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iPads 2018 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 2018, 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



Cons

  • Pricey
  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
  • No headphone jack


Brand new for 2018, the iPad Pro 11-inch brings a lot of fresh stuff to the Apple tablet line. For one, we have a fresh new design, which gives us a thinner frame around the display, thus giving us more screen in the same form factor as the iPad Pro 10.5-inch before it. It's also super-thin and light, while incredibly powerful thanks to the Apple A12X Bionic chip inside it.

The new iPad has a new Apple Pencil (sold separately), which will now stick to the tablet magnetically and charge wirelessly. The new Smart Keyboard (sold separately) also attaches to the tablet via snap-on magnets. 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. In practice, don't hope to be able to connect external HDDs to it — you can't.

The bad news is that the new iPad Pro 11-inch starts at $800 for the base, 64 GB model. That's before you even go to add a $130 Apple Pencil 2 or a $180 Smart Keyboard. Yeah, that's laptop-level money. But hey, check out our next entry!

iPad Pro 10.5

Specs | Review



Cons

  • Pricey
  • Pencil and Keyboard not included


The iPad Pro 10.5 pretty much performs the best balancing act between price, size, hardware, and potential to accessorize. It has the most powerful hardware that is currently offered on iPads — the Apple A10X Fusion hexa-core chip and 4 GB of RAM — 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.



Unfortunately, while it's not the most expensive iPad out there, it's still rather pricey. The iPad Pro 10.5 starts at $649 for the 64 GB, Wi-Fi only model. If you want to add a cellular option to that, it's an instant $130 increase. The pricing stops at $1,129 for a 512 GB model with cellular. If you are having a hard time making a decision, here is our suggestion for best options:

Our recommendation:
If you need connectivity on the go — spend $779 on the 64 GB + Cellular variant
If you think you will do OK without mobile Internet — spend $799 on the 256 GB Wi-Fi only model and enjoy tons of storage

I just want a tablet, give me something cheap


Alright, alright! So you don't subscribe to the "Go Pro or go home!" ideology. The first thing you might want to look at is the iPad 9.7, which starts at $329 at the Apple Store. But we have another idea for you:

iPad Air 2

(second-hand or refurbished)

Specs | Review



Cons

  • Aging hardware
  • No stereo speakers
  • Does not support Apple Pencil


The iPad Air 2 is still relevant and it still runs pretty fast and snappy with iOS 12. If you are afraid that Apple might consider it obsolete, we present to you this notion — the iPad Mini 4, powered by the Apple A8 and 2 GB of RAM, is still on sale straight from the Apple Store; the iPad Air 2 has the slightly-more-powerful A8X chip and has 2 GB of RAM as well. So, it's in no way worse than a piece of hardware that Apple is currently still selling.

The iPad Air 2 also features an anti-glare coating on its display, while the contemporary iPad 9.7 does not, and it's a bit thinner and lighter than the current "cheap" iPad.

Also, you may have heard that the iPad 9.7 has stereo speakers, but that's not entirely true. The iPad 9.7 does feature dual speakers, but they are both on one side — they occupy the grilles that can be found on the frame under the tablet's home button, just like the iPad Air 2 has 2 speakers there. So, both tablets are comparable in terms of audio experience.

It's still worth noting that the new low-tier iPad 9.7 does support an Apple Pencil, while the old Air 2 does not. Keep this in mind if you are after the stylus experience.

Now that we know that the hardware is still potent and that it has a couple of perks over the iPad 9.7, let's talk about storage and pricing. The iPad Air 2 originally started selling with a lowest tier of 16 GB of storage, but after more than a year, Apple bumped the specs a bit, making the cheapest Air 2 have a 32 GB memory. So, the second-hand market may be a bit confused and garbled — just make sure you double-check what you are looking at.

Our recommendation:
In general, we can find refurbished iPad Air 2 units with 16 GB of memory starting at around $170. This is an insanely good deal for the kind of tablet you get, but be warned that this kind of storage will only be good if you hold back on the apps and games and use it primarily as a device for Internet browsing and media streaming.

The good news is that refurbished units with 32 GB or 64 GB of storage are now pretty popular on the market and will go for about $250. Old stock new units are also still available, but they start at about $320. At that price point, it's probably better to go for the iPad 9.7 (6th gen), which is both newer and supports the Apple Pencil.

iPad Pro 9.7

Specs | Review



Cons

  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
  • Smaller display than newer-gen iPad Pros

Since we opened the door for the "refurbished" discussion, let's take a moment to remember the iPad Pro 9.7 — the original "small" Pro-line iPad, which had a run of only a year, before being replaced by the iPad Pro 10.5. It sports the iPad Air form-factor, the Apple A9X chip, 2 GB of RAM and its base tier has 32 GB of storage — not too shabby. A quick look on Amazon tells us that refurbished units start at about $370 for the 32 GB model, which is insane value for the buck. New old stock, if you find any, run for about $420 for the 32 GB variant. This is great bang-for-the-buck if you are looking for a production machine and don't mind a slightly smaller display than the current iPad Pro 10.5. As with every Pro-line iPad, you can pair it with the Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard of its own, though, the latter might get harder and harder to track down for this specific model since it was a one-year run.

iPad 9.7


Cons

  • Pencil not included
  • No Smart Keyboard support
  • No anti-glare lamination on the screen
  • No true stereo speakers
  • Last gen 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 9.7 now comes with support for the Apple Pencil (sold separately), so one can argue it now has some more value. But where there is a value offer, there are corners cut. In the case of the iPad 9.7 (2018) there is no anti-glare coating on the screen, and there's no real stereo. Its two speakers are placed right next to each other, on the bottom side of the tablet. Also, this one is powered by the Apple A10 Fusion — the two-year-old chip, which originally shipped with the iPhone 7.

As compact as possible


iPad mini 4

Specs | Review



Cons

  • Aging hardware
  • Apple only sells the expensive 128 GB storage option


Of course, 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 4 is great for that. However, there are a couple of things to consider:

The iPad mini 4 is the latest in its line and its hardware hasn't been updated in a while — as we previously touched upon, it's powered by an Apple A8 — a.k.a. the iPhone 6 processor — and 2 GB of RAM. If you go to buy it from the Apple Store, you only get the option of going 128 GB Wi-Fi only for $399, which is a bit too much, we feel.

Our recommendation:
Now, unless you really, really want a compact iPad, we wouldn't say this is the best way to spend $400. We'd suggest you either check out refurbished or second-hand listings for other iPad mini 4 models still being in circulation, or forgo the "compact" requirement and just get a new iPad 9.7 or an iPad Air 2, both of which are better devices for your money. If a mini is what you are absolutely shooting for, definitely don't go any older gen than the mini 4, and try to spend some time hunting for one that's at least $300 or below.

The biggest, baddest iPad


iPad Pro 12.9

Specs | Review



Cons

  • Quite pricey
  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
  • As large as a small laptop
   
Of course, 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 — Vainglory competitive players come to mind.

The iPad Pro 12.9 is powered by the Apple A10X Fusion hexa-core chip and 4 GB of RAM and it's a real beast — both in terms in productivity and size, measuring at 12.04 x 8.69 x 0.27 inches (305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm) and weighing 24.41 oz (692 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.

Alright, so the iPad Pro 12.9 definitely stands in a weird niche. iOS holds it back from being a PC-style machine, but it's still powerful and productive enough, with its own set of unique features and apps, which are not covered by the MacBook family of devices. If you are going for this one, you are probably well-aware of exactly what you are looking for, but still:

Our recommendation:
The 256 GB Wi-Fi model for $1,149 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 $200 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.

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