iPad 9 (2021) artist review

The main update in the Apple iPad 9 over the previous generation is the use of the A13 Bionic chip (used in the iPhone 11), the increase in base storage from 32GB to 64GB and the front camera being an ultra wide that supports the Centre Stage feature where the camera will kinda follow you around. The increase is storage is probably the most significant upgrade.

If you are using any of the iPads that support the Apple Pencil, there's absolutely no reason to upgrade. I don't recommend upgrading even if you're using the 9.7-inch iPad 6 (2018) with just 2GB of RAM. Because this new iPad only has 3GB of RAM. I did not review the iPad 8 because it was such a minor update, and I couldn't even remember I reviewed the iPad 7.

Prices of the iPad with 64GB and 256GB of storages are US $329 and $479 respectively. Apple Pencil is another $99.

Just to give you the bottomline upfront, if you don't already have an iPad, then yes it's a good tablet to consider because it has fantastic drawing experience despite its underwhelming specifications (3GB RAM and 64GB storage). That's all thanks to the amazing performance of the Apple Pencil.


The other selling point is there is a huge variety of high quality drawing and graphic design apps available from the Apple App Store and they all run surprisingly smooth even with the limited specifications. Kudos to the app developers.


This is the iconic design that has been around for a long time. The bezels are quite thick especially the top and bottom but they are quite functional as they give you the space to place your palm on the display without blocking too much of your view. The display is 10.2-inch and supports a resolution of 2160 x 1620 pixels.

Colours look great and brightness is up to 500 nits. This is a bright and vibrant display. Viewing angles are good with minimal colour shift. This is a good IPS LCD panel that Apple's using here.


Pixel density is 265 PPI. All the visuals are sharp with no noticeable pixelation. User interface elements such as icons, buttons and text are large, and more comfortable to see compared to the iPad mini.


There's the True Tone feature which takes into account the ambient lighting to make the white look like paper white and I find that really pleasing to the eye.


There's still the home button which has a finger print sensor. Touch ID unlock is almost instant.


The only two speakers are located at the bottom together with the lightning port. Audio quality is good but since stereo effect is not that great since the speakers are close together.


This iPad supports the first generation of Apple Pencil which charges via the lightning port on the iPad. There also a lightning adapter included should you want to charge the Apple Pencil with the cable.


The display is quite reflective and doesn't have the anti-reflective coating found on the more expensive iPads.


If you're deciding between the iPad mini or this iPad, the main differentiating factor is portability. The iPad mini is just 293g while the iPad is 487g before you add a case. The limitation of the iPad mini is the size. If you rest your palm on the iPad mini, you hand will block half the display. If you don't rest your palm, then it's more challenging to control the Apple Pencil. So the ultimate question is do you value portability more or the comfort of drawing. That and the UI elements and text on the iPad mini are too small for my personal preference.


487g is actually a reasonable weight for a tablet this size. I am however unable to hold this tablet with just one hand for long periods of time while drawing though. When watching Youtube videos, I have to use two hands. The iPad mini is easily a one-hand tablet.


The display area is about the same size as an A5-sized sketchbook.


When drawing, I usually have the tablet on the table or on my Parblo PR100 stand.

Apple Pencil


The Apple Pencil is the best stylus ever made for portable tablets. The Apple Pencil is a very sensitive and accurate stylus that supports tilt and pressure sensitivity.

Initial activation force of the Apple Pencil is really low. As long as the pen tip is touching the display, you can draw a line even if you don't apply any pressure. Drawing smooth tapered strokes is only possible with a stylus that has such a low initial activation force.

The Apple Pencil is sold separately for US $99.

Design of the Apple Pencil is cylindrical so make sure it doesn't roll off the table. The old one that I used to have has rolled off the table numerous times which resulted in the pen tip being chipped off, or the back cap having cracks.


I've lost the back cap too.


There's one extra replacement tip included. Additional replacement pen tips can be purchased from Apple for US $20 for four pieces. These pen tips can last quite for a long time. Even if they wear off faster on a matte screen protector, you can replace them easily and affordably.

By the way, I no longer use any matte screen protectors for my tablets because I can't stand the white "haze" created by the anti-glare. If you want to use a matte screen protector, I recommend SuperShieldz which you can buy from Amazon because it's cheap and good. Don't buy overpriced screen protectors.


The iPad display is not laminated so there will be a gap between the pen tip and the line beneath. That gap is not that big though and not really noticeable when drawing. There's no parallax or misalignment.


The other gap you may see is when drawing is due to latency. This refresh rate of the display is 60hz. When drawing fast, you may see the line trying to catch up with the pen tip. But again, when drawing under normal circumstances, that gap is not really noticeable.


Apple Pencil has excellent note taking performance and is able to capture my handwriting accurately.

Drawing performance


Drawing performance from the Apple Pencil is excellent, and drawing experience is fantastic.

Navigation such as zoom, pan and rotate is smooth and responsive. There's no lag when drawing even when dealing with large canvas and resolution. That's impressive considering the paltry amount 3GB of RAM.


Tilt sensitivity works great too. You can vary the thickness of the broad strokes by varying the angle you hold the Apple Pencil.


I was able to get the lines to come out exactly the way I expect. Drawing performance is consistent and predictable. You can definitely use this to create professional art.

Below's a comparison table with other tablets as to the number of layers you can get with an A4 300DPI canvas in Procreate:

Model RAM No of layers
iPad 9 (2021) 3GB 26
iPad mini 6 (2021) 4GB 26
iPad Air 3 (2019) 3GB 26 (19 before update)
iPad Air 4 (2020) 4GB 57 (19 before update)
iPad mini 5 (2019) 3GB 19
iPad Pro 2018 4GB 57
iPad Pro 2020 6GB 73 (56 before update)
iPad Pro 2021 8GB and 16GB 92 (26 before update)

Battery life

You can get around 8 hours of battery life with high brightness settings. That's quite good.

How much storage do you need?

The actual storage you get with the 64GB model is actually 46.3GB.

64GB storage is actually 59.3GB and iPadOS takes 13GB so you're left with less than 47GB before you install any apps. This is actually a huge step up compared to the earlier iPads that shipped with just 32GB storage which leaves you with less than 20GB effectively.

If you're someone who draws daily (look at your current workflow), then it's probably better to upgrade to 256GB of storage but that will cost an extra US $150. The 256GB model cost US $479. The upgrade is expensive that's for sure since it's almost half the price of the iPad itself.

If you're someone who draws occasionally, perhaps 64GB is sufficient. You can transfer your files out to external storage or cloud storage when you run out of storage.

Conclusion

The cheapest iPad from Apple may not have the better specifications and features the more expensive iPads have, but it's still a decent performer when it comes to drawing. Overall user experience and drawing performance are not affected by the limited 3GB RAM. In short, you can get a fantastic drawing experience with this iPad.

Apple will continue to sell these tablets with 3GB and 4GB RAM for a long time so they are going to be supported via iPadOS for a long time. Build quality for the iPads is solid so they are quite durable unless you drop the tablet.

The entry level iPad is good for beginners and those with limited budget.

It's already October. If you can wait, you may want to wait until November or December where you may get some discount during the holiday shopping period. I remember seeing good discounts on iPads from Amazon near Nov 26 Black Friday and Christmas period.

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