Apple’s iPad is no doubt one of the most popular tablets that you can purchase on the market right now. Though there are several different models to choose from, no matter which one you go with, you’re getting one of the best tablets out there. But with so many different versions and annual updates, which one is the best to get?
To be fair, all of Apple’s iPads are pretty great, so it’s hard to pick a single one as “the best.” That’s why we’re breaking it down into various categories, because there is an iPad for each situation. Whether you’re looking for the best overall iPad, the best iPad for a budget, or even the best small iPad — we’ve got you covered.
iPad Air (2022)
Table of Contents
Best overall iPad
- High-performance M1 processor
- Slim and light
- Software suitable for work or play
- Large, colorful, and sharp screen
- Wide array of quality accessories
- Center Stage works well
- 64GB storage isn’t enough
- Battery life disappoints
Why should you buy this? The iPad Air (2022) offers pro performance for less.
Who’s it for? Anyone who is looking for the best all-around tablet from Apple at a reasonable price.
The honor for best overall iPad goes to the iPad Air (2022). This is a fantastic middle-ground option that should satisfy the needs of most people, and it’s relatively affordable considering what you get.
With the iPad Air (2022), you get Apple’s powerful M1 chip, which debuted in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in 2020. Though Apple has moved on to the M2 now, the M1 is still blazing fast in terms of performance, with an eight-core CPU split up into four performance cores and four efficiency cores. That means you get crazy power while also being power efficient. The eight-core GPU delivers incredible graphics, and the 16-core Neural Engine and 8GB of RAM equates to fast processing and rendering, which is noticeable when performing tasks like photo and video editing.
Though the iPad Air lacks Face ID, you still have a gorgeous 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display that takes up the majority of the front due to thin bezels. It still uses Touch ID, however, it is in the power button instead of the Home button, just like with the fourth-generation iPad Air. iPad Air has a Smart Connector, allowing for compatibility with accessories like the Magic Keyboard to turn your iPad into a pseudo-laptop. It also works with the second-generation Apple Pencil, making it a fantastic digital canvas for artists.
While I wouldn’t ever recommend using an iPad over an iPhone for taking pictures, iPad Air is equipped with a high-quality 12MP main camera, and the front-facing camera is also 12MP and has Center Stage. This means that the front camera will always keep the frame’s focus on you, even if you’re moving around. It’s a great feature that makes video calling, such as through FaceTime, feel much more personal.
The iPad Air uses USB-C for charging, and a full charge should last around 10 hours using Wi-Fi, or nine hours if using cellular data on the Wi-Fi + Cellular model. This isn’t the best battery life ever, but it should last through a full workday.
The iPad Air (2022) starts at $600 for 64GB on the Wi-Fi model, which honestly isn’t a lot of storage space. You can also go up to 256GB for just $749. With everything that the iPad Air offers, it’s a great middle ground, offering you most of the Pro features for less money than the iPad Pro.
iPad Air (2022)
Best overall iPad
Best budget iPad
- Great battery life
- Powerful internals
- Big upgrade to the front-facing camera
- Amazing software support
- Base storage more acceptable at 64GB
- Display doesn’t get bright enough
- Lightning port in 2022
- Slow Touch ID sensor
Why you should buy this? The iPad (2021) may be the previous generation, but it still offers great performance with a very affordable price tag.
Who’s it for? Someone who wants one of the best tablets on the market from Apple, but money is a little tight.
If you’re on a budget, the ninth-generation iPad (2021) is a great pick. While it’s the previous generation of the base model iPad, it’s still very reliable and a solid choice, plus you get a lot of bang for your buck.
iPad (2021) has a spacious 10.2-inch Retina display that still looks beautiful when you use it. And if you still prefer having a home button for Touch ID, you get it with the classic design of the iPad (2021). It comes with the A13 Bionic chip, so though it’s a little dated (A13 launched in 2019), it’s still quite fast and capable when it comes to performance for the average user thanks to iPadOS 16. It starts at 64GB of storage, which should be enough for most people who just want a basic iPad for doing things like checking email, sending messages, FaceTime calls, and perhaps some games.
While the rear camera is just a mere 8MP, the front-facing camera did get some upgrades over the previous iteration. It is now 12MP instead of 1.2MP, and it also has Center Stage, so you’ll always be in the frame on video calls and look good doing so.
This is the last iPad that uses Apple’s Lightning connector. Once fully charged, the iPad (2021) should last around 10 hours on the Wi-Fi model, or nine hours with the Wi-Fi + Cellular version. Still, for just $329, the iPad (2021) offers good power and performance for those who don’t need anything too fancy.
Best budget iPad
iPad mini (2021)
Best small iPad
- Big enough to perform most tasks
- Compact enough to travel easily
- Powerful performance
- Loud speakers
- Screen is not bright enough
- Too small for content creation
- No headphone jack
Why you should buy this? You want an iPad, but in a smaller, compact size.
Who’s it for? Anyone who prefers a smaller size tablet.
Apple’s iPad mini usually goes several years before an update, and the latest refresh brought it in line with the rest of the iPad lineup.
With the iPad mini (2021), it gains a larger 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display over its predecessor, and eliminates the home button. However, it still doesn’t have Face ID — instead, the Touch ID sensor is now in the power button. It also got rid of the Lightning connector and uses USB-C for charging, and a full charge should last around 10 hours.
The iPad mini (2021) packs in an A15 Bionic chip, which is the same processor that powers the iPhone 13 lineup, as well as the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. The A15 delivers plenty of power and fast performance, so the iPad mini will be able to handle whatever you may throw at it, including photo and video editing, as well as graphic-intensive games.
The best part about the iPad mini (2021) though, is the size. It’s the smallest iPad that Apple offers, so it’s much more compact and portable than its brethren. But even though it’s small, it’s still very much mighty. iPad mini (2021) supports the second generation Apple Pencil, and you can always pair it up with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to turn it into a lightweight workhorse.
It is a little pricey at $500 for the smaller size, but if that’s what you’re going for, then you just can’t beat the iPad mini (2021).
iPad mini (2021)
Best small iPad
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)
Best big-screen iPad
- Incredible performance
- Beautiful display on 12.9-inch model
- Stunning design
- Center Stage works great
- USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 port
- Nearly MacBook priced
- No Mini-LED on 11-inch model
Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro is extremely powerful and offers a huge screen.
Who’s it for? Gamers, power users, creatives. Anyone who wants a big screen to do their thing.
Few people are going to need it, but we know a lot of people are going to want it. The iPad Pro 12.9-inch is the iPad if you’re a fan of a big screen, and it’s the one we recommend if you need a big screen for whatever reason. The 12.9-inch display has a 2732 x 2048 resolution, but the real improvement in the display lies in the underlying tech. 2021’s big iPad uses mini-LED tech in its display, which basically means it can output stronger colors and deeper blacks by offering more backlights.
That big screen is backed up by some serious power. Like its smaller sibling, the 11-inch iPad Pro, the 12.9-inch model is running Apple’s M1 chip, a laptop-grade processor that debuted in 2020’s MacBook Pro. All of this extra power and the large screen means the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is likely to be able to handle anything a modern laptop can do, up to and including some hefty video editing. And when that’s all over, use that power to play some iPad games as well.
Do keep in mind that Apple has released an updated 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro with M2 chips in late 2022, and we’ll have our full review of those models soon.
All of this power and screen real estate means the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is the iPad to grab if a big screen is what you need out of your iPad. However, be aware the increased size means it won’t be as portable or able to be easily stowed away as the 11-inch model — but if you need room to breathe, then the extra 1.9-inches is exactly what you need. The same warnings apply as with the smaller iPad Pro, though, and adding the extra (and desirable) accessories will push up the price of the already expensive 12.9-inch iPad Pro. But even with that in mind, this iPad is undoubtedly the best iPad if you want something bigger that will heighten your enjoyment of games, movies, and more.
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)
Best big-screen iPad
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some things to remember when buying an iPad?
Much like iPhones, iPads are well-made devices and built to last, at least compared to certain other tablets. Apple will roll out software updates for them on a regular basis, while it will also support them with updates for a good few years. This means an iPad bought today will probably be supported long past the point at which you start looking to upgrade to a newer model.
If this is your first time buying an iPad, but you’ve previously owned iPhones, you’ll be reassured to know that iPadOS is nearly identical to iOS. The main difference between the two operating systems is that iPadOS is built more for multitasking, with such features as Split View and Slide Over, or the new Stage Manager feature in iPadOS 16, which make it easy to use multiple apps at once or quickly swipe between apps. Another difference is that iPadOS’ Safari is billed as “desktop class,” in that many popular web apps (e.g. Google Docs) work better on it than on iOS’s version.
If you’re coming to an iPad for the first time from Android, you may initially be daunted by iPadOS. However, one of the main selling points of iPadOS (and iOS) is its streamlined simplicity. The OS is logically laid out and structured, and while some complain about the “closed-in” lack of customizability, the security and cohesion it offers are usually compensation that most users are willing to accept.
One other thing to bear in mind is that if you’re coming from Android, you may not be able to transfer all of your data over to your new iPad. Apple states that you can transfer over your contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, web bookmarks, email accounts, and calendars, although not all apps may be transferable, while some messaging apps may not let you transfer over all of your data.
As we noted above, some of the accessories available for the iPad may be a bit pricey. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, for example, costs $299, while the second-generation Apple Pencil costs $129. This heaps on an additional cost to already expensive tablets, and you may also find that making that initial investment in Apple products locks you into the Apple ecosystem, insofar as Apple accessories are compatible only with Apple devices. That said, Apple’s products usually are high-quality and highly reliable, so you’ll almost always get your money’s worth.
Can you print from an iPad?
Yes, you can indeed print from an iPad. Check out our guides on how to print from an iPhone for everything you need to know.
Can you make phone calls on an iPad?
They may not be smartphones, but you can make phone calls with iPads. Either you make use of Wi-Fi calling, which involves routing Wi-Fi calls through your iPhone, or you can buy an iPad with cellular support. This entails paying extra for cellular (usually about $150 extra), and it also entails having to sign up for a service plan of some kind.
Another option is to use FaceTime on an iPad to make video or audio-only calls. There are also a number of third-party video-calling apps, such as Skype and Zoom, although these require that the person you’re calling has also downloaded these apps.
If you’re interested in this option for a business, then it may also be worth considering one of the best VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services.
Can you text on an iPad?
Yes, you can use iMessage to send text messages on an iPad, although this lets you send messages only to other iOS devices or Mac computers. Fortunately, there is also a range of third-party text-messaging apps that you can use with your iPad.
How do we test?
We rigorously test all the iPads we receive, living with them for extended periods of time to learn just how they perform in real-world settings. This means working on them, playing games, watching TV and movies, reading e-books, taking photos, capturing video, and using all of the latest and most demanding apps. In other words, we use them exactly as you would use them, and while we naturally value innovative and quirky features, we also love tablets that simply get the basics right. Using them regularly also means we learn the particularities of each iPad we test, including their weakness and strengths, allowing us to make informed recommendations.
As you can see, there’s not really a “one-size-fits-all” iPad since Apple split it up into multiple models. However, the iPad Air comes closest to the best all-around iPad, so we recommend that one for those who want pro power for less. Otherwise, those on a tight budget should consider the iPad (2021), and those who want a small or big iPad should go for the iPad mini (2021) or 12.9-inch iPad Pro, respectively.
No matter which model you go with though, an iPad is one of the best tablets on the market. Apple will continue to provide support for these through iPadOS software updates for at least several years after your purchase. So whether you pick up a base-level iPad or go big with the Pro, it’ll be a great choice either way. The model you want to buy just depends on your needs.