The iPad offers one of the finest tablet computing experiences money can buy today, and Apple’s range of tablets isn’t very large. Yet, if you’re new to the iPad or haven’t bought one in a few years, it can be tricky to know which model you should buy. Each current iPad on offer does have a clear reason to exist, if you know what to look for.
To set all of Apple’s rebranding and rejigging of the iPad line over the years straight, let’s look at which iPad you should buy depending on your needs and budget.
The Compact Monster: iPad Mini (5th Generation)
The iPad Mini is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the current-generation iPad Air. It has the same processor, the same camera specifications, the same storage options and the same compatibility with the first-generation Apple Pencil.
Which means that almost everything we have to say about the iPad Air also applies to the iPad Mini. The only real difference comes down to the screen and body size. That’s not to say this isn’t an important difference when deciding which iPad you should buy!
A ten inch tablet is quite large. At eight inches, the iPad Mini is a much better travel companion. It can fit in substantially smaller bags and is lighter and easier to handle. It has a slightly lower resolution display compared to the Air, but because of the smaller screen size, pixel density is actually higher.
The iPad Mini is an excellent device to enjoy content such as movies, ebooks, comics, music and games. It’s less suitable for doing any sort of productive work. Apple also doesn’t make an official Smart Keyboard for the Mini, so if you do want to do some writing, a third-party option is the way to go. As you might imagine, split-screen multitasking isn’t very comfortable on the smaller display.
Artists who like to travel light will appreciate the Apple Pencil (1st generation) compatibility. In fact, the price difference between the Mini and the Air at every model level is about what an Apple Pencil costs. Something to keep in mind for artsy users.
Best For Students or Budget Users: iPad (7th Generation)
There’s some confusion among consumers when it comes to the seventh-generation iPad. The “plain” iPad isn’t actually the mainstream model. This cheaper 10.2” tablet has found a home in the education sector and comes in at a significantly lower price than the iPad Air. You should also be aware that the iPad often goes on sale at prices significantly lower than its recommended retail price. So it’s worth looking for a good deal.
So how does Apple manage to sell the iPad for so much less than other tablets in its range? Like the iPhone SE, the iPad is put together from older Apple components. Notably, it uses the A10 Fusion chip, which is a few generations behind what the other iPad models are packing.
This makes the iPad less capable as a multi-tasking machine, and apps that take a lot of horsepower, such as games, won’t perform as well. However, we need some perspective here. The A10 is hardly slow in an objective sense. This was the flagship chip found in the iPhone 7 and stands toe-to-toe with chips like the Snapdragon 835.
The other major comparative downgrade is the screen. This is a non-laminated, non-True Tone display. Compared to the newer screens in other current iPads, you’ll notice less brightness, vibrance and overall screen performance. Still, once again, that doesn’t make the screen bad.
It is in fact the same excellent retina display technology you would have found in flagship iPad models from previous years. It’s also worth noting that the base model only has 32GB of storage, with the top-end model limited to 128GB. In the age of cloud storage and smart app offloading that’s not much of an issue, but think carefully about your needs.
If your performance needs are modest and you simply can’t live with an eight inch screen, there’s nothing wrong with buying the iPad. If you can catch one of the better deals, it becomes even more compelling! That being said, this is a great model to get for students on a budget, which is really what Apple intended.
The iPad For Everyone: iPad Air (3rd Generation)
The third-generation iPad Air is the iPad that most people who are in the market for an iPad. It has Apple’s latest A12 chip in it, which is much more powerful than most users need it to be.
The Air has a 10.5 Retina display that benefits from advancements that were previously reserved for the Pro line of tablets. True Tone color correction, full lamination and a wider color gamut all come together for a truly special display experience. Apple’s iPads sport some of the best displays in the world.
This is the iPad we can recommend that absolutely everyone should buy. It’s a premium experience with no concerns about general performance in productivity, multimedia or gaming. The Air makes for a decent laptop replacement as well, given that you aren’t going to use it for heavy creative applications such as music production or video editing.
In short, this is the “true” iPad, equipped with modern components and technology at a palatable price. If you’re unsure about which iPad you should buy, rest assured that the Air is almost always going to be the right choice for you.
The Laptop Replacement: iPad Pro 11” (2nd Generation) & iPad Pro 12.9” (4th Generation)
The iPad Pro models are the pinnacle of Apple’s tablets. They have the fastest hardware, the best screens, USB-C connectivity, quad-speaker sound and an almost bezel-free industrial design that matches the MacBook Pro’s design language.
Let’s be frank. Tablet computers don’t get better than this. Apple is serious about offering the iPad Pro as a real alternative to laptop computers. These iPads support the new trackpad-equipped Magic Keyboard, have the largest screens of all iPads and will tear through any app in the App Store.
These are also the only iPads that work with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which attaches and charges magnetically, to the side of the tablet. Apart from screen size, there is no difference between the two models currently on offer. The 12.9” option does however make for a far more comfortable work experience and is the better choice for artists who want to draw using the pencil. The quad-speaker system offers the best sound on any tablet, and using services like Netflix is a joy on these computers.
The iPad Pros command a stiff premium over the Air, but if your iPad is going to be your main mobile computer or perhaps even your only computer, the improvements over what the Air offers is absolutely worth the price.