Life as a student is great, but it's not all about partying; you'll also be required to do some work. To make that part of your journey as a student smoother you will be looking for the best tech to take to university or college.
In this article we help you select the best iPad for the student life, seeking out the devices that offer the perfect combination of portability, power, ease of use and value for money.
Before you decide which iPad to buy, there are a few things to note. The biggest is the fact that if you are a student, a teacher, or you are employed by an educational institution, you can get money off a new Apple product by shopping in Apple's education store. You can read all about how to get an Apple Student Discount here.
Plus, if you buy an iPad (or a Mac) from Apple and you are a student you can get a pair of free AirPods while Apple's Back To School Promotion is running.
If you want to know whether an iPad will be suitable for your needs at university, college or school jump to the section below: Should students buy an iPad or a laptop?
Best iPad for students
iPad Air (2020): Overall best iPad for students
We think the iPad Air, with its 10.9in display, modern design, light weight (at 458g or 1.0lb), great cameras and powerful processor - is a good choice for students.
Unfortunately it's not as cheap as it was, the iPad Air now costs £100 more than the previous generatioin did, now starting at £579/$579 rather than £479/$499 for the 64GB model (although students can get a discount on that price). Because of the price increase it's no longer our top choice iPad for students, but if you can afford it then it really is worth the investment.
There are lots of things that the iPad Air has going of it. The brand new design means there is a bigger screen and slimmer bezels, there are new colour options including metalic green and blue shades. Inside there are even more improvements, including a fast A14 processor.
The camera is now 12MP (like the camera on the iPad Pro) - the other iPads still only offer an 8MP camera. The front facing FaceTime/Selfie camera is also better than that of the standard iPad - 7MP, rather than 1.2MP. If you are likley to be video calling home this will be a real benefit.
There is no Home button, but rather than use Face ID it unlocks with a tap on the Power button thanks to a Touch ID being relocated there.
Another key difference relates to the screen on the iPad Air and the screen on the iPad. The iPad Air offers True Tone and an anti-reflective coating, while the iPad doesn't. That's a great feature if you're likely to be using your iPad in different lighting conditions, such as outside in the sunshine, or in a dingy library.
Another reason why we think the iPad Air is a great choice for someone heading to college or university is the combination of a large screen and thin, light body. The iPad Air weighs 458g compared to the iPad's 490 grams. Of course the iPad mini is lighter still at 300.5g.
The iPad Air does have a more expensive sibling, the iPad Pro, which gives you a more powerful machine, but we prefer the Air for a number of reasons. The cash difference is significant, even after the 2020 iPad Pros arrived boasting lower prices or higher storage allocations than their 2018 equivalents.
We highly recommend the iPad Air for students.
iPad mini (2019): Best iPad for students on a budget
What if you really can’t afford the iPad Air with its starting price of £479/$499? What’s your next best choice?
Here’s where the iPad mini comes in. Sure it’s a smaller device (which does have the benefit of also meaning it’s a lighter device, at 300.5g or 0.66 lb) but it’s also cheaper at £399/$399 for a 64GB model.
You might be thinking that the lower price means that the iPad mini isn’t as powerful as the iPad Air, but you’d be wrong. It has exactly the same specs. The only difference is something that’s unlikely to matter to you: it isn’t compatible with Apple’s smart keyboard, but that’s not important because if you want to use a keyboard with it you can just sync with any Bluetooth keyboard (which will probably be cheaper anyway).
Everything we’ve said about the iPad Air applies to the iPad mini. There’s just the benefit of the lower price, and if you actually want an even lighter iPad, it is.
Here's our review of the iPad mini.
iPad Pro 11in (2020): The best high-power option
Maybe you have no money concerns (or you’ve just got your hands on your loan and are feeling flush) should you consider the more expensive, and more powerful, iPad Pro?
Sure, if you have the money to spend, the iPad Pro is a great choice. It starts at £769/£799 for the entry-level 11in model, but there’s also a 12.9in model that starts at £969/$999 and goes all the way to £1,619/$1,649 for 1TB storage (if you have particularly generous parents!)
We’ll focus on the 11in iPad Pro, primarily because there’s not a great deal of difference between the two models. It really is just a choice between a 11in and 12.9in display.
We think that, aside from the more powerful processor (A12Z rather than A12), better cameras (12Mp and 10Mp twin back cameras, and 7Mp TrueDepth front camera), the fact that it works with the second-gen Apple Pencil is a real bonus to students. The new Pencil can be magnetically attached to the side of your iPad, where it charges wirelessly. The second gen Pencil is also easier to use: switching from pen to eraser is done with a tap on the Pencil rather that having to select the eraser tool.
Features like Face ID and the advanced features of the camera might appeal to you, but probably it will be a choice based on the size of the iPad - and the Pro gives you an option of bigger and biggest.
Read all the details in our review of the iPad Pro 2020
iPad 10.2in (2019): Don't pick this iPad
Finally, a quick mention for the standard iPad. Apple introduced the 10.2in iPad in September 2019 so you might be thinking that being a new model would mean it would be a good buy. Unfortunately we don't think that is the case.
Right now, despite being the newest and cheapest iPad Apple sells, the iPad is also the worse iPad Apple sells.
Starting at £349/$329 (was previously £319 in the UK) it might look like a good deal - in fact if you are getting an education discount the price is even lower. However, we think that it’s worth spending a little more right now to get a much better iPad. The iPad mini and iPad Air models offer much faster processors and better screens and cameras. All the 10.2in iPad has going for it is the lower price.
Read our review of the 10.2in iPad (2019) here.
Before you go ahead and buy your iPad you may want to consider its suitability for your purpose.
As a student you probably have a few requirements:
- Low price
- Great apps for things like note taking, recording lectures and revision
- Light enough to carry around all day
- Keyboard and stylus support
- Suitable for making video calls home
You might be wondering whether a tablet or a laptop would be better for those needs, and if you lean towards the latter, take a look at our guide to the best Macs for students.
We think, however, that an iPad is a great choice. It runs many of the apps you'll find on a laptop, including Office apps like Word and PowerPoint and the Apple equivalents, and in some cases an iPad is actually more powerful than a laptop thanks to the super-fast processors Apple uses.
Another benefit is that you can have all the books you need for your course on your iPad and carry them with you to lectures and tutorials. You could even photograph pages from books in the library and use optical character recognition to save the text to your iPad.
Not only do you not need to lug all your books around with you, an iPad is far lighter than even the lightest laptop, so you won't be getting backache from lugging it around with you to lectures and the library.
With battery life of 10 hours - plenty for a day on campus - you aren't going to need to find a space beside a plug socket in order to get though a day at uni.
Think that having an iPad will mean you have to type on an on-screen keyboard? No! You could sync any Bluetooth keyboard or plug in one of Apple's own iPad keyboards and effectively turn your iPad into a laptop. There's also the Apple Pencil, which could come in useful if you wanted to jot down some notes on your iPad screen in a lecture.
And when you've finished studying there are loads of games, and apps for video calling your parents.
Still not sure? We have more information comparing a MacBook laptop and an iPad.
Are iPads good for students?
The next question you might want some reassurance on is whether the iPad is the best option for a student. There are a lot of other tablets available, many of which are cheaper than an iPad. So you might be thinking of saving some money.
We think if you do so you will regret it. There are many reasons why Apple's iPads are so popular:
- The App Store is heaving with great apps designed specifically for the iPad.
- Many of those apps will be ideal for students: note taking apps, apps for converting handwriting to text, apps for recording lectures, timetable management, and of course video calling (so you can stay in touch with mum and dad).
- There is an ecosystem of great accessories designed to work with the iPad.
- Apple's iPadOS is stable and easy to use, especially if you already have an iPhone.
- If you've got a Mac you can use an iPad as a second screen, provided you update the Mac to macOS Big Sur (when it launches), or Catalina.
How to get an iPad student discount
If you're still thinking that the price of an iPad is a little more than you want to spend, here's some good news: you don't have to pay full price at all.
Apple offers a student discount via its Apple UK Education Store or Apple's US Education Store. Sign up with details of your student status and course, and prove your identity. We explain how to do this in our article How to get an Apple student discount.
That's all of our student-related buying advice, but if you're buying for someone younger, check out our guide to the best iPad for kids.