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Which iPad Should I Buy?

December 10, 2018

1:12 pm

The Apple iPad became an icon the moment that it first hit shelves in 2010, and without a doubt, it’s the most recognizable tablet out there. This hasn’t happened by chance – Apple worked hard to ensure that its reputation for crafting powerful, intuitive devices continued with its iPad range, and the excitement generated by each new iteration shows that we’re still as passionate about the tablet as we’ve always been.

If you’re looking to pick up a new iPad, whether you’re buying for the first time or upgrading from an older model, there’s a good selection to choose from. Do you go for the brand new, all-singing, all-dancing iPad Pro, the classic 9.7-inch iPad, or the diminutive but dated iPad Mini?

In this guide, we’ll talk you through the options and help you choose the iPad that suits you best.

Which iPad is Best for You?

There are three models in the current iPad range: iPad Mini, 9.7-inch iPad, and iPad Pro. None of them disappoint, although some are better suited to different types of users:

  1. 9.7-inch iPad: Best all-rounder 2018’s 9.7-inch iPad is the all-rounder of the line-up. Affordable, yet still powerful, it’s a great value prospect, especially when compared to its older – and more expensive – Mini 4 brother. It’s also now compatible with the Apple Pencil, although this is sold separately.
  2. iPad Mini: Best for portability With a 7.8-inch screen, the Mini is the smallest iPad, and also the least powerful. In terms of tech, it’s not been updated since 2015, which makes it pretty old by Apple standards. However, it’s still part of the current line-up, and for casual use, it’s a fine device – especially if you like your tablets ultra-portable.
  3. iPad Pro 2018: Best for creatives or professionals The most recent addition to the iPad line-up, the 2018 Pro is a beast of tablet, available in either 11-inch or 12.9-inch sizes. Incorporating Apple’s fastest iPad processor, the A12X, it runs fast, handling graphically intensive apps with ease. It’s the ideal designers’ tool.
  4. iPad Pro 2017: Best for creatives on a budget Smaller and with a less up-to-date processor than 2018’s Pro (10.5-inches and packing an A10X chip), the older Pro still packs a punch, and is worth considering for business professionals, or any designers or artists who can’t quite stretch to the 2018 model.

Scroll horizontally to view full table on mobile devices

9.7-inch iPadiPad Mini 4iPad Pro 2018iPad Pro 2017
VerdictThe best choice iPad for most peoplePortable, but getting a little dated.The most modern iPad, but expensive.Still a great iPad for business users.
Price from$329$391$783$636
Screen size9.7-inch7.8-inch11-inch & 12.9-inch10.5-inch & 12.9-inch
Storage size32GB – 128GB128GB64GB – 1TB64GB – 512GB
ProcessorA10A8A12xA10x
Face IDNoNoYesNo
Rear camera8Mp8Mp12Mp12Mp
Front camera1.2Mp1.2Mp7Mp7Mp
Buy

iPad 9.7-inch

The best all-round iPad to buy

The 9.7-inch iPad (actually referred to by Apple as just ‘iPad’), is the everyman of Apple’s line-up, but that’s not to say it’s lacking in power. Utilizing the A10 processor, the tablet is super snappy and quick to respond to commands.

It might not have the wow factor of the Pro series, but keep in mind that’s also half the price. Also, unless you’re a designer or someone who needs maximum performance from their iPad, the Pro is likely to be overkill for you.

With the 2018 launch of the latest iPad, Apple really went to town on marketing the tablet as a study aid, and it’s not too hard to see why. Yes, it’s powerful and has an excellent 10-hour battery life, but the new model also adopted a function previously reserved for the Pro – the ability to annotate on the screen with the Apple Pencil. It’s a practical addition that gives you one more reason to save money on the Pro and go with the iPad.

Verdict: In most cases, anyone looking to buy an iPad should choose this model. The price tag represents excellent value for what you actually get (are we really saying that about an Apple product?), and even though there are more powerful options in the Pro range, the 9.7-inch model really holds its own. The 2018 update introducing pencil support is the icing on the cake (although you have to purchase that separately, natch).

Pros

  • Powerful enough for most
  • Cheapest iPad
  • Compatible with Pencil

Cons

  • Starts with just 32GB storage
  • Bezels still quite thick

iPad Mini 4

The Best Portable iPad, but a little dated

The iPad Mini 4 is aimed at people who want the full iPad experience, but in a smaller form than the standard 9.7-inch model can offer. Enter then, the diminutive 7.8-inch model, which offers a more portable solution.

However, the Mini series has something of a problem, in that it’s been rather neglected by Apple of late. While it’s a decent tablet in its own right, up against the rest of the iPad line-up, it looks very dated. That’s no great surprise, as it was last updated way back in 2015. This means that it’s packing some rather old specs, with an A8 processor languishing behind the 9.7-inch model’s A10.

Of course, it’s still an iPad – it’s a charming, easy to use tablet that’s intuitive to use, and will run your apps with ease. But the lack of love shown to this tablet makes it hard to recommend, especially when the standard model is actually cheaper.

It’s highly likely that the iPad mini 4 will be replaced this year by an iPad mini 5 model, though to date, all we’ve seen are leaked images of an alleged iPad mini 5.

Verdict: Unless you absolutely need to have the smallest iPad on the market, the Mini 4 seems a backwards step compared to picking up the cheaper, and much more powerful, 9.7-inch model. With Tim Cook referencing the Mini earlier this year, it may see an update in 2019, at which point it could become relevant again.

Pros

  • Smallest iPad
  • Easy to hold for long periods
  • Still powerful enough for casual users

Cons

  • Looking rather dated
  • Feels less relevant as phones get larger

iPad Pro 2018

A stunning iPad, best for creatives

Want the biggest, most powerful iPad on the market? Then you want a Pro.

Apple’s newest addition to the line-up is also arguably the best looking. Gone are the trademark thick bezels, thanks to the home button getting the boot. You now unlock your Pro with Face ID, just like the iPhone X. It means that the Pro has been able to receive a remodeling, and is now arguably the sleekest looking tablet Apple makes.

Size wise, you’re looking at either 11-inches or 12.9-inches, both with stunningly vivid displays that really impress. The older, 2017 Pro started at 10.5-inches, which didn’t feel too much larger than the standard model, but here you definitely notice the increase. Despite this, Apple have managed to ensure that the Pro stays light and easy to hold for extended periods.

Then there’s the processor. Under the hood, you’ll find the A12x chip, which is incredibly fast and powerful. The tablet doesn’t show any signs of stopping when faced with intensive graphical apps, which is why it’s so appealing to designers and creatives. If you’re simply browsing the internet and watching Netflix, then this iPad is overkill (although Stranger Things would look incredible on that 12.9-inch display, admittedly).

Verdict: Large, powerful and expensive, the Pro is a status symbol and the pinnacle of Apple’s tablet design to date. For the average surfer, its abilities are wasted, but for those that can push it – and have the budget – the Pro is likely to be a faithful companion for years to come.

See our full iPad Pro (2018) review for more

Pros

  • Most powerful iPad yet
  • Large, stunning screen
  • Pencil compatible

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Specs overkill for most
  • Accessories (pencil/keyboard) cost extra

iPad Pro 2017

A great iPad for business users, though not the most up-to-date

The 2017 iPad Pro may have been surpassed by the 2018 model, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked – especially if you can get it at a discount.

Coming in 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch sizes, the older Pro still has that vibrant screen that is the selling point of the series, and although it may not have the A12x processor of its successor, the A10x it has under the hood is nothing to sniff at – and still packs more of a punch than the standard iPad.

It doesn’t have Face ID like the 2018 version, but this is hardly essential. However, it does mean that the older model retains the larger bezel and the home button, so it’s not quite as sleek as the 2018 Pro.

Verdict: For those who need a high-powered tablet but can’t quite stretch to the cost of the 2018 Pro, the 2017 model is worth consideration.

Pros

  • Cheapest way to buy a Pro
  • Still packs a powerful processor
  • Pencil compatible

Cons

  • 2018 model not much more expensive
  • Accessories (pencil/keyboard) cost extra

iPad 9.7 vs iPad Pro

The iPad 9.7-inch and Pro have a lot in common. Both offer ten-hour battery life, and thanks to the 2018 update, both are now compatible with the Apple Pencil, meaning that you can make annotations on the screen.

The Pro is available in bigger sizes – either 11-inch or 12.9-inch, compared to the standard 9.7-inch iPad. The Pro also has a faster processor, ideal for intense graphical work and demanding apps. It has also scrapped the home button that we’re so used to seeing on the iPad, and instead uses face recognition to automatically unlock the screen.

While it’s the fastest iPad on the market, that’s not to say that the standard 9.7-inch iPad is lacking in power. With the A10 processor running the show, it still offers a lot of bang for your buck – especially considering that it’s half the price of the Pro.

Verdict: Want the ultimate iPad? Get the Pro. However, be aware that you’ll need to pay a premium for it, and if you’re not looking to stretch its capabilities, you probably won’t get your money’s worth. For most, the 9.7-inch iPad offers the best mix of power and value in Apple’s line-up.

iPad 9.7-inch
  • iPad 9.7
  • 9.7-inch screen
  • A10 processor
  • Up to 10 hours of battery life
  • 32GB or 128GB
  • 1.03 pounds
  • From $329

iPad Pro 2018
  • iPad Pro 
  • 11-inch & 12.9 inch
  • A12x
  • Up to 10 hours battery life
  • 64GB – 1TB
  • 1.03/1.4 pounds
  • From $783

iPad 9.7 vs Mini 4

If you’re looking for a portable, everyday tablet, then you won’t go far wrong with the 9.7-inch iPad or the Mini 4. Both offer a smooth experience, and are light and slim enough to pop into a bag.

However, unless you absolutely need to have the smallest iPad out there, there’s little reason to opt for the Mini 4. It’s a fine tablet in its own right, but stacked up against the 9.7, it’s simply too dated – especially when you consider that the 9.7 is actually cheaper.

Compare the 2015 Mini and the 2018 9.7 side-by-side and the differences become clear. The Mini has a less powerful processor, and doesn’t allow comparability with the Apple Pencil.

Verdict: The iPad Mini 4 isn’t a great value prospect when pitted against the 9.7-inch iPad. Opt for the cheaper, newer, more powerful model instead of settling for the Mini. However, if Apple refreshes the Mini line-up in the future, it could become relevant again.

iPad 9.7-inch
  • iPad 9.7
  • 9.7-inch screen
  • A10 processor
  • Up to 10 hours battery life
  • 32GB or 128GB
  • 1.03 pounds
  • From $329

ipadmini4
  • Mini 4
  • 7.8-inch
  • A8 processor
  • Up to 10 hours battery life
  • 128GB
  • 0.65 pounds
  • From $391
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Jack is a senior writer at Tech.co with over a decade's experience researching and writing about consumer technology, from security and privacy to product reviews and tech news.