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. 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.
|Model||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 9.7in 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 £319/$329 for the iPad 9.7in all the way up to £1,869/$1,899 for the top-end 12.9in Pro.
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), 9.7in (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; 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 (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 9.7in (2018): 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm; 469g/478g
- 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 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, iPad Air and 11in Pro 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.
Since the removal 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 iPad 9.7in came out in March 2018, while the 2018 Pro models were launched in November of that year. (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 newest models are the iPad Air and iPad mini from March 2019.
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.
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 9.7in (2018): 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. The A11 (not represented here) arrived a year later with more advanced technology: Apple claims it's 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 the fastest system on a chip that Apple currently makes.
Another factor to consider is RAM, although for a proper comparison we'll have to wait until someone rips open the new 2019 iPads - Apple doesn't officially announce the amount of RAM in its tablets.
Once Apple sends out review samples of the new iPads we can put them through the Geekbench 4 (general processing) and GFXBench (graphics) benchmarks, and see how they compare to the older models.
For now we can only speak generally, and 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 should be leaning towards the 9.7in iPad, because the power of an A12X chip, or even an A12, would 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. 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
- iPad 9.7in (2018): 32.4 watt-hour (8,827mAh/3.67V)
- iPad mini (2019): 19.1 watt-hour
Apple supplies only the watt-hour figure for its tablets; we'll know more once we've seen teardowns of the components. We'll also run full battery tests to see how the devices shape up in real-world use.
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 Mar 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? Yes - it's brand new.
This is the cheapest, oldest and slowest currently available iPad, but in our view it remains just about the best for most people - although the 2019 Air and mini models push it close.
The iPad 9.7in has a good screen size for gaming and films, while remaining slim, light and portable. And although other options have newer processor chips, those who have light use in mind (email, browsing the web, simple games and so on) should be absolutely fine with this device.
Pros: Beautifully thin and light. 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: Can't use the Smart Keyboard. 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 great all-rounder.
Is now a good time to buy? This still looks like a decent buy, although the iPad mini (2019) slightly dents its reputation as the best-value option: that device is £80/$70 more, admittedly, but comes with twice as much storage and a considerably faster processor. Go for this if money is really tight and/or you want the larger screen.
Read more: iPad 9.7in (2018) review
This device set the cat among the pigeons when it launched in Mar 2019, seemingly replacing the old 10.5in iPad Pro (whose screen size it matches, thanks to slimmed-down bezels) at an 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: Significantly more expensive than iPad 9.7in. 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 - it's brand new.
- 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, if you can afford it. The Pros are unlikely to be updated before the autumn of 2019.
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? Yes.
Read more: iPad Pro 12.9in (2018) review
Final conclusions: Which iPad should you buy?
The launch of new iPads in Mar 2019 complicates things considerably. There are now no real stinkers in the range, and each model has a target audience for whom it would be a sensible choice.
For most people our recommendation would be a toss-up between the iPad 9.7in (2018) and the iPad mini (2019).
The iPad 9.7in (2018) is the cheapest option, has a good screen size, is pretty well specced and even supports the (first-gen) Apple Pencil. Go for this if price is your main consideration and/or you want a larger screen.
Yet the iPad mini (2019) is very appealing too: it's £80/$70 more than the 9.7in at the entry level, but it's a year newer, has a processor that's two generations more advanced and a nicer-feeling (laminated) screen, comes with twice the storage and is considerably more portable. And it supports the Pencil too. Go for this if your priorities are power and/or portability.
The remaining iPads will be too expensive for the average buyer. But the iPad Air (2019) justifies its price tag by essentially combining the good features of our two recommendations above: it has an even bigger screen than the iPad 9.7in, but the power of the mini.
The 11in and 12.9in Pro models are intimidatingly expensive. They're also 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 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.
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?