Picking out an iPad seems easy. There aren’t many to choose from, so you’d think buying the best at your price point is all it takes. But it’s a little more complicated that.
The most important question to ask yourself is, “Why do I need this thing?” It sounds silly, but tablets are a great in-between device, for when a phone or a laptop isn’t quite right for the job.
If you need portability, maybe a 13-inch screen isn’t for you. Or if you’re downloading movies to watch on the go, you’ll likely want solid built-in memory and crisp resolution.
If you’re shopping for a new model, you currently have four options to choose from:
These aren’t your only options though. Apple keeps its own offerings fairly limited, but there’s nothing to stop you from buying a used or refurbished older model from online vendors and resellers. And keep in mind that Apple itself does offer refurbished iPads at slightly discounted rates. You can find older models like the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 2 on the manufacturers website.
Not completely tied to Apple? Also check out our best tablets guide!
Money-saver pick: iPad
The current iPad replaced the iPad Air 2 in Apple’s current lineup. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly your cheapest option, and will handle all the basics.
Your bare-bones model with 32 GB capacity and 2 GB of RAM will set you back $329, but you can jump up to 128 GB and add cellular compatibility at higher price points too.
This tablet will take care of all the basics, with a conveniently mid-sized, 9.7-inch 2,048 x 1,536 display. It comes with a 1.2 MP front-facing camera and an 8 MP rear camera.
The iPad has a fast A9 chipset, runs iOS 11, has a fingerprint identity sensor built into the home button, and 10 hours of battery life.
If you need a powerful tablet, this shouldn’t be your first choice, but it’s a great way to save some cash while still getting a quality product.
Heavy-duty pick: iPad Pro
If you need something with a little more kick, one of the iPad Pros is probably where you should look. With 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch screen options, you’ve got some flexibility on the portability front.
Besides the screen size, these are really similar devices—though the 10.5-inch model has one odd standout feature. It’s the only iPad offered in rose gold. Otherwise, every iPad comes in silver, space gray, and gold.
With the Pro, you can choose between 64, 256, and 512 GB of storage, with 4 GB of RAM. They come equipped with just about everything you’ll find on the iPad, but with a few upgrades and extra features.
They run on a A10X Fusion chip, with a 12MP rear camera and 7 MP front camera, and both versions shoot 4K HD video. The smaller Pro does have slightly lower resolution at 2,224 x 1,668 compared to the 12.9-inch’s 2,732 x 2,048.
The Pros are also the only iPads compatible with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, if that’s something you’re looking for.
If money's no object, you'll want to invest in one of these bad boys.
If money’s no object, you’ll want to invest in one of these bad boys. But with a price range of $649-$1,279, it would definitely be wise to think hard about what you really need in a tablet.
Portable pick: iPad Mini 4
And last is the iPad Mini 4, a relatively affordable, powerful, and compact tablet.
At 7.9 inches, the Mini’s display is noticeably smaller than the classic iPad’s 9.7. If you’re looking for a big screen, this is obviously not for you. But if you want something a little easier to carry around, the Mini has some great features.
While generally similar to the iPad, the Mini only comes with 128 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM. Oddly, the Mini also has the most dated chipset, running a second-generation A8. It’s also the only iPad without the Live Photos function (that Harry Potter-esque feature that captures the split second of movement before your photo settles into stillness). Otherwise, you’re looking at roughly the same features as the classic iPad, albeit in miniature form.
The iPad Mini 4 goes for $399, with a cellular-enabled version at $529.
It’s virtually impossible to pick a winner here, without a clear set of parameters to consider. Each iPad is literally the only choice in its category. If you absolutely need a small screen, there’s no escaping the Mini. And if you can’t work without the Apple Pencil, then I’m afraid you’re stuck forking over the cost of a Pro.
Having said that, if you just need a basic, reliable tablet, the classic iPad is a pretty easy choice. It’s affordable, and its functions check off every major box.