iPad, iPad Mini or iPad Air: Which Apple Tablet Should You Buy?

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It’s hard to summarize everything that an Apple iPad tablet can be used for in your personal and professional life, because the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. With more than one million optional apps available from the App Store that work with iPadOS 15 and the core collection of apps that come bundled with the tablet right out of the box, it can do a lot.

An Apple store employee demonstrates the use of a stylus with a new iPad Pro, Friday, May 21, 2021, … [+] in New York. The latest iPad Pros will work on ultrafast 5G wireless networks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

With each new iPad that Apple releases, the experience using one of these thin and lightweight tablets gets closer to what’s possible using a MacBook notebook computer—with the added benefit of interacting with the device using its touchscreen, an optional Apple Pencil stylus, a virtual (on screen keyboard), an optional external keyboard, and your voice (using the Siri digital assistant). 

Currently, Apple offers a handful of different models in its tablet lineup, including the iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air and iPad Pro. Regardless of what you use an iPad for, it’s important to choose the right model and hardware configuration to meet your specific needs.

The big differentiator with the iPad Mini, for example, is its 8.3” Liquid Retina display. Overall, this tablet is smaller and lighter weight than the other iPads, yet it does absolutely everything people have come to expect from an iPad. 

For business users, experienced gamers, and anyone needing enhanced features and functionality—not to mention a faster and more powerful processor and potentially more internal storage space—one of the iPad Pro models is likely the tablet that’ll work best for you. 

The iPad Pro is available with either an 11-inch or 12.9-inch display and it runs using Apple’s newest and most powerful M1 processor chip. So, whether you’re editing HD video, working with high-resolution digital images, playing graphic-intensive action games or needing to manipulate a vast amount of data, for example, the iPad Pro will have the processing power and speed you’ll want and need.

The new iPad (9th generation) is the perfect “starter” tablet. It’s shown here with the optional … [+] Apple Pencil.

For the “average” user, however, either the new iPad (9th generation), iPad Air (3rd generation), or iPad Mini (6th generation) provides an affordable, yet powerful and feature-packed option. Let’s take a closer look at and compare these three popular iPad models.

When purchasing your tablet, make sure you’re buying the most current generation of the iPad model you ultimately choose. Older generations of these tablets will cost less (sometimes much less), but utilize outdated technology that will run slower.

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What the iPad, iPad Air and iPad Mini Have in Common

The overall design (from a visual standpoint) of all iPad models is similar, except for the display size, casing size, and the tablet’s weight. It’s the technology inside each of these devices that really set them apart, which is why choosing the right model based on how you’ll be using the iPad is essential.

The current iPad lineup includes tablets that come in a variety of sizes.

All of Apple’s newest iPad models run using the same iPadOS 15 operating system (with the Siri voice assistant built in), come with a versatile collection of preinstalled apps, and offer access to the App Store for adding additional apps. Each model also offers a Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular version and at least two internal storage capacity options. 

You’ll also discover both front- and rear-facing cameras on all iPad models, along with a Touch ID button, multiple microphones, multiple speakers, and a magnetic connector (used for connecting and powering optional accessories).

All iPad models also fully integrate with iCloud, so you can sync all your app-specific data, documents, files, photos, and multimedia content in real-time with your iPhone, Mac(s), and Apple Watch, for example. Thus, whatever you need is always accessible to you. These tablets are also designed to integrate seamlessly with Apple services, like Apple TV+, Apple Music, Apple News, and Apple Fitness+.

The iPad-Related Purchasing Decisions You’ll Need to Make

From a size and weight standpoint, the iPad and iPad Air are very similar. The iPad offers a 10.2” True Tone Retina display, while the iPad Air offers a slightly larger 10.5” True Tone Retina display. If you want a smaller display, consider the iPad Mini. For a larger display, focus more on the iPad Pro.

When choosing an iPad, consider how much internal storage you’ll need moving forward to store your apps, app-specific data, documents, files, photos, videos, and other multimedia content. The iPad, iPad Air, and iPad Mini allow you to choose either 64GB or 256GB. 

If you plan on storing your digital image library, a large collection HD videos you’ve shot, a library of movies or TV shows, and/or a decent number of apps (with their app-specific data), go with the larger 256GB option. The 64GB option does not provide enough storage space for most people.

For even more internal storage space than 256GB, you’ll need to consider one of the iPad Pro models that can have up to 2TB of internal storage. Keep in mind that the internal storage in any iPad is not upgradable. 

All iPad models are available in multiple casing colors. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference since the casing color is purely cosmetic and has no impact on the functionality of the tablet. If you’ll be using an optional case or cover with your iPad (which is highly recommended), much of the casing color will not be visible.

A lot of an iPad’s functionality and many apps rely on having continuous Internet connectivity to function properly. As a result, the final important decision you’ll need to make when choosing an iPad is whether to go with a Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular version. 

A Wi-Fi only version can only connect to the Internet while you’re within the signal radius of a Wi-Fi hotspot (or have wireless Internet throughout your home or work). Since public Wi-Fi hotspots can now be found just about anywhere, and many cellular service plans for smartphones (including the iPhone) allow you to set up a personal Wi-Fi hotspot anywhere (which can be used with an iPad), you will likely discover that a Wi-Fi only iPad will nicely meet your needs. 

Meanwhile, a Wi-Fi + Cellular version of an iPad can connect to the Internet using any accessible Wi-Fi signal, or it can connect to a cellular service provider that you subscribe to (and pay for), so the tablet can gain access to that provider’s 4G LTE wireless data network (when using a iPad or iPad Air). The iPad Mini Wi-Fi + Cellular model supports 5G connectivity.

Once you purchase a Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad, you can pay a monthly fee for a pre-determined or unlimited amount of cellular data usage (depending on the plan you choose). You also have the option of activate the cellular service for one month at a time, with no long-term contract, only when it’s needed.

With some cellular service providers, especially when you’re traveling abroad, you can pre-pay for a pre-determined amount of cellular data usage. Whichever cellular data option you choose, an additional (potentially ongoing) fee applies. 

Choose the Best iPad for Yourself

The iPad, iPad Air and iPad Mini have a few technological differences inside which will directly impact speed and processing power. The iPad Air utilizes Apple’s A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, while the iPad runs using Apple’s newer A13 Bionic chip with Neural Engine. The iPad Mini utilizes the A15 Bionic chip.

Most users won’t notice a difference between these processors when handling everyday tasks, like web surfing, email, participating in video calls, listening to audio (music, podcasts or audiobooks) or watching video content like TV shows, movies and YouTube videos, for example.

The added processing power will, however, come in handy when playing graphic-intensive and action-oriented games, editing HD video, editing high-resolution photos or taking advantage of the enhanced multitasking capabilities that have been added to iPadOS 15 (that allow for two apps to run side-by-side on the tablet’s screen). 

The camera technology, connectivity port and Apple Pencil compatibility within the iPad, iPad Air and iPad Mini are also slightly different from one device to another, as you’ll discover shortly. Only the iPad Mini supports 5G cellular connectivity (if you purchase a Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the tablet). When using the Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the iPad or iPad Air, you’ll be confined to slower 4G LTE cellular data connection speeds.

For many people, the price of the tablet is also a consideration. As you’re calculating the cost, don’t forget to include accessories and options you may also want or need, such as a case or cover, external keyboard, Apple Pencil, optional cables and chargers, and the added cost of AppleCare+ protection. 

Discover Apple’s Newest iPad (Released: September 24)

Buy iPad 10.2-inch

With a starting price of just $329, the tablet that simply goes by the name “iPad” is designed with affordability in mind. While the technology built into this device is less powerful than what’s offered by the iPad Pro models, and some of the functionality has been scaled back a bit, Apple has done a decent job making sure that many of the newest features and functions offered by the iPadOS 15 operating system—like multitasking—function nicely on this tablet.

The 10.3-inch True Tone Retina display offers LED backlighting and a 2160-by-1620 resolution at 264 pixels. The tablet utilizes a stereo speaker and dual microphone system.

Who Will Love This Tablet and Why?

Apple’s iPad is the ideal “starter” tablet for just about anyone. It’s easy to use, versatile, powerful enough for most users and affordable. It’s also ideal for young kids and students of all ages who don’t need cutting-edge technology built into their tablet. 

One benefit to this tablet is that it still includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, which has been eliminated from most other iPad models. You can expect up to a 10-hour battery life when using the iPad for everyday tasks, like web surfing or streaming video via Wi-Fi. 

What’s Missing from the iPad?

The iPad has a few technological limitations that you should be aware of. The maximum internal storage capacity available is 256GB, which is more than adequate for most users, especially if you’ll be syncing and backing up your tablet using iCloud, which fully integrates with iPadOS 15.

This tablet continues to use a Home button (located below the display), which has a Touch ID sensor built in. Apple has eliminated the Home button is several other iPad models, including the iPad Mini and iPad Pros. Unlike most of the other iPads in Apple’s current lineup, the iPad continues to rely on a single Lightning connector port that’s located at the bottom-center of the tablet. This port is used for charging, for data transfers using a cable, and for connecting compatible accessories. Most other iPad models now utilize a USB-C connection port, which offers faster data transfer speeds and better compatibility with a wider range of accessories.

The single rear-facing camera built into the iPad offers just 8-megapixel (8MP) resolution, which is lower than the 12MP resolution camera offered by other iPad models. This will impact the level of detail and vibrancy in the photos and videos shot using the tablet. When it comes to shooting video, the iPad offers a maximum resolution of 1080p (at 30 frames-per-second), compared to the iPad Pro, for example, which can capture 4K video at up to 60 frames-per-second. As a result, the iPad is good at basic photography and videography-related tasks, but not your best option compared to other iPad models.

The front-facing camera of the iPad, however, utilizes 12MP resolution with an Ultra-Wide lens. It offers up to a 122-degree field of view and allows users to take advantage of the new Center Stage feature that’s built into iPadOS 15 when participating in video calls. (As you move around, the Center Stage feature pans the camera automatically to keep you centered in the frame.)

In terms of wireless communication, iPad supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 technology, but not the faster Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 technology that you’ll find built into the iPad Air and other more powerful iPad models. Again, for the average user, this isn’t too important, but if you’re looking for the fastest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity possible, another iPad model may be a better option.

Another limitation of the iPad (compared to other current iPad models) is that this tablet is only compatible with the 1st generation Apple Pencil stylus, not the current 2nd generation version. The 1st generation Apple Pencil has a cap that covers the Lightening connector (used to charge the stylus), while the 2nd generation Apple Pencil connects to a compatible tablet (and charges) via the Magnetic Connector. For the average user who will be doing basic handwriting or drawing tasks, this is not a big deal. For more advanced applications, the 2ndgeneration (redesigned) Apple Pencil has its advantages.

iPad Pricing & Options

Available in either a space gray or silver casing, you can choose between 64GB ($329 for the Wi-Fi only version) or 256GB ($439 for the Wi-Fi only version) of internal storage. Since 64GB is too little storage space for many users, it makes sense to purchase the 256GB version. If you opt to go with a Wi-Fi + 4G LTE Cellular model, the 64GB version is priced at $459 and the 256GB version is priced at $609.

For a limited time, when you buy a Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad and activate cellular service with Verizon or T-Mobile/Sprint in the USA, you’ll receive up to $200 back. 

The iPad measures 9.8-inches tall by 6.8-inches wide by 0.29-inches thick. The Wi-Fi only version weighs 1.07 pounds, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular version weighs 1.09 pounds, which is only slightly different from the iPad Air.

iPad Air Is Another Great Tablet for the Average User

iPad Air

The 3rd generation iPad Air is thin, lightweight and offers a beautiful 10.9-inch display which gives you plenty of onscreen real estate to handle just about any task or take advantage of iPadOS 15’s newest multitasking features. This iPad model utilizes Apple’s older A14 Bionic chip, which is powerful, but it’s not state-of-the-art like the M1 chip you’ll find in the iPad Pros.

iPad Air also supports the optional 2nd generation Apple Pencil, as well as Apple’s unique Magic Keyboard (each sold separately). Thanks to Wi-Fi 6, you can expect Internet surfing speeds up to 60 percent faster than previous iPad Air models, and Bluetooth 5.0 is supported. Wireless connectivity will be faster with the iPad Air than the iPad.

The iPad Air is best suited to an “average” user looking for a full-size screen. It will allow you to play all the latest and most graphic-intense action games, or shoot and edit 4K video, but not with the efficiency of an iPad Pro model. Expect the battery to last for about 10 hours of average use (or nine hours if you’re using a cellular connection to access the Internet).

What’s Missing from the iPad Air?

Because it lacks Apple’s M1 processor, some of the more cutting-edge photography and videography features offered by the iPad Pro models are lacking in this tablet. For example, iPad Air only offers one 12MP rear-facing camera (as opposed to two). This camera can, however, shoot 4K video at up to 60 frames-per-second. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera offers just 7MP resolution (as opposed to 12MP) but can capture video at 1080p resolution (at up to 60 frames-per-second).

iPad Air offers a stereo speaker system and dual microphones, like the iPad, while the iPad Pro models offer a four-speaker system and five studio-quality microphones. 

iPad Air Pricing & Options

Available in five colors—silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue—the iPad Air measures 9.74-inches high by 7.02-inches wide by 0.24-inches thick. The Wi-Fi Only model weighs 1.0 pound, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular version weighs 1.01 pounds.

The 64GB Wi-Fi Only model is priced at $599, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular model is priced at $729. For 256GB of internal storage, the price of the iPad Air is $749 (Wi-Fi Only) or $879 (Wi-Fi + Cellular). 

iPad Mini (5th Generation) is a Pint-Size Powerhouse

Buy iPad Mini

The 5th generation iPad Mini features a new, sleeker design with rounded edges. It includes an 8.3-inch Multi-Touch Liquid Retina display that offers a resolution of 2266-by-1488 pixels at 326 pixels per inch. 

This tablet is powered by Apple’s A15 Bionic chip (with 64-bit architecture) which includes a 6-Core CPU, 5-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine. On the back of the tablet, you’ll discover a 12MP wide camera lens and Quad-LED True Tone flash. In conjunction with the Camera app, the iPad Mini gives you most (but not all) of the photography and videography capabilities and control that’s offered by the iPad Pro models. For example, the rear-facing camera can shoot at up to 4K resolution at 24, 25, 30 or 60 frames-per-second.

The front-facing 12MP camera offers an ultra-qide lens that provides up to a 122-degree field of view. When engaged in video calls or recording video with this camera, up to 1080p HD resolution is possible. The iPad Mini also supports iPadOS 15’s new Center Stage feature.

When held in landscape mode, iPad Mini offers stereo speakers. It also utilizes a duel built-in microphone system for calls, video recording and audio recording. The Touch ID button (located in the top-right corner) is used to unlock the iPad and approve online purchases or Apple Pay purchases. This version of the tablet does not utilize a Home button. Instead, the display takes up almost the entire front of the device. Expect the iPad Mini’s battery to last up to 10 hours, or nine hours if you’re surfing the web using a cellular data connection.

The iPad Mini is ideal for someone who wants a full-featured tablet that easily fits within their hands and is lightweight, but that can just as easily be tucked away in a purse, briefcase, backpack, or large jacket pocket for easy transport. 

It’s particularly ideal for readying eBooks, casually surfing the web, participating in video calls, watching TV shows or movies, listening to audiobooks or music, or playing a wide range of games (as a casual gamer).

While the iPad Mini is a well-designed and versatile tablet, it does not utilize or include some of the higher-end technology that’s built into the iPad Pro models. For example, the new iPad Pros use Apple’s M1 chip, which is the same that’s being used within the company’s latest Macs. The iPad Mini uses the less advanced (but still plenty capable) A15 Bionic processor.

iPad Mini does, however, support Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and if you purchase a Wi-Fi + Cellar model, offers 5G connectivity. As a result, you can achieve the fastest wireless connection speeds currently possible.

Available in four colors—space gray, pink, purple, and starlight—the iPad Mini measures 7.69-inches high by 5.3-inches wide by 0.25-inches thick. The Wi-Fi Only model weighs 0.65 pounds, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular version weighs 0.66 pounds.

The 64GB Wi-Fi Only model is priced at $499, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular model is priced at $649. For 256GB of internal storage, the price of the iPad Mini is $649 (Wi-Fi Only) or $799 (Wi-Fi + Cellular).

Accessorize Your iPad

In addition to being able to fully customize your iPad by choosing which apps to install, as well as your desired Lock Screen and Home Screen wallpaper, for example, you can greatly enhance the functionality of your tablet using optional accessories. Here’s a small sampling of what’s available.

The optional Apple Magic Keyboard works nicely with the iPad Air.

Optional iPad Covers and Cases

Like any piece of high-tech gear, the iPad and iPad Air are both durable, but can be damaged if dropped or mistreated. To help protect your investment, consider using an optional Smart Folio (which covers the front and back of the tablet during transport, but folds open to serve as a multi-position stand). 

The Smart Covers from Apple also connect to the iPads via a magnet. They fold open to serve as a multi-position stand, but when closed, protect just the tablet’s screen. Both the Smart Folios and Smart Covers are available in silicone or leather and come in a variety of colors.

External Keyboard Options

The Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Air ($299) or Smart Keyboard for iPad ($159) offers a superior typing experience. When not in use, the keyboard folds into a cover that protects both the tablet’s front and back during transport. Other external keyboards with tactile keys and that provide a more traditional typing experience (versus the virtual keyboard) are available from Apple, as well as companies like Logitech. 

Magic Keyboard for iPad Air (4th Generation)

Smart Keyboard for iPad (9th Generation)

The 1st generation Apple Pencil ($99) for iPad or the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil ($129) for iPad Air and iPad Mini (and other iPad models) allow you to handwrite, draw or annotate directly on the tablet’s screen with extreme precision. It’s also useful for editing photos or videos.

Buy Apple Pencil (2nd Generation)

Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro

While the stereo speaker system built into the iPad, iPad Air and iPad Mini will generate decent-quality audio, if you want to immerse yourself in music, a podcast or audio from a TV show or movie, utilizing ear buds or headphones with the tablet is a great idea.

The AirPods Pro, for example, integrate perfectly with the iPadOS 15 operating system, have built-in noise-cancellation, and offer up to 4.5 hours of listening time per charge. They’re also comfortable to wear throughout the day, and can automatically switch from being connected with your iPad to an iPhone, Mac or Apple Watch.

AppleCare+

Investing in AppleCare+ offers free or low-cost repairs should something go wrong with your tablet. It also includes unlimited in-person tech support at any Apple Store worldwide or via telephone, for as long as your AppleCare+ plan is active. There’s also an upgraded plan that covers loss or theft of the tablet.

AppleCare+ Products – iPad

Find the Best iPad Deals

Walmart
is currently offering the 64GB / Wi-Fi only version of the iPad for just $299.00, while is offering the same model for $309. 

Apple 10.2-inch iPad (2021) Wi-Fi 64GB – Space Gray

2021 Apple 10.2-inch iPad (Wi-Fi, 64GB) – Space Gray

Jason R. Rich

I am an accomplished author, journalist, and photographer who specialized in consumer technologies. Please visit my website at www.JasonRich.com, and check out my eBook,

I am an accomplished author, journalist, and photographer who specialized in consumer technologies. Please visit my website at www.JasonRich.com, and check out my eBook, “iPhone 12 Pro Max Digital Photography” (www.iPhoneBookShop.com). An all-new edition for the iPhone 13 Pro Max is coming soon.