Best iPad 2021: is the iPad Air, Mini or Pro the best for you?


Included in this guide:

iPad Pro 12.9 2021

iPad

Pro 12.9 (2021)

The iPad 10.2 (2021) from front and back

iPad

10.2 (2021)

The iPad Pro 11 (2021) from the front, with the back also half visible

iPad

Pro 11 (2021)

iPad Air 4 (2020)

iPad

Air 4 (2020)

The iPad mini (2021) against a white background

iPad

mini (2021)

iPad 10.2 (2020)

iPad

10.2 (2020)

iPad Air 10.5

iPad

Air 3 (2019)

iPad Pro 12.9 (2020)

iPad

Pro 12.9 (2020)

iPad 10.2

iPad

10.2 (2019)

iPad Mini (2019)

iPad

mini (2019)

A selection of the best iPads money can buy

With so many of them out there, knowing the best iPad for you can be a tough call – do you go for an entry-level, Air, Mini or Pro device? And which size? And which generation? There are lots of different tablets to get your head around.

The list has grown recently too, with the new iPad 10.2 (2021) and iPad mini (2021) having arrived.

To find the best iPad for you, it’s important to know your budget, as well as what you need the tablet for. Are you wanting to buy something super powerful for work or play like the iPad Pro 11? Or would you rather pick up something compact and portable like the iPad mini (2019)?

This list ranks all the top options available to you, with a specs list and brief overview for each entry, so you can quickly see which of the listed iPads is the one you should opt for.

But while there’s an iPad suited to most people, if you decide Apple’s devices aren’t for you then make sure to also check out our best tabletbest Android tablet, and best cheap tablet guides for other options.

Finally, don’t forget that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are at the end of November which means we expect to see some of the best tablet Black Friday deals imminently including the best iPad Cyber Monday deals. Now might also be the time to check out the best Apple Pencil Black Friday deals if you’re keen to add a stylus to your arsenal. 

Best iPads 2021: which iPad should you buy?

The best iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is a very big, very powerful, and very expensive tablet. That’s true of all the 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, but on the power front this one takes things to a whole new level, swapping out a mobile chipset for the Apple M1, which is found in top-end MacBooks and iMacs.

This means it’s a tremendously high-powered device, ideal for demanding tasks like video editing, graphic design, and top-tier games.

On top of that, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) also has a superb 2048 x 2732 Mini LED screen. This is the first iPad to use that display technology, and it allows for a seriously bright screen with great contrast. This impressed us greatly in our review.

Elsewhere you get 10 hours of battery life, a typically premium aluminum shell, up to 2TB of storage, and support for the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2, allowing you to take this beyond a mere productivity device.

The best basic iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad 10.2 (2021) is Apple’s basic tablet for 2021, and arguably also the best value iPad of the year. It’s not a huge upgrade on the previous model, but the new 12MP ultra-wide selfie camera makes it much better for video calls, while the True Tone display makes it more pleasant to use in a variety of environments, with the screen automatically adjusting based on the ambient light. This especially makes the iPad 10.2 (2021) a joy to use outdoors.

We find the iPad Air 4 (2020) better for sketching and audio, but for all the tablet basics, the iPad 10.2 (2021) does an admirable job.

The best 11-inch iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad Pro 11 (2021) is a powerful, expensive slate, and a great choice for anyone who wants the best specs possible in a relatively compact and portable size. That said, it lacks the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)’s Mini LED screen, making it a significant step down from that slate.

That disappointment and our ongoing issues with Apple’s restrictive iPad software aside though, the iPad Pro 11 (2021) is an excellent tablet, with a big, sharp, smooth screen, and an enormous amount of power, thanks to its desktop-class M1 chipset.

It also has around 10 hours of battery life, which is fairly typical for Apple tablets but good nonetheless, and it comes with up to 2TB of storage – a mammoth amount that should be more than enough for almost anyone.

With a sleek, stylish design too plus a selection of optional accessories, such as the Apple Pencil and the Magic Keyboard, this is a tablet that should suit almost anyone – though it’s likely to be overkill for many.

The best iPad for students

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad Air 4 (2020) is almost an iPad Pro, yet it’s a whole lot cheaper than any recent Pro model, making it a very tempting buy for all but the most demanding of users.

It looks a lot like an iPad Pro for one, with its all-screen front, and like an iPad Pro it supports both the second-gen Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard.

It also has an enormous amount of power thanks to its A14 Bionic chipset – that’s the same as you’ll find in the iPhone 12 range, and actually newer than the chipset in the iPad Pro (2020) range. Plus there are four powerful speakers, a decent (albeit 60Hz) 10.9-inch screen, and good battery life.

The iPad Air 4 also comes in a wide range of colors, which isn’t something you can say about other recent Apple tablets.

The best small iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad mini (2021) is an obvious choice if you want a smaller, lighter, more portable slate than most other iPads. 

But despite its small size the iPad mini (2021) doesn’t lack for power, leaving us thoroughly impressed by its performance. It has a modern, home button-less design too, and also supports 5G, which all make for good upgrades.

What we were slightly less impressed by was its battery life, which is still good but not up there with the best of Apple’s slates. Still, if you want a premium iPad in a small size, this is it.

The best older affordable iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad 10.2 (2020) isn’t the most thrilling of updates, as it’s really only a modest improvement on 2019’s iPad 10.2, but it’s still an improvement, and that makes it a strong 10.2-inch iPad – though no longer the latest or best.

Its A12 Bionic chipset is faster than its predecessor’s processor, and the 20W charger in the box ensures you can also juice it up more quickly.

Plus, the iPad 10.2 (2020) has all the great features you’d expect, including support for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, plus strong battery life. The selfie camera didn’t impress us and storage starts low, but opt for a 128GB model and you’ll have an impressive and versatile tablet on your hands.

The best budget choice for students

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad Air 3, with a 10.5-inch screen, is a great compromise between the entry-level iPads and the more powerful, but more expensive iPad Pro range.

It’s one of the cheaper iPad models that’s compatible with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover, meaning you don’t need to deal with tricky Bluetooth keyboard connections to get real work done on this thing.

It also has Apple’s A12 chipset, borrowed from the iPhone XS, which is still very fast. Students will be able to take notes and respond to email on this tablet, but artists will hate the first-generation Apple Pencil.

The best older flagship

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) is one of the biggest, best and most powerful tablets you can buy – but not quite the best, as it’s been superseded by the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021).

While that slate has far more power and an even better screen, it also costs even more, and the iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) comes close in most areas.

It has a powerful A12Z Bionic chipset, a sharp 2048 x 2732 screen, excellent speakers, a sleek design, decent battery life, and support for accessories like the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2.

It’s a top productivity choice, and while it’s arguably overkill for mobile gaming and media, it will excel for those things too. Really the only mark against it other than the high price is the fact that it’s no longer quite the newest or best in the range, but in real world use you might struggle to tell much difference between this and the latest model.

The best extra affordable choice

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

The iPad 10.2 (2019) brings Apple’s basic tablet range a step closer to the iPad Pro line – or at least the latest iPad Air – with the addition of Smart Keyboard support and a slightly larger screen, growing from 9.7 inches to 10.2 inches.

The 2019 iPad 10.2 also got a power boost, with an extra gigabyte of RAM compared to the iPad 9.7 (2018), though it’s stuck with the same A10 chipset.

It also has broadly the same design, meaning big bezels and a home button. So if you want one of Apple’s sleekest slates, this isn’t it.

But with strong battery life, decent performance, and a fairly low price – at least by Apple standards – there’s a lot to like here, especially if you want some of Apple’s best iPad features on a more limited budget.

The best cheaper small iPad

Specifications

Reasons to buy

Reasons to avoid

Sometimes with a tablet you just want a slightly plus-sized phone, and the iPad mini (2019) fits that bill. It’s a dinky device with some impressive specs, boasting a speedy processor and decent battery life.

What makes the iPad mini (2019) great is the fact you can use the Apple Pencil alongside it, turning the iPad mini into a tiny notebook in your pocket.

The iPad mini (2019) is one of the best small tablets you can get at its price point, so if you’re looking for an easily totable pocket powerhouse, you can’t get much better than this little monster.

How we tested our best iPad ranking

Every iPad in this list has been put through a full review, so we’ve used them all for an extended period to see exactly how good they are. Armed with that knowledge we’ve compared and ranked them, factoring in price and value as well as performance and specs.

What should I look for when buying an iPad?

Consider your needs – do you need a big screen and lots of power for productivity tasks? If so an iPad Pro could be a good fit. Something portable? Take a look at the iPad mini range. A basic slate? The iPad 10.2 (2021) is the top choice there.

Which iPad is the best for students?

The iPad Air range (most recently the iPad Air 4) is the best pick from most students. It strikes a balance between price and performance, and has all you should need to work and study.

James is Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He has also worked on other leading tech brands, such as T3 and Gizmodo UK, as well as appearing as an expert on TV and radio for the BBC and other publications. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest smartphone news.