How to choose the right iPad for you

Buying an iPad can be overwhelming. Apple sells five iPad models in a wide range of sizes and capacities. Each tablet has its strengths and weaknesses. You don’t want to buy 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 are some simple tips for choosing the right iPad for you.

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Which iPad Should I Buy?

Rather than being stressed out by too many choices, instead think about the benefits of the wide range of Apple tablets available. The smallest is the iPad mini with an 8.3-inch screen. The largest is an iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch screen. Prices range from $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 to take notes or draw, and do it just fine. (You can also use a third-party stylus.)

Plus, you can add a clickable keyboard and trackpad to turn an amazing tablet into a high-performance laptop. Then, at the end of the day, remove the keyboard and lean back to enjoy games or videos.

One of them is the right tablet for you.
Graphic: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Let’s make a brief summary of the options:

  • iPad: 10.2-inch display, Lightning, Apple Pencil 1, $329
  • iPad mini: 8.3-inch display, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $499
  • iPad Air: 10.9-inch display, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $599
  • iPad Pro: 11-inch display, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $799
  • iPad Pro: 12.9-inch display, Apple Pencil 2, USB-C, $1,099

The regular iPad is a powerful computer at a low price

New budget iPad 9 gets better video chat and doubles the storage
The iPad 9 has twice the storage capacity for the same low price as its predecessor.
Picture: Apple

The 10.2-inch iPad is Apple’s most popular model for an obvious reason: it costs just $329. That’s about a third of the price of the cheapest MacBook. Even adding a clickable keyboard and trackpad to allow the tablet to convert to a laptop still puts it under half the cost of a MacBook.

And the budget iPad is a high-performance computer – everything a young student needs. Heck, it can do everything most adults need for their personal lives.

At 10.2 inches, the screen is large enough to be usable. It’s just a little cramped for side-by-side multitasking, but it’s larger than the 9.7-inch screen that was the only option for several years.

Disadvantages of the iPad: This budget tablet uses a processor that debuted a few years earlier – it offers decent performance but it’s not a speed demon. And it’s the smallest of the full-size Apple tablets, and it still uses the old Lightning port.

Will buy: Amazon

iPad mini is so portable

Save $100 or more on the 2021 iPad mini 6
If you’ve been thinking about the latest iPad mini, now is the time to jump on it.
Picture: Apple

The best computer is the one you have with you. A 16-inch laptop isn’t much use if it’s so bulky that 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 just over half a pound. Yet, it still has an 8.3-inch screen. iPadOS makes it a powerful computer, and it even beats the larger iPhone for watching videos or playing games.

Where it really shines, however, is as an ebook reader. There’s no better iPad than this for kicking back and enjoying a novel.

Opposite the ladder, you can add a clickable keyboard to create the mini laptop of your dreams.

Disadvantages of the iPad mini: Anyone planning to use an iPad mini as an everyday tablet needs a good view for the 8.3-inch screen. And at $500, it’s a little pricey if all you’re looking for is an ebook reader.

Will buy: Amazon

iPad Air is the goldilocks of tablets

iPad Air 5
The iPad Air 5 is available in a range of colors.
Picture: Apple

We all grew up with the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Well, the iPad Air is like its third bowl of porridge. This is just right as it offers a better feature set than the cheaper model but is more affordable than the higher end models.

It has a 10.9-inch screen, slightly smaller than the 11-inch iPad Pro. The real difference is that it’s not the Pro Tablet’s 120Hz ProMotion display – its maximum refresh rate is 60Hz instead.

Still, the iPad Air’s speedy M1 processor makes it ready for everything you need most, from watching videos to playing games to writing a novel. It’s just as powerful as 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 drive.

If you’ve been using a basic iPad for a while and are ready for a newer and better model, the iPad Air might be your best bet. Especially if you don’t have the money for a Pro.

Disadvantages of iPad Air: There are few downsides to Apple’s Goldilocks tablet. Just note that it costs a little more than double what the 10.2-inch iPad does – sure you need the extra features.

Will buy: Amazon

iPad Pro is ready for professionals

12.9-inch iPad Pro and 11-inch iPad Pro
The iPad Pro is the only Apple tablet available in two screen sizes: 12.9 inches and 11 inches.

People who use a tablet as their primary computer usually choose the iPad Pro because it’s Apple’s biggest, with the best screen. Someone who uses a computer all day doesn’t want to compromise.

It’s built around the surprisingly powerful Apple M-series processor, the same chip used in MacBooks. This gives it performance comparable to Apple laptops. Not the latest MacBook Pros, but still.

That said, Apple deliberately made iPadOS simpler than macOS. This often makes it easier to use, a plus for average users. Although it lacks some advanced features and frustrates some hardcore users, iPadOS 16 brings many improvements.

With the tablet’s USB-C port, it can connect to almost any accessory on a Mac. And there’s also Thunderbolt support for super-high-speed file transfers.

Unlike other tablets from Apple, this model is available in two sizes. Choosing the right one for you is as important as choosing between iPad Pro and iPad Air.

11-inch iPad Pro

As noted, tablet buyers are turning to the Pro models because they offer the best performance. And the 11-inch iPad Pro delivers that in a more portable design than its big brother. If you plan to transport the computer very frequently, this version may be the one for you.

Will buy: Amazon

12.9-inch iPad Pro

There’s no better option than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for someone who’s going to make a tablet their primary computer. The screen is big enough to use all day and the processor can easily handle anything you throw at it.

The full-size display makes it well suited for people who frequently need to consult large drawings, images or databases. Or show videos and pictures to customers.

Attach a keyboard/trackpad and you have a powerful convertible computer.

Will buy: Amazon

Disadvantages of the iPad Pro: Regardless of its size, the iPad Pro is an incredible device. It is also very expensive. Think carefully if an iPad Air might be enough for you, especially if you’re considering the 11-inch version. As for the 12.9-inch version, consider whether a MacBook might be a better option.

Which should you get? Don’t panic.

While it’s important to put some thought into choosing the right iPad, don’t give it too much thought. Really, there’s no bad tablet in Apple’s lineup.

The worst that can happen is that you buy more tablets than you need. And you might feel differently about this decision in a few years when you and your iPad are inseparable.

To note: This article was first published in February 2022 and has since been updated with details on the iPad Air 5 in June 2022.

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