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

iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

With four different iPads covering a variety of sizes and prices ranging from $329 to nearly $2,000, there are plenty of excellent Apple tablets to choose from. That's a good thing, but how do you decide which iPad is the right fit for you? 

Do you just want to watch videos and use a few apps or are you looking for something that can be a laptop replacement or a creative tool? Use our handy iPad buying guide to get the right Apple slate for your needs and budget.

The iPad Air 5 is the latest addition to the lineup, bringing the M1 processor and optional 5G to a non-Pro iPad for the first time. It retains the price point and the other features of its predecessor, so our guide is shifting to covering the new model, but if you can find the iPad Air 4 on sale it remains an excellent tablet.

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch Tablet: was $799 now $699 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
The iPad Pro is currently $100 off at Amazon. Powered by the same M1 chip found in the latest MacBooks (opens in new tab), (opens in new tab) the 2021 iPad Pro brings blazing performance to Apple's best-selling tablets. The iPad Pro in this deal packs an 11-inch Retina Display, Apple M1 CPU and 128GB of storage.

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 (2022)iPad (2021)iPad mini (2021)
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)10:0911:59TBD
ProcessorM1M1M1A13 BionicA15
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB64GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB64GB, TBD
Cameras(Rear / Front)12MP and 10MP/7MP front12MP and 10MP/7MP12MP/7MP8MP, 12MP12MP, 12MP
VideoRecording4K4K4K1080p4K
Color OptionsSilver, Space GraySilver, Space GraySpace Gray, Starlight, Pink, Purple, BlueSilver, Space GraySpace Gray, Pink, Purple, Gold
Touch IDFace IDFace IDYesYesYes
Pencil SupportedYesYesYesYesYes
Dimensions11 x 8.5 x 0.25 inches9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inchesTBD
Weight1.5 pounds1 pound1 pound1.1 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 or 5G 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)
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 / 12-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 choosing a slate for their kids. College students on a budget will also find this model appealing.

See our iPad (2021) coverage

iPad mini 6

(Image credit: Phillip Tracy/Laptop Mag)
Best small tablet

Reasons to buy

+
Compact size enables single-handed use
+
Fast performance from A15 Bionic
+
Sharp and bright display
+
Decent battery life and USB-C charging
+
Excellent camera upgrades

Reasons to avoid

-
Magic Keyboard isn't supported
-
Apple Pencil Gen 2 sold separately
-
Small display can feel cramped
-
64GB of storage
-
Expensive

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.

See our full iPad mini (2021) review

Apple iPad Air 5

iPad Air in the Magic Keyboard (Image credit: Apple)
Best for most people

Reasons to buy

+
Sleek design with thin bezels
+
M1 chip delivers excellent performance
+
Good battery life
+
Loud, clear speakers
+
Support for Apple Pencil 2 and Magic Keyboard but...

Reasons to avoid

-
Accessories are expensive add-ons
-
No Face ID or headphone jack
-
64GB base storage
-
Display could be brighter, more vivid

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 current 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 blistering fast M1 processor. It also mirrors the iPad Pro with USB-C charging and while it would have been nice to get Face ID, the fingerprint sensor is fast and moving it to the side button gives the Air thinner display bezels and a more modern iPad Pro design.

Best For: 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. The only reason to consider the upgrade to a Pro now that the Air also features the M1 processor, are the superior cameras, Face ID, and the larger 120Hz displays.

See our iPad Air (2020) review

iPad Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

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 dropped its unbelievable M1 processor into the 2021 iPad Pros. 

The iPad Pro 2021 is for the same crowd as the previous models: those without a budget who want the absolute best tablet on the market, as well as professionals and enthusiasts using intensive apps for content creation or editing. Unless Apple changes direction and turns the iPad Pro into a true laptop replacement, the market for this tablet will remain limited.  

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.

iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)
Best as a tablet/laptop hybrid

Reasons to buy

+
XDR display can get bright and vivid
+
M1 chip is outrageously fast
+
Slim, durable chassis
+
Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 support
+
Improved front-facing camera with Center Stage
+
5G wireless speeds

Reasons to avoid

-
Display has some limitations
-
iPadOS can feel restricting
-
Expensive

If you think bigger is better, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best. Not only does it have the speedy M1 that the 11-inch iPad Pro offers, but its 2732 x 2048-pixel mini-LED 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 only slightly thicker at 0.25 inches compared to 0.23 inches.

And about that M1 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.

See our 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) review

Tablet Guide

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.