When the iPad first launched in 2010, there was only one model available. Now, there are five different iPad models to choose from, each with their own benefits and drawbacks to consider.
So which is the right one for you? What makes the iPad Pro different to the iPad Air? And is the iPad mini still Apple’s most neglected consumer device?
Today we’ll help you pick your next tablet.
Best iPad Overall: iPad Air
The iPad Air is the Apple tablet with the broadest appeal. The iPad Air provides the right balance between value and power to suit most users. It features a 10.5-inch display and is powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip which was first introduced alongside the iPhone XS and XR in late 2018.
That means the Air can handle most tasks you throw at it, including demanding 3D games and resource-intensive digital audio workstations. The 10.5-inch display is large enough to provide clear benefits over a smaller smartphone display, without being so large that it’s unwieldy.
Compatibility with Apple’s Smart Keyboard attachment is a bonus for students or anyone who anticipates using their tablet for writing purposes. There’s also support for the first generation of Apple Pencil which is perfect for handwritten notes, annotating PDFs, or doodling and sketching.
There are some limitations placed on the Air that defies its broad appeal. It uses a dated chassis that first appeared when the original iPad Air was released in 2013. You can unlock it with the slightly outmoded Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and it’s only available in capacities of up to 256GB.
Anyone considering the pricier iPad Pro should first look at the iPad Air. Its A12 Bionic chip doesn’t quite meet the dizzying heights of its more expensive counterparts, but overall the iPad Air provides a tremendous amount of bang for your buck in a neat little package.
Best iPad for Artists: iPad Pro 12.9-inch
By virtue of the larger screen it’s hard not to recommend the iPad Pro 12.9-inch to anyone looking at using their tablet for artistic purposes. Coupled with the second generation Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro is a force to be reckoned with for digital artists who want to sketch, paint, and refine their ideas on a tablet.
The Apple Pencil is an optional addition, but it’s an essential purchase for anyone looking to use a stylus with their tablet. When not in use the magnetic Pencil clips to the iPad’s chassis for safe keeping. If you later decide that you want to use the tablet for heavy typing sessions, the Smart Keyboard attachment can be picked up for this pupose.
But for most other users, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will likely feel a bit big. It’s too large to hold with one hand comfortably, so it’s not ideal for browsing Facebook on the sofa. Its size also makes it a little harder to transport in a small bag. One of the reasons consumers turn to tablets is for their superior portability, so this is worth keeping in mind.
The brains of the operation is Apple’s A12X Bionic processor, which offers 35 percent faster single core performance and 90 percent faster multi-core performance over the A12 Bionic found in the iPad Air. In essence, this means the iPad Pro will be able to handle more intensive processes, though much of the extra grunt is put to use simply driving the larger display.
When you buy an iPad Pro, you’re paying for a flagship user experience. The redesigned iPad Pro features the smallest bezel on any Apple tablet ever and also incorporates Face ID biometrics first seen on the iPhone X.
Best Workhorse iPad: iPad Pro 11-inch
The iPad Pro 11-inch might be able to replace your laptop when coupled with the Smart Keyboard folio. While iOS isn’t as powerful as macOS or Windows, the vast selection of apps available helps make up for it. The iPad Pro costs as much as a mid-range laptop—a price that doesn’t include the optional keyboard or stylus accessories.
While your own experience may vary, I’ve found typing on the Smart Keyboard folio a pleasant experience. Despite sitting almost flat against the desk, the keyboard is comfortable and allows you to type at speed as a comparably-sized MacBook would. This wasn’t the case with Apple’s original 9.7-inch iPad Pro folio, which felt cramped.
Furthermore, the A12X Bionic chip found inside the iPad Pro outshines many laptops in terms of raw power and overall system performance. You’ll have no problems editing 4K videos in iMovie, playing intensive 3D games, or using two apps side-by-side with all that power at your disposal.
Ultimately your decision to choose the 11-inch iPad Pro over the more reasonably priced iPad Air comes down to the user experience. The iPad Pro has a redesigned chassis and tiny bezel. It includes Face ID for unlocking your tablet with a glance, rather than a fingerprint. It also comes in sizes of up to 1TB, compared to the iPad Air’s 256GB.
Best iPad for Tight Budgets: iPad
Apple’s most basic tablet is simply called the iPad. It’s significantly cheaper than an iPad Air and even cheaper than an iPad mini. Powering the 9.7-inch display is Apple’s A10 Fusion chip, an aging piece of silicon first featured in the iPhone 7 way back in 2016.
Despite not being a cutting edge device, the iPad is still a capable tablet for everyday tasks. It will give you no problems browsing the web, checking social media, responding to email, streaming videos and music, and even playing most games.
Due to its limited power and relatively cheap price point, the iPad could be the perfect tablet for kids. It’s also a potentially valuable educational tool that’s suited to use within the classroom, as an eReader or study companion, or for taking notes using an on-screen keyboard. There’s no Smart Keyboard folio for the iPad, but it is compatible with the first generation Pencil and third-party Bluetooth keyboards.
You can buy the iPad with Touch ID in capacities of up to 128GB. It could make the perfect coffee table companion, a kitchen aid for following recipes, or a smart home control hub for Apple HomeKit devices.
Best Portable iPad: iPad mini
In March 2019, Apple finally updated the iPad mini line which hadn’t seen a refresh since 2015. The updated tablets feature the same A12 Bionic chip found in the iPad Air and iPhone XS. That means they’ve got enough power under the hood to chew through most apps and processes.
But the main reason to choose the iPad mini is its form factor. With a 7.9-inch display, the iPad mini can fit into a small handbag or large pocket. Its width and height resemble many hardback books, and so it makes a compelling eReader too.
Apple’s smallest tablet fits inside the same chassis as its predecessor, with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner for unlocking and making purchases. You can get the iPad mini in sizes of up to 256GB, but ultimately the main reason to pick up a Mini is that you want a very small tablet.
Which iPad Should I Buy?
It can be tempting to look at the iPad Pro and convince yourself that you need to splash out on Apple’s finest, but the iPad Air is probably the best tablet on this list. Not only is it compatible with the first generation Pencil and Smart Keyboard folio (previously iPad Pro exclusives), it’s decent value too.
Whatever you buy, make sure you buy with future use in mind because Apple tablets tend to last. I’ve still got a fully functional 2013 iPad Air that, despite its cracked screen, continues to work just fine. Though, by far one of the most important things to consider is how much storage you need.
Don’t make the mistake of buying an iPad with too little storage or you’ll be locked into a battle of constantly creating free space on iOS, and that’s just not fun.