Best iPad iMore 2020
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 just 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 3 is going to suit most of your tablet needs just fine.
- Best overall: iPad Air 3
- Best Value: 10.2-inch iPad
- Best Small Tablet: iPad mini 5
- Best pro tablet: 12.9-inch iPad Pro
- Best pro alternative: 11-inch iPad Pro
Best Overall: iPad Air 3
While some have questioned why the iPad Air still exists when the standard iPad is as good as it is, but I have to confess, this question confuses me slightly. It's true, the latest generation of the iPad sports a screen almost as large as that of the iPad Air 3. But it doesn't really match the power (and thus, versatility) of the iPad Air 3.
If you're a serious tablet user and plan to use your iPad as either your primary computer or as a constant companion to your other devices, consider the iPad Air 3. Powered by the A12 system-on-a-chip, it's nearly as powerful as the current generation of iPad Pro while costing much less.
The iPad Air 3 is a near-perfect combination of power, price, and portability. You can do pretty much anything, such as writing, drawing, sketching, editing photos, and more. It's also great for light tasks like web browsing and email. For most people, this iPad will strike the right balance for anything they might want to do, and last them a while longer than the standard iPad, to boot.
For a lot of people, the 64GB size will, in fact, be enough, especially with cloud storage as prevalent as it is, but if you plan on downloading a lot of things, maybe spring for the 256GB model.
- Nearly as powerful as iPad Pro
- Fairly inexpensive
- Pencil support
- Smart Keyboard support
- Only supports first-get Apple Pencil
- No USB-C
Finding a balance
The iPad Air 3 strikes a great balance of price, power, and portability, complete with Pencil and Smart Keyboard support.
Best Value: 10.2-inch iPad
It's not the most powerful iPad (it runs off the slightly aging A10 system-on-a-chip after all), but it has a bigger screen than the previous model. 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 fairly casual tablet user or your computing needs are just fairly light, consisting mostly of web browsing, email, and working with documents, 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
- A10 showing its age
- Not great for heavier tasks
A great budget tablet.
The 10.2-inch iPad is the best budget tablet that Apple has ever produced and a great accessible computer for anyone.
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, 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 Small Tablet
The best small tablet you can get.
The iPad mini 5 is the best small tablet you can buy. As powerful as the iPad Air 3, in a more portable package.
Best pro tablet: 12.9-inch iPad Pro
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro 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 offers an excellent canvas for visual artists, with plenty of room for drawing, digital painting, and more. 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.
Though the new features of iPadOS 13, such as external drive support, came to every compatible iPad, the iPad Pro can take those sorts of things even further thanks to its USB-C port. 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 desktops apps.
- Large screen
- Second-gen Pencil Support
- Built-in Pencil storage
- Face ID
- Face ID easy to accidentally block
Best pro tablet
Power that comes at a price.
This powerful tablet is great for professionals, artists, and anyone looking for a powerful tablet or laptop alternative.
Best pro alternative: 11-inch iPad Pro
The 11-inch iPad Pro is a great tablet choice for anyone who wants pro power in a smaller form. Running the same powerful A12X system-on-a-chip, the 11-inch iPad Pro offers all of the same capabilities of its bigger sibling, minus the very large screen.
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.
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
- Inferior side-by-side app experience
- Still fairly expensive
Best pro alternative
The power alternative.
All of the power of the larger iPad Pro in a smaller form factor, and a great tablet for mobile artistic work and note-taking.
For most people, the iPad Air 3 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 3 doesn't get bigger than 10.5 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 3 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 a great 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 3 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 the 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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