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iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

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" option

Balance between power, price,
accessories, and portability

iPad Pro 10.5



iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

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.

iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you


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)


iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Cons

  • Aging hardware
  • No stereo speakers

The iPad Air 2 is still relevant and it still runs pretty fine with iOS 11. 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, while the Air 2 does not. 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. Now, even if the iPad 9.7 does separate left and right channels, it wouldn't matter much since — as far as your perception is concerned — the sound comes from the same direction.

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 RAM starting at around $260. With this kind of storage, you can get a couple of games on it and use it as an Internet-browsing machine or to stream movies. Anything more than that and you will feel confined by the storage sooner or later.

But, with some luck, a pinch of patience, and a willingness to accept blemishes, you may be able to score an iPad Air 2 with 32 GB or even 64GB + cellular at around the same price on the second-hand market. That's pretty much the best package — affordable, mobile Internet available, plenty of storage to play around in.

iPad Pro 9.7



iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Cons

  • Pencil and Keyboard not included
  • Smaller display than the contemporary small iPad Pro

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 we can buy a new unit (old stock) for $450 or a refurbished one for $380. 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.

As compact as possible


iPad mini 4



iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

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 the 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.

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 forego the "compact" requirement and just get a new iPad 9.7 with either a storage upgrade or a cellular modem.

The biggest, baddest iPad


iPad Pro 12.9



iPads 2018 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

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 $799, but add an instant $99 to that if you want the Apple Pencil 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. So, 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 $949 seems to be the best middle-of-the-road offering. Plenty of storage and if you add an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard to your purchase, you end up with a total price of $1,217. Just for comparison's sake — a 13-inch MacBook Air with 256 GB of storage is $1,199.

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