Which iPad is best for you? The choices can be confusing. There are five different iPad models, listed below, and each is available with or without cellular (including 5G on certain models), which costs extra. That’s before we get into storage capacity, colors, and second-hand alternatives.
Our in-depth buying guide explores all the factors that should influence your iPad buying decision, and also reveals whether an updated version of each device is likely to be launched soon.
If you’re thinking of buying an iPad for college or university you might also like to read our Best iPad for students guide.
|Model (launch date)||Key features + specs||Storage + cellular options||Price + buy link|
• Medium 10.2-inch screen
|iPad mini ‘6th gen’
• Small 8.3-inch screen
• Medium 10.9-inch screen
|iPad Pro 11-inch ‘3rd gen’
• Medium 11-inch screen
|iPad Pro 12.9-inch ‘5th gen’
• Huge 12.9-inch screen
Price and value for money
Many buyers simply want the best iPad they can get for their money, but that all depends on budget. The good news is that there is a wide range of iPad prices, from $329 for the 10.2-inch iPad all the way up to $2,399 for the top-end 12.9-inch Pro.
Back in the day our perennial advice was to steer clear of the very cheapest model in the range. But that’s not true any more: the 10.2-inch iPad launched in September 2021 is a much more impressive package than its cut-price predecessors. The device’s low price, combined with some great tech, makes this budget iPad an attractive option.
If you have more to spend, what can you get for your money? The iPad mini justifies a higher price tag with a faster A15 processor (rather than the A13), a 12MP rear-facing camera (as opposed to a 8MP option), and a fully laminated better display, among other things.
The iPad Air starts at $599, meanwhile, but it has some thoroughly impressive features that give even the 2021 iPad Pros a run for their money. It has an M1 processor, 5G support, excellent cameras and a superb, all-screen design.
The iPad Pro, updated in April 2021, remains the ultimate in this category. Starting at $799, the Pro has a lot to offer, with advanced cameras and an M1 chip for starters. But we think these features are probably more than the average person needs.
Those are the prices that Apple sells its iPads for, but you don’t have to pay that much. Take a look at our regularly updated iPad deals page for the lowest prices and best discounts on iPads new and old.
Size and portability
Size is a question of taste rather than simply going for the biggest iPad you can get your hands on. Bigger isn’t necessarily better if what you need is small and light.
The most obvious aspect of this decision comes down to screen size. You’ve got five options: 8.3-inch mini (previously 7.9-inch), 10.2-inch iPad, 10.9-inch iPad Air, 11-inch Pro or 12.9-inch other Pro. All screens are measured diagonally from corner to corner, or from the place where the corners would be in the case of the Pro screens, which are slightly rounded.
But how big a screen do you really need?
You can get an idea of the comparative sizes in the picture above. But you can also think of the tablets in terms of print publications: the mini is roughly the height and width of a paperback book; the mid-size iPads are closer to a hardback (albeit much slimmer); and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is like a magazine.
The larger screen is obviously better for immersive entertainment. Whether watching films or playing games, it’s a more enjoyable, richer experience. But really this is a question of priorities. Are you more set on getting maximum screen space, or are you willing to compromise on that front in order to get a lower price tag and improved portability?
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021): 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm; 682g/684g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2021): 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm; 466g/468g
- iPad Air 10.9-inch (2022): 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm; 461g/462g
- iPad 10.2-inch (2021): 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm; 487g/498g
- iPad mini 8.3-inch (2021): 195.4mm x 134.8mm x 6.3mm; 300.5g/308.2g
As you’d expect, the iPad mini is a lot lighter than the other iPads, and even more so since the September 2021 update. There’s a big gap between that device and even the mid-size iPads. As well as its markedly lower weight the mini also has a smaller body, which slips easily into a rucksack or jacket pocket. If you plan to mainly use your iPad out and about, on holiday or commuting, or perhaps you’re buying an iPad for a child, the mini is your best bet.
The iPad, iPad Air and 11-inch Pro are pleasingly portable, but they still can’t match the mini for portability. The iPad has an identical length and width to the Air, but is thicker and heavier; the Pros are slimmer still.
The 12.9-inch Pro is considerably less portable than its smaller cousins, but we think Apple has done well to keep it down to 682g: it remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop.
Age and software compatibility
Older iPads (and the older components they contain), even if functioning perfectly right now, are likely to reach the end of their useful life sooner than the newest models.
The ‘current’ iPad range covers a fair range in terms of age: the iPad Pro models came out back in April 2021, the iPad and iPad mini came out in September 2021, and the iPad Air arrived in March 2022. There are likely to be new models in the fall of 2022: potentially an overhaul of the entire range except the Air.
If you’re looking to save money by compromising on an older model than that, you’ll need to buy second-hand or from a reseller with discontinued stock. We often see resellers offering decent discounts on older iPad models. But keep in mind that iPads tend to start slowing down at around two to three years of age; at the four- or five-year mark you should expect noticeable loss of performance and you won’t be able to get all the latest software updates.
There is another reason to buy a recent iPad, which is the operating system it runs. For years the iPad and iPhone shared an OS, called iOS, but in 2019 they went their separate ways, with a new version called iPadOS designed to suit the iPads’ larger screens and different user needs. It’s well worth getting a system based on iPadOS if you can.
The following iPads can run iPadOS, up to and including the latest iPadOS 15 version.
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th gen)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd gen)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th gen)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd gen)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd gen)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (1st gen)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd gen)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st gen)
- iPad Pro 10.5-inch
- iPad Pro 9.7-inch
- iPad (9th gen)
- iPad (8th gen)
- iPad (7th gen)
- iPad (6th gen)
- iPad (5th gen)
- iPad mini (6th gen)
- iPad mini (5th gen)
- iPad mini (4th gen)
- iPad Air (5th gen)
- iPad Air (4th gen)
- iPad Air (3rd gen)
- iPad Air (2nd gen)
The iPad Pro models are, as you would expect, faster than their smaller and cheaper equivalents, although the Air runs them close. You can get an idea of relative speed by looking at a few relevant specs:
- iPad 10.2-inch (2021): A13 Bionic; 3GB RAM
- iPad mini (2021): A15 Bionic; 4GB RAM
- iPad Air (2022): M1; 8GB RAM
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2021): M1; 8GB/16GB RAM)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021): M1; 8GB/16GB RAM)
The M1 chip that won such widespread acclaim in the Mac range produces outstanding performance in the iPads. But that doesn’t mean the A chips are sub-standard, or incapable of running modern apps; keep in mind that much of the software on the App Store was designed with A chips in mind, and even now most developers will want to make their software accessible for as many iPad owners as possible.
So this is a question partly of your requirements, and partly of how long you intend to use your iPad for. The most demanding graphic-design, video-editing and audio apps will get improved performance with the M1 processor, and if you’re looking at high-level workloads multiple years down the line the M1 will really show its worth.
But for most users the A15 will be comfortably fast enough for the mid- and quite long term, and even the A13 Bionic performs perfectly well on today’s apps.
Another important factor to consider is memory. The iPad 10.2-inch has 3GB of RAM; the mini has 4GB. The Air gets a jump up to 8GB, while the 2021 Pros have either 8GB or a whopping 16GB of RAM, depending on your storage tier: the 1TB and 2TB versions get the higher RAM allocation.
Overall, we would advise those who want to use highly demanding apps, such as video and image editors and graphically advanced games, to choose an iPad Pro or Air. If you’re going to be using your tablet for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you’ll find the 10.2-inch iPad or iPad mini perfectly decent.
With these general observations out of the way, it’s time to look at each device in more depth. For each iPad we record the essential information, its pros and cons, which buyer should pick it and whether now is a good time to buy.
iPad 10.2-inch (2021)
This is the cheapest iPad you can buy, while remaining powerful enough for most purposes. The iPad 10.2-inch has a good screen size for gaming and films, while remaining slim, light and portable.
Indeed we would go so far as to say that the agreeable price, the extra viewing room, the Smart Connector and the overall quality under the hood combines to make this the best and most approachable entry-level Apple device.
Pros: Beautifully thin and light, although not as thin and light as the Air. Low price. Its A13 chip will handle pretty much anything on the App Store right now, although the arrival of the M1 chip in the Air and Pro models is starting to push the top tier of apps out of this iPad’s reach. Can use the Apple Pencil (first-gen only).
Cons: Still feels cheaper thanks to the unlaminated screen (will Apple ever update this?)
Ideal for: Anyone who needs a big screen (not a huge screen; they’ll want the 12.9-inch iPad Pro) but is on a budget, and can cope without the latest in processing and camera power. Anyone who still likes the Home button, which is now available on the 10.2-inch iPad only. It’s a good-value all-rounder.
Is now a good time to buy? The current model launched in September 2021 so the earliest we’d expect another update is fall 2022. Now is a fairly safe time to buy.
Read more: iPad 10.2-inch (2020) review
View iPad 10.2-inch on the Apple Store
Best deals on the 2021 iPad:
B & H Photo
iPad mini (2021)
Launched in September 2021, the iPad mini is available in two storage capacities (64GB, which will be plenty for most people, or 256GB), and four colors: silver, gold, Space Gray and a new purple version.
Whichever version you go for, you’ll get an A15 Bionic processor chip, a Liquid Retina screen and 12MP/12MP rear/front cameras.
Beyond color, the only thing to decide is whether you want to grab the Wi-Fi-only model or the cellular version so you can get on a 4G and now 5G network. There is a steep price difference between Wi-Fi and cellular, which might seem a lot, but if you expect to travel with your mini (surely one of the main benefits of the smaller model) then data support might be worth the extra cost (you can always hotspot from your iPhone, though, and save the additional cost of a cellular plan for your iPad).
Pros: Very portable and still respectably powerful. Affordable, and cheapest version has good amount of storage (64GB). Supports second-gen Apple Pencil. Improved 12MP FaceTime camera.
Cons: Small screen, which may not be great for those who get eyestrain or who like immersive films and games.
Ideal for: The portability-conscious. Gamers on the go. Tablet photographers. Ebook enthusiasts.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. Apple updated the iPad mini in September 2021 and it was quite a significant one, including a redesign. The earliest it will get updated again is fall 2022, and we suspect it’s might not happen until 2023.
Read more: iPad mini (2021) review
View iPad mini on Apple Store
Best deals on the 2021 iPad mini:
B & H Photo
iPad Air (2022)
Having fallen behind the rest of the pack while being neglected throughout 2021, the Air roared back to relevance in March 2022. Just as in 2020, the Air now presents an appealing alternative to the more expensive Pro models, matching them in key areas of design, tech spec and feature set.
The 2022 Air is powered by the same Mac-class M1 processor as the Pros and shares their all-screen design, although in this case biometric security is handled by a fingerprint sensor in the power button rather than Face ID. It has superb cameras (the front-facing camera jumps from 7MP to 12MP in the 2022 update and gains Center Stage), supports a wide range of Pro accessories, and now features 5G.
Pros: Beautiful design. Superb processing and graphics power. Cheaper than the iPad Pro.
Cons: No ProMotion.
Ideal for: Tablet gamers and anyone who wants to be able to run the most demanding apps now and in the future. Pro users (business, creative, design) who can’t afford an iPad Pro.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. It came out in March 2022 and won’t be updated until 2023.
Read more: iPad Air (2022) review
View iPad Air (2022) on the Apple Store
B & H Photo
iPad Pro 11-inch (2021)
- 128GB: $799/£749
- 256GB: $899/£849
- 512GB: $1,099/£1,049
- 1TB: $1,499/£1,399
- 2TB: $1,899/£1,749
- 128GB (cellular): $999/£899
- 256GB (cellular): $1,099/£999
- 512GB (cellular): $1,299/£1,199
- 1TB (cellular): $1,699/£1,549
- 2TB (cellular): $2,099/£1,899
The current generation of iPad Pro models came out back in April 2021. While this update brought no external changes, a number of important upgrades were hidden within.
The 2021 Pros feature M1 chips, powerful and energy-efficient processors you may remember from their widely praised performance in the latest Macs. Combined with an increased allocation of RAM this makes them both devastatingly quick (Apple claims 50 percent faster CPU and 40 percent faster GPU performance than the 2020 iPad Pro) and long-lasting.
The front-facing camera has been bumped from 7MP to 12MP, and Apple has added an ultra-wide lens and a new feature called Center Stage which pans and zooms automatically to keep you and others in the frame during video calls.
Apple has also added 5G (on the cellular models only, of course) and doubled the maximum storage allocation to 2TB. There’s a display upgrade too, but you’ll have to read on to find out about that, since it’s only on the 12.9-inch model.
Pros: Slim and light; great cameras; 5G; Face ID; devastatingly quick and power-efficient processor.
Cons: Very expensive. Its power could be overkill for many.
Ideal for: Creative types who don’t need the absolutely largest screen. It’s great for watching films and TV shows (and offers quad-speaker audio to match) but a 10.5-inch or even 9.7-inch screen would be a lot more affordable and almost as good.
Is now a good time to buy? It’s been more than a year since the current Pros came out, which means we’re now in the danger zone where a new model could appear any day. It’s unlikely to happen until the fall of 2022, however: Apple tends not to update the Pro as frequently as its other iPad models.
Read more: iPad Pro 11-inch (2021) review
View 11-inch iPad Pro on Apple Store
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)
- 128GB: $1,099/£999
- 256GB: $1,199/£1,099
- 512GB: $1,399/£1,299
- 1TB: $1,799/£1,649
- 2TB: $2,199/£1,999
- 128GB (cellular): $1,299/£1,149
- 256GB (cellular): $1,399/£1,249
- 512GB (cellular): $1,599/£1,449
- 1TB (cellular): $1,999/£1,799
- 2TB (cellular): $2,399/£2,149
The iPad Pro 12.9-inch, which was updated in spring 2021, offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet, squeezed into a relatively small and very thin chassis. In other respects it’s largely the same as the 11-inch Pro: super-fast processor (the M1) with lots of RAM, excellent cameras, 5G in the cellular models and a user experience that looks more than capable of replacing a laptop.
The main exception is the display, which has been upgraded to XDR classification by Apple. This feature is only available on the 12.9-inch model (and the Pro Display XDR, if you’ve got a few more thousand to spare).
The XDR display is backlit by a huge array of mini-LEDs, offering subtle localized dimming across the screen. And in terms of specs it’s capable of 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness in HDR, plus a million-to-one contrast ratio.
This is all thoroughly impressive. But on the down side, the 12.9-inch Pro is far less portable than even the mid-size iPads (it remains admirably slim, but the sheer screen area makes it a handful) and ruinously expensive, particularly at those upper storage tiers.
Pros: Huge screen (12.9-inch); extremely fast processor with bags of RAM; excellent cameras; 5G; four speakers; Face ID.
Cons: Least portable iPad currently available (although it is very slim); very expensive; processor speed will be overkill for many prospective buyers.
Ideal for: Creative types most of all, but anyone who needs a big screen will be interested. Gamers and those who enjoy consuming media on the go will like the combination of a sumptuous screen and a quad-speaker audio system.
Is now a good time to buy? As with the smaller Pro, it’s slightly risky, since the device launched in April 2021 and a new version is likely to appear this year. Our best guess is September 2022, but there’s always a chance it could happen at WWDC in June.
Read more: 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) review
View 12.9-inch iPad Pro on Apple Store
Final conclusions: Which iPad should you buy?
The iPad 10.2-inch (2020) is a good option for newcomers and those whose usage will be light. Since Apple updated it with a better processor in September 2020 we are a lot more comfortable recommending it.
For most people, however, our recommendation would be the iPad Air (2022). The update in March 2022 brought it largely in line with the Pro models, with an M1 processor and 5G support added to the more modern look debuted in 2020, at a far lower price. Mind you, it’s still expensive compared to the standard iPad and the iPad mini, and to most rival tablets out there.
The iPad mini is mainly recommended for those who see portability as their main priority. It’s an excellent little device, although the smaller screen makes it less immersive for games and entertainment options.
The remaining iPads will be too expensive for the average buyer. The 11-inch and 12.9-inch Pro models are amazingly powerful and well made, with a fantastic all-screen/Face ID design. But the iPad Air also has an excellent processor, and a similar design, and costs considerably less.
Finally, before taking the plunge, have you considered if a laptop might suit your needs better? See iPad vs MacBook for more advice on that front.
Now you’ve picked an iPad model, there are just a few extras to consider: storage, color, cellular and how to buy.
Should you buy your iPad on contract?
We’d generally say not; it’ll be cheaper up front but you’ll end up paying more in the long run. But it all depends on your budget and the most convenient way to pay for your device. (Businesses often prefer to pay for employees’ tablets on contract.)
Remember that you won’t be able to switch to a different data provider until you’ve finished paying off the contract, as the iPad is likely to be locked to the original contract provider. Here’s how to unlock an iPad from its network, once you’ve fulfilled your contractual obligations.
We discuss the best iPad contract deals in a separate article.
How much storage do you need?
The five iPads offer anywhere from 64GB to 2TB of storage. How much capacity will you need?
Well, first of all remember that you can’t upgrade the storage capacity of an iPad at a later date: this is your storage limit from now until you buy another iPad, so aim high and buy as much storage as you can afford. It’s better to spend an extra few pounds now than to buy an entire new iPad in six months’ time.
Storage capacity is mainly used up by three things: music, photos, and videos, in increasing order of storage drain. If you want to keep lots of films or TV shows–or even a few, to be honest–then you need high storage: probably 128GB or higher for video fans. (If you’re buying an iPad with the kids in mind, remember that you’ll want storage space for multiple episodes of their favorite show on a long car journey.)
The same applies to large photo or music libraries, to a lesser extent, although iCloud Photos and iTunes Match make it possible to keep your stuff in the cloud and access it remotely (if you pay the fees for iCloud storage).
The other thing that will fill up your storage is apps. Those heavy-duty games we talked about earlier will use up a lot of space, and gamers should aim high on storage: 128GB is a good bar to aim at.
For most people 3G/4G/5G connectivity is a luxury, even if it’s a nice one to have. For an extra $100 or so, you’ll be able to access the web and email, and use connected apps, away from a Wi-Fi network. You also need to factor in the cost of a data plan.
Consider carefully how often you’re going to do that: with an iPad mini there’s likely to be more on-the-go use than with a full-size iPad, but it’s still a lot to pay for something you may only use from time to time. Have you got a regular (overground) commute where you’d enjoy catching up on news headlines or email? Then it could be worth the extra.
Just bear in mind that the cellular option also brings with it a GPS radio, meaning you’ll be able to pull in accurate location data when using your device on the go.
We think the best option if you want to be able to get data on your iPad when you are out and about is to create a hotspot and share it from your iPhone. Here’s how to create an iPhone hotspot to share your mobile web connection.
Buying a refurbished iPad
We’ll mention this only briefly because it’s covered elsewhere, but one option you should absolutely consider is Apple’s Refurbished store. It’s a sort of halfway house between new and second-hand: the devices are pre-owned, but Apple has checked them thoroughly, replaced any worn-out components, and rated them as good as new (and you get a warranty to prove it).
If this sounds appealing, have a look at our in-depth article: Should you buy a refurbished iPad?
Source : Macworld