When it comes to buying an iPad there are a few different questions, but they all come down to one main consideration: what do you need from an iPad? We'll help you work out your requirements and which tablet will satisfy them.
Apple didn't announce any new iPads at its September 2018 event, but we expect new models before the end of the year.
This guide looks into specifics such as storage capacity, cellular (3G/4G) capabilities and colours. We consider second-hand/refurbished alternatives. And finally, for each category of iPad we consider whether an updated version of that device is likely to be launched soon, and whether that should influence your buying decision.
Here's an overview of every iPad that Apple currently sells. Note that each model is available with or without cellular connectivity, which costs extra.
|Model||Release date||Storage options||Price + buy link||View on Apple's website||Skip ahead to find out more|
|iPad Pro (12.9in, cellular)||05/06/2017||
|Apple Store||More details|
|iPad Pro (12.9in)||05/06/2017||
|Apple Store||More details|
|iPad Pro (10.5in, cellular)||05/06/2017||
|Apple Store||More details|
|iPad Pro (10.5in)||05/06/2017||
|Apple Store||More details|
|iPad (9.7in, cellular)||27/03/2018||
|Apple Store||More details|
|Apple Store||More details|
|iPad mini 4 (cellular)||09/09/2015||
|£529/$529||Apple Store||More details|
|iPad mini 4||09/09/2015||
|£399/$399||Apple Store||More details|
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. Right now there's an exclusive code that'll get you up to £37 off any iPad at KRCS. Use MACWORLD3 at checkout to get the discount. (Ends 9 September 2018.)
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 £1,249/$1,279 for the top 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 size of a paperback; the mid-size iPads are closer (in length and width, even though they are very much thinner) to a hardback or Private Eye-style mini-magazine; and the 12.9in iPad Pro is like a standard 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?
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 (or even a trouser pocket, at a push). If you plan to mainly use your iPad out and about, on holiday or commuting, the iPad mini is your best bet.
The iPad and 10.5in Pro are pleasingly portable, but they still can't match the mini for portability. The iPad has a slightly lower length and width; the Pro is slimmer.
The 12.9in Pro, as you'd expect, is considerably less portable than its smaller cousins, but we think Apple has done well to keep it down to 677g: 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 two current iPad Pro models were introduced in June 2017.
The iPad 9.7in (2018) is the newest iPad currently sold by Apple. (Other vendors may still have the iPad 9.7in from 2017, so check you're getting the new one.)
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: A10X Fusion
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2017): A10X Fusion
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.
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.
We put the iPads through the general processing speed test in Geekbench 4. The 2017 iPad Pro models are still ahead in this department, but the 2018 iPad runs them close in single-core. (We included 2017's iPad 9.7in for comparison purposes, but it's no longer sold by Apple.)
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 four 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 last longer away from a power supply. Here are their capacities:
- iPad mini 4: 5,124 mAh
- 9.7in iPad (2018): 8,827 mAh
- 10.5in iPad Pro (2017): 8,134mAh
- 12.9in iPad Pro (2017): 10,875mAh
To give a rough idea of the differences you could see, here's our comparison chart from 2017, using the battery test segment of the Geekbench 3 app. (We've started using Geekbench 4 now, which is why the 2018 iPad doesn't appear.)
The iPad mini 4 is available in two different models, and three colours: silver, grey and gold.
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 reservations. Extra £80/$70 on top of the 9.7in iPad (but still a good deal).
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 in the autumn of 2018. (It's always annoying to buy a product only for the manufacturer to announce its successor a few weeks later.) Take a look at our round-up of iPad mini 5 release date 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 muscle and camera megapixellage. 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 2019 at the earliest.
Read more: iPad 9.7in (2017) review
The iPad Pro 10.5 is a lot more expensive than the iPad 9.7, but there are lots of 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, but only the Pro model is compatible with the 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. This and the larger Pro offer the best camera setups, including rear flash, Retina flash feature for the front camera, numerous other photographic features and the best megapixel ratings. Can use the Smart Keyboard.
Cons: Expensive. 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.
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 12.9in iPad Pro. Business users (if the range of apps meets their approval). Creative design types.
Read more: iPad Pro 10.5in (2017) review
The iPad Pro offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet (12.9 inches), a super-fast processor (the A10X Fusion - although this is also available on the Pro 10.5in), 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. Can use Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.
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 and 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 12.9in (2017) review
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 the iPhone Plus would be a better choice. We think Apple knows this and is soon going to discontinue the iPad mini.
If you need a larger screen then your next thought will probably be the iPad 9.7in (2018), which is also the cheapest option - starting at £319/$329. The iPad Pro 10.5in starts at £619/$649, an extra £300/$320 (albeit with twice the storage), so you really need to weigh up if you need the better spec list: it has a slightly bigger screen, faster processor, better camera with flash, Apple Pencil support, True Tone display and quad speakers.
The extra money is overall just about worth it in our opinion, if you need those deluxe features. But you'd be fine with the iPad if you're willing to make some sacrifices. And the Pro 10.5 is an expensive choice.
And what of the 12.9in 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.
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 512GB. 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. 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.
We're not sure we can help too much on this one. But the basic gist is this: if you're getting the iPad mini 4, iPad 9.7in or iPad Pro 12.9in, you can buy it in grey, silver, or gold. And if you're getting the iPad Pro 10.5in, you get all three of those options and pink (or rather Rose Gold) too.
We really like the iPad in gold, as we mentioned earlier - it's quite bronze-like in its warmth - and the pink, while a bit of an opinion divider, is nowhere near as bold as that sounds. But grey or silver are the more conservative options.
One thing you might not realise is that the gold 9.7in iPad finish is more of a cross between the Gold and Rose Gold shades of the 10.5in iPad Pro, as shown in this image.
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?