Which iPad should I buy? Best Apple tablets for 2021
First launched in 2010, the Apple brand still dominates the tablet market, despite iPads being some of the most expensive tablets you can buy. There are four current models of the iPad, each with a different user (and budget) in mind.
Here, we take you through the similarities and differences between the latest Mini, standard, Air and Pro versions of Apple's iconic tablet, and take a look at whether it's still worth buying some of the older-generation models.
Which iPad is best for me?
Given there are four distinct iPad models – five if you include the two sizes of iPad Pro – there's never been more choice of them. Below we summarise what sort of buyer should choose each type, then highlight how the latest version of each scored in our expert tests.
- Screen size: 10.2 inches
- Good for: For watching video and web browsing at home.
The standard 10.2-inch iPad is the cheapest you can buy, but also the heaviest and thickest of all the non-Pro iPads. While it still weighs under 500g, the large screen and slightly bulkier size means it's best suited for use when you're sitting down.
It doesn't have the very latest tech powering its processor or cameras, and it doesn't have Apple's Face ID facial recognition features. All that said, if you just want a simple video-watching or web-browsing experience, it should deliver the goods.
- Screen size: 7.8 inches
- Good for: Using on the move
The iPad Mini is very similar to the standard iPad but smaller, at just 7.8 inches diagonally. The Mini typically comes with the same or a similar processor to the one in the standard iPad, meaning they usually perform very similarly.
The main difference is the size and weight, which make the iPad Mini easier to carry around in your hands or pop in a small bag.
- Screen size: 10.9 inches
- Good for: Those looking for a more premium experience
The iPad Air ups the specs compared with the standard iPad. It gets the latest processor and the ability to magnetically connect to Apple's range of Smart Keyboards so it can be used like a laptop.
It has a large, 10.9-inch screen, but weighs less than the standard, smaller iPad. On the downside, some may find the extra screen size makes it a touch unwieldy to use while standing up.
- Screen size: 11 inch or 12.9 inch
- Good for: If you're looking for a tablet that doubles as a laptop
The iPad Pro comes in two sizes – the smaller is more or less on par with the iPad Air, while the screen on the larger is more akin to a medium-sized laptop.
Both models are as fast as your typical laptop and are powered by the very latest processors. You also get an upgraded screen that can show colours more accurately and four speakers surrounding the device for a more immersive sound. Plus, like the iPad Air, Pro iPads can connect to Apple's Smart Keyboard accessories.
For most people these extras will be overkill, but if you are a creative professional who wants to edit photos, videos or 3D projects on the move an iPad Pro could be a great choice.
Standard iPad Range on test
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.
Below we reveal how the latest versions of the iPad Mini, standard iPad and iPad Air performed in our tests, and what features made some stand out over others.
iPad Pro range on test
Find out how the 11 and 12.9-inch versions of the iPad Pro fared in our labs.
Streamline your working with iPad, iPhone and Mac Continuity
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.
Do I need a 4G-connected iPad?
As standard, iPads connect to the internet over wi-fi; you pay a 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 from your phone to your iPad 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.
No iPad models yet come with 5G, but the rumour mill suggests this much-hyped new connectivity might be making its way into a new version of the iPad Pro in the first half of 2021.
How much storage do I need on an iPad?
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:
- 32GB: Pick this option if you're only streaming video and reading on an iPad or iPad Mini.
- 64GB: Choose this amount of storage if you download TV and films. Also pick this option if you take photos and videos on your iPad.
- 128GB: If you have lots of apps and games, and also plan on downloading lots of TV and films, it's worth getting more storage.
- 256GB: This option is only available on the iPad Pro. If you're planning on using your iPad Pro like a laptop - with multimedia projects such as music, video and photos - it's sensible to invest in this amount.
Do I need a keyboard or stylus with an iPad?
As of December 2020, all current iPad models support Apple Pencil. The 10.2-inch iPad and iPad Mini only support the first-generation Pencil, which has an awkward charging mechanism that requires it to be shoved into the charging port of the tablet. The iPad Air and iPad Pro models both support the second-generation mode, which charges when attached to the edge of your iPad using a magnet.
All iPads work with Bluetooth keyboards, such as those made by Logitech and other companies, while only iPad Pros and the Air work with official Apple Smart Keyboards that connect magnetically to the sides of the tablets.
Should I buy an older iPad?
It’s still possible to pick up a new version of a previous-generation 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 older iPads will stop receiving updates sooner than newer models.
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 this.
Below is a list, last updated in November 2020, of iPads that either ship with iPadOS 14 (iOS 14) – the latest version – or can be updated to that software.
Latest iPad models and year of release:
- iPad Pro 12.9 and 11-inch – 2020
- iPad Mini 7.9-inch (5th-generation) – 2019
- iPad Air 10.9-inch (4th-generation) – 2020
- iPad 10.2-inch (8th-generation) – 2020
Older iPad models that support iPadOS 14
- iPad 10.2-inch (7th-generation) – 2019
- iPad Air 10.5-inch (3rd-generation) – 2019
- iPad 9.7 7th-generation (2019)
- iPad 9.7 6th-generation (2018)
- iPad 9.7 5th-generation (2017)
- iPad Air 2nd-generation (2014)
- iPad Mini 4th-generation (2015)
- All older iPad Pro models including 1st-gen (2015 onwards)
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.