Which Tablet Should You Buy: Apple iPad vs. iPad Air vs. iPad mini vs. iPad Pro?

Apple has four iPad lines with five different screen sizes, with prices ranging from $329 to $799 (for basic devices; the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with cellular connectivity and 1TB of storage costs $1,649). If you’re looking for a new tablet, it might get a little confusing with changes arriving practically every year (the iPad Air is the most recent one to be refreshed).
Let’s look at all the differences between the various iPad models, including what’s changed with the latest releases, to help you figure out what you’re getting with each one. But first, let’s look at the commonalities and what you can expect from any Apple tablet now on the market.

Software and Accessories Have Similarities Across the Board
Apple separated the iPad’s operating system, iPadOS, from iOS, which runs iPhones, a few years ago. With pinnable widgets and cross-app workflow capabilities like split screen and swiftly moving between screens, the tablet-specific operating system is quite similar to iOS, but it focuses on streamlining and increasing multitasking to improve the utility of iPads as professional devices. Basically, it’s iOS redesigned for considerably larger screens.

iPad vs. iPad mini vs. iPad Air vs. iPad Pro

iPad (2021)iPad mini (2021)iPad Air (2022)iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)
Starting Price$329$499$599$1,099
Display Size and Type10.2-inch Retina8.3-inch Liquid Retina10.9-inch Liquid Retina12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR
Display Resolution2,160 by 1,620 pixels (264 ppi)2,266 by 1,488 pixels (326 ppi)2,360 by 1,640 pixels (264 ppi)2,732 by 2,048 pixels (264 ppi)
Display Brightness500 nits500 nits500 nits1,000 nits; 1,600 nits (HDR)
ProcessorApple A13 BionicApple A15 BionicApple M1Apple M1
Storage64GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Front-Facing Camera12MP F/2.4 Ultra-Wide12MP F/2.4 Ultra-Wide12MP F/2.4 Ultra-Wide12MP F/2.4 TrueDepth Ultra-Wide
Rear-Facing Camera8MP F/2.412MP F/1.812MP F/1.812MP F/1.8 Wide; 10MP F/2.4 Ultra-Wide
Apple Pencil Support1st generation2nd Generation2nd Generation2nd Generation
Wi-Fi802.11ac802.11ax Wi-Fi 6802.11ax Wi-Fi 6802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
Cellular4G LTE5G5G5G with mmWave
Dimensions (HWD)9.87 by 6.85 by 0.29 inches7.69 by 5.31 by 0.25 inches9.74 by 7.02 by 0.24 inches11.04 by 8.46 by 0.25 inches
Weight1.1 pounds10.4 ounces1 pound1.5 pounds

All iPad versions have nearly universally good wireless connectivity. Every iPad has dual-band 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi with MIMO and optional cellular connectivity, with the exception of the entry-level iPad, which lacks Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.
The Apple Pencil is compatible with any iPad. This isn’t to say that all Apple Pencils are the same; the $99 first-generation Apple Pencil is compatible with the ordinary iPad, whereas the $129 second-generation Apple Pencil is compatible with the iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro.
The iPad, iPad Air, and iPad Pro all have Smart Connectors that make them compatible with Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and the iPad Air and iPad Pro also function with Apple’s higher-end Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Additionally, the Magic Trackpad 2, Apple’s touchpad accessory, is compatible with all iPads.

The Apple iPad is a budget-friendly device

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

The regular iPad is Apple’s affordable tablet these days, with a price tag of $329. It’s also the least advanced, however the most recent refresh has given it a significant performance bump.

The A13 Bionic chip, which is also found in the iPhone 11, is used in the iPad 2021. Although it lacks the power of the iPad mini (A15 Bionic) and is well behind the iPad Air and iPad Pro (M1) in terms of performance, the A13 Bionic is no slouch for the price. The storage is also rather large, with 64GB for the base model and 256GB for those that require more.

The screen of this iPad is the least advanced of the current devices. It’s a 10.2-inch Retina LCD with a resolution of 2,160 by 1,620 pixels and a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch. It lacks the lamination and anti-reflective coating seen on higher-priced tablets, as well as Wide Color up to the DCI-P3 color space. The addition of Apple’s True Tone function, which adjusts color balance based on surrounding light, is the sole substantial update to the current model’s screen.

Buy iPad Pro - Apple
Apple

The back-facing camera on the iPad is the same 8MP sensor as the previous edition, but the front-facing camera is substantially better. The 12-megapixel selfie camera has a 122-degree field of view and supports Apple’s Center Stage tracking feature. It has roughly twice the resolution of the selfie camera on the 2020 iPad, making FaceTime calls considerably more pleasant. Face ID, on the other hand, is still a feature exclusive for the iPhone and iPad Pro.

The ordinary iPad’s main selling point is the value it provides for the money. Even though it has the worst processor and screen in the series, you get a huge, brilliant screen and a lot of functionality for $329. It’s a wonderful pick if you want a multipurpose entertainment device that can view videos, read books and comics, browse the web, communicate with pals, and even do some text-crunching and presentations.

The Apple iPad mini is a small tablet with a big punch

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

This is the tiniest iPad, yet it has a lot more power and features than the bigger entry-level tablet. The iPad mini is 0.66 pounds and less than a quarter-inch thick, making it easy to slip into a bag or even a large jacket pocket. If the larger, pound-plus iPads are too bulky for you, this has its own attraction.

Because of its small size, the iPad mini doesn’t make many compromises. Its 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display has a resolution of 2,266 by 1,488 pixels, which translates to a crisp 326 pixels per inch. It lacks the iPad Pro’s ProMotion technology, but it does include the same P3 Wide Color and True Tone modes, as well as a completely laminated panel with anti-reflective coating.

With its A15 Bionic chip, the iPad mini outperforms the base iPad on the inside. The selfie camera is a 12MP ultra-wide sensor that supports Center Stage in FaceTime to automatically frame your face, just like the normal iPad. The 12-megapixel rear camera has True Tone flash and Smart HDR.

On the connectivity front, it has Wi-Fi 6, as well as 5G on the cellular model. It also includes a USB-C connector rather than a Lightning port, but it only supports USB 3.1 Gen 1 and DisplayPort, with no support for Thunderbolt or USB 4.

Apple’s iPad Air is almost as good as the iPad Pro

iPad Pro - Apple
Apple

For a long time, the iPad Air has nestled in the midst of Apple’s iPad portfolio, serving as a bridge between the affordable iPad and the iPad Pro. With major enhancements, the 2022 iPad Air shifts the balance heavily toward the Pro end, putting it within striking distance of the costly, professional tablet. With flat corners and a very slender frame around a screen that lacks a home button, it was already physically similar to the iPad Pro, but now the internals have been improved to far exceed the iPad and iPad mini.

To begin, the M1 chip present in the iPad Pro is used in the 2022 iPad Air. This is a desktop processor, similar to the one found in the iMac and MacBook Air. It’s a significant upgrade over the previous model’s A14 Bionic mobile processor, and it starts at $599, making it the most affordable M1 gadget available.

The screen, a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina LCD with a 2,360-by-1,640 resolution and a brightness of 500 nits, appears essentially unaltered. It uses a completely laminated panel with anti-reflective coating and supports P3 broad color. It has the same pixel density as the iPad Pro and iPad mini (264 pixels per inch), albeit the iPad Pro can be brighter.

Like the iPad and iPad mini, the front-facing camera has been updated to a 12MP ultrawide sensor with Center Stage. It’s a substantial advance over the 7MP selfie camera on the 2020 iPad Air, but it’s still only on par with the current iPad and iPad Air, and it lacks Face ID. With its twin rear-facing sensors, the iPad Pro still outperforms it in the photography department.

The iPad Air’s USB-C port is twice as fast as the previous model at USB 3.1 Gen 2, but it doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3 or USB 4 like the iPad Pro. The cellular version now includes support for 5G in the mid-band.

The Apple iPad Pro is a professional workhorse.

Download the stunning new wallpapers for the 2021 iPad Pro - 9to5Mac
Apple

Finally, in early 2021, the iPad Pro will be unveiled. The 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros are professional tablets with the processing power and screen quality that artists, musicians, designers, and editors require for their work. This differentiation is critical since it must explain the Pro models’ substantially higher $799 and $1,099 starting price tags compared to the other versions.

The iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s M1 chip, which allowed it to outperform all other iPads last year. However, because the desktop CPU has already been included to the iPad Air, the Pro no longer has that edge. It’s still a beast that can handle almost any processing task you throw at it, and it edges over the iPad Air thanks to its smoother ProMotion screen and numerous back cameras, as well as the option of 11- or 12.9-inch variants.

The only significant difference between the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro devices is the screen size. The 11-inch iPad Pro features a Liquid Retina display with a 2,388-by-1,668 resolution, Apple’s ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate, True Tone, and Wide Color compatibility, as well as Apple’s ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate and True Tone technology. All of those technologies are included in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as well as a higher 2,732-by-2,048-pixel resolution (for the same 264 pixels per inch as the smaller model) and a mini-LED backlight system that can both get much brighter and more precisely control the light output of the screen for better contrast.

The iPad Pro’s cameras are likewise outstanding. It boasts two rear-facing cameras, one with a 12MP wide-angle lens and the other with a 10MP ultra-wide lens that can capture twice the field of view, as well as a new LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanner that can detect distance and time-of-flight. The cameras can also take 4K video at 60 frames per second, but the other iPads can only capture 1080p. Face ID, 1080p60 recording, cinematic video stabilization, and Smart HDR 3 are all supported by the front-facing TrueDepth camera, which is also 12MP.

Only the iPad Pro has millimeter-wave 5G, whereas the iPad mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro all feature 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 and enable mid-band 5G. It’s speedier but has a lesser range than mid-band 5G, giving the Pro a minor wireless advantage. There’s also a USB-C port on the iPad Pro, which supports Thunderbolt 3, USB 4, and DisplayPort. That’s a lot of versatility and power.

Buy iPad 10.2-inch - Apple
Apple

So, which iPad is best for you?


In the end, the best iPad is determined by your requirements. If you merely want a tablet to watch Netflix and read comic books, don’t spend more than $1,000, but don’t expect professional power and capabilities from a $329 entry-level device. Thankfully, Apple’s tablet lineup isn’t limited to those two extremes, thanks to the iPad mini and iPad Air.

We enjoy the $329 iPad because of its utility and value, and the new CPU adds to that appeal. The iPad is still an amazing deal if you just want an Apple tablet for entertainment and personal usage, but the more expensive iPad mini offers much more processing power in a smaller package. The iPad Air is a fantastic choice if you want the luxury look, feel, and much of the performance of the iPad Pro without paying the highest price, but the iPad Pro is an excellent investment for professional users who want the brightest (and largest) screen and the convenience of Face ID.


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