iPads 2024 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

iPads 2024 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you
Last year was a pretty disappointing time for iPad fans. Despite numerous rumors and leaks, absolutely no new Apple tablets were launched.

The good news is that the 2022 models still hold up quite well. In fact, this author is still rocking an iPad Pro from 2021 and it is still a fantastic tool. These are among the best tablets out there, thanks to Apple's M-class chips and the software developed to work in unison with them. Video editors, music production apps, drawing tools, and great games are all in the mix — Android is catching up, thanks to Samsung's efforts with the Galaxy Tab S line, but it still has some way to go.

So, if you look at the marketing materials, features, the specs, or what each iPad can run in terms of software — it may be a bit confusing. Why buy an iPad Pro if the base iPad looks as if it can do all the same things? That's why we compiled this list of "best iPads to buy", which kind of sifts through the line and comes up with each notable product — together with the reasons on why you should be looking at that one.

Table of contents:
  • iPad Air (2022) — best balance between price, performance, and features
  • iPad Pro (2022) — most power headroom, access to 12.9-inch size, best features
  • iPad 10.2 (2021)— base iPad, still a pretty good tablet for a reasonable price
  • iPad mini (2021) — not a good price/value ratio, but your only choice if you are looking for a small iPad

iPad Air (2022)

Apple iPad Air (2022)

Apple iPad Air (2022)

The Good

  • Unrivaled performance at this price
  • Premium build quality
  • Solid speakers
  • Supports iPad Pro (11-inch) accessories

The Bad

  • 64 GB of base storage is a bit stingy, the only other option is a costly jump to 256 GB
  • Expensive accessories

Apple's entry for early 2022 — the iPad Air (2022) — is very much the best middle ground solution. It is powered by an M1 chip — the same processor found in the 2021 iPad Pro line (and Mac mini, MacBook Air, and base MacBook Pro for that matter). Yet, the new Air starts at $200 cheaper than the base level iPad Pro 11".

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So, you get a 10.9" screen, USB C charging port, and since it's the same shape and size as the iPad Pro — full compatibility with the Magic Keyboard, second gen Apple Pencil, and Smart Keyboard folio.

Even more, since it's an M1 device, the Apple iPad Air supports the new Stage Manager multitasking feature of iPadOS 16, which really shines when you connect an external monitor. No more screen mirroring — you actually get a second environment to work in, which very much behaves like a desktop style system.

What do you lose? The 120 Hz ProMotion display, which is still being held hostage by the iPad Pro line. It is kind of a big deal, especially in 2024 when high refresh rate screens are becoming mode common.

Additionally, the Apple iPad Air has two speakers positioned for stereo when the tablet is in landscape. They sound very good, but the iPad Pro 11" still beats them with its quad speaker setup, with a deeper sound and more detailed mids.

And, the USB Type-C of the iPad Air is slower, as it's not a Thunderbolt port as on the Pros.

If you want a high-tier Apple tablet but don't insist on the smooth animations of 120 Hz, the latest iPad Air is the one to go for. Its cost for entry is lower, but it offers most of the features that make the iPad Pro great. Plus, if you buy accessories like a Magic Keyboard or Apple Pencil, you can still re-use them if you choose to upgrade to a Pro later. This is not the case with accessories for 10th gen iPad — more on that below.

Our recommendation: for $600, you get the Apple iPad Air (2022) with 64 GB of storage. That's a bit stingy in 2024, but you can definitely make it work if you do a lot of file maintenance when you are done with big projects. Plus, you can use external storage options thanks to the USB Type-C port. If you want to spread your wings a bit more, or do video editing — the 256 GB storage option costs $750. At this point, we would seriously consider looking for an older iPad Pro 11" (2021). These start with 128 GB at the base level and can offer some serious bang for the buck, if you manage to fish out a new-old-stock or refurbished unit.

Read more:iPad Air (2022) review

iPad Pro (2022)

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2022)

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2022)

View full specs

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2022)

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2022)

The Good

  • Thin, light, easy to handle
  • 120 Hz screen is still a fantastic way to experience iPadOS
  • Tons of power on tap
  • USB Type-C Thunderbolt port is super-fast and useful
  • The quad speakers sound great
  • Dependable battery endurance

The Bad

  • Accessories for the full experience are expensive
  • 3rd party mice will be a bit awkward
  • iPadOS has made strides in multi-tasking, but UI feel is still sticky and confined

Note: if you can find a new iPad Pro (2021) model at a discount, we strongly recommend it. 2021 edition has an M1 chip, the 2022 has an M2. The performance differences are negligible, but the older iPad model at a reduced price may be a sweet bargain.

The iPad Pro line was updated to have the new M2 chip inside, but aside from the slight performance hump, and the hover feature for the Apple Pencil gen 2, not much else is new. So treat the information below as if it also pertains to the iPad Pro (2021).

The Pro line gives you the best iPads — a 120 Hz refresh rate, mini LED tech and brighter screen on the large, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, quad speakers, Stage Manager with external screen support, and unrivalled performance.

The base iPad Pros start at 128 GB for $799, which is not amazing but still a fairly good amount of storage on a mobile system in 2024.

The iPad Pro 12.9" (2022) still starts at $1099, which is quite the price jump, probably solidified by the mini LED display. It does look amazingly sharp, but you have to be really dedicated to using an iPad for work if you agree to lug around this 12.9-inch beast after dropping a grand on it.

When paired with a Magic Keyboard, these veer towards the realm of laptop replacement, especially the big iPad Pro 12.9". Though, we are quite partial to using the smaller one for its portability, and plugging it into an external monitor when we want a desktop environment to work in.

You can also pair them with a second gen Apple Pencil, which works for more than just writing or drawing. On the latest iPad Pros, hovering the Pencil over the screen will also make certain UI elements react, as if you are using a mouse pointer. Of course, consistency here depends on how well the app developers implement the feature.

Our recommendation: as we mentioned above, if you can stretch your budget to shoot for an iPad Pro instead of an iPad Air — it's definitely a good investment. Even the base 128 GB storage tier will serve most people nicely, plus you get ultra-fast Thunderbolt speeds with the USB C port here. If you are looking to do video or audio work on an iPad, maybe more storage is the better choice — at this point, you can get a 256 GB iPad Air for the budget option, or 256 GB iPad Pro for the premium experience.

Read more:iPad Pro 11" (2022) review

iPad (2021)

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (2021)

Apple iPad 10.2-inch (2021)

The Good

  • The full iPadOS experience at a low cost
  • TrueTone display
  • 64 GB base storage
  • Has a headphone jack
  • Dependable battery life

The Bad

  • Dated design
  • One-sided speakers
  • Lightning port
  • Non-laminated screen
  • Camera is not great

Yes, we are skipping the 2022 iPad 10th gen and instead going for the iPad 9th gen. We find that the iPad 10th gen has a bit of "fool's gold" appeal to it. It has the design of the more modern Air and Pro, and is more expensive, but doesn't offer enough perks to justify that extra price. If you want the full package, the Magic Keyboard Folio for the iPad 10 costs $250 and you can't use it for a new iPad Air or iPad Pro if you choose to upgrade down the line.

If you simply want a cheap Apple tablet — then the iPad 9th gen is the one to look at. Its MSRP is $329, but it regularly drops to $299 — even if there's no sales event going on at the moment. Its base storage is still 64 GB, which should be enough for basic tablet usage. Maybe remember to do some file housekeeping now and again.

The ninth generation iPad (2021) supports the first generation Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard folio, though we don't recommend the latter — it's not a great keyboard experience, yet it's kind of expensive. We do love the Magic Keyboard for the more expensive Apple models, but the Smart Folio is a disappontment.

As a con, the entry level iPad (2021) is still stuck with a Lightning port — in fact, they are the only iPads in the lineup to have it. But at the bargain price point, we can't complain too much.

Our recommendation: For $330 (often discounted), this model gives you a lot more bang for your buck than the new iPad 10th gen. Yes, this one doesn't look as fancy and still has thicker bezels and a home button, plus its speakers are not in a stereo setup. But if we are to assume that you are looking for a budget tablet with the most juice for your money — we'd say it's a way better deal. The iPad 10th gen asks for $150 extra that gets you a design refresh and speakers in stereo landscape, but removes the headphone jack.

Read more:Apple iPad (2021) review

iPad mini (2021)

Apple iPad mini 6

Apple iPad mini 6

The Good

  • Perfect size and weight for reading and jotting down notes
  • Unrivaled performance on a small tablet
  • Punchy stereo speakers
  • USB Type-C
  • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil support

The Bad

  • Unimpressive display, wavy scrolling in portrait mode

The 2021 iPad mini 6th generation looks and behaves like a tiny iPad Air. It’s got the new all-screen front look, it has a Touch ID sensor in its oversized power button, it even has stereo speakers in landscape orientation, it supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, and has a USB Type C port. There’s no Magic Keyboard support here — the mini is too tiny for that.

The iPad mini has some quirks — like a very noticeable "jello" effect when scrolling the screen. It's obviously going to remain this way, too, as Apple's response to complaints was basically "Well, that's what LCD screens do". But, if you can get past that, it's a perfectly good tablet for reading, surfing, and maybe even binging YouTube.

It is not the most basic iPad you can buy. It’s powered by the Apple A15 Bionic chip, which is quite overkill and has plenty of overhead for the coming years. We assume the iPad mini will be getting a lot more iPadOS updates. However, don't even hope for Stage Manager or a desktop environment on an external monitor. The iPad mini can still connect to a big display, but you just get screen mirroring, not the work environment that the iPad Pros and iPad Air M1 get.

If you are looking for an affordable iPad, don't veer towards the mini. The iPad 9th gen and even the iPad 10th gen will give you more bang for your buck. Yes, the iPad mini is fantastic, as it is small and powerful, but the screen is far too tiny for most tablet usage. This one is specifically for those that want and enjoy a Kindle-sized experience.

Our recommendation: Starting at $499 for the 64 GB Wi-Fi only model, this tablet is not meant for those looking for a bang-for-buck deal. If you want a good iPad experience for a bargain — go back to the base iPad 10.2 (2021). The mini is meant for a specific type of customer that wants that small device — maybe fans that are looking for a backup iPad for situations where the Pro is just too big.

Read more:Apple iPad mini 6 review

What's the difference between an iPad and an iPad Air?

The iPad Air branding has shifted meaning throughout the years. The original iPad Airs were named after their incredibly thin bodies, and back in 2014, they were the de-facto flagships of the Apple iPad line.

Nowadays, the Apple iPad Air is the connecting link between your base level iPads and the high-end Pro tablets. The Air moniker basically denotes nothing, as their size, thickness, and weight is near identical to its siblings'.

The current iPad Air 5th generation is a fantastic buy — they are powered by the Apple M1, they support the second generation apple pencil, and the same Magic Keyboard that attaches to the Smart Connector of an iPad Pro.

What should you consider before picking the perfect iPad for you?

Size: even if money is no issue, the large iPad Pro 12.9 is not for everybody. It's large and hefty, and weighs as much as a laptop when attached to Apple's smart keyboard. On the other end of the spectrum — the iPad mini is extremely portable but will often feel far too small for most users. The good news is that the rest of the iPads come in a more-or-less-standard size — yes, the iPad 9th gen has a 10.2-inch screen and the base iPad Pro has an 11-inch screen, but due to different bezel thicknesses, these tablets are of similar size.

  • Purpose: think about what you will be using the iPad for. Binging Apple TV+ or gaming will be better on the standard sizes, whereas reading ebooks and browsing the daily news will feel great on the small iPad mini. Video, photo, or even audio editing will feel best on the large iPad Pro 12.9", especially paired with a precise Apple Pencil, but if you want to do these things on the go — the iPad Pro 11" will give you the balance between power and portability.

  • Storage: iPads come in different storage capacities, with options ranging from 64 GB to 1 TB. Generally, we find 128 GB to be quite enough for the typical heavy user, but if your work involves large video and audio files, you will want to make the jump to at least 256 GB.

  • Display: The iPad Pro models have a high resolution, high refresh rate display and ProMotion technology for smooth scrolling. The 12.9-inch model is the only iPad to have the mini LED screen, so if you want the absolute best iPad display, that's the one to look at.

  • Processor: If you want to make use of the Stage Manager multitasking and have a desktop environment on an external monitor, you need a higher-end iPad with an Apple M processor. The only exception here are iPad Pro 2020 models, which have the A12Z.

  • Price: The basic iPad has an MSRP of $329, but often drops to $299 or even $249. It's good money for a pretty good tablet. But if you want pro features on a budget — the iPad Air 2022 is your best bet. Obviously, the iPad Pro line is more of a "money is no issue" solution.

  • Operating system: Apple is known to keep updating its mobile devices for about 5 years post release. So, if you are shopping second-hand or new-old-stock, make sure you check what year the model was released in. If it has about two years of expected support left — it's still an OK buy. Anything less than that is a questionable investment.

  • Battery life: All iPads aim for about 10 hours of screen-on time with mixed usage. Even the Apple iPad mini can last quite a bit on a single charge, so we'd say battery life isn't a huge concern when picking an iPad.

  • Connectivity: Typically, base iPad models come with Wi-Fi only. That's Wi-Fi 6 on iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad 10th gen. If you see yourself using the tablet on the go a lot, and hotspotting your phone sounds like an inconvenience, then look for the cellular models. Though, they add $100+ to the price tag, so we have to ask again — is a hotspot from your phone that much of a headache?

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