The Best iPads for Your Money

·16 min read

Apple’s iPads are some of the best tablets on the market. They’re fast, user-friendly and, when used with a keyboard, can even double as very capable laptops.

An iPad can be a great work tool for students and creative professionals, or just a portable device for anyone who wants to stream Netflix, play games and web browse.

There are currently four iPad models, with different sizes and capabilities. There’s the 10.2” standard iPad, the 7.9” iPad mini, the 10.9” iPad Air and the iPad Pro. Of the four models, the iPad Pro is the only one that’s available in two sizes — 11” and 12.9”.

So, which is the right Apple iPad for you? Here are some things to consider.

What’s the best iPad for you?

Each iPad has a target audience, so to speak. Apple’s top-of-the-line model, the iPad Pro, is a great option for artists, creators and power users who want cutting-edge technology and a reliable workstation. This is also the most expensive iPad, starting at around $800 for the 11” and $1,099 for the 12.9”.

The iPad Air is a mid-range model for users who want a premium experience and similar specs to the iPad Pro at a more affordable price (under $600). The Air models are more portable too, with smaller screens that are easier to hold and carry.

The iPad mini (about $379), on the other hand, is the most portable; it weighs less than a pound and is the most comfortable to hold in one hand. While it’s the smallest iPad, it doesn’t skimp on performance — in fact, has a much better camera and display than the entry-level standard iPad.

Speaking of which, for roughly $300, the standard iPad is perfect for users who want a basic, but still powerful tablet to perform everyday tasks such as playing games, watching Netflix and editing documents (although in reality you can do so much more).

In some cases, it’s possible to find refurbished models of discontinued iPads (older generations). These tend to be cheaper, but we don’t recommend buying these unless it’s from Apple’s certified store where they sell “like new” refurbished devices with a one-year warranty. If you buy these from third-party sellers, you risk getting a device that may not work properly, that’s not covered by a warranty or is too old to be compatible with the latest software updates.

Apple iPad buying guide

Take a look at the following specs as you shop for the best iPad for you:

• Processor. iPads are powered by an Apple-designed system on a chip (SoC), a technology that integrates several different components, such as the CPU, RAM and GPU, in one chip.

Most iPads feature an A-series chip. These are labeled by an A followed by a number, such as A12 or A14. Typically, the higher the number, the newer and more powerful the chip is.

The newest iPad Pro (2021), however, features the M1 chip, Apple’s fastest and most powerful. This is the same chip that debuted in late 2020 as the first truly Mac chip, which marked Apple’s transition away from the Intel chips. It’s also likely to be the chip series that Apple will continue to use for upcoming models.

• Storage. While some Android tablets let you upgrade storage by adding SD cards, an iPad’s storage capacity can’t really be upgraded.

Each iPad model has multiple storage options. On the lower end, there’s the standard iPad available in 32GB or 128GB, followed by the iPad mini and iPad Air, which both offer options of 64GB or 256GB. Upgrading to the higher storage option can cost an additional $100 to $150.

Then there’s the iPad Pro, which offers the most storage options. It starts at 128GB for the base model and can be upgraded to 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and up to 2TB for the newest 2021 iPad Pro. The latter costs a hefty $2,199, mind you.

For most users, the base storage option is sufficient, especially if the iPad will be used mainly just to play games, store some music, stream videos and do some light work tasks such as editing documents.

But if you plan to use your iPad as a professional tool, work with large files, or play graphic-intensive games, then spending an additional $200 or $300 on more storage is a wise choice.

You could also consider getting an iCloud subscription, instead of adding more storage. This Apple service lets you free up storage space by uploading files to a cloud. The subscription starts at monthly costs of $0.99 for 50GB up to $9.99 for 2TB.

• Display. Most iPads come with Retina display, a technology that allows the screen to deliver a higher pixel density — that is, really sharp, non-pixelated, detailed images. This significantly improves the viewing experience by reducing glare and heightening colors.

That being said, each iPad features different display resolutions, which may slightly affect image quality. However, choosing an iPad with a lower display resolution won’t necessarily affect your experience, unless you’re working with video, photo editing or graphic design, in which case you should opt for one of the higher-end models.

• Size. The largest tablet that Apple makes is 12.9” (iPad Pro), which is almost as large as a laptop, and the smallest is 7.9” (iPad mini) which is close in size to a cell phone. In between those sizes, there are the 11” iPad Pro, the 10.9” iPad Air and the 10.2” standard iPad.

If you’re looking for a tablet that’s ultra-portable, the iPad mini is the best option. It’s slightly bigger than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which measures 6.7”, so it can be easily held with one hand and fits into a small bag.

If portability is not your main concern and you prefer a more immersive experience, consider any of the other models. Keep in mind that the bigger the screen, the less comfortable it may feel to hold it with one hand, as is typically the case with the 12.9” iPad Pro.

• Camera. All iPad models come with rear- and front-facing cameras, but each model has different resolution, which is measured in megapixels (MP).

In most models, the rear camera resolution ranges from 8MP up to 12MP; the front-facing one ranges from 1.2MP to 12MP.

Basically, the higher the megapixels, the crisper the image. If you care about picture and video quality, consider the iPad Pro or the iPad Air, which have the highest-resolution cameras.

• Cellular connectivity. If you want to ensure that your iPad is connected to a wireless network whenever you’re away from Wi-Fi, you can opt for a Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad model.

This option is available with all iPad models, however it’s not a cheap upgrade. It adds between $130 and $200 to your total upfront costs, depending on the iPad model and the storage capacity. Additionally, it requires a data plan contract (which will add a monthly bill) with a supported carrier, such as AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon.

• Accessories. Apple offers a wide variety of accessories for iPads, among them the popular Apple Pencil stylus and the iPad keyboards.

The Apple Pencil is a great choice for artists and designers who want to use their iPad as a drawing tablet. There are currently two Apple Pencils. The first generation Apple Pencil is compatible with the 10.2” iPad (7th & 8th Gen.), the iPad mini (5th Gen.) and the iPad Air (3rd Gen.); the second generation Apple Pencil works with the iPad Air (4th Gen.), the iPad Pro 12.9” (3rd to 5th Gen.) and the iPad Pro 11” (1st to 3rd Gen.).

The keyboards, on the other hand, attach to the iPad magnetically and let you use the iPad as if it were a laptop. There are three different options from Apple: the Magic Keyboard, the Smart Keyboard Folio and the Smart Keyboard.

Out of the three Apple keyboards, the Magic Keyboard (Apple’s latest addition) is the only one that features a built-in trackpad and a stand that lets you adjust the tablet to multiple viewing angles. However, it’s only compatible with iPad Pro and the latest iPad Air (4th Gen.). Do note that the iPad mini isn’t compatible with any of Apple’s keyboards.

These are not the only options, though. You can also find many compatible keyboards from renowned brands like Logitech, such as the Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard and the Logitech Slim Folio Pro, or keyboards from generic brands. Just remember to check their compatibility, since most of them only work with specific generations of tablets.

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Best iPads

1. Best overall: Apple iPad Pro 12.9

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)
Courtesy of Amazon

CPU: Apple M1 Chip | Resolution: 2732 x 2048 | Storage: 128GB – 2TB | Rear Camera: 12MP, 10MP | Front Camera: 12MP | Battery life: up to 10hrs. | Size: 12.9” | Colors: Silver, Space Gray

The iPad Pro 12.9” (2021) is the largest Apple tablet and a high-powered multitasker for video editing and graphic design.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the M1, Apple’s newest system on a chip. And, as it turns out, it does live up to the hype. The M1 features an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU, delivering faster performance and graphics than the A12Z found on the 2020 iPad Pro. With this type of power you can do anything from building augmented reality models to playing games with high frame rates.

The 2,732 by 2,048-pixel resolution is identical to the 2020 iPad Pro, but this time the 12.9” model has a Liquid Retina XDR (extreme dynamic range) display panel with a 1,000-nit full-screen brightness rating. This technology takes brightness and contrast to the next level, meaning that any professional can edit HDR pictures and videos with the entire frame at 1,000 nits of brightness.

Apple also replaced the previous 12.9” LED-backlit display with mini-LEDs, which are 120 times smaller than those in the previous iPad Pro. This helps diffuse light more efficiently and provide more accurate colors. This makes it the brightest iPad there is, letting you enjoy every detail in your pictures and videos and your favorite TV series and movies.

Other upgrades include 5G capability for iPads with Wi-Fi + Cellular, and an improved front camera with 12MP and a 122° field of view. Additionally, the front camera features Center Stage, a function that automatically adjusts the ultra-wide camera to keep you centered in the frame, even as you move around.

Like the previous generation, the new iPad Pro only comes in two of Apple’s distinctive colors — space gray and silver — but with multiple storage options that start at 128GB for the base model and go up to a whopping 2TB.

The 12.9” base model costs $1,099, which is almost as much as Apple’s mid-range laptop, the 13” MacBook Pro. The price can go even higher if you add Apple’s variety of accessories or go for extra storage. So, while this is a true workstation, if you’re not going to take full advantage of its cutting-edge features, the highly efficient and more affordable iPad Air would be a better choice.

Opting for the 11” iPad Pro (2021), with a base 128GB model starting at about $800, can also save you some money. It does have a slightly less impressive display of 2,388 by 1,668-pixels with no XDR and mini-LEDs, but features most other specs and the powerful M1 chip.

2. Best overall runner-up: Apple iPad Pro 12.9

iPad Pro 12.9 (2020)
Courtesy of Amazon

CPU: A12Z Bionic | Resolution: 2732 x 2048 | Storage: 128GB – 1TB | Rear Camera: 12MP, 10MP | Front Camera: 7MP | Battery life: up to 10 hrs. | Size: 12.9” | Colors: Silver, Space Gray

The 12.9” iPad Pro (2020) shares many similarities with its successor, including design, camera setup and some major features. This early 2020 model is also a very powerful tablet, and you might find it at reduced prices now that the 2021 model is out.

In terms of design the 2020 iPad Pro is pretty much identical to the 2021 model, though the latter is slightly heavier. It’s available in classic space gray and silver, with multiple storage capacity configurations ranging from 128GB to 1TB.

The rear camera system has the same setup — a 10MP ultra-wide camera, a 12MP wide camera along with a light-detection and ranging scanner (LiDAR). With these cameras, you can record 4K videos and take ultra-wide pictures. The LiDAR scanner, on the other hand, can be used to measure objects’ depth and as a tool to work with augmented reality apps.

It has mouse and trackpad support. This allows it to double as a laptop, especially if you purchase Apples Magic Keyboard. (Adding the keyboard also gives you a more fluid typing experience when working with documents and browsing the web.)

One major difference, however, is that the 2020 iPad Pro contains the A12Z Bionic chip, whereas the 2021 model features the latest and more advanced M1 chip. Nonetheless, this version of the A12 chip (found on some iPhones and the standard and mini iPad) is already capable and powerful enough to support processing-heavy tasks, such as editing 4K videos and 3D projects.

The 11 is another great option. It’s slightly smaller than the 12.9”, but still a powerful multitasker that’s compatible with the same accessories. You may also find it at discounted prices.

3. Editor’s pick: Apple iPad Air 10.9

iPad Air 4th Gen
Courtesy of Amazon

CPU: A14 Bionic | Resolution: 2360 x 1640 | Storage: 64GB, 256GB | Rear Camera: 12MP | Front Camera: 7MP | Battery life: up to 10hrs. | Size: 10.9” | Colors: Silver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Green, Sky Blue

We like the fourth-generation iPad Air because it offers similar specs to the iPad Pro at a more affordable price (under $600). Its slightly smaller and lighter design and outstanding speed also make it the best iPad for users who want a premium performance without breaking the bank.

This 10.9” iPad Air is powered by the A14 Bionic chip, which includes a 6-core CPU and a 4-core GPU. This is enough power for anything from gaming to editing 4K videos. It’s faster than the A12 Bionic chip found on the standard iPad and iPad mini, and a decent rival to the 2020 iPad Pro’s A12Z chip.

Unlike its predecessor and the standard iPad and iPad mini, the new iPad Air has no Home button in the middle of the screen bezel. Instead, it features a power button on top of the tablet that works as a fingerprint authenticator, enabling you to unlock your screen with just your fingertip. Additionally, two speakers (one on top and another on the bottom of the tablet) provide clear landscape audio when listening to music or watching videos.

The iPad Air features a 12 megapixels (MP) main wide camera, like the iPad Pro, and a 7MP front camera. The rear camera can be used for recording 4K and HD videos, whereas the front camera is great for virtual meetings. Like the iPad Pro, it supports the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2.

4. Best for low prices: Apple iPad 10.2

iPad 8th Gen
Courtesy of Amazon

CPU: A12 Bionic | Resolution: 2160 x 1620 | Storage: 32GB, 128GB | Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 1.2MP | Battery life: up to 10 hrs. | Size: 10.2” | Colors: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

At around $300, the eighth-generation iPad is the cheapest Apple tablet and the perfect option if you’re on a budget.

Although similar in design to the previous generation, the 10.2” iPad ditched the A10 chip and replaced it with the more advanced A12 Bionic chip. It has a decent Retina display that’s half an inch larger. It’s also compatible with the first generation Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard.

All of this makes the entry-level iPad a versatile tablet for watching Netflix and web browsing, and for performing simple computing tasks such as working with documents and emails. You can also use it to play a wide range of games and even pair a PS4 or Xbox controller to create a portable game console.

However, the low price does come with some sacrifices. For starters, the front camera has a low resolution of 1.2MP. This may result in grainy video and image quality, especially during video calls. If you want a tablet to use in virtual meetings, this might not be the wisest choice. Additionally, the screen doesn’t have an anti-reflective coating, a feature that helps minimize glare and reduces the need to manually increase the screen’s brightness when there’s too much ambient light.

5. Best for Portability: Apple iPad mini (5th Gen.)

iPad Mini
Courtesy of Amazon

CPU: A12 Bionic | Resolution: 2048 x 1536 | Storage: 64GB, 256GB | Rear Camera: 8MP | Front Camera: 7MP | Battery life: up to 10 hrs. | Size: 7.9” | Colors: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Apple’s smallest iPad is super portable and perfect for those who want something that’s easy to carry around in a small bag. Compatible with the first generation Apple Pencil, it’s also a versatile work tool for students and art enthusiasts who want a digital notebook to jot down notes or sketch.

With a screen size that’s a few inches bigger than the largest iPhone, the 7.9” iPad mini is powered by the A12 Bionic system on a chip, the same one that’s on the entry-level iPad. Despite its size, the iPad mini is powerful and fast enough to run apps like Adobe Photoshop CC, edit videos and play games with console-level graphics. It uses real-time machine learning (Neural Engine), which enables it to recognize patterns, learn from experience and analyze data more quickly.

What’s best is that it offers an improved display and a much better front-facing camera than the 10.2” standard iPad.The front camera has a 7MP resolution — a big jump from the 1.2MP camera on the larger entry-level iPad — which can make you look your best during FaceTime calls and virtual meetings on Zoom and Google Meet. Additionally, it comes with more storage capacity, as you can choose between the 64GB base model or the upgraded 256GB model.

Although the iPad mini is smaller than the 10.2” iPad, it does cost more — it retails for about $379, while the standard iPad is around $300. This may be a deal breaker for some. After all, why pay more for a smaller screen? However, if you want an enhanced display, better camera resolution and portability, then the mini is certainly worth the higher price.

One important drawback to note is that the iPad mini is not compatible with any of Apple’s Smart Keyboards. You can, however, pair it with other brands, such as the Brydge 7.9 Wireless Keyboard.

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The Best Tablets for Your Money

The Best Laptops for Your Money

The Best Wireless Mouse for Your Money

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