A father and daughter looking at an iPad

When it comes to tablets, it's hard to beat an iPad.

Apple's offspring loom large on our ratings chart, routinely outscoring the competition in performance and display quality and leading the way in predicted reliability and owner satisfaction, based on survey data from CR members.

“Apple controls the hardware, the software—they pretty much have a handle on the entire ecosystem,” says Antonette Asedillo, who oversees the tablet testing in our labs. “So they're able to make sure everything works together well.”

And yet, choosing the right model can be tricky. What's the difference between the iPad Air and the iPad Mini, for example? How about the iPad and the iPad Pro? And why do the models in our ratings range in price from $280 to $1,150?

If you're the type of person who hates mysteries like those, rest easy. The list below will help you make sense of your options.

If you're fond of saving money, too, here's a tip: When shopping for an iPad, you can safely step back a product generation or two. Year-to-year improvements tend to be a bit more incremental than they are for an iPhone, says Asedillo, and price discounts can be generous, "especially when they're trying to get rid of older stock to make way for the newer models."

As with every other product we test, from lawn mowers to mattresses, we bought the tablets below at retail stores to ensure we're getting the exact same product as you, the consumer. We test the tablets on a variety of elements, including ease of use, the quality of the display, and how fast the model performs calculations.

The best iPad to get depends on your needs. Are you looking for a model with screaming fast processor speeds? Or something small enough to slip into a purse or backpack? Or do you want a big screen without a big price tag?

Here are the models ideally suited to those tasks.

Go to Consumer Reports' 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more.

Best Value

Quick Take

Apple iPad 9.7 (32GB) - 2018

Price: $280

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If your primary concern is getting the most bang for your buck, the best deal going down is the sixth-generation iPad. The 9.7-inch screen is large, sharp, and bright, even in direct daylight. The front-facing camera shoots video in HD, making it ideal for video calls or using FaceTime. And despite the relatively low price, the tablet's A10 Fusion chip is fast enough to handle not only basic web browsing and media consumption but also more processor-intensive tasks like 3D gaming.

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The model supports Bluetooth keyboards and the first-generation Apple Pencil accessory, if you want to do more traditional work. The battery lasted 10.3 hours in our web-browsing tests and 10.9 hours during video playback, enough to handle a cross-country or trans-Atlantic flight. And 30 minutes of charge gave it an additional 1.6 hours of operating time.

All of this can be had for less than $300—the WiFi-only version sells for $280. If you need constant connectivity, the sixth-generation iPad with WiFi and cellular data connectivity and 32GB of storage retails for $400.

Apple released a seventh-generation model on Sept. 30. The base 32GB version with WiFi sells for $329, while the version with WiFi and cellular data sells for $459.

Our testers are busy putting the new iPad through its paces right now, so we don't have an official review out yet, but here's what you need to know. It has a larger screen—10.2 inches to the sixth-generation iPad's 9.7 inches. It sports double the RAM, 4GB to the sixth generation's 2GB, which can make a huge difference in how fast a tablet can feel.

Like the sixth-generation iPad, it supports the first-generation Apple Pencil. And, unlike the sixth-generation iPad, it also supports Apple's Smart Keyboard cover, a physical keyboard that magnetically clips onto your iPad and doesn't require charging or a Bluetooth pairing.

Best Performance

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Apple iPad Pro 11 (4G, 64GB) - 2018

Price: $950

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Our highest-scoring tablet, the iPad Pro is a top-tier machine for power users. Thanks to a design with slim bezels and no Home button, it tucks an 11-inch screen into a body barely larger than a base iPad with a 9.7-inch screen. And, like more recent iPhones, it uses Face ID to unlock your machine.

Everything inside the iPad Pro is top of the line. With an Apple A12X Bionic chip that benchmarking app Geekbench rates as the fastest available for tablets, it's one of the few tablets on the market suitable for processor-intensive tasks like video or photo editing. It's the only iPad that currently supports the second-generation of the Apple Pencil, which sports additional gestures to make using the stylus feel more seamless. It also supports Apple's Smart Keyboard cover, allowing you to use a physical keyboard without needing to charge or pair it via Bluetooth.

The battery life is also impressive. The iPad Pro provides 12.5 hours of web-browsing and 15.6 hours of movie playback. Thanks to a switch from Lightning to USB-C charging, the iPad Pro can also juice up faster than earlier models—our testers found that 30 minutes of charge in a partially drained iPad Pro added 3.8 hours of battery life. 

The iPad Pro 11 starts at $800 for a WiFi-only model with 64 GB of storage or $950 for a model with WiFi and 4G cellular data connectivity. That said, if you're planning to do graphic or video work where large files sizes are a concern, you're likely to want more storage. A WiFi-only iPad Pro with 256GB sells for $950, a 512GB model for $1,150, and a 1TB model for $1,350. A 4G-enabled version with 256GB sells for $1,100, a 512GB model for $1,300, and a 1TB model for $1,500.

For those willing to pay for more screen real estate, there's also the iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch screen, which is virtually identical in every other respect. It starts at $949 for a WiFi-only version with 64GB of storage and $1,149 for a 64GB model with WiFi and 4G cellular data connectivity

For those who may be torn between performance and price, Apple has the iPad Air, which is faster than the sixth-generation iPad and has a larger screen (10.5 inches vs. 9.7 inches) but starts at $500 for a 64GB WiFi-only model vs. the $900 base price for the iPad Pro. While that may be a happy medium for some buyers, our testing suggests that you're better off going all-in on the Pro or saving your money and buying the sixth-generation iPad—there's only a 1-point difference in Overall Score between the iPad Air and basic iPad, but the Air costs almost twice as much.


Best Portability

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Apple iPad Mini (64GB) - 2019

Price: $400

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Apple refreshed the iPad Mini in mid-2019. The new 7.9-inch tablet is our best-scoring sub-8-inch model, and it wins by a large margin—the iPad Mini scores an 82, while its nearest competitor, the Amazon Fire 7, scores a 66.

There's a lot to love about the iPad Mini. It has a bright and 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 processor, an Apple A12 Bionic chip, is blazing fast, so web browsing or watching movies feels smooth and stutter-free. It also means the iPad Mini can support some of Apple's newer innovations, like augmented-reality apps. 

The battery life is also impressive. Our testers clocked it at 10.1 hours for web browsing and 9.3 hours for movie playback. 

The smaller size and lighter weight (just 0.7 pound vs. 1 pound for the iPad Pro and iPad 9.7-inch) make it easier to hold for extended periods, too.