11-inch iPad ProSource: iMore

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 3 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 3

iPad Air 3Source: iMore

The iPad Air 3 is the perfect iPad for students. It has a beautiful 10.5-inch Retina display, giving you plenty of screen estate to read on, write with, draw on, watch on, and more. The display has a roomy 2224-by-1668 resolution, wide color support with True Tone technology, and is fully laminated with anti-reflective and fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating. This means you see fewer fingerprint smudges all over, and the screen looks better in dark and dingy environments.

It comes in three colors: Space Gray, Silver, and Gold, so you can pick the one that suits your style the best. The base model comes with 64GB of storage, but you can get 256GB for $150 more. The iPad Air 3 still has Touch ID, a headphone jack, and uses Apple's A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, so it's pretty fast and quite powerful. And it has a decent 8MP camera along with a 7MP front-facing camera, so you can scan documents or do video calls with ease.

The best part about the iPad Air 3 is that it provides users with features that were once only available on the iPad Pro line, but at a much more affordable price. This includes Apple Pencil support, though it's only first-generation Apple Pencil, and the Smart Connector, so you can use accessories like Apple's Smart Keyboard.


  • Very affordable
  • Support for Smart Connector and 1st-gen Apple Pencil
  • 10.5-inch Retina display
  • Still has 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Can go up to 256GB storage


  • Still uses Touch ID
  • Only starts at 64GB storage

Best Overall

iPad Air 3

Perfectly balanced

The iPad Air 3 offers the perfect balance of powerful pro-level features and affordability.

Best Value: iPad mini 5

iPad mini 5Source: iMore

If you want to save a good chunk of change and don't mind a smaller size 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 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
  • Inexpensive
  • Supports 1st-gen Apple Pencil
  • Goes up to 256GB storage


  • Smaller screen
  • Still uses Touch ID
  • No Smart Connector

Best Value

iPad mini 5

Small but mighty

iPad mini 5 is just a smaller version of the iPad Air 3 but sans Smart Connector. Plus, you can save even more change.

Best on a Budget: iPad

Apple Arcade on 2019 iPadSource: iMore

When you're trying to really stretch your dollar, then the iPad is a decent option for those on a budget. It's slightly less powerful than the iPad Air 3 and iPad mini 5 because it uses an older A10 Fusion chip, but it should be able to handle most tasks that students need it for.

The 10.2-inch Retina display gives you plenty of room to work with, and it also supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and has a Smart Connector, so you can use accessories like Apple's Smart Keyboard. For biometrics, it still utilizes the older Touch ID, and it only comes in 32GB and 128GB storage capacities. However, if you're using it for school, it should still be plenty to work with, especially if you make use of cloud storage like iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox. On the plus side, it still has a 3.5mm headphone jack like the others, so you don't need to buy a new pair of Bluetooth headphones if you don't already have them.


  • Least inexpensive iPad
  • 10.2-inch screen
  • Supports 1st-generation Apple Pencil
  • Has Smart Connector


  • Still uses Touch ID
  • Uses older A10 Fusion chip
  • Only comes in 32GB or 128GB capacities

Best on a Budget


Pinch those pennies

The iPad is slightly less powerful than other options, but it supports Apple Pencil (1st gen) and has a Smart Connector.

Best Power: iPad Pro

12.9-inch iPad ProSource: Joseph Keller/iMore

If you have the money to spare, then you can't go wrong with the iPad Pro. 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, then 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. Both sizes have the Liquid Retina display and start at 128GB of storage, but you can get one with 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB if need be.

The iPad Pro (2020) 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 A12Z Bionic chip with Neural Engine from Apple. The rear camera is a whopping 12MP, so you can take the best photos of documents, presentations, and other school necessities. There is also a 7MP TrueDepth camera on the front, so you can chat with schoolmates and brainstorm for group projects.

Another main differentiator between the iPad Pro and the other iPads we've mentioned is the fact that the iPad Pro (2020) is the only one that works with the second-generation Apple Pencil. So if you prefer the new Apple Pencil design (flat sides) and features, then 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
  • A12Z Bionic chip with Neural Engine
  • Compatible with second-generation Apple Pencil
  • Can go up to 1TB for storage


  • Expensive
  • Only comes in two colors
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack

Best Power

iPad Pro

Pro power at a price

The iPad Pro comes in two sizes and four storage capacities. It has Face ID and has the latest silicon. But it's not cheap.

Bottom line

Even though Apple is currently selling four different iPad models right now, the iPad Air 3 is the best overall pick for most students. That's because it packs in Pro-level features at a modest price that is within reach for most students.

The 10.5-inch screen gives plenty of space, you can go up to 256GB of storage, and it even has a Smart Connector and supports the first-generation Apple Pencil. And Apples A12 Bionic chip provides plenty of power for anything you need to do for school.

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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