Which iPad should I buy? Best Apple tablets for 2019
By Michael Passingham
Apple iPads are some of the most expensive tablets you can buy, and the brand still dominates the tablet market. There are four current models of the iPad on the market right now, each with a different user (and budget) in mind.
To make things even more confusing, Apple has changed its naming conventions a few times since the iPad was first announced in 2010. In this guide we’ll start with the current generation of iPads before looking at some older-generation models you can still find online.
In this article
- What is an iPad?
- The current iPad range
- Using iOS continuity
- 4G iPads
- How much storage do I need on an iPad?
- iPad keyboard and Pencil
- Should I buy an older iPad?
Looking for something else? Have a look at our full collection of tablet reviews.
It’s worth reiterating that an iPad is a type of tablet made by Apple, and not a term for all tablets.
iPads have a specific set of features that are similar across all models. These include the software; all iPads run the iOS operating system. If you have an iPhone, you’ll already be familiar with iOS and on an iPad it’s the same but on a bigger screen. Some apps might also look a little different to take advantage of the extra screen space.
Other features similar across the current iPad range are so-called ‘Retina’ displays; no matter the screen size, all iPads have the same number of pixels-per-inch (ppi), meaning all iPad screens are as sharp as one another, no matter how big they are. All iPads have a Lightning connector on the bottom for charging – the same as the iPhone – and, unlike newer iPhones, a headphone jack.
All iPads have the iconic, round Home Button that’s featured on every iPhone and iPad aside from the last iPhone X. They all have aluminium cases with front- and rear-facing cameras, but they differ in terms of quality and specification.
While there are a number of similarities between iPads, that’s not to say they all perform the same - it’s worth considering your options further to find the right one for your needs. In the table below we reveal how iPads performed in our tests, and what features made some stand out over others.
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Apple iPad Mini (2019)
Apple iPad Air (2019)
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Not to be confused with the older-generation iPad Air and iPad Air 2, the new 2019 iPad Air is a 10.5-inch tablet. It's essentially a jumbo-sized iPad Mini, with the same specifications and an added magnetic connector for keyboard cover. It's the cheapest way to get a large iPad without shelling out for an iPad Pro.
Apple iPad (2018)
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Now in its eighth year, the 9.7-inch iPad had its most recent overhaul in 2018. This added support for the Apple Pencil stylus and upgraded the processor to the very latest A10X. Apple is pitching this model as the ideal tool for school pupils and students, and dropped the price by £10 to prove it.
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2018)
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This iPad is closer to the size of a regular iPad, but with an extra 1.3 inches of screen space. That gives you lots of extra room for putting apps side-by-side to get more things done at once. It also has the same powerful processor as the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro. This machine, like its larger sibling, will be better as a work machine with a keyboard - log in to read more about the smaller Pro.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2018)
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The biggest iPad ever, this 12.9-inch tablet is the size of a small laptop, without the keyboard. iPad Pros work best with the Apple Pencil stylus and are even more effective with a keyboard attached. Without one or the other you simply have a very large tablet. With accessories, this iPad Pro – and the 11-inch model – aim to replace your laptop. Our full review reveals all.
Prices, recommendations and scores correct as of November 2019
If you already have an iPhone or Mac computer, you’ll unlock extra iPad features from the off thanks to Apple’s Continuity feature. This includes Handoff, which lets you start work on an app on one device and continue it on another where you left off. You could start writing a note on your iPad before you leave the house and immediately continue it on your iPhone on your commute.
There’s also a Universal Clipboard, which means any content you copy on one device can be pasted on another. Make calls on your iPad as if it were your phone, and auto-unlock your phone if your iPad is nearby, and vice-versa.
You pay a £130 premium to get a 4G-enabled iPad, and that’s not including the monthly cost of the subscription. Most phones nowadays feature so-called ‘hotspots’, letting you easily share your 4G connection as a wi-fi network. Plus, with free, public wi-fi now very common on long-distance trains and cafes in towns, you probably don’t need to pay extra for this added connectivity.
Pick the best 4G provider with our guide to the best mobile networks.
Because iPads can’t have extra storage added post-purchase – unlike Android tablets with microSD card slots – it’s important to pick the right amount for you. This is what we’d recommend for different uses:
The iPad Pro and 9.7-inch iPad all work with Apple’s Pencil stylus out of the box, while the iPad Mini 4 doesn’t support the Pencil at all. It’s an expensive extra, but worth the price if you plan on taking notes or sketching on your iPad.
All iPads work with Bluetooth keyboards, such as those made by Logitech and other companies, while only iPad Pros work with official Apple Smart Keyboards that connect magnetically to the sides of the tablets.
It’s still possible to pick up a new example of a previous-gen iPad. If you’re buying new, a last-generation model of a 9.7-inch iPad will cost around £20 less than the current model. Saving money is great, but Apple’s policy on updating devices typically means that buying an older iPad will mean your device will stop receiving updates sooner than if you’d bought a newer model.
This isn’t necessarily a disaster, but people using older Apple devices have eventually found that some apps will no longer update to the latest version because their device is too old to support it.
For reference, the ‘4th-generation’ 9.7-inch iPad released in 2012 is locked to 2016’s iOS 10, whereas newer models support iOS 11 and iOS 12. However, it’s impossible to predict when iPads will stop receiving updates from Apple; for example, the iPad Mini 2 from 2013 supports iOS 12.
Latest iPad models and year of release:
• iPad Pro 12.9 and 10.5 – 2017
• iPad 9.7 – 2015
• iPad Mini 4 – 2015
Older iPad models and year of release:
• iPad Pro 9.7 (now discontinued size option) – 2016
• iPad Pro 12.9 (first-generation) – 2015
• iPad Mini 3 – 2014
• iPad 9.7 (A9 processor) – 2017
In short, it’s hard to predict when your device will stop receiving updates, so buying an older model isn’t necessarily a bad decision, especially if you can find one cheaply.