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 iPad 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 all the way up to £1,619/$1,649 for the top-end 12.9in Pro. (If the latter model seems steep - well, it is, but it's cheaper than it used to be. Apple charged more than £200/$200 more for the 1TB 12.9in Pro from 2018.)
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 (2020): 280.6mm x 214.9mm x 5.9mm; 641g/643g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
- iPad Pro 11in (2020): 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm; 471g/473g
- 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, 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 641g: it remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop. Note that the 2020 Pros are very slightly heavier than the 2018 equivalents (the difference is less than 10g), which we assume is down to the extra camera components.
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.
Having said that, the current iPad range is fairly uniform in age: they all came out within 12 months of each other. If you're looking to save money by compromising on an older model, you'll need to buy second-hand or from a reseller with discontinued stock.
The iPad Air and iPad mini arrived in March 2019. 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). Then the iPad Pros came out in March 2020.
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. Apple has created a new version of iOS just for the iPad, but iPadOS only runs on the following iPads:
- 12.9in iPad Pro fourth generation (2020)
- 12.9in iPad Pro third generation (2018)
- 12.9in iPad Pro second generation (2017)
- 12.9in iPad Pro first generation (2015)
- 11in iPad Pro (2020)
- 11in iPad Pro (2018)
- 10.5in iPad Pro (2017)
- 9.7in iPad Pro (2016)
- iPad 10.2in (seventh generation, 2019)
- 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 (2020): A12Z Bionic
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2020): A12Z Bionic
The A10 Fusion 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 Bionic (not represented here) arrived a year later with more advanced technology: Apple claimed it was 25 percent faster than the A10. The A12 Bionic in turn is supposed to be 15 percent faster than the A11.
The iPad Pro models, slightly confusingly, used souped-up versions of chips from other devices. The 2018 Pros had the A12X, which at the time was the fastest system on a chip made by Apple; the 2020 versions get the even faster A12Z. We're not sure why Apple hasn't seen fit to include the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11 models, or a version of that.
Another factor to consider is memory. The Air, mini and iPad 10.2in each have 3GB of RAM. The Pros have more, although we do not yet know how much; the 2018 models had either 4GB (for most models) or 6GB (for the 1TB storage capacity only). Once we get our hands on review samples of the 2020 Pros we'll put them all through our usual speed tests and see how much of a boost you get from opting for the most expensive models.
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 A12Z 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 (2020): 36.71 watt-hour
- iPad Pro 11in (2020): 28.65 watt-hour
- 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)
Again, we'll run comparative battery tests when we've got review samples.
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? You should be okay for a while. It's unlikely there will be an update before autumn 2020.
Read more: iPad mini (2019) review
This is the cheapest and slowest currently available iPad, despite being newer than the mini and Air. Apple increased the screen size for the 2019 model from 9.7in to 10.2in, but 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, 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? There shouldn't be an update before autumn 2020.
Read more: iPad Air (2019) review
- 128GB: £769/$799
- 256GB: £869/$899
- 512GB: £1,069/$1,099
- 1TB: £1,269/$1,299
- 128GB (cellular): £919/$949
- 256GB (cellular): £1,019/$1,049
- 512GB (cellular): £1,219/$1,249
- 1TB (cellular): £1,419/$1,449
The newest iPad Pro models came out in March 2020. This was a relatively undramatic update - certainly compared to the upheaval of 2018, when Apple removed the Home buttons and shrunk the bezels.
The 2020 Pros do however feature twin-lens cameras on the rear, for the first time on any iPad, as well as upgraded A12Z processors and a new depth-sensing LiDAR scanner for improved augmented reality applications. More prosaically, but equally importantly, Apple doubled the storage allocation of the entry models and dropped the prices of all the others.
As before the iPad Pro 11in supports Face ID (in landscape as well as portrait mode, unlike the iPhones), and is preposterously powerful.
Pros: Slim and light; big screen; Face ID; super-powerful processor.
Cons: Very expensive (despite a price cut). 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. It's just been updated.
- 128GB: £969/$999
- 256GB: £1,069/$1,099
- 512GB: £1,269/$1,299
- 1TB: £1,469/$1,499
- 128GB (cellular): £1,119/$1,149
- 256GB (cellular): £1,219/$1,249
- 512GB (cellular): £1,419/$1,449
- 1TB (cellular): £1,619/$1,649
The iPad Pro 12.9in, which was updated in spring 2020, 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 A12Z Fusion), an excellent 12Mp rear-facing camera with flash accompanied by a 10Mp ultra-wide lens (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). Very expensive, even with the price cut. 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. It shouldn't be updated again until around autumn 2021.
Read more: iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) review
Final conclusions: Which iPad should you buy?
The iPad 10.2in (2019) 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.
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. The processor is two generations more advanced than the iPad 10.2in and it has a nicer-feeling (laminated) screen, twice the storage and a considerably more portable chassis. 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.
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 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'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/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?