Shopping for an iPad can be overwhelming. Apple sells five iPad models in a wide range of sizes and capabilities. Each tablet has its strengths and weaknesses. You don’t want to get one that doesn’t have all the features you want, but you also don’t want to pay too much for features you won’t use.
Here’s some straightforward advice on picking the right iPad for you.
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Which iPad should I get?
Rather than getting stressed by too many choices, think instead of the advantages of the wide range of Apple tablets available. The smallest is the iPad mini with an 8.3-inch display. The largest is an iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch screen. Prices range for $329 to $1,099. Somewhere in there is the right iPad for you.
But before we get into the differences, let’s consider the strengths they all share. Any of these computers can use an Apple Pencil for taking notes or drawing, and do it it very well. (Alternatively, you can use a third-party stylus.)
Plus, you can add a click-on keyboard and trackpad to turn an amazing tablet into a highly capable laptop. Then, at the end of the day, pull the keyboard back off and lean back to enjoy games or video.
Let’s do a quick summary of the options:
- iPad: 10.2-inch screen, Lightning, Apple Pencil 1, $329
- iPad mini: 8.3-inch screen, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $499
- iPad Air: 10.9-inch screen, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $599
- iPad Pro: 11-inch screen, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $799
- iPad Pro: 12.9-inch screen, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $1,099
Regular iPad is a powerful computer at a low price
The 10.2-inch iPad is Apple’s most popular model for an obvious reason: It costs only $329. That’s about a third the price of the cheapest MacBook. Even adding a click-on keyboard and trackpad to let the tablet convert to a laptop still puts it below half the cost of a MacBook.
And the budget iPad is a very capable computer — all a young student needs. Heck, it can do everything most adults need for their personal life.
At 10.2 inches, the screen is large enough to be usable. It’s just a bit cramped for side-by-side multitasking, but it’s larger than the 9.7-inch display that was the only option for several years.
iPad downsides: This budget tablet uses a processor that debuted a couple of years earlier – it offers decent performance but it’s no speed demon. And it’s the smallest of the full-size Apple tablets, plus it still uses the old Lightning port.
Buy from: Amazon
iPad mini is so very portable
The best computer is the one you have with you. A 16-inch laptop isn’t very useful if it’s so bulky you don’t carry it around much.
Consider the size advantage of the iPad mini, which measures just 7.7 inches at its longest dimension and weighs a bit over half a pound. Yet it still boasts an 8.3-inch screen. iPadOS makes it a powerful computer, and it beats even the largest iPhone for watching video or playing games.
Where it really shines, though, is as an ebook reader. There’s no better iPad than this one for leaning back and enjoying a novel.
On the opposite end of the scale, you can add a click-on keyboard to make the mini laptop of your dreams.
iPad mini downsides: Anyone planning to use an iPad mini as their everyday tablet needs good eyesight for the 8.3-inch screen. And at $500, it’s a bit pricey if all you’re looking for is an ebook reader.
Buy from: Amazon
iPad Air is the Goldilocks of tablets
We all grew up with the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Well, the iPad Air is like her third bowl of porridge. It’s just right because it offers a better set of features than the cheaper model but is more affordable than the top-tier ones.
It has a 10.9-inch screen, slightly smaller than the 11-inch iPad Pro. The real different though is that this is not the 120Hz ProMotion display from the Pro tablet – its max refresh rate is 60Hz instead.
Still, the iPad Air’s speedy M1 processor makes it ready for anything most need, from watching video to playing games to writing a novel. It’s every bit as powerful the iPad Pro series, and supports Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.
The USB-C port lets you plug in Mac accessories so you can, for example, use an external monitor and hard rive.
If you have been using a basic iPad for a while and are ready for a newer, better model, the iPad Air might be your best option. Especially if you don’t have the money for a Pro.
iPad Air downsides: There are few drawbacks to Apple’s Goldilocks tablet. Just note that it costs a bit more than twice what the 10.2-inch iPad does — be sure you need the additional capabilities.
Buy from: Amazon
iPad Pro is ready for professionals
People who make a tablet their primary computer generally choose iPad Pro because it’s Apple’s biggest, with the best-looking display. Someone using a computer all day doesn’t want to make compromises.
It is built around the surprisingly powerful Apple M-series processor, the same chip used in MacBooks. That gives it performance on par with Apple notebooks. Not the latest MacBook Pros, but still.
That said, Apple deliberately made iPadOS simpler than macOS. That often makes it easier to use, a benefit for average users. While there are some advanced capabilities missing, and that frustrates some hard-core users, iPadOS 16 brings many improvements.
With the tablet’s USB-C port, it can connect to almost any accessory a Mac can. And there’s Thunderbolt support for very high-speed file transfers, too.
Unlike Apple’s other tablets, this model comes in two sizes. Choosing which of these is right for you is as important as deciding between the iPad Pro and the iPad Air.
11-inch iPad Pro
As noted, tablet buyers gravitate to the Pro models because they offer the best performance. And the 11-inch iPad Pro provides that in a more portable design than its larger sibling. If you expect to very frequently carry the computer around, this might be the version for you.
Buy from: Amazon
12.9-inch iPad Pro
There’s no better option than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for someone who is going to make a tablet their primary computer. The screen is large enough to be used all day, and the processor can easily handle anything you ask of it.
The full-size display makes it well-suited for people who must frequently refer to large drawings, images or databases. Or show videos and images to clients.
Attach a keyboard/trackpad and you have a powerful convertible computer.
Buy from: Amazon
iPad Pro downsides: No matter the size, the iPad Pro is an amazing device. It’s also very expensive. Think hard whether an iPad Air might be enough for you, especially if you are eyeing the 11-inch version. As for the 12.9-inch version, think over whether a MacBook might be a better option.
Which one should you get? Don’t panic.
While it’s important to put some thought into choosing the right iPad, don’t overthink it. Really, there’s not a bad tablet in Apple’s lineup.
The worst that’s likely to happen is that you’ll buy more tablet than you need. And you might feel differently about that decision in a couple years when you and your iPad are inseparable.
Note: This article was first published in February, 2022 and has since been updated with details on the iPad Air 5 in June, 2022.