Apple keeping things unchanged. For one, someone replacing an iPad they bought a few years ago will be able to use the same chargers and accessories as before — something that’s particularly important for education programs and other institutions that bought iPads in bulk.

As always, Apple says the iPad’s battery lasts for 10 hours of browsing the web or watching videos over WiFi. I got a little less than that when using the iPad and its keyboard for a full day of work, but the iPad far surpassed that estimate when I was watching videos. I got closer to 14 hours before the battery finally kicked it. Naturally, you’ll enjoy less runtime when doing more intensive tasks like gaming.

Living with iPadOS 15

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Despite the ho-hum design, the user experience felt fresh, thanks largely to iPadOS 15. I’ve been using the updated software in beta since the summer, and I’m glad to say that the final release is solid. Apple addressed the biggest problems I had with iPadOS 15 (some illogical design changes to Safari), and many of the changes make the iPad experience significantly better.

Quick Notes is a great feature for Apple Pencil users and makes the iPad a much better note-taking device. Obviously, it’s handy to be able to quickly summon a new space to scribble in, but the fact that Notes recognizes when you’re on a website or specific Map location and lets you save them to the note is particularly useful.

Now that Safari has restored a traditional tab view instead of the cramped compact view from iPadOS 15 betas, I can appreciate some of the other changes this year to the browser. Tab Groups are a convenient way to organize things when you want to separate out what you’re browsing by category; I often use it to keep research for stories all in one place. And being able to find links that were shared with me through the Messages app is handy, too.

The variety of new multitasking gestures took a little getting used to, but they make it easier to set up various spaces with the right combination of apps for what you’re trying to do. The iPad’s 10.2-inch screen is almost too small for doing much in multitasking mode, but it’s still useful to have a bunch of my most-used apps a swipe aways in Slide Over. And the new “shelf” that appears when you launch an app to show you other spaces the app is running in is another smart addition I’ve been using a lot.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Other new changes are taking me longer to set up the way I’d like. The notification summary feature, which lets you set up a time for notifications from specific apps to be delivered, is a clever idea in theory. But I haven’t yet figured out which apps I want to relegate to the summary and which ones I'd rather show up immediately. Similarly, the new Focus features let you set up multiple do not disturb scenarios, each of which can have its own schedule, apps or people allowed or blocked and home screens that are hidden or active. It’s extremely flexible, but I haven’t yet figured out how to make the most of it.

The learning curve aside, iPadOS 15 is a solid release, and it runs well on the new iPad. If you buy this tablet now, it should receive similar updates for years to come, which will go a long way toward keeping it fresh even though it was never a cutting-edge device.

Wrap-up

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Coming from the iPad Pro, I was pleasantly surprised at how capable the new iPad is. I’ve gotten used to using the Magic Keyboard and its trackpad for work, so I found the new iPad’s $159 Smart Keyboard folio lacking. Between that and the smaller screen, it’s not my first choice for tasks that require me to keep an eye on multiple things simultaneously.

But it was a great device for drafting this review plus all the “iPad things” I want to do when I’m not working. I found myself using the iPad handheld, with its keyboard tucked away, more often than I expected. Being able to quickly flip back the keyboard t and use the iPad with two hands and then switch to typing when I wanted to bang out an email or reply to a message became a pretty common couch workflow.

Overall, I could do just about everything I can with my iPad Pro on the new iPad. There are a few slight changes and compromises here — but for the consumers Apple is targeting, those things might be moot. The iPad remains a very good tablet at a fair price. If you want something more modern, I don’t blame you, and would instead point you toward the iPad Air, which hits a sweet spot of performance, features and price.

If you’ve bought an iPad in the last two years, there’s no need to upgrade — but people with one older than the fall 2019 iPad will find some significant improvements here. If you’ve never bought one before, the new iPad delivers a surprisingly deep experience, despite its aging design.

iPad mini review (2021): The best small tablet gets a facelift

It’s almost comical how stagnant the iPad mini has been in recent years. The 2019 version sported an upgraded processor and a slightly nicer display, but essentially looked the same as the tablet that debuted in 2012 (which is dated, to say the least). That hasn’t stopped the iPad mini from gaining a loyal following though, and we even called 2019’s mini our favorite small tablet.

Now it appears that Apple’s giving the tablet the love that its devotees have been asking for. The 6th-generation iPad mini is really more of an iPad-Air mini with its new “all-screen” Liquid Retina design, TouchID-capable top button, second-generation Apple Pencil support and USB-C charging. It’s the most significant update the mini has received in years, and Apple’s hoping you’ll pay extra for it. The 2021 iPad mini starts at $499, $100 more than its predecessor’s starting price, and with that Apple is squashing any notions that “smaller” means “lesser.”

Design and hardware

Many people, myself included, were happy to see the facelift Apple gave the iPad mini. While the old design with the physical Home button isn’t necessarily bad (it’s still good enough for the new 10.2-inch iPad, apparently), it felt boring on the mini after seeing it unchanged for so many years. This year’s iPad mini has what Apple calls an “all-screen” design, which is just different enough from the “edge-to-edge” display that the iPad Pros have to warrant discussion.

I understand why Apple didn’t want to give the mini the same “edge-to-edge” moniker, but it could have come up with something a bit better than “all-screen.” The bezel surrounding the 11-inch iPad Pro’s screen is roughly 0.25-inches thick and that of the iPad mini is only about 1/8th of an inch thicker than that. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s more noticeable when you’re only working with an 8.3-inch display. Also, the previous iPad mini had a 7.9-inch display, so you’re not getting a ton of extra screen real estate on the new model.

That said, I found the bezels to be just the right size. Notably, they helped me get a better grip on the mini when I was using it as an e-reader, and I can only assume many mini owners will do the same. The same could be said for when I was watching YouTube videos while carrying the mini around my apartment — I never accidentally paused the playing video because the bezels gave me enough room to hold the device.

The new mini’s display size and the fact that it’s a Liquid Retina panel are the upgrades here, because the 5th-gen model supported TrueTone, 500 nits of brightness and the P3 color range as well. This year’s mini has a 2266 x 1488 resolution, 326ppi panel, which is only slightly higher than the old model’s 2048 x 1536 resolution, 326ppi screen. If you upgrade from the 2019 mini, you may not notice a huge difference in quality, but the rounded-rectangle shape of the new mini’s display and the revamped design overall gives it a fresh feel.

Otherwise, I felt like I had a small version of the iPad Air the entire time I was using the mini. Their designs are very similar, save for the location of certain buttons. The iPad mini now has flat edges with a TouchID-capable power button and volume adjusters at the top and a USB-C port at the bottom. Notably, its edges lack a headphone jack and that may be a key factor for current iPad mini owners in their decision to upgrade or not. It’s made of 100-percent recycled aluminum, weighs less than one pound and measures 6.3mm thick — just as portable as the last model, but with a much-needed modern aesthetic.

TouchID is nothing different from older iOS devices, although it may take you a tad longer to set up because of how narrow the fingerprint-sensitive button is. It’s exciting that Apple finally brought USB-C to yet another iPad as it makes charging more efficient but it also continues to feed us poor saps who yearn for a USB-C iPhone sometime in our lifetimes. Also, the new design allows the second-generation Apple Pencil to neatly and magnetically stick to the right edge of the tablet.

In use

I’ve been keeping the iPad mini by my side at all times for the past week or so, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy that was thanks to its size. Every iPad is portable, but some are certainly more portable than others. I have a 2020 11-inch iPad Pro and, while it could come with me almost anywhere, I mostly use it in my home as a secondary device or as my main driver when I’m traveling. The iPad mini, on the other hand, could fit into almost any bag I own without hassle, providing a much-needed larger screen for activities like reading, watching videos and FaceTime calls. I didn’t find it super difficult to use my thumbs to type on the mini, treating it almost like a super-wide iPhone, but I also wouldn’t call it a comfortable experience.

Speaking of FaceTime, the iPad mini comes equipped with the new 12MP ultra wide front camera that supports Center Stage, the feature that automatically pans and zooms to keep you in frame during video calls. Each time I used FaceTime, I could move around my (admittedly small) kitchen and the mini’s camera followed me so my family could always see most of my face. There’s a limit, of course — I often stepped out of the camera’s field of view, but it followed me until I was nearly out of the camera’s field of view. This is a handy feature for anyone like me who’s often multitasking while catching up with loved ones over FaceTime.

The rear camera is also better than that on the previous mini, but I wouldn’t consider it a huge selling point. It’s a 12MP wide camera with an f/1.8 aperture, 5x digital zoom, Quad-LED TrueTone flash and Smart HDR 3 support. It can also shoot 4K 60 fps videos and shoot Slo-Mo videos at up to 1080p 240 fps. We’ve all seen a tablet photographer in the wild, but considering the shooters on our phones are far-and-away more capable than those on tablets, most people turn to the smallest screen in their pockets for photography. The pictures of my fiancé and my cat that I took with the mini were just fine, but I found myself more inclined to use the rear camera as a document scanner with Evernote’s Scannable app. And even in that case, was it better than using my iPhone? Not necessarily, just more convenient when I was using the iPad mini as my default device.

I may not have been taking a ton of photos with the iPad mini, but I use it for almost everything else that I normally turned to my iPhone for. The A15 Bionic chip inside makes the mini feel zippy, and it handled everything that I threw at it well. I spent most of the time watching YouTube and Netflix videos, answering messages in Gmail and Slack, taking notes in Evernote, saving wedding inspo in Pinterest, browsing e-cookbooks in the Kindle app and doodling in Procreate and GoodNotes. The iPad mini didn’t falter once and, in comparison to my iPhone, the tablet’s larger screen made it a much better work companion when I was trying to be productive on the couch. The mini smoothly ran games like Temple Run 2, Crossy Road and High Rise as well, even if my attempts at beating those games were anything but.

The 2021 iPad mini next to Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite.
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

While it didn’t affect the performance of the iPad mini I had, the storage capacity on the model you choose may have a significant impact on how you use your mini in the future. The tablet comes in 64GB and 256GB models, with the higher of the two costing $150 more than the other. That’s a significant difference in both capacity and cost, and it follows an unfortunate pattern in the iPad lineup — you’ll find the same pricing structure in the iPad Air configurations. The previous iPad mini had the same minimum storage capacity, so we didn’t even get an upgrade here and that’s a shame.

While I don’t think most people will be using the iPad mini as a laptop replacement, it would have been nice to have a 128GB model just to have an in-between option for those with tighter budgets. I would also hesitate to recommend the 64GB model to anyone that wants to use their iPad mini as the digital file folder for their documents, photos, books, scans and more. Considering iPadOS 15 takes up 7.5GB of space already, those people may quickly eat up most of their internal storage.

With the Apple Pencil

Another area that could eat up storage over time are handwritten notes, scribbles, doodles and other artwork you make with the second-generation Apple Pencil. The previous iPad mini supported the first-gen stylus, but I was thrilled to see the newer Apple Pencil snap on to the side of the mini and line up almost perfectly. The Pencil is almost as tall as the tablet so it truly feels like the two were made for each other.

Since I regularly use the Apple Pencil with my 11-inch iPad Pro, I was not surprised to find that using it with the iPad mini is a similar, yet more constrained, experience. But that’s not a bad thing — I actually think the iPad mini excels at being a digital notebook. It’s portable enough to come with you everywhere you go and it’s much easier to balance in your palm while you jot down notes during a walking meeting. Apple makes it really easy to take notes in iPadOS 15, too, with the Quick Note feature that’s accessible by swiping up from the bottom-right corner of the iPad. It opens a small window on the screen into which you can scribble a quick grocery list or something you don’t want to forget. Those Quick Notes get saved in the Notes app, where you can retrieve and edit them at any time.

Apple’s made the Notes app more robust over the years, so much so that it could be your main note-taking tool. But there’s no shortage of capable apps in which to use the Apple Pencil and I was happy to find that two popular ones, Procreate and GoodNotes, work just as well on the iPad mini as any other iPad. Serious artists will probably want to spring for an iPad with a larger screen because it just gives you more space to play with, both in regular and Split View. But those who are visual thinkers, those who prefer to sketch out their thoughts, will probably find the mini’s screen to be sufficient. For example, I’m in the early stages of planning a wedding and I took the iPad mini with me on a few venue tours. Not only was it much less ostentatious to take around than my larger iPad, but I could also snap quick photos with it, bring those images into Procreate, pull out colors I liked in venue fixtures and decorations and experiment with them in concept sketches.

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Battery life

One thing that hasn’t changed about the iPad mini is its estimated battery life. Just like the 2019 model, Apple estimates the slab should get up to 10 hours of battery life, and again, that’s a bit of a lowball. With how much I was using the device, I essentially had to charge it every other day. The mini lasted an entire afternoon and evening filled with doodling, video streaming, emailing, light gaming and more (I used it instead of my phone for almost every task), and I was able to use it most of the next day before the battery life dropped to around 10 percent. I also ran a makeshift battery test on it, playing a video clip on repeat until the tablet died, and the mini lasted just about 12 hours.

Unlike the previous mini, the new model uses a USB-C port for charging and it’s about time. It’s good to see Apple transitioning the iPad family to USB-C, even if most people looking to buy an iPad mini probably already have a few Lightning cables strewn around their home. The mini also comes with Apple’s 20W USB-C charger, which should help power-up the device quickly.

Wrap up

The iPad mini’s spec sheet has changed quite a bit, but the appeal of the tablet remains the same. It looks and feels different thanks to the redesign and the handful of new features Apple brought to it. Still, the iPad mini remains one of Apple’s most niche devices. But niche doesn’t mean less-than — with the iPad mini so similar to the iPad Air, you won’t be sacrificing much by choosing it. However, I don’t think most people will take a look at all the new perks — things like a camera with Center Stage, USB-C charging and even the A15 Bionic chip — and be persuaded to choose the iPad mini over any other Apple tablet.

What it will come down to, as always, is size. The iPad mini remains the best small tablet out there and you probably already know if an 8-inch tablet has a place in your life. It either solves a specific problem, or it doesn’t — and if you fall into the second category, you probably prefer bigger screens anyway.

But if you updated in 2019 to the 5th-generation iPad mini, the decision to upgrade now is not entirely cut-and-dry and that’s mostly due to cost. If the 6th-generation iPad mini had the same $399 starting price as the previous model, it would be a no-brainer upgrade. Sure, that extra $100 does get you a lot, but if your 2019 iPad mini is still going strong, the higher price of the 2021 model may be too great. But for those who have a hole in their lives where a small tablet could fit, you (still) can’t get better than the iPad mini.

Apple's new iPad mini is already discounted by up to $50

Pre-orders have only just opened for Apple's latest lineup of products, but you can already find some discounts on the hardware. Along with a price cut on the base iPad, Walmart is offering some savings on the new iPad mini. The 64GB WiFi-only option is $40 off at $459, while the retailer has dropped the price of the 256GB variant by $50 to $599. Walmart isn't offering any price reductions on the 5G iPad mini, though — the 64GB version costs $649.

Buy iPad mini (64GB) at Walmart - $459Buy iPad mini (64GB) at Walmart - $599

It's the first new iPad mini in two and a half years, and Apple has given the tablet a major overhaul. It runs on the A15 Bionic chip (the same SoC as in iPhone 13), with Apple promising a big jump in performance compared with the fifth-gen iPad mini. The 8.3-inch screen runs closer to the edge of the device, and there's no more physical home button. The Touch ID sensor is now built into the power button.

The volume buttons are now at the top to make space for an Apple Pencil 2 that you can attach magnetically to the side. The Lightning port is a thing of the past on iPad mini, with Apple switching to a USB-C port. The cameras have been upgraded, and there's support for Apple's Center Stage feature, which keeps you in the center of the frame during video calls. Walmart says it will ship the tablet by September 24th if you pre-order now.

Apple's 2021 iPad is already $30 off at Walmart

One of the devices Apple revealed during its latest hardware event is an updated 10.2-inch iPad with prices that start at $329. You can get the base tablet for $30 less than that, though, if you pre-order from Walmart where it's currently listed for $299. The listing says the tablet will begin shipping on September 28th, a few days later than its official release date of September 24th. But if you don't mind waiting a bit to get your purchase, you can get the 64GB WiFi version of the 2021 10.2-inch iPad in either Silver or Space Gray from the retail giant's website. 

Buy Apple 10.2-inch iPad (2021) Wi-Fi 64GB at Walmart - $299

Apple focused on updating the base iPad's internals instead of overhauling its design. It's now powered by an A13 Bionic chip, which also powers the iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro and the Pro Max. The tech giant says it has a 20 percent faster overall performance compared to the previous generation. In addition, the new iPad is equipped with a new 12-megapixel ultra wide, front-facing camera that has a 122-degree field-of-view, which sounds especially useful for video meetings and online classes. Even better? It supports Apple's Center Stage feature, which gives it the capability to detect people and keep you in the frame as you move around. Center Stage works with Facetime, as well as Zoom.

Like Apple's other products, the new base iPad has Retina display. It will ship with iPadOS 15, which features intuitive multitasking, a Translate app and a Live Text function that can detect text in photos. The OS will also add a Focus feature that will let you filter notifications. In case 64GB isn't enough for you, Apple will also sell a 256GB version, but that's not available at a discount right now.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

How to pre-order the 'new' iPad and iPad mini

Apple kicked off its hardware event today by revealing two updated iPads that improve upon existing models. The base, 10.2-inch iPad may look the same as the previous version, but it packs better performance and a more advanced camera. The new iPad mini, on the other hand, has been completely redesigned to look like a smaller iPad Pro. Here's how you can pre-order both the new 10.2-inch iPad and the new iPad mini.

10.2-inch iPad

Apple

The updated 10.2-inch iPad is available to pre-order today from Apple starting at $329 and will be widely available on September 24.

Buy iPad at Apple starting at $329

Similarly to last year, Apple focused on updating the internals of this iPad rather than its design. Inside is a A13 Bionic chipset with neural engine, which the company claims will provide 20 percent better performance than the previous tablet. The other major update is the new 12MP ultra wide, front-facing camera that supports Apple's Center Stage feature. This allows the camera to automatically pan and zoom to keep you in focus during video calls even as you move around. Apple debuted this feature on the latest iPad Pros and now even those opting for the most budget-friendly iPad can get that advanced feature.

The base iPad still has 10.2-inch Retina display but it now supports TrueTone, which will make it easier on the eyes. It still has a physical Home button on its bottom edge and it still supports the first-generation Apple Pencil for those that want to doodle and take notes with the tablet. Notably, the base configuration comes with double the storage than the previous model — 64GB instead of 32GB — which was a much-needed update.

iPad mini

Apple

The updated iPad mini is available to pre-order today from Apple starting at $499 and will be widely available on September 24.

Buy iPad mini at Apple starting at $499

Apple needed to give the iPad mini some love. The company's smallest tablet received a minor update two years ago, and hadn't received a big update for three years before that. So the 2021 iPad mini represents the biggest change for the compact tablet in roughly five years, and Apple essentially made it look like a tiny version of its iPad Pros. It has an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display that extends almost edge-to-edge, and that means the physical Home button is gone. Apple move its TouchID technology to the top button on this tablet, which makes it similar to the iPad Air. It also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil and the accessory can magnetically attach to the mini's side, just as it does with the iPad Pros.

The new iPad mini also has the 12MP ultra wide, front-facing camera found on the base iPad, which means Center Stage calls will be available on this device, too. The rear camera is a new 12MP shooter with Focus Pixels, True Tone flash and the ability to take Smart HDR photos.

Inside the iPad mini is the A15 Bionic chip, which has a six-core CPU and a five-core GPU, and Apple promises 40 percent better performance out of this slab than the previous version. It also has the neural engine which makes for more efficient machine-learning experiences. It'll come in WiFi and WiFi + Cellular versions and it now supports WiFi 6 and 5G connectivity. Another small yet important change is in the iPad mini's charging method — gone is the old Lightning port, as it's been replaced with a USB-C port for faster, more efficient charging.

Apple's sixth-gen iPad mini gets USB-C and an all-screen design

After two and a half years without a refresh, Apple is at long last revamping the iPad mini. The 8.3-inch all-screen device has slimmer bezels and rounded corners, and it leaves no space for a physical Home button. As with last year's iPad Air, you'll now find the Touch ID sensor in the power button. The Lightning port is gone too, with a USB-C port taking its place.

The screen is a liquid retina display with 500 nits of brightness, a P3 wide color gamut, anti-reflective screen coating, True Tone, and full lamination. The iPad Mini now has stereo speakers, so watching video on it could be much better this time around.

Apple has moved the volume buttons to the top of the device, and there's an intriguing reason for that. The latest tablet can accommodate a second-gen Apple Pencil.

Apple

Developing...

Follow all of the news from Apple’s iPhone event right here.

Amazon's Fire and Fire Kids tablets are on sale for up to 40 percent off

Amazon is known for making affordable tablets that get the basics right. As of now, the retailer is offering discounts on a range of its own-brand slates that cut up to 33 percent off its biggest and best devices. You can grab last year's 8-inch Fire HD 8 with 32GB expandable storage for just $60, down from $90. If you want something larger and more powerful, the latest 10-inch Fire HD 10 (also with 32GB storage) is available for $100, $50 off its typical price. You should note that barring the Kids tablets (see below) these are all ad-supported versions of the devices and opting-out of lockscreen adverts comes at a cost.

Buy Fire HD 8 at Amazon - $60Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $100

Buy Fire HD 10 Productivity Bundle at Amazon - $170

If you're looking for an affordable tablet for work, you should check out Amazon's Productivity Bundle, which is currently discounted by $100. With it, you get the Fire HD 10 along with a Bluetooth keyboard and a 12-month subscription to Microsoft 365 for $170. The latter gives you access to Office apps and 1 terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage for up to five devices. Though it's far from a true laptop replacement, Amazon's biggest tablet should be fine for creating and editing Work or Excel documents.

Overall, both the Fire HD 8 and HD 10 are suitable for browsing the web and social media, watching Netflix in HD and accessing Amazon's ecosystem of shopping, music, reading and video streaming services. On the downside, they come with a paltry selection of apps compared to iOS or Android tablets, including a lack of Google services like YouTube. 

Buy Fire 7 Kids Pro at Amazon - $60Buy Fire HD 8 Kids Pro at Amazon - $90

Alongside the regular Fire tablets, Amazon is also offering all-time low deals on some of its Kids range. The cheapest of the lot is the Fire 7 Kids Pro, down to $60 from $100, which makes up for its non-HD screen and lack of USB-C (micro-USB instead) with a bevy of parental controls and age-appropriate web and app content for kids. You get all of those pros, plus HD resolution and USB-C, for $30 more on the Fire HD 8 Kids Pro, which is on sale for $50 off. The last time we saw Amazon's children's tablets drop this low was in July.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

An iPad mini redesign 'should be a go' for this fall

You might not have to wait much longer for an (arguably overdue) iPad mini redesign. As 9to5Maclearned, Bloomberg's historically accurate Mark Gurman claimed in his latest "Power On" newsletter that the revamped small tablet "should be a go" for a fall launch. While Gurman didn't share more details of the design, he previously claimed Apple would drop the home button and offer slimmed bezels — it could effectively be a shrunken iPad Air.

This will be the "biggest redesign" for the iPad mini since the first model arrived in 2012, Gurman added.

The reporter maintained that Apple is still developing a "larger, redesigned" replacement for the 27-inch iMac that would include a future generation of Apple Silicon, although there weren't more details.

The iPad mini has seen few outward changes since its launch. Even the base iPad has gone through more changes over the same period. In that light, Apple might not have much choice — this is as much about catching up with modern design as it is revitalizing sales.