iPads 2020 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

iPads 2020 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you
Since Apple's restructuring, which began back in 1997, the company's product philosophy has been this — make only one product per category, but do it right. Since then, however, Apple's portfolio has been growing. Slowly, sure, but steadily. So, while back in iPhone 4s days, we only had the choice between a white iPhone and a black iPhone, nowadays, we have plenty of phones, tablets, and computers to pick from. From super-compact, to gargantuan sizes, from less-powerful to bleeding-edge-of-hardware levels.

So, while back in the day we had a choice between "that new iPad or the one that came out last year", now we have quite the choice. You're out to purchase a new Apple tablet and feel a bit confused? No fear — here's our comprehensive buying guide on Apple iPads for 2019, which will help you find the best slate for you or that special person you are buying it for.

 

The "best" options

Balance between power, price,
accessories, and portability

iPad Pro 11-inch (2020)



Pros

  • The most powerful hardware on an iPad right now
  • Quad speakers, stereo sound
  • USB Type-C
  • Supports Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, Magic Keyboard
  • Thinnest bezels, thin and light body
  • 128 GB base storage tier

Cons

  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
  • No headphone jack

Order the new iPad Pro here


In 2018, Apple gave us a new form factor for the iPad Pro line. A bigger display in the same body size, a thinner frame, Face ID, and new magnetic Smart Connectors. The iPad Pro 2020 was upgraded with a speedier processor, a bit more RAM, and a 128 GB base storage tier, which is a must for serious machines nowadays.

This iPad Pro 2020 line supports the Apple Pencil 2 (sold separately), which will stick to the tablet magnetically and charge wirelessly. There are now two keyboard accessories to choose from — the Smart Keyboard 2nd gen and the upcoming Magic Keyboard, which brings the iPad closer to a laptop than ever. Last, but most certainly not least, the new generation of iPad Pros comes with USB Type-C instead of the Apple-proprietary Lightning connector. In theory, this opens the door for use with a ton of 3rd party accessories without them needing to be adapted for Lighting connector use first.

There's no 5G on the new iPad Pro 2020. But here's more good news — while the base 128 GB variant starts at $800, you can add $100 to that and get a 256 GB version! Unfortunately, if you want to go for the full package of Apple Pencil 2 and Magic Keyboard — those will set you back $120 and $300, respectively. It's not the cheapest option for sure, but it's a great package if you want the ultimate iPad experience — portability, speed, long battery life, and productivity.

Our recommendation: 
The 2018 iPad Pro had some durability issues. Wait until early adopters get the first batch of iPad Pro 2020 tablets and see if the issue persists. If all is well, try and go for the $800, 256 GB model as the extra space will give you a lot of breathing room in the following years.

Don't go for a 2018 iPad Pro as these honestly haven't been discounted deep enough. Unless you find a refurbished or second-hand model, in which case it might be worth it. Still, try to get something that's not 64 GB, since that storage won't let you do a lot of "serious" stuff on your iPad.

The iPad Pro 2020 release date is March 25.

iPad Pro 10.5



Pros

  • Older gen hardware is still quite fast
  • Quad speakers, stereo sound
  • Supports Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard
  • Thin-ish bezels
  • Best price-value for powerful tablets on the refurbished / second-hand market

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Pencil and Keyboard not included


 iPad Pro 10.5, refurbished by Apple


The iPad Pro 10.5 pretty much performs the best balancing act between price, size, hardware, and potential to accessorize. It has a slightly aged processor — the Apple A10X Fusion hexa-core chip — and 4 GB of RAM, but rest assured it's still good to go for about 3 years, judging by iPad longevity thus far. And despite the fact that it has a 10.5-inch screen, its thin bezels make it only a little bigger than the iPad 9.7 (a.k.a. the iPad Air form factor).

More good stuff — it has quad speakers that blaze out stereo sound and it's compatible with the Apple Pencil as well as a Smart Keyboard, which can be added at a later date as a separate purchase to increase your productivity with the tablet.

Apple sells these in refurbished state, starting at $380 for the 64 GB model. If you want to go up to 256 GB, that'll be $510, which is not super-terrible and might be a better investment than getting an iPad Air (2019) with just 64 GB of storage for the same amount of cash.

Our recommendation:
The $380 64 GB model is perfect if you are just looking to dip your toes into that iPad Pro experience. However, be aware that you will probably need to rely on cloud services and streaming to work around space limitations
Spending $510 on the 256 GB variant is still a great value offer. This iPad should be good for about 3 years more.

iPad Air (2019)

Specs | Review



Pros

  • A "budget" iPad Pro
  • Supports Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard

Cons

  • No quad speaker stereo setup
  • A bit heavier than the good old iPad Air 2


Last year, Apple revived a beloved classic — the iPad Air! Why is it a big deal, you ask? The Air line introduced super-thin and super-light iPads with the Air 2 being unbeatable in both of these categories for years to come. In fact, the Air 2 is still lighter than any iPad Apple has on sale (minus the mini 5, of course), but more on that later.

The 2019 redux of the iPad Air is the perfect middle-of-the-road solution. It's not as modern-looking as the new iPad but it gets the job done just fine. It supports both the Apple Pencil (gen 1) and the Smart Keyboard but stays cheaper by cutting some corners. It has the old form factor, so you get Touch ID and a home button instead of Face ID. It also lacks real stereo — the two speakers are situated on one side of the device — which is not fantastic, but hey... we'll take it. The Air also sticks to the Lightning connector, which can be both a pro and a con. If you've been doing actual work on your iPad and spent money on accessories that work with the Lightning connector, you will probably feel more inclined to buy a 2019 iPad Air or a previous generation iPad Pro instead of the new USB Type-C iPad Pro 2018 and iPad Pro 2020.

The Air is powered by an Apple A12 Bionic chip (not Z and not X), which may concern you, but rest assured that it's still quite a powerful processor. It also only has 3 GB of RAM, but iPadOS does a good job at resource management, so you won't get bothered by it too much.

To recap: you get speed, long battery life, all the multitasking features of iPadOS, support for Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. You are saying bye-bye to true stereo, USB Type-C, and that extra-sleek form factor of the Pros. iPads age pretty well, so this machine should still last you for about 4 years. And you save quite a lot of cash while doing so!

Our recommendation:
For the price of $500, you can get a Wi-Fi model with 64 GB, which is OK storage room if you aren't planning any serious work. But if you intend to keep this tablet for a long, long time, we suggest you squeeze out an extra $150 and buy the 256 GB model for $650. Four years from now, you'll be glad you did.

I just want a tablet, give me something cheap


Alright, alright! So you don't subscribe to the "Go Pro or go home!" ideology. Well, Apple has two options for you:

iPad 10.2


Specs | Review



Pros

  • Cheapest new iPad to buy directly from Apple
  • Supports Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard

Cons

  • No anti-glare lamination on the screen
  • No stereo speakers
  • Aging chipset

Of course, you might feel uncomfortable buying refurbished or second hand — there's nothing like having a shiny new device to unpack and have the 1st party warranty to give you a peace of mind. Apple's budget iPad was upgraded in 2019 to have a slightly larger, 10.2-inch display. It doesn't make for much of a difference when viewing content, but the new form factor allows for a slightly larger keyboard case, making it feel more spacious and comfortable for typing. Yes, Apple's cheapest iPad on offer now has Smart Keyboard support, bringing it that much closer to the much more expensive iPad Pro lines. Couple that with support for an Apple Pencil and you've got a machine that's meant for play and work... depending on your field, of course.

It's had some corners cut, of course. No laminated display here, so the screen has that cheap-ish look to it. Its two speakers are placed right next to each other, on the bottom side of the tablet, so there's no true stereo. Also, it's still powered by the Apple A10 Fusion — the three-year-old chip, which originally shipped with the iPhone 7.

As compact as possible


iPad mini (2019)

Specs | Review



Pros

  • Small, light, compact iPad
  • Finally got hardware update

Cons

  • Design looks outdated
  • No Smart Keyboard support
  • Starting price of $400 is a bit too much


There's the iPad Mini for those that like to be able to hold the tablet with one hand and use it on the bed without dropping it on their face. The iPad mini (2019) is great for that. The tiny line has been ignored by Apple for way too long, but in 2019, it finally got an upgrade with an A12 Bionic chip and 3 GB of RAM. And hey, you can use an Apple Pencil on this one, too, although the canvas may be getting a bit small here. No Smart Keyboard, though.

It's still a bit disappointing that it didn't get a facelift. The mini's design has very obviously aged. It would've been nice to see an iPad mini 2020 announced, but hey — we still might. The year isn't up yet. On the flip side, these thick bezels will definitely make it super easy to hold it with one hand no matter what position you are in.

Our recommendation:
The price is a bit steep, starting at $400 for the 64 GB Wi-Fi only model. So, we'd suggest going for this only if the small size is a top priority. Otherwise, just get the certified refurbished iPad Pro 10.5 or add $100 on top and get an iPad Air (2019) — they are better-looking and support the Smart Keyboard. Other than that and the size — the mini (2019) and Air (2019) are pretty much the same in hardware, while the Pro has quad speakers.

The biggest, baddest iPad


iPad Pro 12.9

Specs | Review



Pros

  • The most powerful hardware on an iPad right now
  • Quad speakers, stereo sound
  • Supports Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard
  • Huge display

Cons

  • Quite pricey
  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
   
We can't go without mentioning the biggest guy in town. The iPad Pro 12.9 is as big as a MacBook Air and costs about the same. Yeah, it's obviously a niche device meant either for the professionals out there, or the ones that take their tablet usage very, very seriously — on-the-go typers, graphics artists, even pro gamers if you wish.

The iPad Pro 12.9 is powered by the Apple A12Z Bionic octa-core chip and 6 GB of RAM and it's a real beast — both in terms in productivity and size, measuring at 11.05 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches (280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9 mm) and weighing 22.61 oz (641 g). It starts at $999, but add an instant $129 to that if you want the Apple Pencil 2 to use on that large canvas and $299 if you want that Magic Keyboard with a trackpad.

Our recommendation:
The 256 GB Wi-Fi model for $1,099 seems to be the best middle-of-the-road offering. Plenty of storage to play in and it's still slightly cheaper than the newer MacBook Airs. Well... that's before you add a $300 keyboard and a $130 Pencil in the mix. Just for comparison's sake — a 13-inch MacBook Pro with 256 GB of storage is $1,499.

The iPad Pro 2020 release date is March 25.

Related phones

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  • Camera 12 MP (Single camera)
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  • Hardware Apple A9X, 2GB RAM
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  • Battery 7306 mAh
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iPad Pro 10.5-inch
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iPad Pro 12.9-inch
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iPad Air 2
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    2048 x 1536 pixels
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iPad mini 4
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