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iPad vs. iPad Air vs. iPad Pro vs. iPad mini: iPad Buying Guide

With four different models in various sizes and prices ranging from $329 to nearly $2,000, there are plenty of iPad options to choose from. 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.

iPad Pro vs. iPad Air vs. iPad mini vs. iPad: Compared

The iPad lineup is made up of four families: the iPad Pro, the iPad mini, the iPad Air and the regular, 10.2-inch iPad. But as you drill down to the individual models, you'll find plenty of variety in specs, features and price. Here's a quick breakdown.

iPad Pro12.9-inchiPad Pro11-inchiPad Air (2020)iPad (2020)iPad mini (2019)
Best ForLaptop Replacement, Professional ArtistsLaptop Replacement, Professional ArtistsProductivity, Media Consumption, GamingMedia Consumption, GamingReading, Email, Social Media, Gaming
Starting Price$1,099$799$599$329$499
Screen12.9 inches (2732 x 2048), Liquid Retina XDR11 inches (2388 x 1688); Liquid Retina10.9-inch (2360 x 1640)10.2 inches (2160 x 1620)8.3 inches Liquid Retina
Battery Life10 hours (rated, web surfing); 9 hours (browsing)10 hours (rated, web surfing); 9 hours (browsing)10 hours (claimed)TBDTBD
ProcessorM1M1A14A13 BionicA15
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB64GB, 256GB64GB, TBD64GB, TBD
Cameras(Rear / Front)12MP and 10MP/7MP front12MP and 10MP/7MP12MP/7MP8MP, 1.2MP12MP, 12MP
Color OptionsSilver, Space GraySilver, Space GraySilver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Green, Sky BlueTBDSpace Gray, Pink, Purple, Gold
Touch IDFace IDFace IDYesYesYes
Pencil SupportedYesYesYesYesYes
Dimensions11 x 8.5 x 0.25 inches9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inchesTBD
Weight1.5 pounds1 pound1 pound1.03 poundsTBD

Common Features

All iPads provide access to more than 1 million apps optimized for the big screen, which is far more than what Android or Windows devices offer. You can also expect a high-quality aluminum unibody design and a bright and crisp display.

The tablets all come with iPadOS, the latest version of Apple's tablet OS. You can learn all about the features available to the operating system here, and read our guide to learn how to download the developer beta.

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 $139 more than you would for the Wi-Fi-only version, plus the cost of whatever monthly data plan you sign up for.

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad (2021)

Best budget tablet

Reasons to buy
+Strong performance+Long battery life+Colorful display+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Dated design

Simply called the "iPad," this 10.2-inch slate is the most affordable Apple tablet, with a starting price of just $329. Despite its lower price, the iPad has plenty of premium specs, including a 2160 x 1620-pixel Retina display, a speedy A13 Bionic processor, Apple Pencil support and dual 8-MP / 1.2-MP cameras. It comes in 64GB or 128GB capacity. 

Best For: Because of its relatively low price and generous screen size, the iPad is a great choice for media consumption, gaming, social media and some light productivity. Although the iPad mini 4 is a better size for small hands, many parents will prefer the iPad's lower price when oosing a slate for their kids. College students on a budget will also find this model appealing.

See our iPad (2021) coverage

iPad mini

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad mini

Best budget tablet

Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid

The more portable, purse-friendly tablet in the iPad family, the iPad mini is a great handheld device. It features an 8.3-inch display and an A15 chip. 

Best For: If you like to read on the couch, in bed, or on the go, the iPad mini is a great size for books, especially comic books. Its relatively small screen makes it easy to type quick social media posts or send off emails, during one-handed use or while standing up. The mini is the best size for kids, but parents may prefer to get the less-expensive iPad.

iPad Air (2020)

iPad Air in the Magic Keyboard (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

iPad Air (2020)

Best for most people

Reasons to buy
+Sleek design with thin bezels+A14 Bionic chip delivers excellent performance+Good battery life+Loud, clear speakers
Reasons to avoid
-No Face ID or headphone jack

This $599 iPad Air looks to provide the best mix of pro and consumer features at a price that won't hurt too much. With support for the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard, it can be your next 2-in-1, acting as a laptop when you need to be productive.

The biggest differences between it and the entry-level $329 iPad are its larger 10.9-inch screen and faster A14 processor. The new iPad Air also has USB-C charging and the fingerprint sensor was moved to a side button to accommodate thinner display bezels, giving it a more modern appearance. 

Best For: If you write a lot, edit photos, and want a large screen for watching videos and multitasking, but don't run highly-demanding video editing apps. Overall, the iPad Air is a great option for most people who aren't on such a tight budget but don't need the niche features that make the iPad Pro so expensive. 

See our iPad Air (2020) review

11-inch iPad Pro (2018)

iPad Pro (11-inch)

Best for professionals

Reasons to buy
+Stellar performance+Intuitive and useful trackpad support+Vivid and super bright display
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive (especially with accessories)

This is what happens when you take the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, increase its screen, shrink its bezels and swap its home button out for Face ID. Oh, and then there's the Ferrari engine under the hood: Apple's given the 2020 iPad Pros its phenomenal A12Z processor. 

Not only will it run the forthcoming Photoshop CC smoothly, but it provides gaming performance on par with an Xbox. Speed-demons will want this iPad Pro, especially if portability is a priority. And if you use the Magic Keyboard, you definitely want one of the new iPad Pros. The first-gen Magic Keyboard is only compatible with the 11-inch iPad Pro, its larger sibling and iPad Air, so if you want to use your tablet as a laptop, this is the one to get. 

If you already own a 4K display you can connect to via USB Type-C, it may make sense to buy this over the larger sibling, as you already own a giant screen. 

Best For: Creative pros who love their styluses, want a smaller device and push their iPad to the limits. Also, pros on a budget will go for this model, as it's just as fast and capable, but starts at $200 less and its $179 Smart Keyboard Folio is $20 less than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's keyboard cover.

Apple recently unveiled a new version of the iPad Pro with M1 processor. You can expect our full review in the coming weeks. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

iPad Pro (2020, 12.9-inch)

Best as a tablet/laptop hybrid

Reasons to buy
+Stellar performance+Intuitive and useful trackpad support+Vivid and superbright display+Awesome cameras+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid

If you think bigger is better, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best. Not only does it have the speedy A12Z chip that the 11-inch iPad Pro offers, but its 2732 x 2048-pixel Liquid Retina edge-to-edge panel is the largest digital canvas that apple offers. But that size doesn't ruin its portability, as it's a mere 0.4 pounds heavier than the 11-inch iPad Pro and just as thin at 0.23 inches.

And about that A12Z processor, our tests showed that the new iPad Pro is faster at image editing than actual laptops. And with 10+ hours of battery life, it also outlasts most PCs.

The 2nd Generation Apple Pencil (sold separately for $129) packs gesture-based tricks in its barrel and a charging method that won't feel like you're breaking it, while the Magic Keyboard turns the iPad Pro into a laptop. 

Best For: Those demanding creative pros who want the best iPad experience possible. Not only is it super-fast, but its larger screen — both in inches and pixels — provides the largest canvas for professional artists and video editors to do their work.

Apple recently unveiled a new version of the iPad Pro with M1 processor. You can expect our full review in the coming weeks.

See our 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2020) review

Tablet Guide

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.