Which iPad Model Should You Buy?

With the release of the new iPad Air and iPad mini a couple of weeks ago, Apple has created an interesting conundrum for anyone looking to buy a new iPad. There is substantial overlap when it comes to screen sizes, spec and other features. So, how do you choose the best iPad for your needs?

Start at screen size

You can the iPad range into three segments based on display size.

  • Small: iPad mini
  • Medium: 9.7-inch iPad, 10.5-inch iPad Air, 11-inch iPad Pro
  • Large: 12.9-inch iPad Pro

The small and large options are quite easy; if portability is key then the iPad mini is the only tablet in Apple’s line-up that will hit the sport. Similarly, if you’re looking the closest thing Apple does to a touchscreen laptop, then the larger iPad Pro is your go-to option.

But in the mid-size range, things get a little harder to tell apart.

Screen sizes

All three mid-sized iPads boast similar displays.

iPad iPad Air iPad Pro
Size 9.7-inches 10.5-inches 11-inches
Resolution 2048-by-1536 2224-by-1668 2388-by-1668
Density 264ppi 264ppi 264ppi

So, while the resolutions change as the displays get larger, Apple hasn’t compromised on density – something you often see when buying lower-cost displays.

Where the three models differ is that the iPad keeps things simple. It doesn’t boast Apple’s True Tone system that uses a sensor to detect the ambient light and automatically adjusts the display’s colours to better but the ambient light.

While both the iPad Air and iPad Pro get True Tone, only the iPad Pro gets ProMotion – Apple’s latest screen tech that increases the display refresh rate to 120Hz and lower latency.


The iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini ship with the latest silicon to come from Apple – the A12 processor with Neural Engine. This CPU is the same in all the iPad range except the iPad which retains the A10 processor.

While faster is always better, there’s not a huge amount of noticeable difference in day-to-day activities. But given people tend to hang on to their iPads for a long time – I know plenty of people still using iPads that are more than five years old – I’d spring for the fastest option in my budget as it will likely be supported for the longest time by Apple.

Not all Apple Pencils are the same

Apple supports the Apple Pencil right across its entire range now. But only the iPad Pro works with the second generation Apple Pencil. Having spent a few month using the Apple Pencil 2 with an iPad Pro, I think it’s a vastly superior device to the original version.

Aside from the ability to double-tap to toggle between a pencil and eraser – which doesn’t sound like a big deal but I used a lot – the new Pencil is more comfortable and is far easier to keep charged.

Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi+Cellular?

I’m a fan of having cellular data available on my tablet but I could easily live without it. Given that the addition of cellular comms on an iPad adds about $200 to the cost, I’d rather use that money on a decent case.

The best iPad for students

With many schools now asking students to bring their own tablet or computer to school, many parents are looking at the iPad as that computer.

In my view, the iPad is the best option here. Performance is solid and it is Apple’s lowest cost alternative. It retains Apple’s Lightning connector so schools that are set up with changing banks and other accessories will be easy to work with.

There are also lots of keyboard and protective cases on the market.

The best iPad for mobile workers

Depending on your needs and what portable computer you already have, the iPad Air or iPad mini make great complementary systems if you have another computer.

The iPad Air has a bunch of accessories that make it a reasonable compromise between a full laptop solution and a tablet. There are messaging, office productivity and lots of other apps that keep your working, as well as solid options for accessing media and consuming content.

I really like the iPad mini. I’ve mentioned before that I like the Notability app and I’ve now completely stopped using a pen and notebook for taking notes.

Who is the iPad Pro for?

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is great device but I really struggle to see its application beyond some specific niches. And while the smaller 11-inch iPad Pro is a great portable computer, it’s hard to justify the extra cost it comes with when compared to the slightly smaller iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro, I think, is really made for Apple fans with a fat wallet and as a pace for Apple to test out new technologies. It’s where Apple has trialled a new Apple Pencil, USB-C, four-speaker sound, ProMotion and a slew of other features that will eventually filter down to the mid-range iPad Air and iPad mini and, in a couple of generations, to the iPad.

And the iPad Air also gets an almost bezel-free display, loses the Home button and gets FaceID.

I have a problem with Apple only offering FaceID on its high-end products as they make a big deal about security and how FaceID is far more secure than TouchID but then only offer their best security on its most expensive products.

What do all the iPads cost?

Budget is obviously an important consideration. Apple has iPad options ranging from $469 for an entry level iPad all the way to $2569 for a maxed out iPad Pro. Once you settle on an iPad family it’s then about balancing your storage and comms needs.

iPad iPad Air iPad mini iPad Pro
Display size 9.7-inches at 2048-by-1536 and 264ppi 10.5-inches at 2224-by-1668 and 264ppi 7.9-inches at 2048-by-1536 and 326ppi 11-inches at 2388-by-1668 and 264ppi
Storage options 32GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Wi-Fi only $469, $599 $779, $999 $599, $819 $1229, $1449, $1749, $2349
Wi-Fi and cellular $669, $799 $979, $1199 $799, $1019 $1449, $1669, $1969, $2569

For me, the best bang-for-buck sits with the iPad Air. It really is a question of balancing your specific needs and choosing what works best for you, not just what measures up on a spec sheet .

iPad Accessories

Apple charges a premium for accessories. There are lots of decent keyboard cases on the market that cost a lot less than Apple’s options and the Logitech Crayon undercuts the Apple Pencil.

  • Apple Pencil: $145
  • Apple Pencil 2: $199
  • Smart Keyboard for iPad Air: $235
  • Smart Keyboard for 11-inch iPad Pro: $269
  • Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro: $299


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