Best iPad iMore 2021
An iPad is an excellent tool for any computer user. It doesn't matter if you're a digital artist, high-pressure professional, or you want a big screen for checking your email; an iPad can be an excellent addition to your computing life. For most people, the iPad Air 4 is going to suit most of your tablet needs just fine.
- Best Overall: iPad Air 4
- Best Value: iPad (2020)
- Best Small Tablet: iPad mini 5
- Best Pro Tablet: 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021)
- Best Pro Alternative: 11-inch iPad Pro (2021)
Best Overall: iPad Air 4
The iPad Air 4 is a massive improvement over the already-excellent iPad Air 3. It takes its design cues from the iPad Pro, adopting the flat sides and nearly edge-to-edge screen of the more expensive tablet. It has a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with a resolution of 2360 x 1640. It supports the Apple Pencil 2, which is the best stylus for the iPad you can buy and is equipped with USB-C. Plus, it comes in Rose Gold, Green, and Sky Blue and the old stalwarts Silver and Space Gray.
But what's probably the most impressive feature of the iPad Air 4 is what it's packing on the inside. The iPad Air is now powered by Apple's latest system-on-a-chip, the A14 Bionic. The first Apple chip line to debut in an iPad since the iPad 2, the A14 features up to 40% better CPU performance and 30% better GPU performance over the A12. Bottom line, the iPad Air will be powerful enough for anything you want to do, and in some cases, more capable than the current iPad Pro.
It also works with most accessories that work with the 11-inch iPad Pro. It's slightly thicker, so you might have to wait on accessories like hard shell cases, but the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard accessories that work with the current 11-inch iPad Pro will also work with the new iPad Air 4.
It's not all sunshine and roses, though. With the increase in starting price, I'd have hoped that Apple would also boost the base level storage. But the iPad Air 4 will start with 64GB, and you'll again have the option to bump that up to 256GB if you need more space.
- Powerful new A14 system-on-a-chip
- iPad Pro-like design
- Apple Pencil 2 support
- Magic Keyboard support
- Higher entry price
- Still starts at 64GB
Best Value: iPad (2020)
It's not the most powerful of Apple's tablets, but the iPad (2020) is a big improvement over the last-generation iPad, and now runs on the two-year-old A12 Bionic chip. While by no means a powerhouse compared to the iPad Air 4, the entry-level iPad is a highly capable machine and the best value iPad for most. Thanks to both Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support, the baseline iPad is more of a computer that anyone can pick up than it ever has been.
If you're a casual tablet user or your computing needs are just fairly light, consisting mostly of web browsing, email, working with documents, and some gaming, the 10.2-inch iPad is a great choice for something portable. It won't have the power of something like the iPad Air, or even the iPad mini, but it's hard to beat its price when you're looking for a quality tablet.
- Apple Pencil support
- Smart Connector
- Great performance for price
- Dated design
- Only supports first-generation Apple Pencil
Best Small Tablet: iPad mini 5
If you want something with the power of the iPad Air 3, but more compact, check out the iPad mini 5. Like the iPad Air 3, it's built around the A12 system-on-a-chip, but it's in a much smaller form factor. So it's got power, but it's also super-portable able to fit in most bags, as well as some pockets.
With Apple Pencil support, the iPad mini 5 is excellent for taking handwritten notes. It's also the perfect size for reading, and it's also great for watching video, especially on-the-go.
The iPad mini 5 is also reasonably affordable. If the price is a primary concern and you don't care about the iPad's size, you'll be able to get a 64GB iPad mini for not that much more than you'd pay for a 32GB 10.2-inch iPad. The biggest issue is a lack of Smart Keyboard support, but there is a question as to whether you'd want one that small.
- A perfect small size
- As powerful as the iPad Air
- Great for note-taking
- No Smart Connector
- Only supports first-gen Apple Pencil
Best Pro Tablet: 12.9-inch iPad Pro
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) is the best tablet for anyone serious about tablets. Its large screen is great if you want to use a tablet instead of a laptop, and it offers an excellent canvas for visual artists, with plenty of room for drawing, digital painting, and more. Plus, the 12.9inch iPad Pro (2021) comes with a fancy new mini LED display, which Apple calls, Liquid Retina XDR. It's perfect for HDR content, with the ability to reach a peak brightness of 16,000 nits, delivering that high contrast experience HDR needs. There's plenty of space to use apps side-by-side, which is great for all kinds of work. The new built-in magnetic induction area that charges and stores the second-gen Apple Pencil is also a nice addition.
While last year's model got a rear camera upgrade, this iPad Pro (2021) got an upgrade to the selfie camera. It's now a 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens that can record 1080p video up to 60 FPS. It also comes with a feature known as Center Stage, which allows the camera to follow you and keep you in the center of the frame as you move around on FaceTime calls.
The USB-C port is still on the iPad Pro (2021); however, it got a huge upgrade by becoming a Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4 port. This will make plugging in Thunderbolt accessories like displays, docks, hubs, and hard drives possible, so you can get some serious work done. An increasing number of accessories and devices, be they SSDs or cameras, come with USB-C cables, so being able to plug something in without a special Lightning-to-whatever cable or an adapter is great.
The iPad Pro is also very powerful and supports powerful apps. While they might not be as full-featured as their desktop counterparts, apps like Lightroom and Affinity Photo make photo editing a breeze, all while providing much of the flexibility and power of the desktop apps.
- Liquid Retina XDR display
- Thunderbolt port
- Second-gen Pencil Support
- Built-in Pencil storage
- Face ID
- LiDAR sensor is cool
- Face ID easy to accidentally block
- LiDAR has limited use cases right now
Best Pro Alternative: 11-inch iPad Pro (2021)
The 11-inch iPad Pro is a great tablet choice for anyone who wants pro power in a smaller form. Running the same powerful M1 chip that the larger iPad Pro offers, the 11-inch iPad Pro offers all of the same capabilities of its bigger sibling, minus the Liquid Retina XDR display.
While you might not think it on paper, there are significant differences between working on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 11-inch model. With the 11-inch iPad, you're working with almost two inches less in screen real estate, which is a lot on mobile devices. It's not as great for working with apps side-by-side, but it's noticeably smaller and lighter than the bigger iPad Pro.
Great for a wide variety of tasks, the 11-inch iPad Pro is the tablet to get if you want something smaller than the largest tablet that Apple makes while still wanting or needing its power.
- Just as powerful as the 12.9-inch model
- Lighter than the bigger iPad Pro
- Better for thumb typing
- Not as expensive as the bigger iPad Pro
- LiDAR sensor is cool
- Inferior side-by-side app experience
- Still fairly expensive
- LiDAR has limited use cases right now
- No Liquid Retina XDR display
For most people, the iPad Air 4 is the ideal iPad to get. It's much more powerful than the base model, but not nearly as expensive as the pro tablets. Though there are sacrifices, the middle child of Apple's tablet family provides both performance and price benefits that will appeal to most people. And while you'll probably be just fine with the 64GB model, if you're unsure, go ahead and spring for the 256GB version for that extra peace of mind.
No, the iPad Air 4 doesn't get bigger than 10.9 inches. It's not as good as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, for instance, at using two apps side-by-side. But it's a great machine for most tasks, from drawing with an Apple Pencil to typing out a major report with the Smart Keyboard. It packs nearly the same power as the iPad Pro at about 60% of the price. Aside from screen size, the only real tradeoff of note is the Apple Pencil support, charing, and storage. Because the iPad Air 4 only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, you'll need to charge it by plugging it into the iPad's Lightning port.
But there are always workarounds to be found for many shortcomings, and the iPad Air is an excellent tablet for most people. Casual tablet users, people looking to add something more mobile but bigger than a phone to their workflow, students, and even a lot of professionals should all consider the iPad Air 4 when they go to make their tablet purchase.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joseph Keller is a senior writer at iMore. An Apple user for more than a decade and a half, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Lory Gil is former Managing Editor of iMore and has owned every single model iPad since the very first one and even still has the Apple micro cloth that came with it. She uses her iPad every single day and knows what's essential for portability, reliability, and performance when it comes to the iPad.
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