Which iPad Should I Buy? The Best iPad for Every Need

If you're wondering which iPad to buy, you've come to the right place.

Wondering which iPad to buy? When you're looking for a new iPad, an iPad comparison can be as confusing as it is helpful. You get all the specs, but what do they actually mean? An iPad is a significant investment for many, so you want to make sure you get one that fits all your needs, whether that's budget or performance requirements. Let's look at the different iPad options and see which is right for you.

Jump To:

Which iPad Should I Buy?

I remember when I bought my first iPod back in 2005 I was convinced I needed the newest, highest-end version for the purchase to even be worth it. A lot of this might have been teen logic, but even in adulthood there is a certain amount of security I feel when considering the newest and most expensive version of something. It's the best there is, right? Well, not exactly. A few years after my fated video iPod purchase, I let someone talk me into buying an 18-inch Dell laptop because of all its amazing processing power, and was stuck hauling this monster to my college classes when all I used it for was Word and watching a few videos. I learned the hard way that it's important not to fall into the "bigger is better" trap. Yes, the iPad Pro is an excellent choice for many, but what about an iPad Air vs. iPad Pro or a regular iPad vs. iPad Pro? Different people have different needs and budgets, so let's look at which iPad is right for which person.

Apple iPad

The iPad base model is great. It does what it needs to do, and sports the lowest price tag (even lower than the iPad mini). Between its smaller size, relatively low price, and basic functionality, it could be a great contender for kids or shared family use, depending on the household's needs. It's an ideal fit for those who are looking for similar use as their iPhone but want a bigger screen, whether for touch screen precision or magnification. Its small size lends itself well to travel, but its cameras are less than impressive. So if you want to bring it on your trips to take pictures, you might find yourself frustrated with the quality. Other frustrations of this model include that it only works with the first-generation Apple Pencil and while it supports smart keyboards, it does not support Apple's Magic Keyboard. Casual users would do well with this model, but those with more specific requirements may find it limiting.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Budget friendly

Cons

  • Limited storage
  • Not compatible with Apple Pencil 2 or Magic Keyboard
  • Low-end cameras

Who the iPad is Good For

  • Casual users
  • Families
  • Those looking for a bigger screen than an iPhone but similar functionality

iPad Air

At 10.9 inches, the fourth-generation iPad Air is still on the more portable side, but is noticeably bigger than the base model. This can make it a little more challenging to travel with, but it's still comfortably lightweight. And out of all the current models it offers the most color options, which gives the design extra charm. It also uses the A14 Bionic chip, which offers better processing speed and multitasking capabilities compared to the A12 Bionic chip used in the iPad and iPad mini, but falling short of the impressive M1 chip present in the new iPad Pro, which is the same as what's in the new Macs. The iPad Air is a happy medium of functionality and price, great for lighter work, such as sketching or, in my case, proofing magazine pages. It's also compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 and the Magic Keyboard, offering some higher tech outfitting options.

Pros

  • Better processing power than the iPad
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Most color options
  • Apple Pencil 2 and Magic Keyboard support

Cons

  • Limited storage
  • More expensive than the iPad
  • Cannot replace a laptop as fully as the iPad Pro

Who the iPad Air is Good For

  • Professionals looking to sketch or take notes
  • Those looking for a balance between functionality and price
  • Students

iPad Pro

Is the most expensive the best? In many ways, yes. With Apple's new M1 chip in the latest iPad Pros, processing power is closing in fast on the Mac. This is definitely the best option for those looking to replace their laptops entirely with an iPad. The cameras also rival, if not surpass, the iPhone 12 Pro line. You can choose between an 11-inch and a 12.9-inch display, which is opens a lot of possibility for drawing and design, but significantly hinders transportability. The iPad Pro is an excellent choice for those looking for serious functionality, such as designers and video makers, but the price tag and the size may be deterrents to many. Another plus for professionals is the storage options, which go all the way up to 2 TB, but the average person isn't going to ever need that much storage on one device, so the casual user won't benefit.

Pros

  • Near computer-level functionality
  • High quality cameras
  • Large screen
  • Lots of storage

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Larger and heavier than other models
  • Many of the features that drive up the price won't benefit a casual user

Who the iPad Pro is Good For

  • Professionals, especially those in video and/or design
  • Those looking to replace their laptops entirely

iPad Mini

The iPad mini is a bit of a head scratcher because even though it's the smallest in size and extremely limits external gear options (it only supports the Apple Pencil 1 and Bluetooth keyboards), its price tag is actually higher than the iPad base model. At 7.9 inches, it is significantly smaller than all the other iPad options, which can be very beneficial to those with smaller hands and limited mobility, plus it's by far the most portable option. Still, it's hard to recommend spending more money on something smaller that doesn't even do as much, so a smaller screen and/or portability would really have to be your priority for a mini to be worth it.

Pros

  • Small screen size
  • Portable
  • Still within budget pricing

Cons

  • More expensive than the iPad base model
  • Limited functionality
  • Limited external gear options

Who the iPad Mini is Good For

  • Those with small hands and/or limited mobility
  • People whose priority is portability

What About Older Models & Used iPads?

If you know what you want, but don't like the price tag, it's worth looking into either getting an older model or a used device. Stores will often discount previous models when a new one is released, as long as they still have it in stock. Other times, however, you might not be able to find new versions of any previous model at all, and way want to look into pre-owned, refurbished models. Here are some things to consider while looking at older models:

  • Whether you can get it from a reliable source, such as a store or chain you trust rather than someone on the internet promising it works
  • How much of a discount you're getting compared with the newer model
  • What functionality and features you're losing by going back a step

It's important to remember that many people were entirely satisfied with their top-of-the-line devices just last year until this new one was announced. If you have an idea which kind of iPad you want, but don't want the price tag and don't necessarily need all the new features, an older model might be the way to go.

Master your iPhone in one minute a day: Sign up here to get our FREE Tip of the Day delivered right to your inbox.

Topics

Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both's picture

Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both

Amy Spitzfaden Both is a Feature Writer at iPhone Life, an award-winning novelist, and an iPhone enthusiast. Over the past decade, her work in the publishing industry has included live coverage of industry events including the Yale Publishing Course and Magazine Innovation’s ACT 9 Experience, providing editing services for several start-up publishing houses, and acting as newsstand consultant for magazines such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac and The New York Review of Books. She graduated from M.I.U. with a Bachelor’s in Literature and Writing, and has gone on to publish two novels and two short stories. Her debut novel Untold won the 2014 Chelson Award for Fiction.
Writing everything from book reviews to skincare tips, Amy discovered a passion for bringing exciting and useful information to even the most casual researcher. The mix of usability and endless possibilities is what drew her to Apple products originally, and the more she learns, the more she loves.
Amy lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing or glued to her iPhone, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and creating her own tea blends.