Best iPad for students iMore 2021
If you're a student, you definitely want to get a tablet to help you get through school. With a tablet, you can easily take notes by typing or even sketching them out, annotate text in digital textbooks, work on reports and presentations, and everything else for the classroom. But the problem for a lot of students is a limited budget. Fortunately, you can pick up an iPad Air 4 for pro-level features at a mid-range price. It's the most affordable option with a ton of useful features.
- Best overall: iPad Air 4 (2020)
- Best value: iPad mini 5
- Best on a budget: iPad 8th-generation (2020)
- Best power: iPad Pro (2021)
Best overall: iPad Air 4
The iPad Air 4 is the best iPad for students, and for good reason. For just $599, you get almost all of the features of the iPad Pro, but for a few hundred dollars less. It also comes in a compact 10.9-inch size, making it perfect to take with you everywhere, but offering enough screen space for whatever you need.
With 2360-by-1640 pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), everything's going to look great, from your digital books to handwritten notes to watching educational videos. The display features Wide color and True Tone, making everything look vibrant, and the fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating means fewer smudges from your fingers.
The iPad Air 4 has a new design that makes it more in line with the iPad Pro. This means the display features no bezels; however, it doesn't have Face ID. Instead, it still uses Touch ID, but the sensor has been moved to the Sleep/Wake button. The edges are flat, making it look even more professional and elegant than its predecessor. And since it's similar in size to the 11-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air 4 can also use the 11-inch iPad Pro Magic Keyboard, taking your productivity to new heights.
To top it all off, the iPad Air 4 is blazingly fast with the A14 Bionic chip, supports Apple Pencil 2, utilizes WiFi 6, and comes in a slew of gorgeous new colors. It starts with 64GB of storage and caps out at 256GB, which should be plenty for a student.
- 10.9-inch Liquid Retina Display
- Smart Connector with Magic Keyboard support
- Compatible with Apple Pencil 2
- Still has Touch ID
- A14 Bionic
- Priced higher than predecessor
- No Face ID
- Only 64GB or 256GB storage options
Best value: iPad mini 5
If you want to save a good chunk of change and don't mind a smaller screen, then the iPad mini 5 is a fantastic option that's even friendlier on the wallet. With the iPad mini 5, you're getting pretty much the same specs as the iPad Air 3, but in a smaller package and sans Smart Connector.
The iPad mini 5 has a 7.9-inch Retina display with True Tone, utilizes Touch ID for biometrics and security, has the A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, and comes 64GB or 256GB capacities. You can even use the first-generation Apple Pencil with it, just like the iPad Air 3 and iPad Pro lines, but it is missing the Smart Connector. This means you won't be able to use accessories that require the Smart Connector, like Apple's Smart Keyboard. But the iPad mini 5 can still make use of the best Bluetooth keyboards, so it's not a big drawback at all. Plus, some could argue that there are quite a few Bluetooth keyboard options out there that are better than Apple's Smart Keyboard anyways.
- Super compact 7.9-inch screen
- Most of the same specs as iPad Air 3
- Supports 1st-gen Apple Pencil
- Goes up to 256GB storage
- Smaller screen
- Still uses Touch ID
- No Smart Connector
Best on a budget: iPad 8th-generation (2020)
If you're on a tight budget, then you can't beat the regular iPad 8th-generation. It has a beautiful 10.2-inch Retina display that should be plenty big for reading and marking up your digital textbooks, annotating documents, and sketching diagrams. While it won't work with the newer second-generation Apple Pencil, it does work with the first-generation Apple Pencil just fine. The 8th-generation iPad also has the Smart Connector, so it will work with accessories like Apple's Smart Keyboard, which is still a great productivity booster.
Of course, with the 8th-generation iPad being the most inexpensive iPad to choose from, you do have to compromise on some features. It still uses the older A12 Bionic chip, which is about two generations behind, but it should still be plenty fast for school work. It also only comes in either 32GB or 128GB storage capacities, so you may need to be more diligent with data management, but this should be fine if you lean more towards cloud storage anyway. You'll also still have the Home button, so there will be larger bezels on the display, but the 10.2-inch size should still be plenty to work with.
If you are fine with the compromises, then the 8th-generation iPad is an excellent iPad for students.
- Most affordable iPad
- 10.2-inch display
- Supports 1st-generation Apple Pencil
- Has Smart Connector for Smart Keyboard and more
- Uses older A12 chip
- No Face ID and still has bezels
- Only has 32GB or 128GB capacities
Best power: iPad Pro (2021)
If you have the money to spare, then you can't go wrong with the iPad Pro (2021). It comes in both 11-inch and 12.9-inch varieties, so you can pick whichever size suits you the best. For example, if you want the power but in a more portable package, the 11-inch size is what you want. But if you want an iPad that replaces an actual laptop computer, then the 12.9-inch is the way to go. However, keep in mind that the 11-inch still uses the Liquid Retina display from last year, while the 12.9-inch has the new Liquid Retina XDR display, which is better for showcasing high dynamic range (HDR) content and more vibrant colors.
The iPad Pro (2021) also features a bezel-less design (goodbye Home button!), so it makes the most of the screen size you choose. It utilizes Face ID for biometrics, and it has the latest M1 chip from Apple. This means you get a total of eight cores — four for performance and four for energy efficiency. You also get 8GB of RAM with the 128/256/512GB models, or 16GB of RAM with the 1TB or 2TB version.
The rear cameras (Wide and Ultra Wide) are a whopping 12MP, so you can take the best photos of documents, presentations, and other school necessities. There is also a 12MP TrueDepth camera on the front, so you can chat with schoolmates and brainstorm for group projects. The TrueDepth camera also has a feature called Center Stage, which allows the camera to follow you and always have the focus on you, even if you are moving around the frame.
Another main differentiator between the iPad Pro and the other iPads we've mentioned is the fact that the iPad Pro (2021) is the only other model (along with the iPad Air 4) that works with the second-generation Apple Pencil. So if you prefer the new Apple Pencil design (flat sides) and features, you will need an iPad Pro to use it. And of course, there is the Smart Connector for accessories like the Smart Keyboard and Magic Keyboard.
The only real negative about the iPad Pro is that it isn't cheap and may be out of range for most students. But if you can afford it, then it's the best iPad to get for power and features. It also lacks the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
- Comes in 11 or 12.9-inch sizes
- Uses Face ID
- Has Apple's M1 chip
- Compatible with second-generation Apple Pencil
- Can go up to 2TB for storage
- Only comes in two colors
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
Study better with the best iPad for students
Even though Apple is currently selling four different iPad models right now, the iPad Air 4 is the best iPad for students, at least most of them. That's because it packs in Pro-level features at a modest price that is within reach for plenty of students. Plus, it will run iPadOS 15 flawlessly.
The 10.9-inch screen gives plenty of space, you can go up to 256GB of storage, and it even has a Smart Connector and supports the second-generation Apple Pencil. And Apple's A14 Bionic chip provides plenty of power for anything you need to do for school. And while the oleophobic coating on the screen helps keep it clean, you'll still want the best iPad Air 4 screen protectors to keep it even more pristine and safe from damage.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Christine Romero-Chan has been using iPads since they first came out a decade ago. She knows the ins and outs of iOS and the hardware and can give the best iPad recommendation for everyone. You can follow her musings on Twitter and check out her photography on Instagram.
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