What's the Best iPad for You?
Whether you're a power user or a budget-minded shopper, here's how to find the right one for your needs
When it comes to premium tablets, it’s hard to beat an iPad.
Apple’s tablets loom large on our ratings chart, routinely outscoring the competition in performance and display quality, while leading the way in predicted reliability and owner satisfaction, based on survey data from Consumer Reports members.
“Apple controls the hardware, the software—they pretty much have a handle on the entire ecosystem,” says Antonette Asedillo, who oversees tablet testing in our labs. “So they’re able to make sure everything works together well.”
Apple’s entry-level model, known simply as “iPad,” provides lots of bang for your buck, especially when you take into account the number of high-quality apps and services available for the iPad operating system. It has a 10.2-inch display and 64 GB of storage (you can pay for more), and it records HD video so you’ll look great on your next call (though the cameras don’t score quite as well as the other iPads on this list). In our testing, it delivered 11.3 hours of battery life while browsing the web.
For anyone who wants an Apple tablet for scrolling through social media posts or watching movies on the couch without shelling out the money you’d spend on an international flight, the classic iPad is a great pick. It’s available in a WiFi-only version or with 5G compatibility for $60 more.
The iPad Pro is a top-tier machine for power users, and it delivers the level of performance you’d expect from a laptop. If you’re the type of person who’s automatically drawn to the latest and greatest, the 2021 iPad Pro may be the tablet for you.
The Pro outpaces all of the other tablets in our ratings. Its display uses a technology called Mini LED, also present in some high-end TVs, that produces more vibrant images and better contrast than what’s possible with traditional LCD tech. It also has a lightning-fast refresh rate, which makes the animations in everything from video games to simply scrolling around iPadOS look smoother. The Pro has an exceptional camera and Apple’s blazing fast M1 processor, and the company ditched the lighting port in favor of a USB-C connector (meaning you’ll use the same cable that powers newer MacBooks). The Pro aced our battery life tests, delivering 14.1 hours of web browsing time.
It also supports Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover (allowing you to use a physical keyboard without needing to charge or pair it via Bluetooth) and the Magic Keyboard, $299, which features a cantilevered design that lets you raise and lower the screen to get a better viewing angle.
The 2021 iPad Pro comes in a 11-inch or a 12.9-inch model (you’ll pay more for the larger screen) and both sizes are also available with 5G compatibility.
The current iPad Air was released in September 2020 and offers a good middle ground between the entry-level iPad and top-of-the-line iPad Pro. With the upgrades that came with the newer 2021 iPad, the Air doesn’t have quite as many advantages as it used to, but there are still perks for anyone who wants an upgrade over the baseline model.
First up is the iPad Air’s higher-quality 10.9-inch display, which is a bit bigger than the regular iPad’s. The Air is more powerful, too. You won’t have any issue running demanding photo- and video-editing apps with the Air. The Air also plays better with accessories. It comes with a USB-C port, and it’s compatible with Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover and Magic Keyboard. The regular iPad is stuck with a lightning port and can’t use the Magic Keyboard.
So what do you give up by going with the Air instead of the new Pro? The Pro is more powerful on paper, has a better screen, and has more storage space options (all the way up to 1 terabyte). The new Pro also has a camera feature called Center Stage that Apple says will automatically keep you pictured in the middle of the frame during video calls, even if you move around the room. And unlike the 2021 Pro, the version of the Air equipped with cellular compatibility won’t work with 5G. The Air hasn’t been updated since last year, but if you’re the type of shopper who gravitates toward “prosumer” models, it may be worth considering.
Apple’s latest tablet is the 2021 iPad Mini. It’s our top pick if you want the ideal traveling companion. (A Kindle Fire is a good choice if you’re looking to save money.)
The 8.3-inch iPad has a bright, sharp display with a large viewing angle, meaning you don’t need to hold it dead center in front of your face to see it clearly. The new A15 Bionic chip is blazing fast, so web browsing and watching movies feels smooth and stutter-free. The battery life is impressive, too. Our testers clocked it at 10.7 hours for web browsing and 12.4 hours for movie playback. Other updates include a USB-C port, upgraded cameras, and optional 5G compatibility.
The new iPad mini is lighter than the older model, too. The smaller size and lighter weight (just 0.7 pound vs. 1 pound for the 11-inch iPad Pro and 1.1 pounds for the regular iPad) make the tablet easier to hold for extended periods than its larger brethren.