Best iPad in 2021: Which iPad model should you buy?

Apple’s iPad lineup is arguably something that’s unmatched by any other platform or device maker. From the iPad Mini to the iPad Air or iPad Pro, the tablets all consistently find their way to the top of performance charts and offer 10 hours of battery life, clear and crisp displays, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store. On top of that, retailers regularly run iPad deals on the base model making it even more affordable. 

With Apple continuously updating and adding features to iPadOS, the iPad keeps gaining valuable features like  trackpad support and more Mac-like features, while differentiating the tablet lineup from the iPhone. You can even connect a mouse to an iPad Mini. 

Below, you’ll find Apple’s iPad lineup and details about what differentiates each model in a bid to help you decide which iPad is best for you. 

10.2-inch display | A12 Bionic chip | Up to 128GB storage | Touch ID

apple-ipad-8th-gen-w-keyboard-09152020.jpg

Apple

Apple’s tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value out of the group. You get all of the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models, including a larger 10.2-inch display.

Inside is the Apple A12 Bionic processor, either 32GB or 128GB of storage, and either standalone Wi-Fi support or Wi-Fi and Cellular connectivity.

Apple hasn’t expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro quite yet. But with the recent update to the iPad Air, the iPad and iPad Mini are the only two tablets left in Apple’s lineup that still have a home button with Touch ID. There is, however, a Smart Connector to add Apple’s Smart Keyboard, turning the iPad into more of a laptop than a tablet. And, of course, it supports the Apple Pencil.

Better yet? The iPad starts at $329, but you can often find iPad deals that bring the price down to $299 or cheaper. It’s incredibly powerful and even more affordable. 

$395 at Amazon
$430 at Best Buy
$429 at Adorama

10.9-inch | A14 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

apple-ipad-air-availability-colors-10162020-big-large-2x.jpg

Image: Apple

Apple announced the completely redesigned the iPad Air late in 2020, alongside new Apple Watch models. The fourth-generation Air features the same design as the iPad Pro lineup, as well as the new iPhone 12 models, bringing back the flat-edge design Apple first used in the iPhone 4. 

The Air sits confidently between the base iPad and the iPad Pro in terms of performance and price, with a 10.9-inch display, a Touch ID sensor that’s been moved to the power button (so long, home button), and it works with the Magic Keyboard for iPad and second-generation Apple Pencil. 

Where the iPad Pro is the model for those who want nothing but the best, the iPad Air is the model for those who want to use the tablet for work and play, without big sacrifices in performance or features. 

Starting at $599, the iPad Air comes with 64GB or $749 for 256GB of storage. You can add cellular to it for an extra $130.

For (almost) everyone, this is the iPad to get if you have the cash to spend. 

$559 at Amazon
$600 at Best Buy
$549 at Adorama

11- or 12.9-inch | A12Z | Up to 1TB of storage | Face ID

iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPad Pro is the most expensive, and the most capable tablet in the lineup. It boasts a completely different design when compared to the standard iPad or iPad Mini. Instead of a Lightning port for charging, syncing, and accessories, you’ll find a USB-C port.

The Home button is gone, replaced by Apple’s Face ID facial recognition tech. And, unlike on the iPhone, you can use Face ID with the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation.

There are two sizes: 11-inch or 12.9-inch, with storage ranging from 128GB all the way up to 1TB. Pricing also has a wide range — $799 for the 11-inch 1218GB model and up to $1,499 for the 1TB 12.9-inch model. Add cellular connectivity to either model for $150 more. The Pro uses Apple’s A12Z processor, so it’s not as new as the A14 Bionic Apple uses in the iPad Air, but it’s more than enough to keep you multitasking and getting around iPadOS with ease. 

The Pro also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it. The Smart Connector is on the back of the iPad Pro, giving you the option to use it with the Magic Keyboard that includes backlit keys and trackpad, or Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

The iPad Pro, combined with iPadOS, is as close as you can get to a laptop without actually buying a laptop. 

$800 at Best Buy
$659 at Adorama
$799 at Apple

7.9-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

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Image: Apple

If you want something smaller and more manageable, the iPad Mini fits the bill. Powered by the A12 Bionic processor, the 7.9-inch tablet comes with all the same bells and whistles as the rest of Apple’s tablet line thanks to a fairly recent update.

The Mini will work with the first-generation Apple Pencil, so you can draw or jot notes in supported apps. As of iPadOS 14, Apple Pencil support is expanding thanks to a new Scribbles feature that lets you write in text boxes, with the tablet converting your handwriting into actual text.

You have the option of 64GB or 256GB of storage, with the former priced at $399 and the latter $549 for the Wi-Fi-only models. If you want to add cellular connectivity, you’re looking at a $130 increase. It’s smaller, but also more expensive, so unless you really value the size, you’re better off going with another iPad. 

$385 at Amazon
$400 at Best Buy
$359 at Adorama

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