Apple sells four different main iPad models, each with their own strengths. Since all these devices generally look the same, it’s important to know what you’re buying and what you should pay for it. This guide covers the best iPads available right now, and the important differences between each iPad model.
The 2018 iPad (8/10, WIRED) is the best iPad to buy, now that it supports the Original Apple Pencil. It’s thinner, lighter, gobs more powerful than Steve Jobs’ first model back in 2010, and cheaper, too. Apple’s sixth generation tablet (iPad historians might argue it’s really the “eighth” generation) has the same size 9.7-inch screen as iPads have had since the beginning, and does nearly everything you’ve ever seen an iPad do. The only downside is that it has a little more air gap (space between glass and screen) than the iPad Air, Mini, and Pro—and it lacks a keyboard Smart Connector hookup, so you’ll have to use a rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard.
I haven’t yet tested Apple’s 2021 iPad Air (revealed on March 18), but I don’t see any big problems on paper. Basically, it adds a fast new A12 Bionic processor in the chassis of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro that came out in 2017. So it’s the same size as most every iPad you’ve ever held, but with more screen space. If you’re a fan of Touch ID, this is now Apple’s most powerful iPad that still has a home button and fingerprint sensor. It’s also compatible with the Standard Apple Pencil and its laminated screen places the glass closer to the pixels than on the standard iPad, making it more pleasant for drawing/writing. It’s compatible with Apple’s Smart Keyboard, too.
iPad Pro is the absolute best iPad, but it doesn’t come cheap. Like the new iPhones, it eliminates the home button in favor of Face ID and a larger display that comes in two sizes. The 13-incher is about the size of a magazine, and wonderful for drawing, but the 11-inch model is more than enough tablet for most people. If you want to draw or write, spend the extra $129 to get the New Apple Pencil. It’s the best stylus around, and it magnetically clings to the side of the tablet where it auto-pairs with the device and charges wirelessly. The Smart Keyboard ($159 and up) is a good keyboard — just know you may still struggle to accomplish some laptop tasks on an iPad.
It took a few years, but Apple has finally updated the iPad Mini with a speedy new A12 Bionic processor. We haven’t yet tested the new model, but it appears nearly identical to the iPad Mini 4 — though with 64 gigabytes of storage instead of 128 GB. The big draw is the 8-inch screen, which is perfect for tiny hands and for traveling. Its thin laminated display also makes it an ideal (albeit petite) tablet for writing and drawing, thanks to its enabling of the Original Apple Pencil.
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