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The best iPad to buy

There are more iPads than ever, and it can be tough to sort out which one is the best for you. Fortunately, we’re here to guide you through your next iPad purchase.

Apple’s range of iPads has evolved from a single straightforward option to a diverse array of sizes, prices, configurations, and generations. Presently, Apple offers six distinct iPads across four categories. This extensive selection can pose a challenge when it comes to selecting the most suitable iPad for individual needs, particularly given the striking similarities among many of the models.

With a bit of guidance and thoughtful consideration of your intended use, navigating Apple’s lineup of iPads becomes a straightforward task. Drawing from years of experience using various iPads for both leisure and professional purposes, I’ve extensively tested all current and recent models to understand their respective strengths.

Straight out of the box, every iPad offers an exceptional portable platform for watching videos or movies, access to a vast selection of apps and games via the App Store, the capability to read ebooks, documents, and web content on a comfortably sized and vibrant screen, as well as communication functionalities through email, messaging apps, or video calls. Furthermore, when paired with accessories like Apple’s Smart or Magic Keyboard or the Apple Pencil, an iPad can transform into a versatile drawing tablet or a productivity tool, potentially even replacing a laptop for certain users.

The key insight here is that barring a few minor exceptions, virtually every current or recent-model iPad in Apple’s lineup is capable of performing the same range of functions. Whether you opt for the entry-level ninth-gen iPad, the compact iPad Mini, or the expansive iPad Pro 12.9, they all operate on the same software platform and support the same applications.

iPadOS 17, the latest iteration of the iPad operating system, is compatible with devices dating back to 2017 and is compatible with nearly every iPad available for purchase today, except the fifth-gen base iPad. This means that regardless of which iPad model you choose, you can expect a consistent user experience and access to the full suite of features and functionalities offered by iPadOS 17.

What to consider when buying an iPad:

Price Cost

Cost is undoubtedly a significant factor to consider when purchasing an iPad. Understanding your budget beforehand is essential for making informed decisions while shopping. iPad prices vary widely, with entry-level models starting at around $250, while top-of-the-line models can surpass $1,000.

Having a clear budget in mind will help you narrow down your options and focus on models that align with your financial constraints. By establishing your spending limit upfront, you can effectively navigate Apple’s diverse lineup of iPads and identify the models that offer the best value within your price range.

Size

The majority of Apple’s iPad lineup falls within the mid-size category, boasting screens ranging from approximately 10 to 11 inches. These models offer a versatile balance, suitable for a wide array of tasks, and are equally adept at handheld use or when paired with a keyboard.

If your primary usage revolves around reading, opting for a smaller model may be preferable for enhanced portability and ease of handling. Conversely, if you intend to replace your laptop with an iPad or engage in tasks that benefit from a larger screen real estate, opting for a bigger model would be more suitable. Ultimately, selecting the right size depends on your specific needs and preferences, balancing factors such as portability and screen size to align with your intended usage scenarios.

Accessories

Apple’s accessory compatibility across its iPad lineup can be somewhat fragmented, with a variety of options available for styluses, keyboard attachments, and cases. Currently, Apple offers three different Pencil stylus models, three keyboard attachment options, and a diverse selection of case choices.

While certain iPad models share compatibility with certain accessories, this is not universally applicable across the entire lineup. Therefore, if you have a specific accessory in mind that you wish to use with your iPad, it’s crucial to ensure compatibility before making a purchase.

Taking the time to verify compatibility between your chosen iPad model and desired accessories will help you avoid any potential issues and ensure a seamless user experience with your device and accompanying accessories.

Before delving into the recommendations, it’s important to consider pricing. Apple tends to maintain consistency between iPad generations, and the processing power in recent iPads ensures they remain efficient for years without experiencing significant slowdowns. Additionally, Apple consistently supports iPads with software updates for many years, meaning even older models can benefit from most new features. Consequently, excellent deals can often be found on secondhand, open-box, and refurbished iPads, providing substantial savings while still delivering an updated and efficient user experience. Thus, when weighing options between, for instance, an iPad Air and an 11-inch iPad Pro, a refurbished previous model year Pro might end up costing less than the current Air while offering additional features not available on the latter. Moreover, new versions of the most recent iPad models frequently go on sale, typically coinciding with the announcement of new iPads in the spring and fall.

This rationale can be applied across the entire lineup, making it worthwhile to explore all available options. Due to the frequent fluctuations in the refurbished market, specific recommendations aren’t provided in this guide; instead, everything is based on the new, full retail cost. Nonetheless, personal experience has shown that purchasing refurbished iPads can be a wise choice, as I’ve acquired multiple refurbished iPads over the years and have never regretted not having the latest model.

In the spirit of transparency, it’s important to note that Apple is likely to overhaul its entire iPad lineup at the end of March. According to recent rumors, this may include the introduction of an M2-powered iPad Mini, 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Air models, and a new OLED iPad Pro equipped with Apple’s latest M3 processor. While these are merely rumors, they’re worth considering given Apple’s prolonged absence of updates to the latest iPad Air, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini models.

The best iPad for most people

2022 iPad Air (64GB, Wi-Fi)

The most recent iPad Air maintains the sleek redesign reminiscent of the 2020 iPad Pro, while replacing the A14 Bionic processor with Apple’s swift M1 chip. Additionally, it offers a choice of five colors and features a 12MP front-facing camera that supports Apple’s Center Stage functionality.

Screen: 10.9-inch, 2360 x 1640 resolution 60Hz LCD, fully laminated / Processor: Apple M1 with 8GB RAM / Storage: 64 or 256GB / Port: USB-C / Cellular: 5G (optional) / Speakers: stereo / Compatible accessories: Apple Magic Keyboard, Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, Apple Pencil (second-generation), Apple Pencil (USB-C)

For the majority of users, the optimal iPad choice is the midrange iPad Air, which has a starting price of $599. Introduced in 2022, the fifth-generation iPad Air boasts a vibrant 10.9-inch high-resolution display, remarkably swift performance courtesy of its M1 processor, a contemporary design featuring slim bezels surrounding the screen, and outstanding speakers. It is compatible with the same keyboard and stylus accessories as the iPad Pro, enabling it to function effectively as a compact laptop or digital notepad/drawing tool. The Air is available in various colors, including blue, pink, purple, gold (termed “Starlight” by Apple), and dark gray.

If your intention is to use the iPad for a duration of five years or more before considering an upgrade, the Air presents an ideal choice. Its newer and more potent processor surpasses what is found in the base ninth-generation iPad, ensuring sustained performance over an extended period and potentially longer software support. Furthermore, the Air’s display offers a superior viewing and user experience compared to the standard iPad, and it enjoys a more robust accessory ecosystem. While it entails an additional cost, it proves worthwhile for those intending to extensively utilize the iPad over an extended timeframe. However, for more casual buyers, sticking with the budget option below may be preferable.

The iPad Air’s medium-sized form factor is what most people associate with iPads, reminiscent of the original iPad released back in 2010. Larger than a phone, it offers a superior experience for activities like video-watching, reading, and multitasking, yet it remains more portable than a laptop, making it convenient for use while lounging on the couch or the go. Its size facilitates seamless transitions from reading in portrait orientation to handling tasks like email in landscape mode. Additionally, the screen boasts outdoor usability with its brightness, covers a wide color gamut with precise reproduction, lacks an air gap between the glass and the panel, is coated with an anti-reflective layer, and supports Apple’s automatic True Tone color adjustment feature.

The iPad Air can be configured with either 64GB or 256GB of storage. While the upgrade to 256GB incurs an additional cost of $150 at Apple’s regular retail price, it proves worthwhile for long-term ownership, offering ample space for apps, videos, games, and other documents. Moreover, for an always-on connection, you have the option to include 5G connectivity for an extra $150 (plus service costs).

The best budget iPad

Also the best iPad for kids

2021 iPad (64GB, Wi-Fi)

Apple’s entry-level iPad from 2021 has a 10.2-inch screen, an A13 Bionic chip, and a 12MP front camera that supports Apple’s Center Stage feature. It’s also compatible with the first-gen Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard and is the only iPad that still has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Screen: 10.2-inch, 2160 x 1620 resolution 60Hz LCD / Processor: Apple A13 / Storage: 64 or 256GB / Ports: Lightning, 3.5mm audio / Cellular: LTE (optional) / Speakers: stereo / Compatible accessories: Apple Smart Keyboard, Apple Pencil (first-generation)

For those seeking a more budget-friendly option, the ninth-generation iPad model stands out as the best choice. Priced at $329, it is the most affordable iPad currently offered by Apple, though it often goes on sale for approximately $250. Alongside its lower cost, this model possesses several features making it particularly suitable for children.

Here’s a little insider tip: children are generally content with any iPad you provide them. Given their tendency to handle devices less delicately, opting for the cheapest option coupled with a durable case proves to be the wisest choice for parents. However, it’s essential to ensure that the iPad remains updated with current software and security patches to safeguard its functionality. The ninth-generation iPad is expected to receive continued support from Apple for several years to come.

The ninth-gen model maintains the classic iPad appearance, characterized by larger bezels surrounding the screen and a home button featuring Touch ID biometric authentication. Although its design may seem somewhat outdated, it remains highly capable and compatible with the same software and games as its pricier counterparts. Powered by the A13 processor, which debuted in 2019, the ninth-generation iPad delivers impressive speed, with storage options of 64GB and 256GB available, mirroring those of the Air model.

The ninth-generation iPad is compatible with Apple’s older first-generation Pencil, as opposed to the second-generation model introduced in 2018 (or the Apple Pencil with USB-C). While it functions adequately as a stylus for writing and drawing on the screen, it lacks a dedicated storage space when not in use unless a third-party case is purchased. Additionally, charging the pencil necessitates plugging it into the iPad’s Lightning port, which can be cumbersome and awkward.

This particular iPad is the sole current model to retain a 3.5mm headphone jack, facilitating easy connection with wired headphones, particularly suitable for children. Furthermore, it remains the only iPad to utilize a Lightning port for charging, diverging from the newer USB-C type port.

Despite its older design and accompanying accessories, the ninth-generation iPad delivers a surprisingly pleasant user experience given its price point. In my evaluation, it consistently performed without lag or slowdown, boasting a sharp and vibrant screen, and proved comfortable to hold for extended periods.

The best iPad for work

The newest iPad Pro from Apple features the upgraded M2 processor for enhanced performance and adds support for Wi-Fi 6E, while maintaining the same design as its predecessor. Notably, the larger 12.9-inch model incorporates a higher-quality Mini LED panel compared to the 11-inch version.

Screen: 12.9-inch, 2732 x 2048 resolution 120Hz Mini LED / Processor: Apple M2 with up to 16GB RAM / Storage: up to 2TB / Port: USB-C Thunderbolt 4 / Cellular: 5G mmWave (optional) / Speakers: quad /Compatible accessories: Apple Magic Keyboard, Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, Apple Pencil (second-generation), Apple Pencil (USB-C

For those who consider themselves serious iPad users and prioritize productivity or seek a laptop replacement, the top-of-the-line iPad Pro 12.9 is the optimal choice. It is also the preferred iPad for digital artists due to its expansive canvas and compatibility with Apple’s second-generation Pencil, offering additional features not available on other iPad models.

As the largest iPad in Apple’s lineup, the 12.9-inch model also commands the highest price, starting at $1,099 when purchased new. When paired with the essential Magic Keyboard ($349) for enhanced productivity, and upgraded to a more capacious storage option beyond the base 128GB (typically, I recommend at least 256GB), the total cost rises to $1,748. Opting for cellular connectivity may further increase the cost. Consequently, investing in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro represents a commitment to extracting maximum utility from the device, surpassing the needs of the average user.

Despite the impressive 12.9-inch screen of the iPad Pro, its size can be a hindrance when using it solely as a tablet for relaxed reading or browsing. Holding it with one hand can be awkward compared to smaller iPad models, and its weight of 1.5 pounds can become fatiguing over time. Consequently, many owners of the iPad Pro 12.9 find themselves leaving it in the Magic Keyboard case more often than not.

The M2 processor housed within the iPad Pro mirrors the same high performance found in a MacBook Air, making it exceptionally capable. Models featuring storage capacities ranging from 128GB to 512GB are equipped with 8GB of RAM, while the 1TB and 2TB models boast 16GB of RAM. For photographers or video editors seeking lightweight options for on-the-go editing, the iPad Pro’s hardware capabilities are certainly up to the task. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the desired software is available, as most desktop editing software either isn’t accessible on the iPad or lacks certain features compared to its desktop counterparts.

Digital artists will find the 12.9-inch model particularly appealing due to its larger display. A notable feature introduced with the 2022 model is the ability to preview line strokes or selections with the Apple Pencil before applying them to the screen, known as “hover” by Apple. Additionally, there is a wide array of drawing and painting apps available for the iPad.

Furthermore, Apple reserves certain quality-of-life enhancements for the Pro models. One significant feature is Face ID, eliminating the need to scan fingerprints or enter a PIN to unlock the iPad Pro; simply looking at it suffices. Face ID functions exceptionally well, akin to its performance on the iPhone, and becomes difficult to relinquish once accustomed to it. Another advantage is the quad-speaker system on the iPad Pro, delivering louder, fuller, and overall superior sound compared to the dual-speaker systems found on other iPads.

While the latest iPad Pro offers an array of features, many of which may not be necessary for most users, purchasing an older version becomes an enticing option. The 2021 model closely resembles the 2022 version, differing primarily in its processor (the M1 instead of the M2) and the absence of the hover feature with the Apple Pencil. Additionally, there exists an 11-inch version of the iPad Pro, which shares most features with the 12.9-inch model but lacks the Mini LED display (instead featuring a standard LCD panel). At full retail prices, the iPad Air presents a more favorable option compared to the 11-inch Pro. However, if one can find a prior-year model refurbished or on sale, it may prove to be the preferred choice.

The best iPad for reading

The redesigned iPad Mini does away with the home button in favor of a larger edge-to-edge display. Additionally, it features a faster processor, supports USB-C connectivity, and includes a top-mounted power button that doubles as a Touch ID sensor.

Screen: 8.3-inch, 2266 x 1488 resolution 60Hz LCD, fully laminated / Processor: Apple A15 / Storage: 64 or 256GB / Port: USB-C / Cellular: 5G (optional) / Speakers: stereo / Compatible accessories: Apple Pencil (second-generation), Apple Pencil (USB-C)

If you’re in the market for the optimal iPad for reading, whether it’s ebooks, comics, or articles, the iPad Mini is your best bet. Priced at $499, it is the smallest iPad offered by Apple and essentially mirrors the capabilities of the iPad Air, albeit with a smaller screen that is more comfortable to hold with one hand.

Indeed, describing the iPad Mini as “a smaller iPad Air” encapsulates most of its key features. It shares the same overall design, compatibility with the second-generation Apple Pencil, and camera setup as the iPad Air, differing primarily in its smaller display size and lighter weight (approximately 36 percent less).

This compact size significantly enhances the comfort of using the iPad Mini as a personal reading device, allowing for easier handling and manipulation. Moreover, its smaller form factor makes it convenient to slip into a jacket pocket or bag for on-the-go reading sessions. While the Mini offers access to a wider array of reading sources compared to a Kindle, it may not match the battery life of Amazon’s e-reader.

Although the smaller size of the iPad Mini might seem appealing for children, I would still recommend the ninth-generation iPad due to its significantly lower cost. Additionally, children typically enjoy the larger screen of the ninth-gen iPad more for various activities.

While the iPad Mini is fully capable of running all the same apps and handling video playback, its smaller size lends itself better to watching short-form content like TikTok or YouTube videos rather than feature-length movies. Notably, it’s the only iPad model for which Apple doesn’t offer a keyboard accessory, and the reasoning is apparent: its compact size isn’t conducive to comfortable typing for extended periods.

Nevertheless, the iPad Mini is compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil, making it well-suited for digital note-taking tasks. Pairing it with a paper-like screen protector can further enhance the experience, potentially replacing a traditional pen and paper notebook.

Apple introduced the current iPad Mini in late 2021, and this model often has longer intervals between updates compared to other iPads. While this might make it more challenging to find older versions of the Mini, it also means that there are frequent sales and discounts available since it has been on the market for some time.

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