We went hands-on with the new 8th-gen iPad

Yes, we’ve spent roughly the past 24 hours with the new entry-level iPad. It’s the eighth-gen iPad and replaces the seventh-gen iPad after just over a year on the market. To say we really liked that tablet would be a bit of an understatement. We found it to bring extreme value, called it the best overall choice for a tablet and found that iPadOS continued to bring new experiences with it.

Apple clearly saw our opinion, other media coverage and, of course, the thoughts of consumers, because the eighth-gen model doesn’t break those core features and promises of a $329 iPad. It keeps the same price and a design that we like to call a classic. But to quote Bruce Springsteen, it’s “chrome-wheeled” on the outside and “fuel-injected” on the inside.

Let’s talk about what’s under the hood

It’s all about internal upgrades and a spit shine to the design, which remains the exact same. Powering the eighth-gen iPad is a faster A12 Bionic chip. For clarity, that’s the chip that powered the iPhone XS at launch, so it’s only two years old. The architecture inside should speak to adding speed: a four-core GPU and a six-core CPU. Plus, it adds the Neural Engine, which enables machine learning and enhancements across the board.

We haven’t been able to benchmark the eighth-gen iPad just yet, but let’s talk about real-world use cases for a minute. You get iPadOS 14 out of the box, and we noticed it was able to power on and get through setup, including an iCloud restore, within just a few minutes. Keep in mind it lets you into the system after those few minutes, *but* it’s still downloading apps and other data over the internet. Certainly feels speedier over the seventh-gen model.

In the realm of multitasking, it was zippy fast to pull up the dock and split the screen. And noticeably the speed of opening and playing with multiple apps seemed to be much improved. We were able to get picture-in-picture along with Ulysses (a word processing app) and Mail open all at once with no noticeable lag.

Our eighth-gen iPad started with about 80% power at 10 a.m. EST, and by 5:30 p.m., after heavily sending emails, chatting on Slack, playing games, watching movies and making calls, the battery was still at about 50%. The A12 clearly adds in more efficiency as well.

It’s the classic iPad experience

When it comes to tech, performance and what it empowers you to do is arguably rated much higher. And in this case, that’s where Apple paid the most attention, as evident from the section above. And the rest of the eighth-gen iPad is nearly identical to its predecessor, so much so that if you’re upgrading, you don’t need to rush out and buy new cases. Seems like the value DNA strand is running strong here.

You still get a 10.2-inch Retina Display with True Tone built in. It’s just as sharp and vibrant as on the previous-gen iPad and has bezels all around it. They’re functional, though, as you can hold the device, and there’s still a physical home button with Touch ID built in. The FaceTime HD camera rests up top when held vertically or on the left when horizontal. It works fine for FaceTimes.

There are two speakers on the bottom that act as the bread for the proverbial meat or protein of the Lightning connector in the middle. Yes, this and the iPad Mini are the only iPads left with the Lightning connector. The forthcoming redesigned iPad Air gets USB-C as well as the iPad Pro family. It’s a nice aluminum build all around, and you get your pick of three colors: Space Gray, silver and gold. The rear side features the 8-megapixel main cameras well. If you opt for a Cellular version, the plastic bar on the back will be the antenna. Wi-Fi versions are aluminum all around.

Arguably the most important part of the design, though, is the Smart Connector, which lives on the left side. It’s Apple’s proprietary port for attaching the Smart Keyboard and third-party accessories like the Logitech Combo Touch. Either of these brings new life into the iPad experience, as it gives you a full keyboard. Logitech also throws a trackpad into the mix, and it’s still wonderful here. You just attach the keyboard and the smart connector handles pairing along with providing power.

You still get support for the first-generation Apple Pencil, and it works quite well. We tried out Scribble, the new feature in iPadOS 14 that lets you write in fields like Messages to not interrupt your flow. We tried it in a team meeting while taking notes in Notability and multitasking with Messages on the side. When family pings, we gotta respond.

More to come, but this iPad just packs a ridiculous amount of value

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

We haven’t tested everything we possibly want to on this iPad yet. It’s been roughly 24 hours, but one thing is incredibly clear: The value we love in the seventh-gen iPad is back and kicked up a notch on the eighth-gen model.

We’re going to put this through its paces and provide a full review as well as an update to our best tablets of 2020 article. But if you’re on the fence about whether or not to go for it — as a standard tablet that will be there for entertainment, work and communication — it’s a no-brainer good deal. The A12 Bionic breathes new life into the user experience, but we’re not sure if you need to upgrade from the seventh-gen model immediately unless you’re noticing slowdowns.

If you want an iPad that doesn’t break the bank while also not compromising on usability, the eighth-gen iPad is a clear choice and a steal at $329. Just be sure you’re cool with 32GB of storage for that price and realize it’s $100 more for 128GB. You can lock in your preorder now for the eighth-gen iPad from Amazon or B&H Photo Video, and it will begin shipping on September 18.