With most of our tech recommendations, the latest and greatest gadget is not the best value for most people. But with Apple products, the latest gadget is likely replacing an older one, often at a similar price. Today, Apple announced a handful of product updates encompassing iPad Pros, iMacs, software, and one all-new product, AirTags. Those announcements have set us to work reviewing our advice in our guides to the best pro tablets, the best all-in-one computer, the best Bluetooth trackers, the best iPad Pro cases, and the best iPad Pro keyboard cases. If you’re considering a purchase in one of those categories, you may want to hold off, or at least read our staff’s initial reactions before deciding to click a buy button. Although there are some enticing new options, our team Slack channel was probably more excited for the trailer to season 2 of Ted Lasso than for most of the updates. Here’s what to know (and what we think).
A likely new pick for the best Bluetooth trackers
Most Apple announcements are about updates to existing products, but today the company revealed the new AirTag Bluetooth tracker. Various generations of the Tile tracker have dominated our guide to the best Bluetooth trackers for over five years, but AirTags may change that—not because we think AirTags are sure to be that much better, but because we think they will be more common and thus more useful. Bluetooth trackers work in two different ways to help you find your stuff. First, you can make them chime from your phone when you’re within a couple hundred feet and sometimes have the app guide you to them; while range and perks vary, there aren’t that many differences in that basic function across tracker offerings. The second function is that if any other person with the same app passes by your lost tracker, you get an alert and a map location indicating where your stuff turned up. (The other person has no idea when this happens, and you don’t get any info about them, either.) So the Bluetooth tracker network with the most users has a big advantage when it comes to finding stuff lost out in the world.
Although Tile has long been the biggest name in the business, Apple’s AirTag will launch with a big advantage because it uses the Find My app that millions of iPhones already have for finding Apple gadgets or sharing location info with family and friends. Senior staff writer Nick Guy, who will be testing the AirTag and updating our guide soon, said, “I expect AirTags to blow Tile out of the water. Obviously, they won’t be a good pick for Android users, but it’s going to be difficult to recommend anything else but AirTags for people who use iPhones.”
You can order AirTags for $30 each, or $100 for a four-pack, starting on April 23, and they will be available April 30.
A hard decision about all-in-one computers
Our guide to the best all-in-one computers always includes an iMac option for people who want an Apple desktop. We expect to change out the currently recommended iMac for the new version when it becomes available in late May, and we wouldn’t recommend the previous generation in the meantime. Last year, Apple announced that all of its new computers would start using its new in-house processors (the first of which is called the M1), switching away from the familiar Intel chips. The Mac mini and MacBook Air have already made the switch. Today’s iMac is not only moving to the new processors but also offering a total redesign. The new 24-inch display should look gorgeous in person, and the new iMac also promises improvements to the camera, mic, and speakers, as well as the addition of Touch ID on the new keyboard. A new, super-thin design and color options add a nice aesthetic. Senior staff writer Andrew Cunningham, who writes our guide to all-in-ones and will test the new iMac, had some strong words about the look of the big blank “chin” under the screen, though.
Andrew isn’t sure yet if the new computers are a great value, which is not atypical for Apple. “Even with the screen and processor, $1,300 is a lot of money for a desktop with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of storage. For basic computing or a tighter budget, a Mac mini and a display—or a Windows all-in-one PC—make more sense. And for people who want something more high-end, I’d normally recommend the small step up to a 27-inch iMac, but Apple hasn’t announced one yet.” After Andrew tests the new machines, we’ll decide what configurations of memory, storage, and any other optional upgrades—if any—are worth the investment.
You can order the new iMac starting April 30, and it will be available in late May.
Possibly shuffling our favorite pro tablets
Andrew Cunningham will also be testing the newest iPad Pros for our guide to the best pro tablets, and we expect to update our recommendations once the new models are available in late May. While basic iPads and cheap Android tablets are good for browsing the web, streaming videos, messaging, and playing casual games, we consider pro tablets to be the more expensive, more powerful versions aimed at making things and getting work done. On the Windows side, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 has lost ground to our forthcoming pick, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable. And for people who prefer Apple devices or do a lot of creative work, we’ve been recommending the iPad Air, which has offered nearly all the benefits of an iPad Pro at a much lower price. It’s possible that the new iPad Pro will go back to being our top recommendation, though. In addition to using Apple’s new faster and more power-efficient M1 processor, the revamped Pros add tricks such as 5G cellular connections and a faster, more versatile Thunderbolt port. The 12.9-inch version also uses Apple’s XDR display and promises resolution, color, and contrast as good as that of very expensive monitors.
After watching the announcement, Andrew said, “We’ll need to see how noticeable the M1’s performance increases are when we’re doing day-to-day tasks. The chip in the iPad Air 4 is already plenty fast, and it has the Pro’s most important features—USB-C, Apple Pencil support, and the Smart Connector. For us to recommend the new 11-inch iPad Pro instead, the processor and screen would have to be worth the extra $150. I imagine the new 12.9-inch version will still be an upgrade pick for people who need the best of the best; it’s expensive now, but it was expensive before.”
With every new version of an Apple device, we also update our various guides to cases and accessories. The new 11-inch iPad is the same shape and size as the old one, so all the same cases should work. But the 12.9-inch iPad is, frustratingly, 0.5 mm thicker. We’re hoping that all the same cases will work on that model, but we’ve seen minor changes like this throw off case fit in the past, so we’ll double-check and update our guides to iPad Pro cases and iPad Pro keyboard cases as soon as we know.
You can order the new iPads starting on April 30, and they will be available in late May.
What we’re not that interested in
When Apple does a streaming event, as it did today, lots of smaller announcements often accompany the big ones. In addition to revealing the higher-profile items, the company also announced a purple version of the current iPhone (which a lot of our staff liked the look of), revamped the default (and crummy) Podcast app, and made some improvements to the Apple credit card. A new Apple TV 4K is available, as well, with minor improvements. But in our guide to the best media streamers, we recommend the Google Chromecast with Google TV, and we’ll likely continue to do so—not because the Apple TV is bad, but because “it costs far more than the competition, it’s not as successful as Google TV at integrating content across platforms, and the touchpad on the remote control is almost universally derided.” Though the new Apple TV includes a redesigned remote and a way to calibrate your TV with an iPhone, its price is still high, and the content situation hasn’t changed. But we really do like that it has Ted Lasso.