Buying an iPad was a lot easier when Apple only made one tablet, but now you have many options. Fortunately, with our recommendations, you can get the features you want without spending more than you need to.
Best iPads of 2021
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Shopping for an iPad in 2021
iPad is Apple’s line of tablet computers. They’re powered by iPadOS, a modified version of the iOS operating system that runs on the iPhone. Using an iPad, you can run both tablet-optimized “universal” apps and standard iOS apps designed for iPhone.
Apple has introduced several different iPad models since the original came to market in 2010. This includes the “mini” range of smaller iPads, higher-end “Pro” models, and a premium “Air” range that offers a step-up over the base model.
Depending on which model you opt for, you can expand your tablet’s capabilities with a range of first-party accessories like snap-on keyboards and the Apple Pencil stylus. The iPad’s status as a premium tablet also means many third parties produce accessories like cases, flash storage, charging docks, and even game controllers.
To pick the right iPad you first need to figure out what you’ll be using it for. Generally speaking, the more you spend, the more you can do. Cheaper models can handle most basic tasks like checking social media, sending email, and playing games.
Higher-end “Pro” models have more powerful hardware that is better at multitasking and running creative or professional software with ease. These models have color-accurate, higher-quality displays for drawing, photo editing, and video production. The inclusion of USB-C and Thunderbolt further expands their usefulness since you can connect to high-speed external devices.
Let’s take a look at how the iPad range stacks up for some of the most common usage scenarios.
Best iPad Overall: iPad Air (4th Gen)
- ✓ Powered by Apple’s latest A14 Bionic system-on-chip
- ✓ Thin bezels and stylish modern design
- ✓ Excellent accessory support including Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2
- ✓ USB-C connector
- ✓ Similar capabilities as the Pro range for much less money
- ✗ Upper limit of 256GB internal storage
- ✗ More expensive than an entry-level iPad
The iPad Air sits right in the middle of the iPad range, starting at $599 for the Wi-Fi-only model, or $729 for the cellular option. With a screen size of 10.9-inches, the Air carefully treads the line between portability and usefulness. It’s available in various colors, including classic silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue.
The iPad Air range uses Apple’s A14 Bionic chip, first introduced alongside the iPhone 12 in 2020. This chip is fast enough for most users and provides a silky-smooth iPadOS experience. Since the chip is relatively new, the iPad Air should provide good performance for years to come.
Apple has also refreshed the iPad Air to bring it more in line with the iPad Pro and iPhone ranges. The latest model has thin bezels, a fingerprint sensor on the side, and no physical Home button. It’s finished with sharp, clean edges, unlike the rounded look of the original iPad.
You can use Apple’s latest and greatest accessories with the iPad Air, including the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129) and Apple’s flagship Magic Keyboard ($299) with its integrated trackpad and USB-C pass-through charging. This makes the Air as versatile as the Pro range in terms of accessories while still being a few hundred dollars cheaper.
A single 12MP wide camera can be found on the back, with a somewhat grainy 7MP front-facing camera for video calls and selfies upfront. This is a considerable step up from the base iPad model, but if taking photos or shooting video is important to you on a tablet, you should perhaps consider the iPad Pro 11-inch instead.
The iPad Air is ideal if you want a fast, modern tablet with excellent accessory support. It provides a much more modern iPad experience than the base model, and it will last longer in terms of software support and raw performance.
Best Overall iPad
Best Budget Option: iPad (8th Gen)
- ✓ Perfect for basic tablet tasks like social media or email
- ✓ Get the iPad experience at a cheaper price point
- ✓ Some support for older Apple accessories
- ✗ Outdated design compared with other models
- ✗ Upper limit of 128GB internal storage
- ✗ A12 Bionic is getting on a bit
- ✗ Doesn’t work with Apple’s latest first-party accessories,
Apple’s entry-level iPad starts at $329 for the Wi-Fi model, with a cellular version starting at $459. For that, you’ll get a 10.2-inch display and Apple’s A12 Bionic system-on-chip, first seen on the iPhone XR in 2018.
The use of an older chip means that the base iPad isn’t quite as sharp as its contemporaries. The experience of using iPadOS is still great, but intensive 3D games and demanding professional applications may struggle where other iPad models do not. An older chip could also see Apple discontinue support for the iPad earlier than other models too.
But the iPad still excels at most tablet computing tasks. It’s perfect for checking social media, sending email, watching YouTube or Netflix, playing most App Store games, reading, and taking notes. There’s also a fingerprint reader for quickly unlocking your tablet or authorizing payments.
On the back, you’ll find a passable 7MP camera. Unfortunately, the front-facing camera only manages 1.2MP, so expect a grainy image and poor low-light performance. Unlike the newer tablets in Apple’s line-up, the base iPad still ships with a Lightning connector instead of USB-C.
If you want a little more for your money but you’re on a tight budget, consider buying an Apple-refurbished iPad.
Best Budget iPad
Best for Drawing: iPad Pro 12.9‑inch (5th Gen) with Apple Pencil 2
- ✓ Massive 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
- ✓ 120Hz ProMotion, P3 Wide Color, and up to 1600 nits peak brightness
- ✓ Support for the latest Apple Pencil 2 (and Magic Keyboard)
- ✓ Powerful desktop-class M1 chip
- ✓ USB-C and USB 4/Thunderbolt support
- ✓ 5G support on cellular model
- ✗ Apple’s most expensive iPad
- ✗ Large size makes it unwieldy for casual tablet tasks
If you’re buying an iPad for drawing purposes, you’re likely going to want the biggest canvas you can get. That’s exactly what the iPad Pro 12.9-inch delivers, with its massive Liquid Retina XDR pro-level display. In addition, this is Apple’s first tablet that uses mini-LED technology.
Not only is the display large, but the iPad Pro 12.9-inch has also got a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio only seen on this larger model. The XDR display has a full-field brightness of 1000 nits, and a peak brightness of 1600 nits on a limited window. It’s perfect for editing HDR photos and videos, as well as creating artwork in apps like Procreate.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro features a 120Hz “ProMotion” display mode, which means that the refresh rate is double that of Apple’s other tablets. This means that the screen updates twice as fast (up to 120 times per second) for a buttery smooth and ultra-responsive user experience.
Naturally, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch also supports Apple’s latest Apple Pencil 2 stylus. It attaches magnetically to the iPad Pro and offers tilt and pressure sensitivity, what Apple terms “imperceptible” lag, excellent palm rejection, and wireless pairing and charging. You can also grab Apple’s Magic Keyboard and older folio keyboard cases if you want.
The iPad Pro 12.9-inch is powered by Apple’s desktop-class M1 processor. It can chew through professional-grade apps, edit 4K video, and handle the most demanding 3D games the App Store can throw at it.
Best iPad for Drawing
Need a Stylus?
Apple Pencil (2nd Generation)
The Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) is the best stylus available for your iPad. This latest iteration features wireless charging, palm rejection, and an intuitive touch interface.
Best for Kids: iPad (8th Gen)
- ✓ Cheap and capable tablet for school and play
- ✓ Plenty of third-party accessories available like cases
- ✓ Works with Apple Pencil 1 and older Smart Keyboard
- ✗ A12 Bionic is slower than A14 Bionic found in iPad Air
- ✗ No support for latest accessories like Magic Keyboard
- ✗ Upper limit of 128GB internal storage
The base iPad is perfect for what most kids will use their tablets for. It’s the cheapest tablet that Apple produces, and so it’s the cheapest tablet to replace or repair in case of accident or loss.
Powered by the A12 Bionic system-on-chip, the base iPad has enough grunt for most kid-friendly applications. It’s a capable note-taker, word processor, and internet browser for school work. It can handle games like Minecraft, Among Us, and Roblox just fine. The base iPad is great for streaming video from Netflix or on-demand TV channels too.
Since the base iPad has been around for so long, you won’t have trouble buying accessories like cases, which are important for young or accident-prone children. Being able to protect the tablet from everyday wear and tear with a tough case like the HDE Kids Case with Handle is essential.
The base iPad has some limited accessory support from Apple, including the first-generation Apple Pencil and basic Smart Keyboard. You can also attach your own Bluetooth keyboard to your iPad or add a wired mouse if you need one.
Best iPad for Kids
Protect Your iPad with a Tough Kids Case
HDE iPad (8th Gen) Case for Kids with Handle/Stand
Designed for the iPad (8th Gen), the HDE Case for Kids is made from durable, non-toxic EVA foam and features an integrated screen protector, storage for Apple Pencil, and is available in a range of colors.
Best for Travel: iPad mini (5th Gen)
- ✓ The smallest iPad you can buy with a 7.9-inch display
- ✓ Like a base iPad in a smaller package
- ✓ Better front-facing camera than the base iPad for video calls
- ✗ More expensive than the base iPad with the same performance
- ✗ Only compatible with first-generation Apple Pencil (no Magic Keyboard support)
- ✗ There are better options unless you need a 7.9-inch tablet
If you’re buying a tablet for travel, you’re probably looking for a small tablet. The iPad mini is Apple’s most portable tablet with its no-frills 7.9-inch display and A12 Bionic system-on-chip. This is effectively a base model iPad in a smaller chassis, except it starts at $399 (or $529 for the cellular model). The form factor makes it easy to drop the iPad mini into your handbag, carry-on luggage, or even a large jacket pocket.
The iPad mini is compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, but no other Apple accessories like the Magic Keyboard. You’ll need to bring your own Bluetooth keyboard if you want to get some serious typing done. One area it improves over the base iPad is its 7MP front-facing FaceTime camera.
Consider the base iPad or pricier iPad Air if a 10-inch tablet is small enough. The base iPad will save you $70, while the iPad Air has a newer processor and better accessory compatibility.
Best iPad for Travel
Apple iPad mini
The iPad mini has a 7.9-inch screen that makes it about as pocketable as a large paperback book, with all the bells and whistles you’ll find on a standard iPad.
7.9-inch Screen Too Small?
iPad (8th Gen)
The 8th Generation iPad is another excellent choice for travel. If you aren’t limited by the smaller 7.9-inch screen requirement, the base iPad is cheaper and perfect for checking email, reading, and entertaining you while you travel.
Best Laptop Replacement: iPad Pro 11‑inch (3rd Gen) with Magic Keyboard
- ✓ Powered by the desktop-class M1 processor
- ✓ Support for the latest Apple accessories including Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2
- ✓ Up to 2TB internal storage
- ✓ High-quality cameras on the back and front, plus Face ID support
- ✓ USB-C with USB 4 and Thunderbolt support
- ✓ 5G connectivity on cellular models
- ✗ Expensive compared with iPad and iPad Air
- ✗ Overkill for many users
- ✗ Still runs iPadOS, so cannot fully replace your laptop
For desktop-class performance, the iPad Pro range can’t be beat. While the 12.9-inch model is perfect for drawing and videography, the 11-inch model delivers the same great performance in a more compact form factor. It’s also a bit cheaper, starting at $799 for the Wi-Fi version or $999 for cellular.
At the heart of the iPad Pro 11-inch is Apple’s desktop-class M1 system-on-chip. This is the same silicon that Apple is putting in computers like the MacBook Air and iMac. It allows the iPad Pro to run professional applications like video editors, digital audio workstations, and the most demanding 3D applications.
What Is Apple’s M1 Chip for the Mac?
As a laptop replacement, the iPad Pro 11-inch has just about everything you’d need. It’s compatible with the latest accessories, including Apple’s Magic Keyboard that features an integrated trackpad. In addition, you can have up to 2TB of internal storage, and connect external devices like storage via the USB-C connector (with support for Thunderbolt and USB 4 speeds).
There are 12MP wide and 10MP ultra-wide cameras on the rear, with a high-quality 12MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera for amazing selfies, video calls, and live streams. There’s also Face ID support for unlocking and authorizing your device using your likeness, just like on the latest iPhones. If you opt for the cellular version, you’ll get 5G support too.
If the iPad Air comes up a little short, the iPad Pro 11-inch is the tablet for you.
Best Laptop Replacement
Apple’s Best Keyboard Accessory
Best Large iPad: iPad Pro 12.9‑inch (5th Gen)
- ✓ The largest iPad you can buy
- ✓ Powerful M1 processor
- ✓ Excellent compatibility with accessories like Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil
- ✗ May be too large for casual tablet usage
If you want an iPad with a larger-than-average screen, your only option is the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $1099 for the Wi-Fi model. This high-end tablet features a powerful M1 processor, excellent accessory support, and a beautiful mini-LED display.
It’s perfect for watching or editing videos, playing games, drawing and artwork, annotating documents, and multitasking. This comes at the cost of portability, with the 12.9-inch tablet feeling a bit too big for casual use. Holding the iPad in one hand while you browse Twitter on the sofa doesn’t feel as good as it does on other models.
We’d recommend heading into an Apple Store or other retail location where you can test the 12.9-inch model for yourself before you part with your money.
Best Large iPad
Best Small iPad: iPad mini (5th Gen)
- ✓ The smallest iPad you can buy
- ✓ Like a base iPad (8th Gen) in a smaller chassis
- ✗ More expensive than the iPad (8th Gen) while offering the same performance
The $399 iPad mini is the smallest iPad with its 7.9-inch display. It’s about the size of a large paperback book and a lot thinner. If portability is important, this might be the iPad for you. However, it’s a bit more expensive than the base iPad, and it features the same A12 Bionic system-on-chip from 2018.
If you can stretch your wallet to accommodate a slightly larger model like the base iPad ($329), you’ll save some money. Likewise, if you can stretch your budget to the iPad Air (from $599), you’ll get better performance and more options in terms of accessories.
The iPad mini is a capable compact that certainly has its suitors, though there are some compelling alternatives if size isn’t the be-all and end-all.
Best Small iPad