Which iPad is best for you? The choices are confusing and even more so now that Apple has updated the line up for autumn/fall 2021. The company updated the iPad mini and the standard iPad at an event on 14 September and in so doing they have shaken up our recommendations yet again!
There are five different iPad models, listed below, and each is available with or without cellular (including 5G on certain models), which costs extra. That's before we get into storage capacity, colours and second-hand alternatives.
In this in-depth guide we explore all the factors that should influence your iPad buying decision, and also reveal whether an updated version of each device is likely to be launched soon.
If you're thinking of buying an iPad for college or university you might also like to read our Best iPad for students guide.
|Model (launch date)||Key features + specs||Storage + cellular options||Price + buy link|
|iPad Pro 12.9in '5th gen'
• Huge 12.9in screen
|iPad Pro 11in '3rd gen'
• Medium 11in screen
• Medium 10.9in screen
• Medium 10.2in screen
|iPad mini '6th gen'
• Small 8.3in screen
Many buyers simply want the best iPad they can get for their money, but that all depends on budget.
The good news is that there is a wide range of iPad prices, from £319/$329 for the 10.2in iPad all the way up to £2,149/$2,399 for the top-end 12.9in Pro.
Back in the day our perennial advice was to steer clear of the very cheapest model in the range. But that's not true any more: the 10.2in iPad launched in September 2021 is a much more impressive package than its cut-price predecessors. The device's low price, combined with some great tech, makes this budget iPad an attractive option.
If you have more to spend, what can you get for your money? The iPad mini costs more than the standard iPad - in fact the price has gone up with the introduction of the 6th-gen iPad mini in September 2021 and now starts at at £479/$499 (it was £399/$399).
The mini does have a number of features that set it apart from the standard iPad though including a faster A15 processor (rather than the A13), a 12MP rear facing camera (as opposed to a 8MP option), and a fully laminated better display among other things.
The iPad Air starts at £579/$599, which was a £100/$100 increase on the price of the 2019 model, but it has some really impressive features that give even the 2021 iPad Pros a run for their money. The price increase for the iPad mini price has bought that model closer to the price of the Air though, with just £100/$100 difference. And following its September 2021 update the mini can now really give the Air a run for its money with a A15 processor to the Air's A14 and a much better front facing camera (12MP ultra wide on the mini compared to 7MP FaceTime HD on the Air - even the standard iPad now has a better 12MP camera for FaceTime.)
The iPad Pro, updated in April 2021, is still the ultimate in this category. Starting at £749/$799 the Pro has a lot to offer, with advanced cameras and an M1 chip for starters. But we think these features are probably more than the average person needs.
Those are the prices that Apple sells its iPads for, but you don't have to pay that much. Take a look at our regularly updated iPad deals page for the lowest prices and best discounts on iPads new and old.
Size is a question of taste rather than simply going for the biggest iPad you can get your hands on. Bigger isn't necessarily better if what you need is small and light.
The most obvious aspect of this decision comes down to screen size. You've got five options: 8.3in mini (previously 7.9in), 10.2in iPad, 10.9in iPad Air, 11in Pro or 12.9in other Pro. All screens are measured diagonally from corner to corner - or from the place where the corners would be in the case of the Pro screens, which are slightly rounded.
But how big a screen do you really need?
You can get an idea of the comparative sizes in the picture above. But you can also think of the tablets in terms of print publications: the mini is roughly the height and width of a paperback book; the mid-size iPads are closer to a hardback (albeit much slimmer); and the 12.9in iPad Pro is like a magazine.
The larger screen is obviously better for immersive entertainment. Whether watching films or playing games, it's a more enjoyable, richer experience. The iPad mini has only about two-thirds of the screen area of the 10.2in iPad, but the slightly larger screen of the 2021 iPad mini model is closing in on the 10.2in display.
The most comparable iPad for size are the iPad Air, iPad Pro and the standard iPad. Here we have screens at 11in, 10.9in and 10.2in. The magic here is that the iPad Air is fractionally more compact than the iPad, despite the larger display.
This is 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?
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2021): 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm; 682g/684g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
- iPad Pro 11in (2021): 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm; 466g/468g
- iPad Air 10.9in (2020): 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm; 458g/460g
- iPad 10.2in (2021): 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm; 487g/498g
- iPad mini 8.3in (2021): 195.4mm x 134.8mm x 6.3mm; 300.5g/308.2g
As you'd expect, the iPad mini is a lot lighter than the other iPads, and even more so since the September 2021 update. There's a big gap between that device and even the mid-size iPads.
As well as its markedly lower weight the mini also has a smaller body, which slips easily into a rucksack or jacket pocket. If you plan to mainly use your iPad out and about, on holiday or commuting, or perhaps you're buying an iPad for a child, the mini is your best bet.
The iPad, iPad Air and 11in Pro are pleasingly portable, but they still can't match the mini for portability. The iPad has an identical length and width to the Air, but is thicker and heavier; the Pros are slimmer still.
The 12.9in Pro is considerably less portable than its smaller cousins, but we think Apple has done well to keep it down to 682g: it remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop.
Older iPads (and the older components they contain), even if functioning perfectly right now, are likely to reach the end of their useful life sooner than the newest models.
The 'current' iPad range covers a fair range in terms of age: iPad Air came out in September 2020, the iPad Pros came out in April 2021, the iPad mini and the 10.2in iPad were updated in September 2021. We anticipate that the next iPad to get an update will be the iPad Air, probably in the spring of 2021. Read about that update here: New iPad Air.
If you're looking to save money by compromising on an older model than that, you'll need to buy second-hand or from a reseller with discontinued stock. We often see resellers offering decent discounts on older iPad models so be sure to have a look at our iPad deals round up.
But keep in mind that iPads tend to start slowing down at around two to three years of age; at the four- or five-year mark you should expect noticeable loss of performance and you won't be able to get all the latest software updates.
There is another reason to buy a recent iPad, which is the operating system it runs. For years the iPad and iPhone shared an OS, called iOS, but in 2019 they went their separate ways, with a new version called iPadOS designed to suit the iPads' larger screens and different user needs. It's well worth getting a system based on iPadOS if you can.
The following iPads can run both versions of iPadOS. (The new version is iPadOS 15.)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th generation)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (1st generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd generation)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st generation)
- iPad Pro 10.5-inch
- iPad Pro 9.7-inch
- iPad (9th generation)
- iPad (8th generation)
- iPad (7th generation)
- iPad (6th generation)
- iPad (5th generation)
- New iPad mini 6
- iPad mini (5th generation)
- iPad mini 4
- iPad Air (4th generation)
- iPad Air (3rd generation)
- iPad Air 2
The iPad Pro models are, as you would expect, faster than their smaller equivalents. You can get an idea of relative speed by looking at a few relevant specs:
- iPad 10.2in (2021): A13 Bionic
- iPad mini (2021): A15 Bionic
- iPad Air (2020): A14 Bionic
- iPad Pro 11in (2021): M1
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2021): M1
The big news for 2021 is that an iPad has been released without an A-series chip for the first time: the latest Pros get the M1 chip that won such widespread acclaim in the Mac range. This should result in some outstanding performance, and we can't wait to get review samples into our testing lab.
But that doesn't mean the A chips are suddenly sub-standard, or incapable of running apps to a high standard of performance. Keep in mind that the software on the App Store was designed with A chips in mind, and it will be months before apps catch up with the power of the newest Pro hardware. Even then, most developers will want to make their software accessible to as many iPad owners as possible.
So this is a question partly of your requirements, and partly of how long you intend to use your iPad for. Within six months to a year the most demanding graphic-design, video-editing and audio apps will demonstrate improved performance with the M1 processor; if you're looking at high-level workloads multiple years down the line the M1 will really show its worth.
But for most users the A14 will be more than fast enough for the mid- and even quite long term, and even the A13 Bionic performs perfectly well on today's apps.
Another important factor to consider is memory. The mini and iPad 10.2in each have 3GB of RAM; the Air has 4GB. The 2021 Pros have either 8GB or a whopping 16GB of RAM, depending on your storage tier - the 1TB and 2TB versions get the higher RAM allocation.
Overall, we would advise those who want to use highly demanding apps - such as video and image editors and graphically advanced games - to choose an iPad Pro. If you're going to be using your tablet for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you'll find the 10.2in iPad or iPad mini perfectly decent.
For all five currently available iPads, Apple makes the same claim concerning battery life: that they will last "up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi or watching video" or "up to 9 hours of surfing the web using a mobile data network".
But it's a well-known fact that bigger iPads have bigger batteries, and (despite powering larger screens) tend to last longer away from a power supply. Here are the available battery specs for the current range:
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2021): 40.88 watt-hour
- iPad Pro 11in (2021): 28.65 watt-hour
- iPad Air (2020): 28.6 watt-hour
- iPad 10.2in (2021): 32.4 watt-hour
- iPad mini (2021): 19.1 watt-hour
There are factors other than capacity influencing battery life, such as how many pixels that battery is powering, the energy savings that can be made by a more modern processor, and the kind of apps you're using.
With these general observations out of the way, it's time to look at each device in more depth. For each iPad we record the essential information, its pros and cons, which buyer should pick it and whether now is a good time to buy.
Launched in September 2021, the iPad mini is available in two storage capacities (64GB, which will be plenty for most people, or 256GB), and four colours: silver, gold, Space Grey and a brand new purple version.
Whichever version you go for, you'll get an A15 Bionic processor chip, a Liquid Retina screen and 12MP/12MP rear/front cameras.
Beyond colour, the only thing to decide is whether you want to grab the Wi-Fi-only model or the cellular version so you can get on a 4G and now 5G network. There is a steep price difference between Wi-Fi and cellular, which might seem a lot, but if you expect to travel with your mini (surely one of the main benefits of the smaller model) then data support might be worth the extra cost (you can always hotspot from your iPhone though and save the additional cost of a cellular plan for your iPad).
Pros: Very portable and still respectably powerful. Affordable, and cheapest version has good amount of storage (64GB). Supports second-gen Apple Pencil. Improved 12MP FaceTime camera.
Cons: Small screen, which may not be great for those who get eyestrain or who like immersive films and games.
Ideal for: The portability-conscious. Gamers on the go. Tablet photographers. Ebook enthusiasts.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. Apple updated the iPad mini in September 2021 and it was quite a significant update with a redesign so we think it's unlikely to get updated again until 2023.
Best deals on the 2021 iPad mini:
This is the cheapest iPad you can buy, while remaining powerful enough for most purposes. (In fact the UK entry price of the 9th generation iPad is actually less than the previous generation - and it has twice as much storage!)
Back in 2019 Apple increased the screen size from 9.7in to 10.2in. The 2020 model was also 10.2in and so is the 2021 model. There have been various improvements though, including a faster A13 processor (previously A12) and the standard iPad has finally got True Tone for more natural colours in any light. It's also great news that the iPad has a vastly improved FaceTime camera on the front, now 12MP up from just 1.2MP. The pandemic appears to have taught Apple that people want decent video conferencing cameras.
The iPad 10.2in has a good screen size for gaming and films, while remaining slim, light and portable.
Indeed we would go so far as to say that the agreeable price, the extra viewing room, the Smart Connector and the overall quality under the hood combines to make this the best and most approachable entry-level Apple device.
Pros: Beautifully thin and light - though not as thin and light as the Air. Low price. Its A13 chip will handle pretty much anything on the App Store right now, although the arrival of the M1 chip in the Pro range may see the top tier of apps move out of this iPad's reach. Can use the Apple Pencil (first-gen only).
Cons: Still feels cheaper thanks to the unlaminated screen (will Apple ever update this?)
Ideal for: Anyone who needs a big screen (not a huge screen - they'll want the 12.9in iPad Pro) but is on a budget, and can cope without the latest in processing and camera power. Anyone who still likes the Home button, which is now available on the 10.2in iPad only. It's a good-value all-rounder.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. It launched in September 2021 so we don't expect another update for a long time.
Best deals on the 2021 iPad:
Read more: iPad 10.2in (2020) review
This device set the cat among the pigeons when it launched in September 2020, bringing an iPad Pro-esque all-screen design, moving Touch ID from the Home button to the power button, introducing the A14 Bionic chip before it even appeared in the iPhone, and improving the camera.
It's an elegant, powerful and easy-to-use tablet that at the time largely matched the 2020 Pro range at a price closer to the mini and 10.2in models - another triumph for the inbetweener. Since then, however, Apple has updated the Pros for 2021 with M1 chips, improved cameras, 5G and the XDR display, and the status quo has been somewhat restored.
Pros: Lovely big screen. Very powerful, but significantly cheaper than the Pros. Supports the Pro accessories: the Apple Pencil (second-gen) and the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Lovely colour options.
Cons: Much more expensive than iPad 10.2in. Overkill for many situations. Doesn't come with very latest features of 2021 Pro update: M1 chip, 5G, XDR display. Now has the worst FaceTime camera on an iPad.
Ideal for: Tablet gamers and anyone who wants to be able to run the most demanding apps now and in the future. Pro users (business, creative, design) who can't afford an iPad Pro.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes.
Read more: iPad Air (2020) review
- 128GB: £749/$799
- 256GB: £849/$899
- 512GB: £1,049/$1,099
- 1TB: £1,399/$1,499
- 2TB: £1,749/$1,899
- 128GB (cellular): £899/$999
- 256GB (cellular): £999/$1,099
- 512GB (cellular): £1,199/$1,299
- 1TB (cellular): £1,549/$1,699
- 2TB (cellular): £1,899/$2,099
The newest iPad Pro models came out in April 2021. These brought no external changes, but a number of important upgrades within.
The Pros now feature M1 chips - powerful and energy-efficient processors you may remember from their widely praised performance in the latest Macs. Combined with an increased allocation of RAM this should make them both devastatingly quick (Apple claims 50% faster CPU and 40% faster GPU performance than the 2020 iPad Pro) and long-lasting, although in both respects we'll need to get them in the lab to find out for sure.
The front-facing camera has been bumped from 7MP to 12MP, and Apple has added an ultra-wide lens and a new feature called Centre Stage which pans and zooms automatically to keep you and others in the frame during video calls.
Apple has also added 5G (on the cellular models only, of course) and doubled the maximum storage allocation to 2TB. There's a display upgrade too, but you'll have to read on to find out about that, since it's only on the 12.9in model.
Pros: Slim and light; great cameras; 5G; Face ID; devastatingly quick and power-efficient processor.
Cons: Very expensive. Its power could be overkill for many.
Ideal for: Creative types who don't need the absolutely largest screen. It's great for watching films and TV shows (and offers quad-speaker audio to match) but a 10.5in or even 9.7in screen would be a lot more affordable and almost as good.
Is now a good time to buy? Absolutely. Here's where to buy the M1 iPad Pro.
Read more: Complete guide to iPad Pro 2021
- 128GB: £999/$1,099
- 256GB: £1,099/$1,199
- 512GB: £1,299/$1,399
- 1TB: £1,649/$1,799
- 2TB: £1,999/$2,199
- 128GB (cellular): £1,149/$1,299
- 256GB (cellular): £1,249/$1,399
- 512GB (cellular): £1,449/$1,599
- 1TB (cellular): £1,799/$1,999
- 2TB (cellular): £2,149/$2,399
The iPad Pro 12.9in, which was updated in spring 2021, offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet, squeezed into a relatively small and very thin chassis. In other respects it's largely the same as the 11in Pro - super-fast processor (the M1) with lots of RAM, excellent cameras, 5G in the cellular models and a user experience that looks more than capable of replacing a laptop.
The main exception is the display, which has been upgraded to XDR classification by Apple. This feature is only available on the 12.9in model (and the Pro Display XDR, if you've got a few more thousand to spare).
The XDR display is backlit by a huge array of mini-LEDs, offering subtle localised dimming across the screen. And in terms of specs it's capable of 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness in HDR, plus a million-to-one contrast ratio.
This is all thoroughly impressive. But on the down side, the 12.9in Pro is far less portable than even the mid-size iPads (it remains admirably slim, but the sheer screen area makes it a handful) and ruinously expensive, particularly at those upper storage tiers.
Pros: Huge screen (12.9in); extremely fast processor with bags of RAM; excellent cameras; 5G; four speakers; Face ID.
Cons: Least portable iPad currently available (although it is very slim); very expensive; processor speed will be overkill for many prospective buyers.
Ideal for: Creative types most of all, but anyone who needs a big screen will be interested. Gamers and those who enjoy consuming media on the go will like the combination of a sumptuous screen and a quad-speaker audio system.
Is now a good time to buy? It's an excellent time, since the device launched in April 2021.
Final conclusions: Which iPad should you buy?
The iPad 10.2in (2020) is a good option for newcomers and those whose usage will be light. Since Apple updated it with a better processor in September 2020 we are a lot more comfortable recommending it.
For most people, however, our recommendation would be the iPad Air (2020). The redesign in September 2020 gave it a more modern look and the A14 processor will future-proof this model for many years. We love that it retains Touch ID via the power button, but expect some people will miss the Home button. However, Apple has bumped up the price of the Air and it's now $250/$250 more than the 10.2in iPad.
If you're attached to the Home button you'd be best to advised to go for the iPad 10.2in. The iPad mini (2019) also has a Home button, but it's more than two years since Apple updated it. Go for this if your priority is portability and you need to buy right now, but we'd suggest that a better option would be to buy the iPad 10.2in instead, or wait for Apple to update the mini.
The remaining iPads will be too expensive for the average buyer. The 11in and 12.9in Pro models are amazingly powerful and well made, with a fantastic all-screen/Face ID design. But the iPad Air also has an excellent processor, and a similar design, and costs considerably less.
Finally, before taking the plunge, have you considered if a laptop might suit your needs better? See iPad vs MacBook for more advice on that front.
Now you've picked an iPad model, there are just a few extras to consider: storage, colour, cellular and how to buy.
Should you buy your iPad on contract?
We'd generally say not - it'll be cheaper up front but you'll end up paying more in the long run. But it all depends on your budget and the most convenient way to pay for your device. (Businesses often prefer to pay for employees' tablets on contract.)
Remember that you won't be able to switch to a different data provider until you've finished paying off the contract, as the iPad is likely to be locked to the original contract provider. Here's how to unlock an iPad from its network, once you've fulfilled your contractual obligations.
We discuss the best iPad contract deals in a separate article.
How much storage do you need?
The five iPads offer anywhere from 32GB to 2TB of storage. How much 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. It's better to spend an extra few pounds now than to buy an entire new iPad in six months' time.
Storage capacity is 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 TV shows - or even a few, to be honest - then you need high storage: probably 64GB or higher for video fans. (If you're buying an iPad with the kids in mind, remember that you'll want storage space for multiple episodes of their favourite show on a long car journey.)
The same applies to large photo or music libraries, to a lesser extent, although iCloud Photos and iTunes Match make it possible to keep your stuff in the cloud and access it remotely (if you pay the fees for iCloud storage).
The other thing that will fill up your storage is apps. Those heavy-duty games we talked about earlier will use up a lot of space, and gamers should aim high on storage - 128GB is a good bar to aim at.
For most people 3G/4G/5G connectivity is a luxury, even if it's a nice one to have. For an extra £100/$100 or so (more in the case of the Pros), 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 that the cellular option also brings with it a GPS radio - meaning you'll be able to pull in accurate location data when using your device on the go.
We think the best option if you want to be able to get data on your iPad when you are out and about is to create a hotspot and share it from your iPhone. Here's how to create an iPhone hotspot to share your mobile web connection.
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?