Which iPad is best for you? The choices are confusing: there are five models, listed below, and each is available with or without cellular (also known as 3G or 4G), which costs extra. That's before we get into storage capacity, colours and second-hand alternatives.
In this guide we explore all the factors that should influence your buying decision, and also reveal whether an updated version of each device is likely to be launched soon.
|Model (launch date)||Key features + specs||Storage + cellular options||Price + buy link|
|iPad Pro 12.9in
• Huge 12.9in screen
|iPad Pro 11in
• Medium 11in screen
• Medium 10.5in screen
• Medium 10.2in screen
• Small 7.9in 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 £349/$329 for the 10.2in iPad (although in the UK that model's predecessor started at just £319) all the way up to £1,869/$1,899 for the top-end 12.9in Pro.
Our advice would be that if you want to get a bargain, don't choose the cheapest iPad - you will get more for your money if you spend a fraction more and get the iPad Air or iPad mini. Alternatively take a look at our iPad deals page where you might get a discount on a more powerful iPad.
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: 7.9in (mini), 10.2in (iPad), 10.5in (iPad Air), 11in (Pro) or 12.9in (other Pro). All are measured diagonally.
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.
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 (2018): 280.6mm x 214.9mm x 5.9mm; 631g/633g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
- iPad Pro 11in (2018): 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm; 468g
- iPad Air (2019): 250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1mm; 456g/464g
- iPad 10.2in (2019): 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm; 483g/493g
- iPad mini (2019): 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1mm; 300.5g/308.2g
As you'd expect, the iPad mini is a lot lighter - 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, 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 631g: it remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop.
If you're thinking of buying an iPad for college or university you might like to read our Best iPad for Students guide.
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.
Since the discontinuation of the mini 4 and iPad Pro 10.5in in March 2019, the iPad range has become quite consistent in age - they are all from either 2018 or 2019.
The 2018 Pro models arrived in November 2018 - in the case of the 12.9in model, make sure you're getting the 2018 version with no Home button rather than an older 12.9in iPad Pro from 2015 or 2017. The iPad Air and iPad mini arrived in March 2019. And the iPad 10.2in came out in September 2019 - but note that its specs, aside from the bigger screen, are identical to the iPad 9.7in which launched back in March 2018, so newer isn't necessarily better.
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 indicator that older iPads aren't a wise purchase. Apple's created a new version of iOS just for the iPad, but iPadOS will only run on the following iPads:
- 12.9in iPad Pro third generation (2018)
- 12.9in iPad Pro second generation (2017)
- 12.9in iPad Pro first generation (2015)
- 11in iPad Pro (2018)
- 10.5in iPad Pro (2017)
- 9.7in iPad Pro (2016)
- iPad 10.2in (seventh generation, 2018)
- iPad 9.7in (sixth generation, 2018)
- iPad 9.7in (fifth generation, 2017)
- iPad Air (third generation, 2019)
- iPad Air 2 (2014)
- iPad mini (fifth generation, 2019)
- iPad mini 4 (2015)
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 (2019): A10 Fusion chip
- iPad mini (2019): A12 Bionic
- iPad Air (2019): A12 Bionic
- iPad Pro 11in (2018): A12X Bionic
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2018): A12X Bionic
The A10 chip was released in 2016 but this hasn't stopped Apple using it in the iPad 10.2in (it also featured in the iPad 9.7in back in 2018). The A11 (not represented here) arrived a year later with more advanced technology: Apple claimed it was 25 percent faster than the A10. The A12 in turn is supposed to be 15 percent faster than the A11. The A12X is a souped-up version of the A12 and prior to September 2019 was the fastest system on a chip made by Apple - but now that accolade goes to the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11 models.
Another factor to consider is RAM. The Pros come with either 4GB (for most models) or 6GB (for the 1TB storage capacity only) of RAM. The Air, mini and iPad 10.2in each have 3GB of RAM.
Here's how the various models performed in the Geekbench 5 speed test.
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 iPad for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you would probably find the 10.2in iPad adequate, because the power of an A12X chip, or even an A12, would be wasted on such gentle workloads. But as we said earlier, it's worth spending a little more to get the Air or mini as the chip is newer and therefore will have more life left before obsolescence hits.
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, watching video or listening to music" 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 (2018): 36.71 watt-hour (9,720mAh/3.78V)
- iPad Pro 11in (2018): 29.45 watt-hour (7,812mAh/3.77V)
- iPad Air (2019): 30.2 watt-hour (8,134mAh)
- iPad 10.2in (2019): 32.4 watt-hour (8,827mAh/3.67V)
- iPad mini (2019): 19.1 watt-hour (5,124mAh)
We ran Geekbench 4's battery test to see how the devices shape up under stress. Bear in mind, however, that this is an especially rigorous test and real-world performance, particularly if your usage is on the light side, will be noticeably higher; this mainly useful for internal comparisons.
And 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 March 2019, the iPad mini is available in two storage capacities (64GB, which will be plenty for most people, or 256GB), and three colours: silver, gold and Space Grey.
Whichever version you go for, you'll get an A12 Bionic processor chip (that's the latest generation, albeit not quite as powerful as the souped up A12X) with an M12 motion co-processor, a Retina screen and 8Mp/7Mp 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 3G or 4G network. There is a steep price difference between Wi-Fi and cellular - £120/$130 - 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 4G support might be worth the extra cost.
Pros: Very portable and powerful. Affordable, and cheapest version has good amount of storage (64GB). Supports first-gen Apple Pencil.
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? It should be. We don't expect another iPad mini until 2020 at the earliest.
Read more: iPad mini (2019) review
This is the cheapest and slowest currently available iPad - despite being the newest. Despite Apple increasing the screen size for the 2019 model from 9.7in to 10.2in, everything else is identical to the older model - including the processor, which dates back to 2016. If speed is a priority for you, we can't really recommend this model as it is still less powerful than the only slightly more expensive mini and Air.
However, if you're a first-time buyer, or someone whose usage is likely to be relatively light (browsing the web, checking emails, maybe a little Apple Arcade gaming and a few TV shows) then this model has much to recommend it. For such users the A10 chip will be fine, and 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 (albeit one that's seen a smallish hike in the UK), 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 A10 chip is still powerful enough to handle pretty much anything on the App Store. Can use the Apple Pencil (first-gen only).
Cons: Feels cheaper thanks to the unlaminated screen. On paper it's the slowest iPad still on sale (all other models have an A12 or A12X processor) and this will start to show in future and in most demanding apps.
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. A good-value all-rounder.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes.
Read more: iPad 10.2in (2019) review
This device set the cat among the pigeons when it launched in March 2019, replacing the old 10.5in iPad Pro (whose screen size it matches, thanks to slimmed-down bezels) at a more affordable price.
Pros: Lovely big screen. Very powerful, but significantly cheaper than the Pros. Supports Apple Pencil (first-gen) and the Smart Keyboard. Still has a Home button.
Cons: More expensive than iPad 10.2in. Overkill for many situations - current apps will run happily on an A10 processor. Doesn't support the (better-designed) second-gen Pencil - if you want to use that you'll need to shell out for an iPad Pro. Still has a Home button.
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. But read our iPad Air rumours article for the latest gossip about the next-gen model.
Read more: iPad Air (2019) review
- 64GB: £769/$799
- 256GB: £919/$949
- 512GB: £1,119/$1,149
- 1TB: £1,519/$1,549
- 64GB (cellular): £919/$949
- 256GB (cellular): £1,069/$1,099
- 512GB (cellular): £1,269/$1,299
- 1TB (cellular): £1,669/$1,699
Apple updated the Pro lineup in October 2018, removing the Home buttons and shrinking the bezels. This enabled it to include a larger screen (as here) or squeeze the same size of screen into a much smaller body (in the case of the 12.9in model we look at next).
It supports Face ID (in landscape as well as portrait mode, unlike the iPhones), and the internals have been updated. It is preposterously powerful.
Pros: Slim and light; big screen; Face ID; super-powerful 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? Yes, you should be okay. This device has been around for a while, admittedly, but the fact that a new iPad was unveiled at the September 2019 event suggests we won't be getting a new Pro until the spring of 2020 at the earliest.
Read more: iPad Pro 11in (2018) review
- 64GB: £969/$999
- 256GB: £1,119/$1,149
- 512GB: £1,319/$1,349
- 1TB: £1,719/$1,749
- 64GB (cellular): £1,119/$1,149
- 256GB (cellular): £1,269/$1,299
- 512GB (cellular): £1,469/$1,499
- 1TB (cellular): £1,869/$1,899
The iPad Pro 12.9in, which was updated in autumn 2018, offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet, now squeezed into a smaller and very thin chassis. In other respects it's largely the same as the 11in Pro - super-fast processor (the A12X Fusion), an excellent 12Mp rear-facing camera with flash (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 mid-size iPads (it remains admirably slim, but the sheer screen area makes it a handful) and ruinously expensive.
Pros: Huge screen (12.9 inches). Extremely fast processor. Four speakers. Face ID.
Cons: Least portable iPad currently available (although it is very slim, and lighter than the last generation). 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 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? As with the 11in Pro, the timing should be okay if you buy now. This has been around for a year but we're fairly sure that Apple will wait a little longer before updating the range.
Read more: iPad Pro 12.9in (2018) review
Final conclusions: Which iPad should you buy?
The iPad 10.2in is a good option for newcomers and those whose usage will be light, but don't expect state-of-the-art performance: it has the spec of the 2018 model and a 2016 processor to boot. We're also slightly less fond of this iPad here in the UK because of the local price hike, meaning that the price is no longer quite so attractive.
At £399/$399 the Mini is only £50/$70 more than the low-powered iPad 10.2in and it's £80/$100 less than the iPad Air. It's processor is two generations more advanced than the iPad 10.2in and it has a nicer-feeling (laminated) screen, twice the storage and is considerably more portable. Go for this if your priorities are power and/or portability.
If you want a bigger screen we would still recommend the iPad Air (2019) over the 10.2in iPad (2019) despite the higher price ($130/$170 more), it has a bigger screen size despite being lighter and thinner, and is much better specced. Go for this if you want a larger screen.
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 and support for the brilliant second-gen Apple Pencil - but make sure you need what they're offering, because otherwise you're wasting a huge amount of money.
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 a terabyte 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 are 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).
Same applies to large photo or music libraries, to a lesser extent, although Photo Streams and iTunes Match make it possible to keep your stuff in the cloud and access it remotely.
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/cellular connectivity is a luxury, even if it's a nice one to have. For an extra £100/$100 or so, 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'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?