ipad buying guide lead
CNN  — 

Apple’s iPad lineup spans four different models, two of which received modest updates as we head towards the holiday shopping seasons. Every iPad Apple offers has a slightly different design, different specifications and, of course, pricing. There’s the iPad, the iPad Air, the iPad Mini and the iPad Pro — but which iPad does what, and is the high-end iPad Pro worth the money?

Truth be told, all iPads run the same software and have access to the same apps in the App Store. Heck, almost all of them will even work with Apple’s own keyboard accessory, and they all work with the Apple Pencil. But there are differences in which keyboard and which generation of Pencil they work with.

So why not just get the least expensive model and call it a day? Well, screen size, overall capabilities and performance, that’s why. Here, we break down the differences between iPad models so you can choose the one that fits your needs.

Best for entertainment: The iPad (8th generation)


Apple announced the eighth-generation entry-level iPad in September (with a starting price of $329), and now that we’ve spent some time testing it, we have to admit, we’re impressed. The update includes improved performance in the iconic tablet design that Apple is yet to fully stray from.

If you’re upgrading from an older iPad model, you’ll be happy to know Apple increased the display size with last year’s base model, from 9.7 inches to 10.2 inches. The Touch ID fingerprint reader is still hidden in Apple’s tried-and-true home button.

The eighth-generation iPad’s performance improvement comes courtesy of Apple’s A12 Bionic processor. That’s the same chip that Apple used in the iPhone XS, so it’s a couple of years old, but it’s still no slouch. Combined with the performance gains of iPadOS 14, the iPad will have no issues while you triage your email, browse the web, game or watch your favorite creators on YouTube.

Apple’s base model iPad is the ideal tablet for someone who doesn’t necessarily want a laptop replacement or need something to do heavy photo or video editing. It’s more than enough for a young student or anyone who views the iPad more as an entertainment device.

That said, if you do want to sit down and write a school paper or a lengthy email, you can pick up the Smart Keyboard Cover for $159. Or if you want an iPad to draw or sketch on, the first-generation Apple Pencil will work and is only $99.

The iPad with Wi-Fi starts at $329 for 32GB of storage or $429 for 128GB. Add another $130 to either price for an LTE model. For the quickest delivery, we’d recommend ordering from B&H Photo, Expercom or Walmart.

Best for work and play: The iPad Air

iPad Air

A once forgotten model, Apple also announced an updated and completely redesigned the fourth-generation iPad Air. The Air sits comfortably in the middle of Apple’s tablet lineup, both in terms of price and capabilities, and its incredibly appealing for those exact reasons.

The new Air looks more like the iPad Pro, with flat edges, a spot to wirelessly charge the second-generation Apple Pencil and a USB-C port, and it comes in five colors: Space Gray, silver, rose gold, green and Sky Blue.

The screen goes nearly edge to edge, lacking a home button. It also lacks Face ID, like the iPad Pro. Instead, Apple has built its Touch ID fingerprint technology into the iPad Air’s sleep/wake button. It’s the first time we’ve seen Apple use Touch ID somewhere other than the home button, and it worked flawlessly in our testing.

Inside the Air is Apple’s newest processor, the A14 Bionic. It’s the same processor the iPhone 12 lineup uses, and it’s incredibly fast and powerful. Apps open fast, games are lag free, and multitasking is a breeze.

The Air is fast enough to handle photo and video editing, that the new Air will be fast enough to handle daily tasks, plus the occasional photo and video editing with ease.

If you’re looking for a tablet you can get some work done on that’s more powerful than the basic iPad and and not nearly as expensive as the iPad Pro, the iPad Air is a good fit.

The iPad Air with Wi-Fi starts at $599 for 64GB of storage or $749 for 256GB. For the same storage amounts but with LTE connectivity, you’re looking at $729 and $879, respectively.

Best for portability: The iPad Mini (5th generation)

iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is essentially a smaller version of the base model iPad. It uses Apple’s A12 processor and comes with up to 256GB of storage and Apple Pencil support. There isn’t a Smart Keyboard Cover for the Mini, but you can connect any Bluetooth keyboard to the tablet for long-form typing.

Of course, as its name implies, the Mini is smaller than the rest of the iPad lineup, with a 7.9-inch Retina Display.

The Mini is ideal for someone who’s constantly on the go and wants to have access in a portable form factor to the power an iPad affords and the App Store ecosystem. Pair the iPad Mini with an Apple Arcade subscription, and you have a compelling Nintendo Switch competitor for gaming.

The Wi-Fi version of the iPad Mini starts at $399 for 64GB of storage or $549 for 256GB. The Wi-Fi + LTE version will set you back $529 or $679 for the same storage amounts.

Best for a laptop replacement: The iPad Pro (4th generation)

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro line is designed for and targeted toward those who want the most powerful and capable tablet Apple has to offer. From the A12Z processor and up to 1TB of storage, to the USB-C port and the new Magic Keyboard with a trackpad, the iPad Pro line can keep up with nearly any laptop.

The iPad Pro starts at $799 for an 11-inch screen or $999 for a 12.9-inch display. The Wi-Fi + LTE model is an extra $150. If you really want to go all out, the 12.9-inch model with LTE and 1TB of storage is $1,649.

Both models use Apple’s Liquid Retina Display, which is clear and bright, and have a battery life of up to 10 hours.

The Pro lineup features a rear-facing LiDAR camera that can be used to scan nearby objects and rooms, and should improve the experience for augmented reality apps.

The iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard with a dedicated trackpad can replace a laptop or, at the very least, be used in place of a laptop for most computing tasks.

The $124.98 second-generation Apple Pencil will work with the new iPad Pro for taking notes or drawing.

Order a new iPad Pro right now, with deliveries expected to arrive starting March 24. If you don’t want to wait for the Magic Keyboard in May, check out these alternative options.