iPad Buying Guide: Which One is Right for You?

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which ipad

With five different models in two sizes and prices ranging from $249 to $829, there has never been more variety for iPad shoppers. That's a good thing, but how do you decide which one to buy? Use our handy iPad buying guide to get the right Apple slate for your needs and budget.

Common Features

All iPads provide access to more than 675,000 apps optimized for the big screen, which is far more than Android or Windows offer. You can also expect a high-quality aluminum unibody design and a bright and crisp display. With iOS 8, iPads are now more versatile, with interactive notifications, support for third-party keyboards and Family Sharing for App Store and iTunes purchases.

Also note that all iPad models can be ordered with 4G LTE capability, which allows you to get online when you're out of Wi-Fi range. You'll pay $129 more than you would for the Wi-Fi-only version, plus the cost of whatever monthly data plan you sign up for.

iPad Models Compared

The iPad lineup is made up of two families: the iPad Air and the iPad mini. But as you drill down to the individual models, there is plenty of variety in specs, features and price. Here's a quick breakdown.

  iPad Air 2 ipad air mini3 100 ipad mini 2 ipad mini 100
    iPad Air 2  iPad Air  iPad mini 3  iPad mini 2  iPad mini
Starting Price $499 $399 $399 $299 $249
Screen 9.7 inches (2048 x 1536), 264 ppi 9.7 inches (2048 x 1536), 264 ppi 7.9 inches (2048 x 1536), 326 ppi 7.9 inches (2048 x 1536), 326 ppi 7.9 inches (1024 x 768), 163 ppi
Processor A8X A7 A7 A7 A5
Storage (GB) 16, 64, 128 16, 32 16, 64, 128 16, 32 16
Cameras (Rear / Front)
8 MP, 1.2 MP  5 MP, 1.2 MP  5 MP, 1.2 MP 5 MP, 1.2 MP  5 MP, 1.2 MP 
Touch ID Yes  No  Yes  No  No 
Wi-Fi 802.11ac  802.11n  802.11n  802.11n  802.11n 
Dimensions 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches  9.4 x 6.6 x .29 inches 7.9 x 5.3 x .29 inches  7.9 x 5.3 x .29 inches  7.9 x 5.3 x .28 inches 
Weight 15.36 ounces  1.05 pounds  11.7 ounces  11.7 ounces  10.9 ounces 


iPad Air 2 ($499 for 16GB) - Buy It

The flagship of Apple's iPad lineup, the Air 2 is the thinnest — and most powerful — of the bunch. This 0.24-inch slim slate packs a new A8X processor, which delivers faster CPU and graphics performance, especially in demanding games. The Air 2's screen is not only bright and sharp, but it's also the only one with a fully laminated display with an anti-reflective coating, which means less glare.

The top-of-the-line iPad also boasts the best camera: Its 8-MP rear shooter has a burst mode and slo-mo video recording. The built-in Touch ID sensor makes it a cinch to unlock the device, approve app downloads and even check out on various websites via Apple Pay. The Air 2 is also the only iPad with advanced 802.11ac Wi-Fi. For our money, we'd opt for the 64GB version for $599, to give you more room for apps, games and media.

iPad Air ($399 for 16GB) - Buy It

The original iPad Air is a pretty great value at $399, but the $449 model is an even better deal because you get double the storage (32GB) for just $50 more. The 64-bit A7 processor is plenty capable, and the Air's colorful 9.7-inch Retina display makes everything from websites and photos to movies pop. You don't get a Touch ID sensor, but the Air's combination of design, smooth performance and long battery life — more than 11 hours — make it a solid choice.

iPad mini 3 ($399 for 16GB) - Not the Best Option

The iPad mini 3 isn't our favorite Apple tablet, and that's because there's not much new about it compared to its predecessor. While it offers a stylish new gold color option and a convenient Touch ID sensor, it's otherwise pretty much identical to the cheaper mini 2. The only other chief difference is capacity. The mini 3 goes up to 128GB (for $499), while the mini 2 maxes out at 32GB. If you want a small Apple slate, get the mini 2 instead.

iPad mini 2 ($299 for 16GB) - Best Deal

A Retina display, long battery life and zippy A7 performance for just $299? Sign us up. The mini 2 packs the same sharp 2048 x 1536-pixel screen as the mini 3 and the same processing power, just minus the Touch ID sensor. The mini 2 also offers awesome endurance; this device lasted more than 11 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test. Other highlights include a high-quality FaceTime HD camera. Assuming you want a smaller screen, the iPad mini 2 delivers the most Apple tablet for your money.

iPad mini ($249 for 16GB) - Cheap But Just OK

A viable option for kids, the $249 iPad mini isn't very advanced but provides easy access to hundreds of thousands of high-quality apps. Just don't expect the sharpest display, as the 1024 x 768-pixel resolution is pretty low by today's standards. The iPad mini also has a slower A5 processor and Wi-Fi without MIMO technology, though at least it connects over 802.11n. The 5-MP camera lacks the panorama mode and 3X video zoom that newer minis have, but we suspect the target audience for this slate won't mind.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • wade Says:

    No where can I find where to buy an Apple Wi-Fi 3g or 4g Ipad with true GPS capability by model number or store where they can be purchased. Approx cost would be nice. Any help is appreciated

  • Rahul Says:

    Personally I would prefer the iPad Air simply because of the low weight compared to previous models. The bezel is thin but iOS 7 is optimized to detect fingers obstructing the screen and still stay away from causing any problem. The iPad Mini with retina display is good but sometimes I feel it's just too small for the complete tablet experience.