Which iPad Should You Buy?

Get the right tablet from Apple

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
"These iPads actually outperform most of Apple’s laptop lineup benchmarks."
"Has most of the same features as the iPad Pro line of tablets."
Best for Portability:
Apple iPad Mini 5 at Amazon
"In terms of portability, the iPad Mini is your best bet."
"These iPads actually outperform most of Apple’s laptop lineup benchmarks."
"Perfect for upgrading an iPad that you’ve had for several years or for buying your first iPad."

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 in much the same way as Apple's 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. This is especially evident in our top pic, the 2020 11-inch iPad Pro at Amazon, which combines a big, crisp screen with a powerful processor and a suite of handy features. It's the perfect hybrid, and easily tops our list of the best iPads.

Best Overall: Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2020)

What We Like
  • Powerful 12Z processor

  • Beautiful Retina display

  • Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard are excellent

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Ever since it pretty much created the tablet industry ten years ago, Apple’s iPad has been on a steady march to become the only computing device that many people need, and while it still won’t do everything that a full computer can do, the iPad Pro has done an incredible job of closing that gap, especially considering the incredible collection of iPad Pro keyboards that are now available and the addition of trackpad support in this year’s iPadOS 13.4 update.

If you plan on drawing, sketching, or even just signing and annotating documents on your iPad, you’ll want to add an Apple Pencil, especially considering that Apple is introducing handwriting recognition in iPadOS 14, and a magnetic dock on the edge of the iPad Pro lets you attach and recharge your stylus when not in use. The biggest marquee feature to the 2020 iPad Pro, however, is the addition of a dual-camera system and a LiDAR scanner, unlocking a whole new set of possibilities in augmented reality, from measuring and laying out rooms in your home to playing some of the latest games. It’s still not up to the camera specs of a current iPhone model, of course, but it’s getting a lot closer.

Couple this with Apple’s latest A12Z processor, which now delivers eight GPU cores, and the 2020 iPad Pro models can now run circles around many desktop and laptop computers in terms of raw performance, and while it’s available in two sizes, we think the 11-inch model gets the nod for best overall as it strikes the ideal balance between a full-sized laptop experience and a tablet that’s portable enough for more casual use, whether it’s on the couch or on the go. With a stunning Retina Display, instantaneous waking, and ultra-light portability it offers the kind of versatility that you just won’t find in a laptop, and really feels like the computing platform of the future. 

"Whether it was editing multiple 4K video streams, playing games, opening dozens of Safari windows or running more than one of these tasks at a time, the iPad Pro appeared unfazed. This is undeniably desktop-class power in a portable frame." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief

Best Value: Apple iPad Air 3

What We Like
  • Gorgeous, True Tone display

  • Sleek and stylish

  • Headphone jack

What We Don't Like
  • Only two speakers

The new iPad Air is a testament to the fact that power can come in thin, ultra-light and affordable packages. The A12 Bionic chip with its Neural Engine delivers speed, precision, and intelligence, and the one-pound device lets you work on anything or watch anything (or both) from anywhere, especially if you're willing to pay a bit extra for a model that includes cellular service. The high-resolution 10.5-inch Retina Display features a P3 wide colour gamut and Apple's True Tone colour matching technology so that you get true-to-life colours whether you're watching the latest movies on Netflix or scrolling through your photo library.

The tablet is priced between the iPad and the iPad Pro, taking most of its design cues from the 2017 iPad Pro—in fact, it supports the same cases and accessories—it strikes the rare balance of reasonable cost and solid performance. The more traditional iPad design means it lacks some of the more advanced features found on the iPad Pro, such as Face ID, however it does include support for the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. It's an extremely versatile tablet that offers incredible value for its price, and capable of handling everything from gaming, reading, surfing, and watching the latest movies to serious writing or graphic design.

"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

Best for Portability: Apple iPad Mini 5

What We Like
  • Extremely portable

  • Great battery life

  • A12 Bionic processor

What We Don't Like
  • Not compatible with Smart Keyboard

The iPad Mini occupies an interesting space in the tablet realm. Its diminutive size means it can't really replace a laptop, 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. However, it has the benefit of being extremely portable, and don't let the size fool you—it actually has the exact same A12 Bionic processor and other specs of the iPad Air, making it basically just a smaller version of Apple's mid-range tablet.

Both the cellular and Wi-Fi only models come in at just under 11 ounces in weight, making it portable enough to carry around in your bag or even just in large coat pocket for use just about anywhere, and while most people won't find the typing experience to be particularly great due to the smaller size, it does support pairing up a Bluetooth keyboard so you can use it for journalling on the go. The 7.9-inch Retina Display also provides a stunning 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution, and despite the smaller screen, you get the same True Tone technology as Apple's iPad Air and iPad Pro models, which adjusts the colours on your screen the match the ambient light, so they'll always look right whether you're in a dimly lit library or out in the park on a summer day.

"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

Best Laptop Replacement: Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th Generation 2020)

What We Like
  • Expansive 12.9-inch Screen

  • Powerful A12Z processor

  • LiDAR Scanner

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Larger size can be awkward for casual tablet users

Don’t let the naysayers discourage you—if you’re willing to add the right accessories, an iPad Pro can be a great substitute for a laptop for all but the most specialized applications, and if you’re looking to go all-in on an iPad as laptop replacement, there’s no better choice than the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

The larger tablet gives you a screen size that rivals current MacBooks and other 13-inch laptops, while offering unmatched portability and versatility. Add in Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, with its integrated trackpad and comfortable typing experience, and you’ve got everything you need to work on the go, whether you just want to enjoy the weather on your back deck, hang out at the local coffee shop, or you’re an international business traveller who spends more time in airports than you do at your desk. If you’re on the go a lot, you can even pick up a cellular model, which will get you online from just about anywhere you happen to end up. In keeping with the “Pro” moniker, Apple has also made the switch to USB-C ports, so you can even connect external monitors, storage devices, or other USB accessories.

The 2020 iPad Pro is no slouch when it comes to performance either, with Apple’s souped-up A12Z processor that delivers performance that will rival all but the highest-end workstation-class laptops, but the best part is that you get the best of several worlds here; you can dock it in the Magic Keyboard or your other iPad Pro keyboard of choice when you want to do serious typing, but pop it out easily to use as a tablet for reading, web surfing, watching Netflix, or sketching out your thoughts with the Apple Pencil, and the larger canvas is great for artistic and graphic design work too. Plus, thanks to Apple’s new multi-camera LiDAR system and augmented reality features, you can even use it for things like seeing how furniture looks in your home or quickly measuring rooms and other real-world objects. 

"Thanks to more powerful components and a hybrid OS (iPadOS 13.4) the iPad Pro is no longer just a tablet. It’s a computer in a screen just waiting for a keyboard and mouse." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief

Best Budget: Apple iPad 10.2-inch (2019)

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Lightweight

  • Solid battery life

What We Don't Like
  • 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 reintroduced its original iPad design in early 2017 with an entry-level price to spur new interest, and has subsequently returned to updating that model each year to provide a great wallet-friendly option for those who really have no need for the power and features offered by the higher-end iPad models.

The new iPad looks, feels, and runs like most other iPads, except it doesn’t have the cutting-edge features and high-end specs as the iPad Pro or even the iPad Air, although of course it's also a fraction of the price. With the most recent model, Apple has expanded the screen a bit to take it up to 10.2 inches, and also added support for the Smart Connector, making it compatible with the Smart Keyboard, although it can also still be paired with pretty much any Bluetooth keyboard as well.

In terms of performance, the entry-level iPad lags a little bit behind Apple's other models, sporting only the older A10 Fusion chip, but that still offers more than enough power for running all but the most demanding apps and games, and it's certainly adequate for surfing the web, reading, watching Netflix, journalling, or a whole host of other activities that you would typically use a tablet for, and it definitely doesn't feel slow by any stretch of the imagination. There's also support here for the original Apple Pencil, which makes this a great choice for kids or even adults who like to draw and sketch, and the high-resolution Retina Display provides a great canvas for it too. This is an especially great iPad for casual users and kids, as it provides more than enough power and features at an extremely affordable price.

"The 7th generation 10.2-inch iPad combined with the latest iPadOS results in an affordable tablet that’s excellent for multimedia, productivity, and multitasking." — Ajay Kumar, Product Tester

Final Verdict

If it fits in your budget, the iPad Pro is a no-brainer recommendation—it's simply the best-looking, most feature-rich, and highest-performance tablet 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, while the 10.2-inch iPad is a great budget option for kids and casual users who really just need the basics.

How We Tested

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.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a tech journalist with over 10 years of experience writing about technology, with an especially strong expertise in all things iPad and Apple. Jesse previously served as Editor-in-Chief for iLounge, authored books on the iPod and iTunes, and has published product reviews, editorials, and how-to articles on Forbes, Yahoo, The Independent, and iDropNews.

Lance Ulanoff is a 30-plus year industry veteran and award-winning journalist who has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” Previously, Lance served as a columnist for Medium, Editor-in-Chief of Mashable, and Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com.

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.

Ajay Kumar has nearly a decade of experience in tech journalism, consumer electronics, and digital publishing, having spent over three years at PC Magazine where he reviewed hundreds of products and developed expertise in a wide range of consumer electronics, as well as working as a tech reporter at Newsweek Media Group to cover the latest product releases and industry developments.

The Ultimate iPad Buying Guide

Ten years ago, Apple defined the tablet market when it introduced its first iPad, a 9.7-inch tablet that ran a slightly modified version of its iPhone operating system, providing support for all of the same apps that its smartphone users had come to love, with a bigger screen that offered a much more powerful user experience.

While the original iPad was criticized by some as just being “a big iPhone” and many felt it was more for content consumption than content creation, a whole new class of creative apps quickly proved otherwise, and thanks to a fast and smooth user interface and the ability to pair it up with Bluetooth keyboards, it quickly became a versatile tool for many different applications, and from those humble beginnings it’s quickly grown into a whole family of tablets that are powerful and flexible enough to replace a laptop for many people.

With three iPad tiers, plus multiple sizes, there’s now something for everyone within the iPad family, and it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out how to choose the best one for your particular needs. While it may be tempting to purchase an iPad solely on price—going for the iPad Pro is your pockets are deep, or the 10.2-inch iPad if you don’t want to spend a lot—it’s really important to consider how you’re going to use an iPad before deciding which one you actually need. Otherwise, you may find yourself either disappointed that you didn’t opt for a higher-end model, or conversely realize that you wasted your money on features you’ll never actually use.

Apple iPad Pro
The back of the iPad Pro, which you can see the new camera module and LiDAR scanner.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Why Buy an iPad

The first question to ask yourself is whether you even need a tablet at all. To be clear, these days an iPad is pretty much the only real tablet game in town; most of the competing tablets have been pushed off the market, and the few that are available are only designed for more specific use cases, such as reading books or watching videos. 

By comparison, however, the iPad is an incredibly versatile device, no matter which model you opt for. Even the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad can run basically all of the same apps as its more expensive siblings, and with the exception of the most demanding games or graphic apps, you probably won’t even find much of a difference in performance.

Thanks to over 1 million apps on Apple's App Store, it’s actually hard to find something the iPad can’t do. You can read e-books from just about any digital bookstore, including Amazon Kindle and of course Apple’s own Apple Books, you can watch video from every streaming service that’s available, ranging from Netflix to Curiosity Stream, you can surf the web, look at photos, draw, sketch, journal, write, edit videos, play games, chat with your friends, and even make video calls using Skype, Zoom, Apple FaceTime, or just about any other platform. You can even get premium, desktop-class apps now for the iPad, such as Microsoft’s Office suite of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and Adobe Photoshop.

Plus, Apple continues to expand the capabilities of the iPad through software updates, so there’s support now for external USB storage devices (although an adapter may be required), and even external keyboard, mouse, and trackpad support. Never before has the iPad been as capable of replacing a laptop as it is today, and it’s only getting better with each update.

iPad vs Laptop

Are there things that a laptop still does better? Absolutely, but the line is becoming seriously blurred with recent advances in iPadOS and Apple’s latest iPad models.

Obviously if you have specific needs that require a Windows or macOS computer, like specific applications, an iPad might not be a good choice to replace your laptop, although it can still be a good supplement to a laptop or desktop computer.

For example, if you’re on the go a lot, an iPad can be a great way to take your work with you, and can even allow you to choose a more powerful PC or Mac for your workspace, since you won’t need to worry as much about portability. There are also numerous apps available that will let you remotely connect to your computer from your iPad, so you can still get the Windows or macOS experience when you’re away from your desk.

To be clear, however, as powerful as the iPad is, especially when you add in an external keyboard and trackpad, the iPadOS user interface is still a very different experience. For example, although you can open up two apps side-by-side in a split-screen multitasking view, you can’t have a whole bunch of apps open in different windows like you can on a traditional computer. Of course, that can also be a bonus if you’re looking to stay more focused.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9
I'm controlling the Apple uPad pro 12.9 with a Magic Mouse. Look carefully and you can see the grey circle cursor on the screen.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Picking the Right Size

Apple currently offers the iPad in three basic sizes, although the smaller and larger models are only available in specific tiers.

Apple’s standard iPad size comes in at around 10 inches by 7 inches in terms of physical size, with only the screen sizes varying between the three tiers — the entry-level iPad has a 10.2-inch screen, the iPad Air bumps that up to 10.5 inches, and the iPad Pro goes all the way up to 11. In practical terms, however, these differences are fairly subtle, and chances are if you’re looking for a tablet in this size, you’ll be more swayed by the features than you will by the screen size anyway.

If you’re looking to go smaller, however, your only option is the 7.9-inch iPad mini, which measures 8 x 5.3 inches in actual size. This is a mid-tier model that’s in the same class as the iPad Air—in fact it has the exact same specs as the larger 10.5-inch version, so it’s definitely no slouch, but it does mean that if you want the smaller tablet, you’ll have to pay a premium over Apple’s entry-level iPad.

On the other end of the spectrum, only Apple’s iPad Pro is available in a larger size, coming in with a 12.9-inch screen and measuring 11 x 8.5 inches. It’s a behemoth, but if you’re looking for the biggest iPad possible, it’s going to cost you a premium, but as a Pro model, it also makes for an ideal laptop replacement. 

Screen Quality

All of Apple’s standard iPads feature basically the same resolution and the exact same 264 ppi pixel density, with only very slight differences due to the varying screen sizes—the 11-inch iPad naturally needs more pixels than the 10.2-inch model. Even the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a 264 ppi display, simply expanding the resolution from 2,388 x 1,668 on the 11-inch iPad Pro to 2,732 x 2,048 on the 12.9-inch model. In fact, it’s the iPad mini that gets the highest pixel density, since the smaller screen still uses a 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution—only slightly less than that of the iPad Air—making for a density of 326 ppi.

However, while there’s no real incentive to step up to a higher-end iPad model for pure resolution, the screens actually differ between each model a fair bit in terms of colour quality. 

At the lower end, you still get a very high quality screen, since it has the same resolution and pixel density as the higher-end models, but if you want more realistic colours you’ll need to step up to at least the iPad Air or iPad mini, which feature Apple’s True Tone display technology for unsurpassed colour accuracy. This works by sensing the ambient light where you’re using your iPad and adjusting the colour temperature of the screen accordingly, so your reds and blues will always look right whether you’re viewing your screen outside in bright daylight, inside an office, or in subdued lighting in your family room. 

A P3 wide colour gamut on the iPad Air also offers a wider colour range with more realistic colours. Plus, the laminated display on the iPad Air, which means the glass sites closer to the actual display, also makes for a more natural experience when using an Apple Pencil. 

Step up from there to the iPad Pro and you get the same colour quality features with Apple’s better quality Liquid Retina display that also offers a higher refresh rate of up to 120Hz thanks to its ProMotion technology, making the scrolling buttery-smooth and a much more responsive feel overall. It’s also slightly brighter than the other iPad models, offering up to 600 nits brightness, versus the 500 nits found on the iPad Air and 10.2-inch iPad. 

Apple iPad Mini (2019)
Lifewire / Sandra Stafford

Storage Capacity

Unlike a computer, the storage in Apple’s iPads is fixed and not really expandable in any way, so you’ll have to pick your optimal capacity when buying your iPad, as you won’t be able to upgrade it later—even though it’s possible now to add external storage devices to iPads, this can’t be used for apps, only for storing documents. 

Your choice of storage capacity will also be somewhat dictated by the model of iPad you choose. The entry-level 10.2-inch iPad starts at 32GB and also has a 128GB option available, while the iPad Air doubles that to offer 64GB and 256GB models, and the iPad Pro starts at 128GB but goes all the way up to a whopping 1TB.

So how much storage do you really need? It does largely depend on what you plan to put on your iPad, and how much you’re willing to rely on cloud storage but we generally recommend 128GB as a good baseline. You’re unlikely to ever need more than this unless you plan to store a lot of photos or videos, but we wouldn’t recommend going below this number unless you’re absolutely certain you won’t be loading a lot of apps or storing a lot of photos or videos. 

On the other hand, if you’re a professional photographer or videographer who plans to use your iPad Pro for work, this is where the 512GB and 1TB options come in. This can also be handy if you’re travelling all the time and want to carry around a huge movie library with you, but for most users the 128GB to 256GB range should offer more than enough storage. 

Keep in mind that Apple and iPadOS offer a lot of optimization features as well if you’re willing to rely on cloud storage. For example, if you subscribe to Apple’s iCloud Photo Library, you can keep a massive library of photos available on even a lower-capacity iPad simply by keeping most of the full-sized originals in the cloud, and storing only thumbnails on your device. You don’t have to go with Apple’s services either; other alternatives like Google Photos and Amazon Photos provide similar features for keeping your data in the cloud, saving space on your iPad in the process. 

Wi-Fi or Cellular?

When buying any of Apple’s iPads, you’ll have a choice between picking up a version that uses only Wi-Fi, or getting one that can also connect directly to the cellular network.

Although cellular connectivity can be nice to have, the cellular-capable iPads are always more expensive than the Wi-Fi only ones, not only in terms of the purchase price, but also the need to sign up for a service plan from your cellular provider. These days, you can usually get an iPad plan from most carriers that works alongside your iPhone and shares the same data allotment, but you’ll still likely pay at least $5-$10 per month for the privilege.

That said, a cellular iPad can still be good to have if you’re on the go a lot. In fact, even if you’re usually in places like coffee shops and airports that offer free Wi-Fi, using LTE data is both simpler and more secure than jumping onto a public Wi-Fi network. 

Keep in mind that there are other options available as well, however, such as using your smartphone as a personal hotspot and letting your iPad connect to it via Wi-Fi, and it’s really easy to set up and use with an iPhone. This will be a lot cheaper than springing for a cellular iPad and a data plan to go with it, but it does require that you have your iPhone nearby when you’re using your iPad, and there will be a hit on your iPhone’s battery life. 

iPad Pro 12.9 USB-C port
The Pad Pro 12.9 may be getting more laptop-like, but it still has just one USB-C data/charging port.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Ports: USB-C vs Lightning

For the most part, Apple has somewhat stubbornly stuck with its own Lighting port standard for most of its devices, which isn’t a huge problem as the popularity of the iPhone means that there is a huge range of accessories available that use this port standard, but it can still get annoying when you just want to plug in southing like a USB storage device.

When Apple released its redesigned 2018 iPad Pro, it sort of acknowledged that the more professional audience of that tablet needed more professional connectivity options, and so it made the switch to USB-C.

Although it’s still possible to connect most USB devices to any iPad with Apple’s USB to Lighting adapters, a native USB-C port just makes it that much easier not only for external storage devices but also things like monitors, keyboards, music interfaces, storage arrays, and more. 

Cameras

Most people don’t take a lot of pictures using their iPad, so you may not care so much about the quality of the rear cameras, especially if you already have a good iPhone or other smartphone. While the newest iPad Pro has gotten a much better camera than the previous Pro models, all of the lower-end iPads are still saddled with 8-megapixel shooters that are barely worth using. 

The front camera, however, differ even more, with the 10.2-inch iPad actually only coming in at a surprisingly low resolution of 1.2 megapixels and 720p HD, while the iPad Air and iPad mini step this up to a more respectable 7-megapixel camera that supports 1080p HD video as well. If you plan on using your iPad for video conferencing, this alone may be a good enough reason to step up to one of the mid-tier models. 

Not surprisingly, the iPad Pro blows all of these out of the water, however, thanks to its new rear camera system, which features 12MP wide and 10MP ultra wide cameras. On the other hand, although the front camera is still only 7 megapixels, it’s the same True Depth camera used on most of Apple’s Face ID capable iPhones, which means it supports advanced features like Animoji and Memoji and Portrait Mode selfies. 

The iPad Pro also features a new LiDAR Scanner, but keep in mind that right now this isn’t used in any way for photography. Instead, it supports augmented reality applications that let you do things like making accurate measurements of rooms and objects and placing virtual objects in a real-world environment. To be clear, these augmented reality features are part of iPadOS, so they’re available on all iPad models, but they work with much greater speed and pinpoint accuracy on the LiDAR-equipped iPad Pro.

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro (2020)
Lifewire / Jesse Hollington.

Accessories and Compatibility

If you’re upgrading from an older iPad, or even if you just want to have a lot of options for accessorizing your new tablet, you’ll also want to pay attention to what accessories are available and which models they’re compatible with. This is true not just in terms of Apple’s current iPad family, but also from older models too, since that can expand your options if a current model works with older accessories. 

Cases

As a rule of thumb, you won’t find cases that are compatible across iPad models, since the sizes are all slightly different. For example, even though the 10.2-inch iPad and iPad Air have the same horizontal dimensions, they differ just enough in thickness that only the very loosest cases and sleeves will fit both models.

Coming forward from older models, however, you may find a few exceptions. For example, the iPad Air has an identical design to the 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro. Any cases, including keyboard cases, designed for that older model can also be used with the iPad Air. This actually makes it a great option for those who may be upgrading from that model and already have those older accessories, and also means that there are many more options available for that model at some pretty reasonable prices. 

On the other hand, even though Apple’s 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models have the exact same dimensions, the addition of the larger camera system on the rear of the 2020 model means that older cases won’t really work—some will fit, but they’ll block the cameras.

Keyboards

Any Bluetooth keyboard can be paired with any iPad model, regardless of manufacturer or design, although if you’re looking for a laptop experience you’ll likely want to pick up a keyboard or keyboard case that’s designed to fit your iPad. 

For iPad Pro users, Apple has released its own Magic Keyboard accessory that’s designed to fit the iPad Pro like a glove and includes a great built-in trackpad. We highly recommend it if you have the money to spend and are looking for a true laptop experience, but there are several other great keyboards available too that might appeal to users with different interests or needs. 

In addition to Bluetooth keyboards, all of Apple’s current iPads use the Smart Connector, although the iPad Pro has it in a different place, and as of right now only Apple’s own Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard are compatible with the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. For the 10.2-inch iPad and iPad Air, however, which have the edge-mounted Smart Connector that was first introduced with the original 2015 iPad Pro, in addition to Apple’s own older Smart Keyboard, there are several options available from Logitech as well.

Trackpads and Mice

As of iPadOS 13.4, all of Apple’s iPads have native support for external mice and trackpads. These can be connected wirelessly over Bluetooth or directly over a USB-C or Lighting connection (with an adapter), and generally work seamlessly once connected.

Apple’s own wireless Magic Trackpad and the trackpad found on Apple’s Magic Keyboard offer a few more advanced gesture controls, but otherwise any mouse or trackpad should work just as well for basic mouse and pointer support.

Apple Pencil

Although the Apple Pencil was once the exclusive domain of the iPad Pro, it’s now supported by all of Apple’s iPad models, including the iPad mini. 

However, there are actually two different models of Apple Pencil. The first-generation Apple Pencil charges over a Lightning connection and doesn’t really dock anywhere on the iPad, so you’ll have to get a case that supports it. It can be plugged directly into the iPad Lightning connector to recharge, which is a bit awkward, or the included adapter will let you charge it from a normal Lightning cable. 

On the other hand, Apple’s 2018 and 2020 iPad Pros use a second-generation Apple Pencil that charges wirelessly from a magnetic docking point on the side of the iPad. It also supports a double-tap gesture to let you easily switch between drawing tools. 

External Storage

As of iPadOS 13, all of Apple’s iPads support connecting external storage devices, but keep in mind that these are only recognized as places to store files; they can’t be used to load apps, or even to store data from within most apps. For instance, pictures in Apple’s Photos app can’t be stored on an external drive, nor can videos or music in the built-in TV and Music apps. 

Still, an external storage device can be a great way to transfer files, and you can still listen to music and watch videos from an external drive through the Files app or other apps that directly support external storage.

If you’re using an iPad Pro, you can plug a USB-C thumb drive directly in and it should just work, or use any USB-A to USB-C adapter for older storage devices. iPad, iPad Air, and iPad mini users will need to use a USB to Lightning adapter instead, but most external drives should still work fine this way too.

Displays

The iPad Pro can be connected directly to a USB-C display, thanks to its native USB-C port, and even provides native 4K and HDR10 video output on a supported external display.

All iPad models can be connected to an HDMI display using an appropriate Lightning or USB-C adapter. The iPad Pro can also do 4K output over HDMI using a supported adapter, while the other models are limited to 1080p HD output. 

Other USB Accessories

In addition to keyboards, mice, external drives, and displays, all iPad models also include limited support for a few other classes of USB devices.

This includes things like hubs and docks, audio interfaces and MIDI devices, SD card readers, bar code scanners, and even USB to Ethernet adapters. For the iPad Pro, these are handled directly over USB-C or a USB-C to USB-A adapter, while other iPad models require a Lightning to USB adapter. 

The iPad Pro can even be used as a charging source, letting you juice up your iPhone or any other USB accessory directly from its USB-C port. 

Apple iPad Pro 12.9
 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Conclusion

Apple’s iPads have come a long way in the past ten years, and all of today’s iPad models are extremely versatile and have the ability to do a huge number of different things. 

If you’re looking for a device to handle casual media streaming, reading, surfing, and gaming, there’s almost no doubt that an iPad is the best device to get for these purposes, as it’s far more portable, intuitive, and easy to use than any laptop computer that you’ll find, and has a much larger screen to work with that a smartphone.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a laptop replacement, it’s a far more personal and subjective choice, but don’t be too quick to dismiss what an iPad can do for you—especially if you’re willing to spring for an iPad Pro. If you’re already steeped in the Apple ecosystem, with an iPhone and a Mac, rounding that out with an iPad can be a great choice to give you a highly portable device that can easily fit in between your iPhone and your Mac. However, even if you’re traditionally a Windows laptop user, you may find that a lot of the things you do, both for work and fun, might be even faster and easier on an iPad, and this is especially true on a device like the iPad Pro with Apple’s Magic Keyboard.