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As in a number of categories, the best iPads have long been market leaders in the tablet space, and with good reason. Not only are they reliable (they enjoy a closed hardware ecosystem much the way they do in their contenders for best laptop and best desktop) but their sleek, trademark industrial design is also evident in this halfway point between smartphones and laptops.
Tablets are a perfect compromise for those moments when you don't want to lug around a full-sized laptop (or any of the attendant bulky accessories) but want a bigger surface to read books, browse the web, or watch films than a tiny smartphone. I can personally attest that they're fantastic for reading comics on the go—combine the crisp display of one of these iPads with a comic subscription service, and you've got an amazing way to read access thousands of comics everywhere you go.
Powerful 12X processor
Beautiful Retina display
Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard are excellent
High price tag
While the iPad can’t do everything a full-sized computer can, the newest iPad Pro models get pretty close. Running Apple’s 12X processor, these iPads actually outperform most of Apple’s laptop lineup benchmarks. That sounds good on paper, but it’s noticeable in real-world performance as well. Everything from photo editing to exporting video is faster on the iPad Pro. With two size models available in either 11- or 12.9-inch size, there’s just as much screen as most portable laptops. And no matter which size you choose, the Retina displays are terrific.
Apple has also revamped its Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard attachment, which is good news for those who don't love typing on a tablet. An optional accessory, it connects to the iPad Pro via magnets. Both of these accessories bring the iPad Pro closer to completely replacing a laptop computer. With 10 hours of battery life, there’s little difference in longevity versus that of many laptop computers. Apple’s App Store, filled with books, games, and movies is also home to desktop-like apps that are likely to have a computer counterpart. Our reviewer Jordan loved the Pro's incredible performance and slick, modern design.
"With utterly seamless navigation and playback, fantastic speakers and world-class accessories and performance, this is a beautifully designed piece of hardware." — Jordan Oloman, product tester
Gorgeous, Two Tone display
Sleek and stylish
Only two speakers
The new iPad Air is a testament that power can come in thin, ultra-light packages. The A12 bionic chip with Neural Engine delivers speed, precision, and intelligence, and the tablet learns as you go, optimizing the experience to your personal style and use. Allowing you to use multiple tabs at once, the one-pound device lets you work on anything or watch anything (or both) from anywhere. The 10.5-inch retina display provides the optimal display for the 4-core graphics engine and lifelike images, whether you’re playing games, streaming, or looking through photos.
The tablet is priced between the iPad and the iPad Pro, taking design cues from the 2017 iPad Pro and building on the iPad’s older processors to find the rare balance of reasonable cost with optimal qualities. While it doesn’t have some of the iPad Pro’s newer features (think Face ID) it does come with support for Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, accessories that had formally only been supported by the iPad Pro. Reviewing it, Sandra found that it was fantastic for multimedia and productivity.
"All-day battery life combined with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard functionality makes the iPad Air a productivity powerhouse for students and professionals." — Sandra Stafford, Product Tester
Great battery life
A12 Bionic processor
Not compatible with Smart Keyboard
The iPad Mini occupies an interesting space in the tablet realm. It isn’t particularly powerful, so if you’re looking to use it for professional purposes like you would an iPad Pro or a Microsoft Surface, you should look elsewhere. But it does gives you a nice option for portability, and it does give you a lot of great value. It comes in the classy Apple silver, space gray, or gold, and at only 0.24 inches thick it is basically the sleekest design available for a tablet.
If you opt for the Wi-Fi-only model, it’s 0.66 pounds, and with cellular, it’s 0.68 pounds, both perfectly serviceable for carrying around in your bag. You can choose between 64GB or 256GB of onboard storage, and the 7.9-inch Retina displays offers a stunning 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution, complete with the smart, color-adjusting True Tone technology. The whole thing is powered by the supremely fast A12 Bionic chip with its insanely robust Neural Engine. The device is rounded out with a solid 8MP rear lens that can record 1080p HD video and a 7MP front-facing camera. In testing, Sandra found the Mini just as functional and powerful as its more expensive competition, but small enough to tuck away in a backpack.
"A great tablet for people who want the incredible power and excellent graphics of the newest generation of iPads in a highly portable size." — Sandra Stafford, Product Tester
Great Multi-Touch display
Available in attractive rose gold
A little more than a year after Apple introduced its 9.7-inch iPad Pro, it released the bigger, and dare we say better, iPad Pro 10.5 inch. Compared to the regular iPad, the Pro has a larger, sharper screen; a more powerful processor and support for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. It’s also the only iPad that comes in Rose Gold.
There’s no doubt that this iPad is one of the most powerful tablets on the market. With a beautiful LED-backlit with Multi-Touch display with a 2224 x 1668 resolution, and a A10X Fusion fourth-generation chip with 64-bit desktop-class architecture, it’s capable of replacing your laptop, especially considering it’s compatible with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. If you will primarily be surfing the Web, gaming and watching Netflix, though, this Pro might be a tad too powerful, if that’s even possible. But if price is no object and you want the truly best iPad out there, we’d be remiss not to recommend the iPad Pro 10.5 inch.
Solid battery life
Slightly underpowered compared to other iPads
If you’ve paid any attention to technology the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that the excitement around tablets has died down a bit. In response to this, Apple released its latest iPad (simply called “iPad”) in early 2018 with an entry-level price to spur new interest.
The new iPad looks, feels, and runs like most other iPads, except it doesn’t have as many cutting-edge features and high-end specs as the iPad Pro. (It's also a fraction of the price, so that's to be expected.) This new model has a 9.7-inch multi-touch Retina Display screen with 2,048 x 1,536 resolution for great image quality. Inside, the new iPad has an upgraded A10 Fusion chipset with 64-bit architecture and an embedded M10 motion coprocessor (an improvement on the prior iPad model), plus a 1.2MP front-facing camera and an 8MP camera on the back with 1080p video resolution. The new iPad supports Apple Pencil and other third-party styluses. The whole thing weighs just over a pound, making this tablet as both powerful and portable, and holds up to 10 hours of battery life for extended use on the go.
You can purchase this model in silver, gold and space gray and it offers either 32GB or 128GB of storage, depending on your needs. With all this tech stuffed into a reasonably priced package, this model is perfect for upgrading an iPad that you’ve had for several years or for buying your first iPad.
If it fits in your budget, the iPad Pro is a no-brainer recommendation, simply one of the best looking, highest-performance tablets ever made. If, on the other hand, you want to save yourself some cash and don't need the absolute best, the iPad Air is an awesome alternative, and you're unlikely to feel like you're missing much when using it.
Our expert reviewers and testers put iPads through a comprehensive set of tests. First and foremost, we evaluate them on design, focusing specifically on weight, thickness, and overall portability. Other important factors we look at are screen size and resolution, specifically video, images, and text. Audio and wireless connectivity play a part in evaluating the multimedia experience. For objective performance, we use benchmark tests like PCMark, Cinebench, 3DMark, and others.
For iPads, we also pay a great deal of attention to productivity; testing if the tablets can act as a substitute for a laptop in terms of word processing, image editing, and games. This is particularly true of the Pro line, and the iPads that are compatible with productivity and drawing-focused accessories like the Smart Pencil and Apple Keyboard. Finally, we consider the price tag, evaluating the value proposition based on the competition to make our ultimate recommendation. Most of the iPads we reviewed were provided by the manufacturer, however that does not impact our objective evaluation.
Sandra Stafford is a teacher and tech journalist who specializes in Apple products, especially their iPad lineup, and a range of other consumer electronics, particularly pet tech.
Kim Bussing has been writing about tech for more than five years, and is a tablet expert. Her work has appeared in outlets as diverse as The Hollywood Reporter and Reader's Digest.
Jordan Oloman is a passionate tech writer who specializes in PCs, tablets, and Apple's entire product range. He's contributed to several leading gaming and tech publications.
Primary use - The primary factor to weigh before making your purchase is how exactly you intend to use your iPad. Will you use it for casual internet browsing or Netflix streaming? Or are you going to want to edit photos and videos? Usage will quickly narrow your choices and make the purchase process easier.
Power vs. portability - Once you’ve determined how you want to use your iPad, you must then weigh (literally and figuratively) the iPad’s operating performance versus its size and weight. The faster, more adept iPad Pros will be heftier than the less powerful, lighter weight—and therefore ultra-portable—iPad Minis.
Accessories - Some iPads support accessories and tools like Smart Keyboards and Apple Pencil, while others do not. If typing on the screen and using your fingertip as a stylus is annoying to you, consider a model that supports such accessories.