Three best iPads

Jaime Vazquez

Most iPads weigh between 1.0 and 1.5 pounds.

When Apple first launched the iPad in 2010, it started a revolution. Now, just a few years after people claimed the iPad was doomed because it looked like a big iPhone, tablets are everywhere.

Not surprisingly, Apple still dominates the tablet market, and after yearly iterations, the iPad is still the most innovative, performative tablet available -- and it's still simple to use. What's not simple, however, is understanding all the different kinds of iPads available. They now come in a variety of sizes and colors, and there are some substantial differences under the hood between various models.

If you're ready to try out the tablet brand that started it all -- or if you just want to upgrade your current tablet -- we've got you covered. Let's dig into everything you need to know to find your ideal iPad.

Considerations when choosing iPads

Standard, pro, or mini?

Apple offers a wide variety of iPads in different sizes with different features, but they mostly fall into one of its three iPad categories. Here's what you need to know about each.

The iPad: The original iPad is now Apple's "middle of the road" model, so it's got a little something for everyone. Apple iPads have 9.7-inch screens with wide bezels around them and run the company's second-fastest mobile CPU. These typically cost between $329 and $559. Less expensive models have less storage, and more expensive models have built-in LTE capability, so you can connect them with your existing wireless provider and get web access from anywhere.

The iPad Pro: The iPad Pro takes everything great about the original iPad and makes it bigger and better. Apple iPad Pros come in two sizes: 11 inches and 12.9 inches, making them the most laptop-like models available. These include a faster mobile CPU and an improved set of front and rear cameras, and they can even record video in 4K. While these tablets are certainly not cheap -- iPad Pros range from $799 to as much as $1,799 -- they really are powerful enough to replace a laptop.

The iPad Mini: The iPad Mini is the smallest of all of the iPads with its 7.9-inch screen. The iPad Mini offers a slight step down in most respects from a traditional iPad. In addition to a smaller screen, it's built with a processor and cameras that are more appropriate for casual use. Make no mistake, the iPad Mini is a great tablet if you don't need the sheer horsepower of the larger models; but if you plan on using your iPad for work, or you need an iPad that's compatible with Apple's stylus (dubbed the Apple Pencil), you might want to consider an iPad or an iPad Pro.

iPad features

Once you've picked out which version of the iPad you want, there are still some decisions to make. Here's your guide to the key features you'll want to consider before buying.

Screen size: The biggest differentiator between iPads is the size of the screens. The screen sizes also correspond with other upgrades -- for example, the 7-inch iPad Mini uses Apple's A8 processor, the 9.7-inch iPad relies on the faster A10 processor, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has on board the company's best CPU, the A12. Consider the relationship between speed and size as you're shopping, and remember that the more you want to do with your iPad, the larger model you should buy.

Connectivity: Since 2012, Apple has used its proprietary Lightning cables for connecting iPads and iPhones to computers, but standards have evolved, and it has begun introducing models that rely on USB-C cables. While the general experience of connecting an iPad to a computer isn't changing, the cable is, and you might want that to factor into your decision making. For example, if you have other devices that use Lightning cables, it might be more convenient to get an iPad that supports the standard you've already set up. On the other hand, it's only a matter of time until Lightning cables are a thing of the past, so you may want to opt for a USB-C model for the sake of future-proofing your investment.

Cameras: While it's not exactly common for people to use tablets as cameras or video recorders, it can be done, and the iPad's cameras can produce high-quality video even if they're only being used for FaceTime video calls. Just be cautious as you're deciding which iPad to buy: the lower-end models have lower-end cameras that have trouble in situations with low lighting.

Stylus compatibility: While owners have been using third-party styluses with iPads since they first came out, Apple only recently started producing its own, the Apple Pencil. Naturally, the Apple Pencil is more than just a stylus: it's got multiple pen tips, it's magnetic, it charges wirelessly, and it's got the ergonomics of an actual pencil. Whether you're a pro illustrator or you just like to take a lot of notes by hand, the Apple Pencil is an indispensable tool. But it's only compatible with certain iPad models, so make sure you take your need for a stylus into consideration when buying.

Other considerations

Apple continues to innovate with new features on each generation of tablet, but as it does, it also phases out older features at the same time. Two particular features that users love are likely on their way out because they can only be found on specific lower-end models: the Home button and Touch ID.  

The Home button has been around from the very first iPad back in 2010. It's a small physical button at the bottom of the screen that you press to return to the home screen. The Home button is also useful for orienting the phone when you can't see it: for example, if you're pulling your phone out of your pocket, you can feel for the Home button to figure out which side is up. On newer iPads, Apple has replaced the physical Home button with a virtual one that you tap.

Touch ID is a feature that relies on the Home button: it allows you to unlock your phone using a thumbprint. Touch ID is a huge convenience over having to enter passcodes repeatedly, but on newer iPads and iPhones, Apple has opted to replace it with Face ID, which does the same thing but uses facial recognition instead of a thumbprint. Some users aren't 100% comfortable with facial recognition, so if that's you, get an iPad that still supports Touch ID. Face ID is optional on newer models, but security is important, so if you buy one with Face ID, you can disable it and continue to use a numeric passcode.


Q. How often should I sync my iPad with iTunes or iCloud?

A. Syncing your iPad with iTunes keeps your apps and settings backed up in case you need to restore them later. Apple has evolved the process so you can do it wirelessly with a laptop. You can even automate your backups to the cloud using its iCloud service. By syncing, you're creating a backup just in case something happens to your phone. We recommend syncing with a laptop or with iCloud at least once a month but ideally every two weeks.

Q. Does the iPad use all the same apps as the iPhone?

A. Sort of. Both the iPad and the iPhone work with apps downloaded from Apple's App Store, but not all apps have been formatted to work on both screen sizes. By default, when you're in the App Store on an iPad, it will only show you apps that have been optimized for the iPad's screen dimensions, but if you want to download an app that's only been formatted for the iPhone, you can. You'll just need to adjust the setting that governs what search results you see. Keep in mind that if you're running an app that's only been laid out for the iPhone's screen, you'll likely see it stretched to the iPad's screen, and it may appear slightly out of proportion.

Q. Can I charge my iPhone from my iPad?

A. It depends on the iPhone and iPad, but it's possible. If you have an iPad with a USB-C connector, you can buy a separate USB-C-to-Lightning adapter cable, and connect your iPhone to your iPad directly. In these cases, the iPhone will start charging from the iPad's battery.

iPads we recommend

Best of the best: Apple iPad Pro 128GB 

Our take: The smallest iPad Pro at 9.7 inches is our favorite value -- it's got the speediest processor and the best cameras, but the size keeps it affordable.

What we like: Everything. It's fast. It's vibrant. It's light. Its battery lasts a whopping ten hours.

What we dislike: Essential accessories like the smart keyboard case or Apple Pencil are expensive.

Best bang for your buck: Apple iPad 32GB 

Our take: The standard model iPad (9.7 inches) remains a solid choice, although power users may want a little more for their money.

What we like: It's slim, light, and fast. Movies and TV shows look incredible.

What we dislike: Storage goes quickly, so users with a lot of photos or other content might want to upgrade to a larger capacity.

Choice 3: Apple iPad Pro 64GB 

Our take: Apple's biggest iPad (12.9 inches) has the slick form factor of a tablet and the powerful internals of a laptop. It's pricey, but it's worth the money, especially if you need a tablet that's a workhorse.

What we like: The 2732 x 2048 native resolution is eye-poppingly beautiful. It's faster and more responsive than any other iPad.

What we dislike: It's expensive without upgrades, and adding more storage or LTE connectivity drives the price up so high it's as expensive as a MacBook Pro.

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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