How to pick the perfect iPad mini, iPad Air, or iPad Pro for you!

Apple offers more iPad options then ever. There's the all-new iPad Pro in 9.7-inchs and 12.9 inches, the iPad Air 2 at 9.7-inches, and the iPad mini 4 and iPad Mini 2 at 7.9-inches. It's not just the screen sizes that vary either, the processors go from ridiculous to ludicrous, and the prices... they go up too. So, do you go with small, big, or bigger? Portable or powerful? Which iPad should you get?

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iPad models and price points

Apple's early 2016 iPad lineup consists of 5 different models:

Up-front vs. total cost of ownership

The iPad mini 2 now starts at $269, making it the cheapest iPad ever. The iPad Air 2 starts at $399, as does the iPad mini 4. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599 and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro at $799.

That's a big range, and it only gets bigger as you add storage and LTE. That's real money, in your pocket, for rent, for food, for car payments, for school, and for other important things in your life.

However, if you keep an iPad over the course of a year or two—or three or four—the distributed difference can be as little as a $10 or even $5 a month over the course of those years. Which may make a bigger screen, faster chipset, or other options more affordable than you think.

  • If you have absolutely no money to work with, the iPad mini 2 is a good starting tablet and the iPad Air is a very good one.
  • If you prefer to balance price and performance, iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2 are still good tablets that will serve you well for at least a few years to come.
  • If price is no object, the iPads Pro are not just top-of-the-line, but state-of-the-art.

terrific tablets, and the iPad Pro is arguably the best ever.

Display size

All of Apple's iPads now have Retina displays, which means they're all high density and look great, even close up. The iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4 both have 7.9-inch screens and 2048x1536 resolution, which works out to 326 pixels per inch (ppi). The iPad Air 2 has a 9.7-inch screen at 2048x1536, which works out to 264ppi. The iPad Pro has a 12.9-inch screen at 2732x2048, which is the same 264ppi. The 12.9-inch model has a 2732 x 2048 display and the 9.7-inch model has a 2048 x1536 display. Both are also 264ppi.

That means the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4 have the highest display density — the same as that of the iPhone 6s. That's because it's the same number of pixels shrunk down to even smaller size. Since you might have to hold it closer, it probably won't make much real-world difference. On paper, however, it's the sharpest iPad Apple makes.

The iPad Air Air 2 aren't quite as dense. That's because, while they're the same resolution as the mini, they're slightly larger to fill the bigger space. Since you might hold it further away, it also won't make that much real-world difference. Likewise the iPad Pro.

With the exception of the iPad mini 2, all the iPads also now include laminated displays, which make the pixels look like they're inside the glass.

Both iPads Pro have some of the most advanced displays Apple has ever shipped. They include custom timing controllers to ramp up the refresh rate for Apple Pencil, but also more. The 12.9-inch model has a 2732x2048 laminated Retina display. The 9.7-inch model has a 2048x1536 laminated Retina display.

The 9.7-inch version also supports the wider DCI-P3 gamut, same as digital movie theaters, for exceptionally vivid and accurate colors, especially in the magentas and reds. It's also 25% brighter and 40% less reflective. Perhaps even more impressively, it's True Tone technology uses two four-channel ambient light sensors to read the color temperature of the room and ensure the display matches it, making whites look really white.

  • For ultra-sharp graphics and high portability, iPad mini 4 can't be beat.
  • For photography, reading, and more, there's never been a better display than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
  • For art, productivity, and more, there's never been a bigger display than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Weight and size

Should you get a 9.7-inch or 12.9-inch iPad Pro?

The iPad mini 4 is the lightest iPad Apple makes. At 0.65 pounds (298.8 grams), it's is around two-thirds the weight of the 0.96 pound (437 grams) iPad Air 2 and less than half the weight of the 1.57 pounds (713 grams) iPad Pro. The lighter the iPad, the easier it is to use one-handed and to hold up for long periods of time.

Likewise smallness. It would take roughly two iPads mini 4 side-by-side to equal the size of a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That's twice as much to fit into your bag and carry around.

  • If you travel or commute a lot and you just want something to throw in your bag, purse, or jacket pocket, the iPad mini 4 could be ideal.
  • If you need the biggest canvas possible and you're going to use it at a desk or on a couch or bench, the iPad Pro could still be fine, and the iPad Air, right in between.

Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard

The iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2 can use Bluetooth keyboards and capacitive styluses, but the iPads Pro take it to another level. Though optional, you can get the Smart Keyboard which attaches to and is powered by new Smart Connectors right on the iPad Pro. That means it's not dependent on Bluetooth. Third party keyboards can also attach the same way.

The Pencil isn't just a stylus either. It not only feels like a real pen or pencil, it provides pressure sensitivity and can even tilt for things like shading. If you've been waiting for an iPad experience as good or better than a Wacom, the iPad Pro could offer it.

  • If connected keyboards or Apple Pencil are important to you, get an iPad Pro.

Split View multitasking

One of the new, headline features in iOS 9 is multi-app multitasking for iPad. It includes picture-in-picture (PiP), which lets you keep watching video while you work on something else; slide over app access, so you can quickly do a few things in a sidebar and then go right back to your main workspace; and split view, which lets you run two full-blown apps side-by-side. All of them are huge boons to iPad productivity, but due to chipset and memory requirements, they're not all available on all older iPads.

Picture-in-picture (PiP) and slide over work on all current iPads. Thanks to the need for 2 GB of memory minimum, split view only works on iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, and the iPads Pro.

Who should get the iPad mini 2?

The iPad mini 2 comes with 7.9-inches of 2048x1536 Retina display and a fast Apple A7 processor. It's identical in most ways to the original iPad Air. It's just $130 cheaper than both the original iPad Air and the iPad mini 4.

The iPad mini 2 does not have the Touch ID, Apple Pay, a laminated screen, Apple A8 processor, fast networking, 128 GB or gold finish options, or split view multitasking, but if all you want a small tablet at the lowest price possible, you want the iPad mini 2.

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Who should get the iPad mini 4?

The iPad mini 4 is almost identical to the iPad Air 2. It's just smaller and denser, with a 7.9-inch, 2048x1536 Retina display, and an Apple A8 instead of an Apple A8X chipset. It also costs $100 less.

The lightest iPad Apple has ever made, if you want a small but powerful tablet that you can easily take anywhere, can run split view multitasking, and has both 128 GB and gold finish options, you want the iPad mini 4.

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Who should get the iPad Air 2

The iPad Air 2 is a bigger, more powerful version of the iPad mini 4, with a 9.7-inch, 2048x1536 Retina display, and a really fast Apple A8X processor.

It's no longer the biggest or most powerful—that distinction now belongs to the iPads Pro—but if you don't need a connected keyboard or Apple Pencil, you want a larger display that's still light and easy to carry around, can run split view multitasking, and has both 128 GB and gold finish options, you want the iPad Air 2.

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Who should get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro?

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro takes everything that was great about the original and makes it even greater. It's faster and more powerful, it supports the Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard, and it supports the Apple Pencil. It's also got just about the best looking and most advanced display Apple's ever made, which is saying something.

If you want the ultimate blend of power and portability, you want the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

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Who should get the 12.9-inch iPad Pro?

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro takes the iPad to the next level. As big as a MacBook, it lets you see and work at full-scale, including two apps side-by-side at a scale that's almost 9.7-inches each. It supports the Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard, and it supports the Apple Pencil. That makes it not just a power-house, but a workhorse.

If you want the ultimate canvas for creativity or productivity, you want the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

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Still undecided?

If you're still having trouble choosing between the iPad mini 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, or one of the iPads Pro, jump into our iPad discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out.

Bottom line, don't spend money you don't have, but don't skimp if you don't have to. Your iPad will be one of the most often-used, most important possessions in your life for months and maybe years to come. Get as much iPad as you can reasonably afford, has the best balance of portability and power for you, and then enjoy!