Which iPad is best for you? The choices are confusing: there are five models, listed below, and each is available with or without cellular (3G/4G), which costs extra. That's before we get into storage capacity, colours and second-hand alternatives.
In this guide we explore all the above factors, and also reveal whether an updated version of each device is likely to be launched soon. When you've decided which iPad you want to buy, take a look at our best iPad deals for detailed advice on the best places to buy.
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 iPad 9.7in all the way up to £1,869/$1,899 for the top-end 12.9in Pro.
You'll notice that the iPad mini (which hasn't been updated since 2015) costs more than the larger and newer 9.7in iPad - a good indication that the mini would not be a good buy right now.
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 four options: 7.9in (mini 4), 9.7in (iPad), 10.5in (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; 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 9.7in 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: 280.6mm x 214.9mm x 5.9mm; 631g/633g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
- iPad Pro 11in: 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm; 468g
- iPad Pro 10.5in: 250.6mm x 174.1mm x 6.1mm; 469g/477g
- iPad 9.7in: 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm; 469g/478g
- iPad mini 4: 203.2mm x 134.8mm x 6.1mm; 298.8g/304g
As you'd expect, the iPad mini 4 is a lot lighter - there's a big gap between it and even the mid-size iPads.
As well as its markedly lower weight it 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 and 10.5in and 11in Pros are pleasingly portable, but they still can't match the mini for portability. The iPad has a slightly lower length and width; the Pros are slimmer.
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.
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 mini 4 is the oldest currently available model, having come out in September 2015. It should still run most apps and iOS updates without serious trouble, but it won't stay that way much longer. And the most demanding apps - graphically advanced games, video-editing packages - may already give it problems.
The 10.5in iPad Pro was introduced in June 2017 and is looking a little old-fashioned, but that's largely a question of design (it still has a Home button, unlike the 2018 Pro models). Its specs, while some way behind the new Pros, should still offer good performance for several years to come.
The iPad 9.7in (2018) came out in March, while the 2018 Pro models, launched in November, are the newest iPads currently sold by Apple. (In the case of the 12.9in model, make sure you're getting the 2018 version with no Home button. Apple has previously released 12.9in iPad Pros in 2015 and 2017.)
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 mini 4: A8 processor chip
- iPad 9.7in (2018): A10 Fusion chip
- iPad Pro 10.5in (2017): A10X Fusion
- iPad Pro 11in (2018): A12X Bionic
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2018): A12X Bionic
The A8 chip was released in 2014; the A10 Fusion is two generations newer and more advanced; Apple estimates that it's twice as fast at general processing. The A10X is a still faster variant of the standard A10. The A12X is the fastest chip Apple currently offers - faster even than the A12 in the iPhone XS.
Another factor to consider is RAM. The iPad mini and 9.7in iPad each have 2GB of RAM, while the iPad Pros have a meaty 4GB of RAM (at least - Apple hasn't officially announced this spec for the 2018 models).
To get a general idea of comparative performance, here's our most recent run in the general processing speed test in Geekbench 4.
We also tested graphics speed using GFXBench Metal.
If you want to use highly demanding apps such as video and image editors, or if you're into graphically advanced games, you should choose an iPad Pro.
If you're going to be using your iPad for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you should be leaning towards the 9.7in iPad, because the power of the 12.9in Pro, for example, will be wasted on such gentle workloads.
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. We don't yet know the capacity of the 2018 12.9in model (the 2017 version had 10,875mAh), but here are the rest:
- iPad Pro 11in (2018): 7,812mAh
- iPad Pro 10.5in (2017): 8,134mAh
- iPad 9.7in (2018): 8,827 mAh
- iPad mini 4: 5,124 mAh
We don't have data for the mini 4 and Pro 10.5in, but here's how the three more recent iPads got on in the battery test segment of the Geekbench 4 app. This is a very demanding test and you should expect longer life in day-to-day use.
The iPad mini 4 is available in two different models, and three colours: silver, gold and Space Grey.
Either way, you'll get an A8 processor chip with an M8 motion co-processor, 2GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a Retina screen and an 8Mp rear camera.
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 - about £130/$130 - which might seem a lot, but if you expect to travel with your mini 4 (surely one of the main benefits of the smaller model) then 4G support might be worth the extra cost.
Pros: Very portable. Decently powerful. 8Mp rear-facing camera, and some new camera/video modes. Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Barometer. Anti-reflective screen finish. Gold colour option.
Cons: Small screen. Extra £80/$70 on top of the 9.7in iPad.
Ideal for: The portability-conscious with a higher budget. Gamers on the go. Tablet photographers. Ebook enthusiasts.
Is now a good time to buy? Probably not. It's really quite an old device now, and may get replaced, or discontinued, in the near future. Take a look at our round-up of iPad mini 5 rumours to find out more.
Read more: iPad mini 4 review
This is the cheapest available iPad, and in our view the best for most people. It has a good screen size for gaming and films, but it's still slim, light and portable.
Those who have light use in mind (email, browsing the web, simple games etc) should be absolutely fine with this iPad. The A10 processor is no slouch, either.
Pros: Beautifully thin and light. Strong camera makes it a legitimate photographic option (although it is surpassed by the camera on the Pro models). Natty gold colour option. Powerful enough to handle pretty much anything on the App Store. Now it's got an A10 chip, it's not that far behind the iPad Pro's A10X Fusion processor. Plus it can now use the Apple Pencil!
Cons: Can't use the Smart Keyboard. Feels cheaper thanks to the unlaminated screen.
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 very latest in processing and camera power. A great all-rounder.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. It was released in the spring of 2018 and shouldn't be updated until early 2019 at the earliest.
Read more: iPad 9.7in (2018) review
The iPad Pro 10.5 has stuck around since the launch of the 2018 Pros, and surprisingly hasn't received a price cut - Apple has instead gone for the policy of simply making the new models even more expensive. So this in some ways now seems like a comparatively affordable option, but really isn't. lt's a lot more expensive than the iPad 9.7, crucially, although there are significant improvements.
If you're into iPad photography, the greatly superior camera specs and range of photographic features makes the Pro 10.5 a better choice. Detail is better in overcast conditions, and the rear-facing flash lets you shoot in low light; there's 4K video; selfies are far sharper.
It's no longer the case that the excellent (if costly) Apple Pencil stylus only works with the iPad Pro (in fact, there's now an updated 2018 Pencil which only works with the new Pro models), but only Pros can be upgraded with a Smart Keyboard, which might be a nice option for business users.
The Pro's screen is bigger, and feels better; and including this bigger screen hasn't resulted in a bulkier device. Indeed, it's slimmer than the iPad 9.7in and the same weight, albeit a shade longer and wider.
And the processor is likely to be fractionally quicker, although that's probably only noticeable if you run processor-intensive apps and graphically demanding games.
Pros: More powerful than the iPad. Excellent camera setup, including rear flash, Retina flash feature for the front camera, numerous other photographic features and high megapixel ratings. Can use the Smart Keyboard.
Cons: Still expensive (albeit cheaper than the 2018 Pro models). Overkill for many situations - current apps will run happily on the iPad 9.7in's A10 processor. Smart Keyboard is hard to type on quickly and accurately at this size. And design-wise it looks very old-fashioned next to the latest generation of iPads Pros.
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, business and creative design users who can't or choose not to afford the 2018 Pros.
Is now a good time to buy? Reasonably - a price cut would nice, but at least we now know where we stand in terms of new Pro models.
Read more: iPad Pro 10.5in (2017) review
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 now 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 the 10.5in or even 9.7in are more affordable and almost as good.
Is now a good time to buy? Yes. It's brand-new.
Read more: iPad Pro 11in (2018) review
The iPad Pro 12.9in, which has been updated for 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 (even though it remains admirably slim, 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? Yes.
Read more: iPad Pro 12.9in (2018) review
For most people, the iPad 9.7in (2018) is the best choice. It's the cheapest, has a decently screen size, is pretty well specced and even supports the (first-gen) Apple Pencil.
If you're looking for a super-portable tablet and are willing to compromise on screen size and processing power we would previously have recommended the iPad mini. But the mini now costs £80 more than the iPad so we aren't so inclined to recommend it. Plus, if you want a small device for consuming media on then maybe one of the larger iPhones would be a better choice. We think Apple knows this and is soon going to discontinue the iPad mini.
The 10.5in, 11in and 12.9in Pro models are, in order, very, extremely and horrifyingly expensive. They're also amazingly powerful and well made - the 2018 models with no Home button and Face ID look fantastic, too - but make sure you need what they're offering, because otherwise you're wasting a very great deal 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 four 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 even a few, to be honest - then you need high storage: probably 64GB or higher for video fans.
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.
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.
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?