Which iPad should I buy? The iPad Air 1, the iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 2, the iPad mini 4 or the iPad Pro? (Or should I wait for the iPad Air 3?) I'm not sure how powerful an iPad needs to be, how big a screen I need, or how much money I should spend. And how much storage should I get - will 16GB be enough?

Read next: How to set up a new iPad How to speed up a slow iPad | Which iPad do I have? | iPad reviews | Best cheap iPad deals UK

Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad is best for you?

Wondering which iPad to buy? Don't worry, our iPad buying guide will help you pick the right iPad for your needs.

There's a few different questions there, but they all come down to one main consideration: what do you need from an iPad? In our iPad buying guide, updated for 2016, we'll help you work out your requirements and whether you should get a standard-size iPad (the iPad Air 1 or iPad Air 2), an iPad mini (the iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 4 - Apple has discontinued the iPad mini 1 and iPad mini 3) or the new, extra-large iPad Pro.

We'll then talk about further options, such as storage capacity, 3G/cellular capabilities and colours. We'll even talk about whether you should be getting an iPad at all - would an Android or Windows tablet be a more cost-effective option? - and discuss second-hand and refurbished alternatives that will save you money. Finally, for each category of iPad we consider whether an updated version of that device is likely to be unveiled in the near future, and whether the threat of obsolescence should influence your buying decision.

And when you've decided which iPad you want to buy, head to our article How and where to buy an iPad for detailed advice on the best places to buy, the best deals, second-hand and refurbished options and more.

Sections in our iPad buying guide:

The complete iPad line-up

Choosing between the three sizes of iPad: iPad Air, iPad mini, or iPad Pro

Which standard-size iPad should you choose: iPad Air 1 or iPad Air 2?

Which iPad mini should you choose: iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 4?

Which model of iPad Pro should you choose?

Decision time!

Bonus: The Android option

Read our full individual reviews: iPad Air 1 review | iPad Air 2 review | iPad mini 2 reviewiPad mini 4 review | iPad Pro review

Best iPad buying guide 2016: The current iPad line-up

iPad buying guide: Full range

Apple currently sells five iPad models altogether, and each of those offers two or three colour options, two to three storage capacities, and the option to get 3G/cellular or just stick with Wi-Fi. That's a lot of configurations, by our count 61 combinations in total: clearly we've got work to do. 

Which iPad: Size category

But we can break the range down pretty quickly. First of all, you can divide it into three size categories. You've got two standard-size iPads: the iPad Air 1 (also known as just 'iPad Air', as you can see above) and the iPad Air 2. There are two mini iPads: the iPad mini 2 and the iPad mini 4. And there's the new, supersized iPad Pro, which is the biggest and costliest option.

We help you decide which iPad size to go for in our next section: Choosing between the three sizes of iPad: iPad Air, iPad mini, or iPad Pro.

Which iPad: Age

Then you can separate the first two of those categories into a newer and an older model. (The iPad Pro is an entirely new line, so there isn't an older alternative if you can't afford the latest one.) The October 2013 iPads were the iPad Air 1 and iPad mini 2. The most recent generations of the Air and mini lines are the iPad Air 2 (October 2014) and iPad mini 4 (September 2015) - the most recent, and therefore the most advanced and most expensive. And as we said the iPad Pro is new, having come out in September 2015 along with the mini 4.

We help you decide between the older and newer versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini in dedicated sections: Which standard-size iPad should you choose: iPad Air 1 or iPad Air 2? and Which iPad mini should you choose: iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 4?

Which iPad: Budget and requirements

Your choice of the individual models will depend on how much money you're willing to spend, how portable and powerful you need your iPad to be, how long you need to be able to use your iPad (and for it to support the latest software) and in what areas (if any) you are willing to compromise.

Let's get started. First of all we'll decide if you should buy a standard-size, a mini or an extra-large iPad, and then we'll narrow down your choice from there.

Read next: How to set up a new iPad. Plus, read about why there's life in the old iPad yet: The iPad: It's not dead yet!

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Macworld poll: How often do you update your iPad?

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this buying decision, we'd love to hear how often you buy a new iPad. Is this your first iPad ever, or are you a regular updater?

Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which size of iPad should you get?

The first decision will cut our options drastically. Do you want a standard-size iPad (the iPad Air 1 or iPad Air 2), a mini iPad (the iPad mini 2 or 4) or a big-screen iPad Pro?

Read next: iPad Pro vs MacBook Air - can an iPad Pro replace your Mac?

Which size of iPad should you get? Part 1: Screen size

The most obvious aspect of this decision comes down to screen size. The mid-size iPad Airs both have 9.7-inch screens (measured diagonally); the iPad mini models each come with 7.9in screens; and the iPad Pro has a stunning 12.9in screen. How big a display do you need?

iPad buying guide, winter 2015/2016

You can get an idea of the comparative sizes in the picture above (which goes, left to right, Pro, Air 2, Air 1, mini 4, mini 2). But you can also think of the tablets in terms of print publications: the mini models are roughly the size of a paperback; the Airs are closer (in length and width, even though they are very much thinner) to a hardback or Private Eye-style mini-magazine; and the iPad Pro is more like a standard magazine: PC Advisor, for example.

The larger screen is obviously better for immersive entertainment. Whether watching films or playing games, it's a more enjoyable, richer experience. The iPad minis have only about two-thirds of the screen area of the Airs; the iPad Pro has in turn about 78 percent more screen space than the iPad Air models.

If you're worried that an iPad mini will feel cramped, we'd point out that the mini screen feels much closer to the mid-size iPads than you might think. And we're getting increasingly used to watching films and TV shows on phone screens. Don't discount the mini as an entertainment device - it'll do you proud. This is simply a question of priorities. Are you more set on getting maximum screen space, or are you willing to compromise on that front in order to get a lower price tag and improved portability?

If you're looking at some serious work tasks, however, the iPad Pro might be the tablet for you.

Your choice of iPad depends to a huge extent on personal feeling, and it's worth trying to get your hands on the various models, whether in an Apple Store or at a friend's house, to get an idea of what you're looking for. If it's impossible to do this, try the trick we've used occasionally in videos when trying to give viewers an idea of the dimensions of an unreleased product: check the height, width and so on (they're listed below) and use them to knock up a cardboard cutout to play around with.

Which size of iPad should you get? Part 2: Portability

iPad buying guide: iPad range dimensions and weight

One of the payoffs for settling for a smaller screen comes in the form of portability. For one thing, the iPad mini models are a lot lighter - even the heavier of the two mini models is well ahead of the lighter iPad Air on the scales.

The iPad Air 1 (the heavier of the two mid-size tablets) is about half as heavy again as the iPad mini 4, the lighter of the minis: 469g to 299g, looking at Wi-Fi-only models. The gap between Air and mini iPads varies a little if you compare earlier with later models, but is always at least 100g.

The iPad mini units are more portable, then, as you'd expect. As well as their markedly lower weights they also have smaller bodies, which slip easily into a rucksack pocket or even a jacket pocket (we found that the iPad mini 2, for example, can slip into even a trouser pocket, although it was stretching the material rather ridiculously). If you plan to mainly use your iPad out and about, on holiday or commuting, the iPad minis are your best bet.

The iPad Air 2 is pleasingly portable, but it still can't match the mini models for pocketability.

The iPad Pro, as you'd expect from a 12.9-inch tablet, is considerably less portable than its smaller cousins, but we think Apple has done well to keep it down to 713g. It's only 0.8mm thicker than the iPad Air 2, and actually thinner than the iPad Air 1, which is only two years old. It certainly won't go in a pocket (unless you're a clown) but the Pro remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop.

Read next: Is it possible to get a free iPad? How to spot a 'free iPad' scam

Which size of iPad should you get? Part 3: Speed

The newer the iPad you're looking at, the faster it's likely to be in terms of both general processing and graphics. That much is obvious. But you'll also find that the larger iPads tend to be faster than their smaller equivalents.

Here are some benchmarking scores, to give you some idea of the comparative speeds:

GeekBench 3 speed benchmark scores (higher is better)

iPad mini 2: 1372 (single-core), 2467 (multi-core)
iPad mini 4: 1714 (single-core), 3108 (multi-core)
iPad Air 1: 1459 (single-core), 2637 (multi-core)
iPad Air 2: 1836 (single-core), 4643 (multi-core)
iPad Pro: 3086 (single-core), 5406 (multi-core)

GFXBench OpenGL (version 3.0.40) (frames per second; higher is better)

iPad mini 2: 8.7 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 21.9 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad mini 4: 15.4 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 37.3 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad Air 1: 8.9 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 22.5 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad Air 2: 27.3 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 52.4 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad Pro: 33.3 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 51.4 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)

As you can see, there's overlap between the divisions - the mini 4 is faster at all tasks than the Air 1, which is two years older - but broadly speaking, the latest 12.9-inch iPad is faster than the latest 9.7-inch iPad, which in turn is faster than the latest 7.9-inch iPad (even though the Air 2 is a year older than the mini 4).

In other words, if you want to use highly demanding apps such as video and image editors, or if you're into graphically advanced games, you should be edging towards the larger models. (Other considerations may override this and dictate that the mini 4 is still the best option, however.) If you're going to be using your iPad for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you should be leaning towards the minis (and the mini 2 at that), because the power of the iPad Pro, for example, will be wasted on such gentle workloads.

Which size of iPad should you get? Part 4: Battery life

iPad buying guide: Battery life

While we're talking benchmarks, let's reiterate the probably well-known fact that bigger iPads have bigger batteries, and last longer away from a power supply. Here are the results of our battery tests:

GeekBench 3 battery benchmarks (abstract ratings, higher is better, plus time lasted in test conditions to go from 100%-1%):

iPad mini 2: 3990 (06:39:00)
iPad mini 4: 3975 (06:37:30)
iPad Air 1: 4340 (07:14:00)
iPad Air 2: 4601 (07:40:10)
iPad Pro: 6865 (11:26:30)

Don't necessarily expect your device to last exactly that long under normal use conditions, but this gives us a fair idea of their comparative capabilities.

Which size of iPad should you get? Part 5: Price

Perhaps the biggest mark in favour of buying an iPad mini range is the price. Starting at £219, the (16GB, Wi-Fi-only) second-gen iPad mini is the cheapest iPad by a clear £100. Even the brand-new iPad mini 4 (at its most basic spec, at least) is the same price as the two-year-old iPad Air 1.

The iPad Pro starts at £679 for the 32GB (Wi-Fi-only) model, and moves up to a dizzying £799 and £899 for the Wi-Fi and cellular versions of the 128GB model. We're getting into MacBook Air territory, then (for comparison, the 11-inch MacBook Air starts at £749, while the 13-inch Air starts at £849) and clearly not for casual or budget buyers. As we mentioned in the portability section, it's more something to consider as an alternative to a laptop. For these reasons it calls for more pre-purchase research, trying a sample out in an Apple Store and so on.

Hopefully by now it's become clear whether a mid-size, mini or large iPad is the right size for you, which means you can proceed to...

What next? iPad Air buying guide | iPad mini buying guide | iPad Pro buying guideReturn to top of article

iPad buying guide: iPad Air in gold

Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy?

Okay, so you've settled on either a mid-sized iPad Air, an iPad mini, or an iPad Pro. We'll look at the iPad Airs first to narrow things down further. (If you've plumped for one of the other models, jump ahead to the iPad mini section or the iPad Pro section.)

What are the differences between the iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2?

First, let's sum up the main differences between the iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2.

The iPad Air 2 has a newer, more powerful processor chip (the A8X, to the iPad Air 1's A7 chip). The Air 2 has an upgraded rear-facing camera (8Mp to the iPad Air 1's 5Mp). It has an anti-reflective coating on the screen. The Air 2 is thinner (nearly 19 percent) and lighter (6 percent) than the iPad Air 1, and comes with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which means you can unlock the iPad and buy apps with a touch of your finger, and also lets you use a limited version of Apple Pay.

But what do these differences mean in terms of your day-to-day experience?

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 1: Display

The screens of the iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2 are the same in most respects. They are both Retina displays (to understand what that means, see What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?) and both have a resolution of 2048x1536 and pixel density of 264 pixels per inch. In sharpness they should be identical.

There's one (fairly minor) enhancement to the iPad Air 2's screen: an anti-reflective coating. This reduces annoying/distracting reflections when using the iPad under bright lighting.

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 2: Processor power

With its A8X processor chip, the iPad Air 2 is significantly quicker at general processing and handling graphical tasks than the iPad Air 1 (which has an A7 chip) - about 40 percent faster, on paper. When the Air 2 was launched that difference was more theoretical than practical (very few apps had been launched that really pushed the AIr 2's processor), but one year on we're starting to notice slight differences in performance. The iPad Air 1 should still be able to handle pretty much any app you throw at it for the time being, but the minor speed differences between it and its successor are only going to become more pronounced as time goes on.

Let's look again at those benchmark scores, focusing this time on the Air models.

GeekBench 3 processing-speed benchmark scores (higher is better)

iPad Air 1: 1459 (single-core), 2637 (multi-core)
iPad Air 2: 1836 (single-core), 4643 (multi-core)

GFXBench OpenGL graphical-processing speed scores (version 3.0.40) (frames per second; higher is better)

iPad Air 1: 8.9 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 22.5 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad Air 2: 27.3 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 52.4 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)

And while we're looking at benchmarks, here's how the JetStream 1.1 JavaScript benchmark rated the two devices' ability to process web-page elements:

JetStream 1.1 JavaScript benchmark (higher is better):

iPad Air 1: 59.920
iPad Air 2: 83.740

What do these numbers tell us? That the iPad Air 2 is faster than the Air 1 by a clear distance across a range of metrics. And you'll start noticing this in real-world performance.

The most demanding tasks - extremely graphically ambitious 3D games, video and photo editing, and all the more processor-intensive apps that are being released with the iPad Air 2 in mind - are likely to start taxing the iPad Air 1, and it's here that the iPad Air 2 will demonstrate its greater processing muscle. Think of it as future-proofing.

If you need your iPad to be able to run the most demanding apps for years to come, the iPad Air 2 is a better choice. The difference in speed is starting to become noticeable, but only on the more processor-intensive types of app; and if your iPad time is limited to light use - browsing the web, reading emails, playing graphically simple games - then it's probably overkill.

Read next: What people love about the iPad Air | What people hate about the iPad Air

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 3: Camera

The iPad Air 2 has a better rear-facing camera: the megapixel rating was pushed up from 5Mp to 8Mp. This is now a serious bit of photographic equipment, and will take splendid photos, although the iPad Air 1 is no slouch in this department. We noticed some differences, particularly in low light, but there isn't a huge gulf in quality (look around the robot's eyes for more pixellation on the Air 1's shot):

iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2 camera comparison

iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2 camera comparison

Of course, we always feel like undercutting any praise of an iPad camera by speculating on exactly how many people really rely on an iPad for camera work (isn't it rather inconvenient, size-wise?). But if you do - well, then the iPad Air 2 is right up your street.

(While we're on the subject of cameras, the Air 2 also gained some new camera features: time lapse, burst mode, panoramas up to 43Mp and a timer.)

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 4: Weight and dimensions

Before the iPad Air 2 came out I used an iPad Air 1 almost every day for an entire year, in the office, on the sofa, on the train and in bed, and never once never felt it was too thick, or too heavy. And I was surprised when Apple said that the iPad Air 2 was even thinner. Why could anyone possibly need an iPad that was thinner than that? But thinner it is - and it's a stunning feat of engineering.

The iPad Air 1 is 7.5mm thick, and weighs just 469g (for the Wi-Fi-only model). It's a beautifully one-handed tablet. If you're reading an ebook in bed, you can easily hold it in one hand - even holding it over your face when lying on your bed, safe in the knowledge that damage will be minimal if you drop it.

But the iPad Air 2 takes things even further. It's nearly 19 percent thinner, at 6.1mm, and weighs 6 percent less: 437g. This is a tremendously portable and barely-there computing device.

At first we were very slightly concerned about robustness, but after a year with that 6.1mm chassis we can confirm that the iPad Air 2 is no delicate flower. It hasn't bent at all during - and barely been scuffed by - a year of almost non-stop use.

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 5: Touch ID fingerprint scanner

iPad buying guide: iPad Air 2 Touch ID

The iPad Air 2, as was expected, gained Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanning technology, built into the Home button. Since the launch of iOS 8, this works with a number of third-party apps as well as with Apple's own offerings, and this is only going to get better as more developers build Touch ID compatibility into their apps.

Touch ID is convenient, enabling you to unlock your iPad, or an individual app, with a single touch of a finger rather than a passcode or password. It also means you'll be able to use one part of Apple Pay (the online/app-based part, but not the 'paying in a shop' part) when it launches in the UK. But Touch ID isn't a dealbreaker for most people.

Read next: Best apps that use Touch ID: The 8 best fingerprint-scanning iPhone apps

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 6: iOS 9 (and beyond)

Finally, both iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2 will come with iOS 9 preinstalled if you buy them now, and both receive a full complement of its features - with a couple of exceptions.

iOS 9 on iPad

The iPad Air 1 gets the new slide-over multitasking view, where one active app takes up a third of the screen while a static image of the previous app remains in the background of the rest of the screen (shown above). But it doesn't get the Split View feature, in which both apps can be interacted with at once (below) - that one is for the iPad mini 4, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro only.

iPad buying guide: iOS 9 on iPad

Other than this, the only slight point of interest here is that the iPad Air 1 is one generation older than the iPad Air 2, and consequently one rung further down the iOS ladder.

For iOS 8, the iPad 1 couldn't run it at all, the iPad 2 and 3 got most of the features, and the iPad 4 and later got the lot; for iOS 9 this year, the iPad 2 and later were again able to join in the fun. But for iOS 10, it's possible that some of the older tablets won't be able to get the update at all, and more iPads will miss out on features. Each year, owners of older iPads nervously wonder if they're about to stop getting iOS update support. (This isn't the end of the world, of course, and whichever version of iOS you end up 'stuck on' will still work and be supplied with security updates. You just stop getting cool new features.)

Read next: How to update to iOS 9

You should certainly expect a shorter period of full iOS update support if you buy an iPad Air 1 than if you buy the iPad Air 2. The iPad Air 2 is more future-proofed, for iOS updates as well as for third-party apps, than the iPad Air 1, although both should have a good few years in them.

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 7: Price

The iPad Air 2 costs:

Wi-Fi: £399 (16GB), £479 (64GB) and £559 (128GB). Cellular/3G: £499 (16GB), £579 (64GB) and £659 (128GB).

The iPad Air 1 is only available in 16GB and 32GB capacities, and costs £80 less than the iPad Air 2 where direct comparisons are available:

Wi-Fi: £319 (16GB) and £359 (32GB). Cellular/3G: £419 (16GB) and £459 (32GB).

The only thing we'd add to these numbers is to point out that these prices have been static since the iPad Air 2 came out in October 2014, and we're surprised the Airs didn't get a price cut when the new models were unveiled in September 2015. (The iPad minis got a price cut, although this was more obviously needed because a new iPad mini 4 model had come in at the top end.)

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Part 8: Future releases

iPad buying guide

One last thing to bear in mind before we reach a conclusion: when will the iPad Air 3 come out?

The article linked above rounds up all the rumours and clues about the Air 3's upcoming launch, so take a look there for the latest information. But we can offer some brief advice here.

We don't know anything about the iPad Air 3. But bet on it being faster, and probably thinner and lighter, than the iPad Air 2, and it will have a few more features and access to new iOS updates for longer - while costing the same amount that the Air 2 costs now. The Air 2, if it continues to be sold, will get an instant price cut. Wouldn't that be annoying if you'd just bought the Air 2 at full price?

The iPad Air 3 is overdue. Normally Apple updates its 9.7-inch iPad line once a year, and the Air 2 was due for an update in October 2015 - but instead, Apple just unveiled the iPad mini 4 and the iPad Pro. Which has thrown the fanbase into a state of mild confusion. If Apple isn't updating the Airs in autumn any more, when will the next one come out? And how can we plan our purchases without knowing if the iPad we're about to buy is about to become obsolete?

The iPad Air 3 may well come out in March - but there are no guarantees. A persistent rumour at the moment holds that Apple will hold another March event this year (in March 2015 it announced the Apple Watch's launch and unveiled various Mac updates) and use the occasion to launch the iPad Air 3. This is a fair bet - but it's also possible that Apple will leave its 9.7-inch iPad line unchanged for two full years or more, as it's done with its 4-inch iPhone range. Nevertheless...

Worrying about future releases is no way to plan a tech purchase. The thing is, every tech product quickly becomes obsolete. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and take the plunge, knowing that there is a chance that your supplier of choice will stich you up by replacing the device you just bought at full price with something that's thinner, faster and cheaper. That's just one of the risks we take.

That doesn't mean you should be reckless - I wouldn't ever buy an iPhone in August, since we can be almost certain that new iPhones will appear in September. But unless you've seen solid evidence that the iPad Air 3 is about to come out (bookmark the article above and check regularly for updates), I wouldn't let it influence your buying decision. If you need an iPad now, don't be put off by rumours.

Which standard-size iPad Air should you buy? Conclusion

The step up from iPad Air 1 to iPad Air 2 is an accumulation of small enhancements. None of the improvements by themselves would be enough to earn a strong recommendation, but they become quite persuasive when viewed together: you get a faster processor chip; you get a better rear-facing camera (8 megapixels, up from 5Mp); you get a Touch ID fingerprint scanner; you get a device that is a bit lighter (6 percent) and quite a lot thinner (19 percent); you get a less reflective screen; and you get the prospect of iOS update support for about a year more than the iPad Air 1.

Is all of that worth an extra £80? Probably. But this depends on the circumstances.

If you've got an iPad Air 1 and are wondering whether to upgrade, we're not sure we'd recommend it. The iPad Air 1 is already wonderfully thin and light, and fast enough for essentially all current apps. If you love having the latest Apple kit and have the money to spare, then go for it; but upgrading every other year is more than enough for most people to have a great experience with their iPads.

If you're updating from an iPad 4 or earlier, or buying your very first iPad, things are a little different, and we'd probably suggest you go for the newer model. If you like to run demanding games and apps or are a keen iPad photographer, you'll get noticeable benefits. And Touch ID is a convenient bonus.

Those who have light use in mind (email, browsing the web, simple games etc) should be absolutely fine with an iPad Air 1, and would do well to save the extra cash. Although such customers might want to consider a cheaper option still: the iPad mini 2 or mini 4.

We'll run through the pros and cons of each model, and discuss final decisions (such as storage allocation, 3G and colour choice) in the section called Decision Time. Here are some other sections you might want to read next:

What next? Pros and cons of each iPad model | Conclusion: which iPad is right for you? | Storage capacity options | Colour options | 3G/cellular Return to top of article

Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad mini should you buy?

Okay, you've settled on an iPad mini. (If you're lost, jump back to the top of the page.) Which iPad mini model is best for you: the iPad mini 2, or the iPad mini 4?

(The mini 3 has been discontinued, although it is still available second-hand or through Apple's refurbished store. If you're interested, take a look at our iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 4 comparison review.)

iPad buying guide: iPad mini 3 gaming

What are the differences between the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4?

First of all, let's list the differences between the two iPad mini models - and there are plenty.

Mini 4 is faster. The iPad mini 2 runs the A7 processor chip (and the M7 motion co-processor). The A7 is around four times as fast for general processing as the A6 that was found in the original iPad mini, and about eight times as fast for graphical processing. But the A8 chip (plus M8) in the iPad mini 4 is faster still: Apple boasts that it is 1.3 times faster than the A7 at general processing, and 1.6 times faster at graphical tasks. (We'll follow up with some concrete results once we've put the mini 4 through some rigorous speed tests in the Macworld labs.)

The iPad mini 4 also has 2GB of RAM; the mini 2 has just 1GB.

Mini 4 is slimmer and lighter. It's 6.1mm thick to the mini 2's 7.5mm (a reduction of 19 percent) and 299g (for the Wi-Fi version) to the mini 2's 331g (a reduction of 10 percent).

Mini 4 has a slightly better screen. The mini 2 and mini 4 both get Retina screens. Apple no longer sells an iPad with a non-Retina screen. But the mini 4's Retina screen has an anti-reflective coating, which helps reduce distracting reflections when viewing the tablet under bright lighting.

Mini 4 has better cameras. The iPad mini 4 has a better camera setup than the iPad mini 2: the rear-facing camera is 8Mp ot the mini 2's 5Mp, and both the rear- and front-facing cameras on the mini 4 get Burst mode. And the mini 4 gets slow-motion video.

Mini 4 has better wireless. It gets 802.11ac Wi-Fi (on top of the a/b/g/n flavours available with the mini 2) and a slightly later Bluetooth standard: 4.2 instead of 4.0.

Mini 4 gets a barometer. Mini 2 doesn't.

Finally, the iPad mini 4 has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor - no such luck for the mini 2.

Oh, and one more thing: you can get the iPad mini 4 in gold. The mini 2 is available in silver and Space Grey only.

Read next: Best iPad games

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 1: Speed

The first and perhaps most important difference between the iPad mini models is processing speed. 

The difference in speed is the result of different components inside the two devices. As well as having more RAM (2GB to the mini 2's 1GB), the iPad mini 2 has an A7 processor chip, complete with its M7 graphics coprocessor, whereas the mini 4 gets the newer A8/M8 chip. Apple reckons the A8 is about 1.3 times as quick as the A7 at general processing, and 1.6 times as quick at graphical tasks.

Let's look again at those benchmark scores, focusing this time on the mini models.

GeekBench 3 processing-speed benchmark scores (higher is better)

iPad mini 2: 1372 (single-core), 2467 (multi-core)
iPad mini 4: 1714 (single-core), 3108 (multi-core)

GFXBench OpenGL graphical-processing speed scores (version 3.0.40) (frames per second; higher is better)

iPad mini 2: 8.7 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 21.9 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad mini 4: 15.4 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 37.3 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)

And while we're looking at benchmarks, here's how the JetStream 1.1 JavaScript benchmark rated the two devices' ability to process web-page elements:

JetStream 1.1 JavaScript benchmark (higher is better):

iPad mini 2: 56.194
iPad mini 4: 77.799

As with the iPad Air models, the mini 4 demonstrates a clear speed advantage over the mini 2 across a range of metrics. You'll start noticing this in real-world performance, but not on all functions: we can confidently say that the A7 remains a perfectly serviceable chip for current apps.

You'll observe a difference in performance between the two models on the most demanding apps and games. Where the A8 chip really comes into its own is when you up the ante and start playing newer or more graphically demanding games, or use powerful video- and photo-editing packages. The more demanding apps will certainly benefit from the A8's muscle.

Getting the A8 is also a useful future-proofing exercise, because more and more apps are going to be released in the coming months that have the latest hardware in mind, and on such software the iPad mini 2 may start to feel a bit sluggish. For the time being, however, it should be fine for general use, mid-level gaming and most other tasks.

Infinity Blade 3

Infinity Blade 3 is one of the processor-intensive games that will push an older iPad to the limit

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 2: Physical dimensions

The minis are both wonderfully portable, but if you're looking for the slimmest and lightest iPad of all, the mini 4 is the model for you. It's nearly 20 percent thinner than the mini 2 and about 10 percent lighter.

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 3: Cameras

If photography is a major component of your iPad usage, again, strongly consider getting the 4. A bump from 5Mp to 8Mp (on the rear-facing camera) is significant, and likely to result in noticeable sharper shots, particularly in more challenging conditions.

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 4: Touch ID fingerprint scanner

The mini 4 gains a fingerprint scanner. Since Touch ID was opened up in iOS 8, this works with third-party apps as well as with Apple's own offerings, and is therefore only going to get more useful as more and more developers incorporate fingerprint scanning into their apps.

As we argued in the iPad Air section, Touch ID is convenient - you can unlock your iPad, or an individual app, with a single touch of a finger rather than with a passcode or password. And it also means you'll be able to use one part of Apple Pay. But Touch ID isn't a dealbreaker for most people.

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 5: Price

We're nearly there - all that's left before we pick our iPad is to think about price tags. There's a £100 gap from the iPad mini 2 to the iPad mini 4 (although it's also a bit more complicated than that suggests, because the mini 4 has different - and slightly more - storage options).

Here's the full set of iPad mini prices:

iPad mini 2: Wi-Fi: £219 (16GB), £259 (32GB). Cellular/3G: £319 (16GB), £359 (32GB).

iPad mini 4: Wi-Fi: £319 (16GB), £399 (64GB), £479 (128GB). Cellular/3G: £419 (16GB), £499 (64GB), £579 (128GB).

iPad mini with Retina display

Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 6: Future releases

We spoke about this in the iPad Air section, where the rumoured and looming lauch of the iPad Air 3 is a potential concern. But anyone considering an iPad mini has fair less to worry about in terms of future updates.

Only Tim Cook and a few of his henchmen know for sure when the iPad mini 5 will be announced, but you can bet on it being a long time in the future. The iPad mini 4 came out in September 2015, and past behaviour would suggest that the mini 5 will appear in autumn 2016. (If the non-appearance of the iPad Air 3 has anything to teach us, it's possible that Apple will update its tablets less frequently from now on, so it's conceivable that the mini 5 is even further away than that.)

In other words, don't worry about the iPad mini 5 coming out and making your brand-new device obsolete. If you need an iPad mini now, go for it.

Which iPad mini should you buy? Conclusion

Last year we said that £80 extra for the iPad mini 3 (compared to the equivalent mini 2) was a tough sell, because all you got for that money was Touch ID. This year, more happily, we can report that the mini 4 is a different beast entirely: it's a strong update, with lots of enhancements on iots predecessor and plenty to convince the Apple fan that it's worth an extra £100.

What does that £100 buy you? A slimmer and lighter iPad - the slimmest and lightest iPad Apple has yet designed; a faster (and more future-proofed) iPad with a quicker chip and more RAM; an upgraded rear-facing camera and additional Burst and slow-mo modes; faster wireless, better Bluetooth, an anti-reflective screen and a barometer. And the option to get a gold model.

If you just want a cheap, portable iPad for reading emails, browsing the web and playing a few simple games, the mini 2 will do you proud and you might as well save the £100: an iPad for £219 is a real bargain. But for those with ambitions to run more demanding apps, gamers, iPad photographers, even keen ebook readers (who will appreciate the lighter chassis when reading one-handed in bed), we think plumping for the mini 4 is a wise investment.

What next? Pros and cons of each iPad model | Conclusion: which iPad is right for you? | Storage capacity options | Colour options | 3G/cellular Return to top of article

Best iPad buying guide 2106: Which model of iPad Pro should you choose?

This one won't take long, because the iPad Pro is so new: we don't have to worry about choosing between new and old generations. There is only the iPad Pro (which in the future we will probably retrospectively call the iPad Pro 1), and this is available in three versions:

  • iPad Pro (Wi-Fi-only, 32GB)
  • iPad Pro (Wi-Fi-only, 128GB)
  • iPad Pro (cellular, 128GB)

We haven't put UK prices because they haven't been announced yet, but based on the US price tags and previous cross-Atlantic pricing behaviour, we reckon the three models will cost about £629, £759 and £879 in the order above.

iPad buying guide: iPad Pro

The iPad Pro offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet (12.9 inches), a super-fast processor (the A9X), an 8Mp rear-facing camera (if you can imagine using a device as big as that for photography) and a user experience that looks more than capable of replacing a laptop. But on the down side, it's far less portable than even the iPad Air models (although it remains admirably slim, the sheer screen area makes it a handful) and sure to be highly expensive.

The final point is that the iPad Pro hasn't actually launched yet. Apple has told us that it will come out in November, but at present we've got no more detail than that. If you need a tablet right now, you'll need to think about an iPad Air (or a Microsoft Surface Pro?) instead, but we think the iPad Pro will be worth the wait.

How much storage does your iPad Pro need?

As has become an annoying tradition with iOS devices lately, the storage options for the iPad Pro have a big hole in the middle. There's no 64GB option: it's either 32GB (probably a little on the low side for a work, creative or semi-hardcore gaming device) or the top-of-the-line 128GB, which we can confirm can be filled up but only if spend a year reviewing games and make a real effort not to delete anything.

This is a personal decision, of course, but we can offer a little guidance. The things that tend to take up all the space are (in order of bigness): movies; TV shows; games; music; photos and other images; documents. If you plan to use your tablet for lots of things near the start of that list, 32GB may not be enough. Keen gamers, those who like to watch films on the go or keep large music libraries, will find themselves juggling space. Mobile workers may be fine, especially if they store documents in the cloud. (Other cloud-based strategies, such as iTunes Match, can help you cope with a smaller storage allocation.)

But bear in mind that plenty of people cope with just 16GB on their entry-level iPhones, iPad minis and iPad Airs, and it can be done. 32GB is more of a mid-level storage option than a bargain-basement bare minimum. And of course, as yet we don't know for sure precisely how much extra cash Apple will ask you for the higher storage allocation, so it's hard to be completely objective about the best-value plan here.

We look at the question of storage in slightly more detail in a later section of this article: How much storage does my iPad need?

What next? Pros and cons of each iPad model | Conclusion: which iPad is right for you? | Storage capacity options | Colour options | 3G/cellular Return to top of article

Decision Time! Choosing the best iPad (and final options)

Phew! Are we close to a decision? Here are the pros and cons of each iPad model, and the people for whom it would be the ideal choice:

iPad Air 1: Pros, cons, and who is it for?

iPad buying guide: iPad Air 1 pros and cons

Pros: The Air 1 is a lovely, slim and light mid-size tablet with a glorious screen. The camera is fine (if that's your thing) and it's powerful enough to handle almost anything on the App Store.

Cons: It can handle almost anything on the App Store right now. The more time developers spend working with the A8X, the more apps and games you'll see that are pitched at a higher level than the iPad Air 1's A7. And while it's thin and light, the Air 2 is even thinner and lighter.

Ideal for: Anyone who needs a big screen (not a huge screen - they'll want the iPad Pro) but can cope without the very latest in processing muscle and camera megapixellage.

Read more: iPad Air 1 review

View iPad Air 1 on the Apple Store

iPad Air 2: Pros, cons, and who is it for?

Pros: Even thinner and even lighter than the Air 1. Even more powerful - only the iPad Pro is a more powerful iOS device. Gets a stronger camera that makes it a legitimate photographic option. Gets a new gold colour option (which we actually like!). Generally very cool indeed.

Cons: Expensive. Overkill for many situations - most current apps will run happily on the iPad Air 1's A7 processor.

Ideal for: Gamers and iPad photographers, and anyone who wants to be able to run the most demanding apps now and in the future. Power users. Those who are boastful and/or rich - if they're not distracted by the iPad Pro.

Read more: iPad Air 2 review

View iPad Air 2 on the Apple Store

iPad mini 2: Pros, cons, and who is it for?

iPad buying guide: iPad mini 2 pros and cons

Pros: Cheap. Very portable. Powerful, even if not quite as powerful as the iPad mini 4. Retina screen. Great all-rounder - perhaps our favourite option here, although this depends on your needs.

Cons: That small screen does a good job, but you simply won't get the same level of immersion in a film or a game as you would on the screen real estate of an Air or (better still) the Pro. Doesn't get Touch ID fingerprint scanner, if that's something you're desperate for. Two-year-old processor chip doesn't offer same longevity as the iPad mini 4's A8, although this remains a solid and reliable chip.

Ideal for: Everyone! Well, those who are willing to compromise on screen size and Touch ID to get a great deal and a highly portable device. Gamers (assuming they are okay with a smaller screen - and we think this is fine for gaming).

Read more: iPad mini 2 review

View iPad mini 2 on the Apple Store

iPad mini 4: Pros, cons, and who is it for?

iPad buying guide: iPad mini 4

Pros: Very portable (significantly slimmer and a bit lighter than the mini 2). Powerful: comparable to the iPad Air 2. 8Mp rear-facing camera, and some new camera/video modes. Faster wireless and better Bluetooth than mini 2. Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Barometer. Anti-reflective screen finish. New gold option.

Cons: Same small-screen reservations as the mini 2. Extra £100 on top of the mini 2 (but still a good deal). Extra speed unlikely to be noticeable on most current apps, although it's more future-proofed than mini 2.

Ideal for: The portability-conscious with a higher budget. Gamers on the go. Tablet photographers. Ebook enthusiasts.

Read more: iPad mini 4 review

View iPad mini 3 on Apple Store

iPad Pro: Pros, cons and who is it for?

iPad buying guide: iPad Pro

Pros: Huge screen (12.9 inches). Extremely fast processor. Four speakers.

Cons: Least portable iPad yet (although it is admirably slim). Punishingly expensive. Processor speed could be overkill for many prospective buyers.

Ideal for: Creative types, most of all, but anyone who needs a big screen will be interested. Gamers will be intrigued by that insanely fast chip. Those who enjoy consuming media on the go will like the combination of a sumptuous screen and a quad-speaker audio system.

Read more: iPad Pro review

Final conclusion

The iPad mini 2 is the tablet to go for if you're looking for a super-portable tablet at a bargain price and are willing to compromise on screen size and processing power (although it's no slouch; the A7 chip is still capable of handling almost all current apps). The slimmer-still iPad mini 4 is a better option if portability remains a priority but you also want to be able to run the latest and most demanding apps in the years to come (and can afford the extra £100, of course).

The iPad Air 2 is probably the best choice if you need a 9.7-inch screen - its numerous enhancements over the iPad Air 1 make it worth the extra £80 - but you'd be fine with the Air 1 if you're willing to make some sacrifices (namely the camera, and lower speed on the most demanding apps and games now and in the future).

And what of the iPad Pro? This behemoth will serve you well as a laptop replacement, and seems targeted at three distinct groups: business users, gamers and (most of all) creatives. It's going to cost you, but if you want that big, big screen, that super-fast processor and those tasty new accessories, it should be worth it.

Read next: Best iPad games | Best free iPad games | Best free iPad apps | Best iPad stands | Best iPad cases

Comparison reviews

If you'd like to specifically compare two of the iPad range head to head, take a look at our comparisons:

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air 1

iPad Air 1 vs iPad mini 2

iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 4

We'll add more comparisons to this section in future updates.

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What storage capacity should my iPad have?

The five iPads offer anywhere from 16GB to 128GB. How much storage capacity will you need?

Well, first of all remember that you can't upgrade the storage capacity of an iPad at a later date: this is your storage limit from now until you buy another iPad, so aim high and buy as much storage as you can afford. Apple is probably a little cheeky in how much more it charges at each storage point (this stuff is relatively cheap for a manufacturer to upgrade), but it's better to spend an extra £80 now than to buy an entire new iPad in six months' time. Also bear in mind that the true storage capacity of an iOS device is less than the advertised capacity, partly because of the space taken up by pre-installed software.

Storage capacity is in our experience mainly used up by three things: music, photos, and videos, in increasing order of storage drain. If you want to keep lots of films - or even a few, to be honest - then you need high storage: probably the 64GB unit or higher for video fans. Same applies to large photo or music libraries, to a lesser extent, although Photo Streams and iTunes Match respectively make it practical (if perhaps not preferable) to keep your stuff in the cloud and access it remotely. Go for at least 32GB if you want to keep any sort of media library on your iPad.

The other thing that will fill up your storage is apps, but the amount of space they take up varies enormously. Those heavy-duty games we talked about earlier will use up a lot of space, and gamers should aim high on storage - 64GB is a good bar to aim at, with 32GB the compromise point (if available).

I use a comic viewer app with lots of comics in it, and unsurprisingly they do their bit in helping to fill my (128GB) iPad to over half-capacity. If you think it's not possible to fill the largest iPads - well, it can certainly be done, but if I was on a lower-capacity model I'd be more incentivised to delete apps I use less often. I basically pay no attention to deleting old apps or photos, and I'm still closer to the 64GB mark than to the 128GB mark. But there's only one film on there - that's the killer.

16GB isn't much these days, but you can manage if you're willing to delete apps after you stop using them, don't use hardcore games, transfer photos fairly regularly to the cloud or your Mac, and don't use the iPad as a media/music library.

Read about why it's not a good idea to buy the 16GB version: The problem with Apple's 16GB iPhones and iPads.

Colour options

I'm not sure we can help too much on this one. But the basic gist is this: if you're getting the iPad mini 2 or the iPad Air 1, you can buy it in black (or Space Grey, in Apple's terminology) or white (silver). If you're getting the iPad mini 4, the iPad Air 2 or the iPad Pro, you get an extra option on top of those: gold.

We really like the iPad gold, as we mentioned earlier - it's almost a rose gold, quite bronze-like in its warmth. But black or white are the more conservative options. Here's what they look like:

iPad buying guide: Colour options

The 3G/4G/Cellular option

Finally, do you need 3G/4G/cellular connectivity?

It's a luxury, I'd say, even if it's a nice one to have. For an extra £100, you'll be able to access the web and email, and use connected apps, away from a Wi-Fi network. (You also need to factor in the cost of a data plan.) Consider carefully how often you're going to do that - with an iPad mini there's likely to be more on-the-go use than with a full-size iPad, but it's still a lot to pay for something you may only use from time to time. Have you got a regular (overground) commute where you'd enjoy catching up on news headlines or email? Then it could be worth the extra.

Just bear in mind, as a commenter called Chromejob points out below, that the cellular option also brings with it a GPS radio - meaning that you'll be able to pull in accurate location data when using your device on the go.

So that's it - hopefully we've walked you through the iPad buying decision without too many tears. We wish you many happy hours of iPad use.

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See also:

How to buy a new iPad: Best places to buy iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and older iPads

Should I buy a refurbished iPad?

Bonus 1: The Refurbished option

We'll mention this only briefly because it's covered elsewhere, but one option you should absolutely consider is Apple's Refurbished store. It's a sort of halfway house between new and second-hand: the devices are pre-owned, but Apple has checked them thoroughly, replaced any worn-out components and rated them as good as new (and you get a warranty to prove it).

If this sounds appealing, have a look at our in-depth article: Should you buy a refurbished iPad: The differences, pros and cons of refurbished and brand-new iPads

Bonus 2: The laptop option

The recent launch of the ultra-slim 12-inch MacBook has presented Apple customers with a new dilemma: for certain types of buyer, and certain uses, this thin-and-light laptop is a legitimate alternative to a tablet.

If you're going to pick a laptop instead of a tablet, the 12-inch MacBook is one of the better options out there. On the plus side, you gain an integrated hardware keyboard (very handy if you're likely to use your device for long-form typing) and the ability to run full desktop software thanks to the MacBook's use of Mac OS X. On the down side, it's considerably more expensive than the top-end iPad Air 2, for example, and twice as heavy.

For a direct comparison of the 12-inch MacBook and the iPad Air 2, see our article: New 12-inch MacBook vs iPad Air 2. And don't miss our iPad Pro vs MacBook Air comparison review. For more general discussion of the Mac range, including Apple's various laptops, take a look at our Mac buyers' guide.

Bonus 3: The Android option

We're calling this section the Android option, but there are also Windows tablets to consider. In short, should you be looking at non-Apple tablets as well as iPads?

Yes, you should. On balance we prefer iPads to pretty much any company's rival tablets, but Android tablets (and even Windows tablets) have plenty to offer and are a better options for some buyers.

Android tablets are designed and manufactured by a variety of companies, but they are united by the fact that they all run a version of Google's Android operating system. There is therefore a lot of variety between these tablets, in terms of their design, features and price tags.

Android tablets tend to be (but are not always) cheaper than iPads of comparable power, so you could view them as better value for money - although they also tend to be less attractively designed, and your software options are less appealing.

(There's plenty of debate over the relative merits of Android itself and the iPad's iOS operating system - we think iOS is easier to use - but it's hard to argue with the statement that the apps available for iOS are on average better than those for Android. Apple curates its App Store more strictly than Google polices the Google Play store, so there's more junk on Google's platform. And because iOS users have proved more inclined to spend money on apps than their Android counterparts, app developers frequently release their wares on iOS first.)

iOS is also more secure (but not by a huge margin any more - see iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure? and The Macalope: Paling in comparison).

For those who are comfortable with Android's (arguably!) more difficult and rough-edged operation - and we're not talking rocket science, just a bit more potential for customisation and slightly greater scope for installing something dodgy if you're not paying attention - then an Android tablet could well be a better budget option. For one thing, if you want something basic for extremely light use, going outside of Apple's product line-up brings in some super-budget options (such as the Tesco Hudl) that may fit what you're looking for.

We discuss some of these options (including our opinion on the debate, but looking at both sides) in a separate article: Why iOS beats Google Android. But another good place to start weighing up the pros and cons of the Apple and non-Apple options is the series of comparison reviews we've put together to directly compare iPads with major rivals - both Android and Windows tablets are relevant for comparison. Here are some highlights:

iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4 comparison review

iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 comparison

iPad Air vs Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison

iPad mini 2 vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 comparison

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air comparison

New Nexus 7 2 (2013) vs iPad Mini tablet comparison

If you do decide to plunge into the Android ecosystem, our colleagues at PC Advisor are well equipped to walk you through the buying process. Take a look at their list of the best Android tablets.

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