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New Apple iPad hands-on: The same, but different

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Apple’s new iPad looks the same as last year’s model, but packs a lot more power.

Apple’s (AAPL) newest iPad is here and it’s, well, a lot like the last one. The iPad 9.7-inch, which the tech giant unveiled at a big event at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago is being touted for its usefulness to students and schools, though it’ll also be available for you and me for $329 starting later this week. Students can get the slate for $299.

The new iPad replaces last year’s model, which also started at $329. It is upgraded inside, but retains the same body as its predecessor.

Those internal changes are nothing to sneeze at, though. The iPad now gets the same A10 Fusion chip as the iPad Pro 9.7-inch and iPad Pro 12.3-inch, which means it packs more than enough power for your everyday tasks. Those capabilities come in handy for tasks like augmented reality and coding, both of which I demoed following Apple’s keynote.

The new iPad is available in silver, gold and space gray.

The iPad still feels incredibly light and apps were buttery smooth. Of course, that’s to be expected with the A10 Fusion processor. It’s also a solid selling point for the tablet, which Apple is positioning as a more powerful and capable alternative to Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromebooks, which now hold a 60% market share in the education technology market, according to Futuresource Consulting.

Apple also added support for its Apple Pencil stylus to the new iPad, a first for a non-Pro model. The Pencil works just as well as it does on the slate as it does on the existing iPad Pro, and offers the same tilt functionality and pressure sensing capabilities.

The stylus, which costs $99, or $89 for students, is certainly a powerful tool, but I can’t help but wonder how many students will lose their Pencils during the course of the school year.

Outside of its processor and stylus support, the iPad features a 9.7-inch Retina display, 8-megapixel rear camera and HD FaceTime camera up front. It’s certainly an impressive competitor to Google’s Chromebooks, but there’s one catch when it comes to the slate: it doesn’t include a keyboard.

For many schools that won’t be a dealbreaker, especially since the iPad, and its one million apps, offer more functionality than most Chromebooks. But if your pupils are going to be typing a lot, the lack of a keyboard could be off putting.

The new iPad is available for pre-order today and will hit store shelves later this week.

Stay tuned for our full review.

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