FROM THE DEPT. OF THINGS TO BUY

The Best iPads of 2021 to Stoke Your Creativity

The right iPad for every need.

Nov 19 by Michael Smith
Pixabay
Image by Pixabay

When Steve Jobs famously said “We want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you,” it’s hard to believe the iPad wasn’t what he had in mind. Containing the processing power of a laptop in the folio-like footprint of a small book or magazine, Apple’s decade-long list of iPads offers something for everyone.

The gamut of available iPads includes multiple product lines: the entry-level iPad, the iPad mini, the iPad Air, and the mighty iPad Pro. Each series offers its own set of advantages and highlights, though certain features—e.g., a great-looking display, best tablet for note-taking, or “all-day” battery life—are present regardless of the family name or model.

In this article, we’ll help clarify what to look for when shopping for your next iPad, including which features should be prioritized or disregarded. We’ll also give specific examples of iPads that are better suited for certain uses and applications.

– Best iPad Overall: Apple 10.2-inch iPad (9th Generation)
– Best iPad for Procreate: Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Generation)
– Best iPad for Students: Apple 10.9-inch iPad Air (4th Generation)
– Best iPad for Value: Apple 8.3-inch iPad mini (6th Generation)
– Best iPad for Kids: Apple 7.9-inch iPad Mini (5th Generation)

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Related: Embrace the future with one the best tech gifts for everyone on your list.

How We Picked The Best iPads

Methodology

When it came to choosing the best iPads of 2021, there was no one answer. After all, what’s “best” for one user might not serve the needs of the next. So, instead of trying to find the one perfect iPad, we highlighted the best iPads for specific use cases and scenarios.

Per our own research, we divided the audience into the common categories (e.g., kids, students, shoppers on a budget, etc.). Once we established our categories, we began collecting data from multiple sources, including verified customer reviews, colleagues, industry professionals, and so on. We used that data, along with our own criteria and considerations, to make our recommendations. Here are the factors we considered when evaluating each iPad.

Display: An iPad’s display tells you a lot about what it can do. Resolution, brightness, color support—these types of traits and characteristics told us whether a particular model of iPad might be good for photo editing or whether we could use it to color grade a video or stream a Netflix show in 4K.

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Size: Size matters a lot when it comes to mobile devices like tablets and iPads. Size tells you how big of a canvas you’ll have to work with if you’re a digital designer or how big of a bag—or laptop backpack—you’ll need to tote your iPad around. Size doesn’t necessarily impact performance on a 1:1 scale, but it can impact where and how you work.

Storage: Apple tends to charge a premium for additional memory and RAM, so we made sure to keep an eye on the costs in relation to the amount of storage that was offered. In terms of storage volume: if an iPad didn’t ship with at least 64GB of built-in memory, it didn’t make our list.

Accessory Support: iPads are truly wondrous machines, and with the right accessories you can enhance them even further—from mobile tablets to full-fledged notebooks and workstations. We paid special attention to ports, connectivity features, and wireless communications, knowing that the right accessory could dramatically elevate the performance of any compatible iPad.

The Best iPads: Reviews and Recommendations

Best iPad Overall: Apple 10.2-inch iPad (9th Generation)

Bionic Quality, Apple

Why It Made the Cut: Featuring a big, beautiful display, a blazing-fast processor, and plenty of storage, the 9th-Generation iPad is the best iPad overall.

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Specs:
Display: 10.2-inch Retina display
Storage Capacity: Up to 256GB
Processor: Apple A13 Bionic chip

Pros:
– 10.2-inch multi-touch Retina display with True Tone
– 2160 x 1620 resolution with 264 ppi
– Apple A13 bionic chip with Neural Engine machine learning
– 12MP Ultra-wide front camera with Center Stage and 8MP rear camera
– Up to 256GB of storage capacity

Cons:
– Supports only the 1st-Generation Apple Pencil, not 2nd

The latest iteration of Apple’s do-everything device includes several notable upgrades that makes it an all-around better tablet than its predecessor and the best overall iPad for most people.

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What’s behind the 9th-Generation iPad’s mass appeal? For starters, it features Apple’s powerful new A13 Bionic chip, which not only makes the Apple 10.2-inch iPad (9th Generation) more powerful than its predecessor, it also allows the new iPad to perform tasks several times faster than even the best-selling Chromebooks and Android tablets.

Combine that extra speedy performance with a gorgeous 10.2-inch Retina display, an AI-backed camera system featuring Apple’s popular Center Stage experience, all the benefits of the latest iPadOS—including a full catalog of powerful multi-tasking tools—and you’re talking about a tablet that’s faster, more powerful, and more capable than the majority of its peers.

Oh, and did we mention that, this time around, the iPad starts at 64GB of memory? That’s double the paltry 32GB of storage its predecessor offered. Best of all: The starting price is exactly the same, meaning you get all that extra power and performance for no additional cost.

Once you total up all the features (the new chipset and unrivaled performance, the extremely high value, the great setup and double the storage, etc.) what you get is an iPad that will work great for just about everyone, regardless of their needs or budget.

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Best iPad for Procreate: Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Generation)

Digital Canvas, Apple

Why It Made the Cut: The 5th-Generation iPad Pro offers a big, objectively gorgeous canvas, along with the most powerful processor ever put in a mobile device, making it the best iPad for Procreate.

Specs:
Display: 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR touchscreen
Storage capacity: Up to 2TB
Processor: Apple M1 8-Core CPU

Pros:
– 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR touchscreen
– 2732 x 2048 Resolution with 264 ppi
– Apple M1 8-Core CPU
– 12MP front camera, 10MP and 12MP rear cameras
– Up to 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM

Cons:
– Definitely not cheap

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The 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Generation) is probably the most powerful tablet ever made, which is why it’s also the best choice for users who need an iPad that can handle graphics-intensive applications, including everyone’s favorite digital illustration app, Procreate. The iPad Pro’s massive 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display uses over 10,000 LEDs to reach a peak brightness of 1600 nits (far higher than many laptops), providing digital artists and illustrators a bright and clear canvas that works better than many dedicated digital painting tablets.

Of course, it will take more than a couple robust applications to stress the iPad Pro. Thanks to its powerful M1 system on a chip (SoC), the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can handle any task or workflow that comes its way. With the M1 chipset, you are getting the power and performance of a desktop computer in a tablet. In addition to being an all-powerful patron of the arts, the iPad Pro also features the best camera setup ever put in an iPad tablet, next-generation connectivity including Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, and Thunderbolt via USB-C (finally!), as well as so, so much more.

Although clearly one of the best iPads, the one “drawback” to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is that it’s not within everyone’s budget. Turns out you to have to pay for all that power. But, if you’re looking for the absolute best iPad for Procreate and any other graphics-intensive application (and the price tag is financially feasible), then there simply isn’t a better option.

Best iPad for Students: Apple 10.9-inch iPad Air (4th Generation)

Slim-Cut Quality, Apple

Why It Made the Cut: The 4th-Generation iPad Air delivers a balanced attack of speed, processing power, and portability, making it the best iPad for students.

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Specs:
Display: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display
Storage capacity: Up to 256GB
Processor: Apple A14 Bionic chip

Pros:
– 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display
– 2360 x 1640 Resolution with 264 ppi
– Apple A14 Bionic Chip with Neural Engine machine learning
– Up to 256GB storage
– 7MP front camera, 12MP  rear camera

Cons:
– No face ID

For many students, juggling the responsibilities of school life and life-life can be challenging. To meet those responsibilities head-on, students need an iPad that’s powerful enough to tackle any task and portable enough to remain close at hand. That’s why we recommend the 10.9-inch iPad Air (4th Generation), which offers looks and performance that’s comparable to the iPad Pro, but in a lightweight 1-pound footprint that’s super easy to carry with you.

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“Comparable” might not even be a strong enough word to describe the similarities between the iPad Air and the iPad Pro. In terms of looks, they could very well be mistaken for twins. In particular, the iPad Air features those same super-thin bezels that give the iPad Pro such a sleek aesthetic.

Checking under the hood, you’ll see that even though the iPad Air’s A14 Bionic chipset offers lightning-fast performance, it’s no match for the iPad Pro’s revolutionary M1 SoC. In a head-to-head race, the A14 can’t beat the M1, but that’s OK, because it doesn’t have to. Despite having less power overall, the A14 Bionic still has more than enough muscle to handle even the most demanding applications and mobile workflows, so software like Procreate still functions without a hitch.

Best iPad for Value: Apple 8.3-inch iPad mini (6th Generation)

Mini but Powerful, Apple

Why It Made The Cut: The 8.3-inch iPad isn’t the cheapest iPad you’ll find, but the amount of features you get for the price you pay returns more bang for your buck than any other iPad or tablet on the market.

Specs:
Display: 8.3-inch Retina display
Storage capacity: Up to 256GB
Processor: Apple A15 Bionic chip

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Pros:
– 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display
– 2268 x 1640 Resolution with 264 ppi
– Apple A14 Bionic chip with Neural Engine machine learning
– Up to 256GB storage

Cons:
– No face ID

Even though the new 8.3-inch iPad mini (6th Generation) starts at $100 more than its predecessor, it’s still an incredible deal that’s packed with more value than any other iPad on our list. Don’t believe us? Compare last generation’s model, the 7.3-inch iPad mini (5th Generation), to this year’s 6th-Generation model.

As we mentioned earlier, the 6th-Generation model does indeed cost more than the 5th-Generation version, but look at what you get for that extra cost. For starters, the 6th-Generation’s design has been completely overhauled and updated. It’s sleeker now, with slimmer bezels and more screen—namely an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display that runs almost half an inch larger than its predecessor’s 7.9-inch Retina (non-Liquid) display.

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The new iPad mini also features an A15 Bionic chip, which is the most powerful A-series chip Apple has ever produced and, according to Apple, is 80 percent faster than the A12 chip that’s inside the 5th-Generation’s iPad mini. The chip and screen aren’t isolated instances, either. Compare the specs between the two models and you’ll see how much more advanced every component in the current iPad mini is. You’ll soon realize what a great deal the price bump is for such a dramatic improvement in power.

Best iPad for Kids: Apple 7.9-inch iPad mini (5th Generation)

Your Kid’s Best Friend, Apple

Why It Made The Cut: The 7.9-inch iPad mini (5th Generation) is the only iPad on our list that’s hardy enough to survive our kids and has enough battery power to keep up with them all day.

Specs:
Display: 7.9-inch Retina display
Storage capacity: Up to 256GB
Processor: Apple A12 Bionic chip

Pros:
– 7.9-inch Multi-touch Retina display
– 2048 x 1536 Resolution
– A12 Bionic chip
– 7MP Front FaceTime HD camera and 8MP rear camera
– Up to 256GB of memory storage
– Up to 10 hours of battery life

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Cons:
– Only supports 1st-Generation Apple Pencil

The 7.9-inch iPad mini (5th Generation) isn’t new. It’s not even the most current generation of its own subset series, the iPad mini. It was released in 2019, and back then it was cutting-edge. We’re approaching the end of 2021, and though it’s not quite as flashy as it once was, the 5th-Generation iPad mini is still a solid performer, and it’s the best iPad for kids who are just starting out with their very first iPad.

This model features an A12 Bionic chip, which, though slower than the current A-series chipsets, still performs admirably. Its True-Tone Retina display still works great for streaming cartoons or watching YouTube videos, and even runs Minecraft well at low video settings. The 5th-Generation iPad mini also supports the 1st-Generation Apple Pencil, so kids can use it as a digital art studio for digital painting and drawing.

Another great thing about the iPad mini is that, to a child, it’s not all that “mini.” It’s especially great for younger children, who can’t handle the extra size of even the base model iPad.

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Things to Consider Before Buying an iPad

Planned Usage: Having some idea of how you plan to use your iPad can help you narrow the selection field considerably. For example, if you know that your next iPad will predominantly be used for web browsing or other basic functionality, then you probably don’t need the herculean iPad Pro. For some users who are looking for seamless integration with Google apps, it can also be worth it to explore some of the best alternatives to the iPad.

Display: An iPad’s display is one of its most critical components. Think about it: Virtually everything you do with your iPad involves the display in some way. To that end, you want to make sure the display is big enough for your needs, whether that’s drawing on a digital canvas or binging Netflix. Similarly, you’ll want to make sure the display has a high enough resolution and can support the color profiles you’ll be working with if you’re an artist or creator. Last but not least, you’ll want to make sure the display supports your preferred accessories. Some iPads, for example, only support one generation of Apple Pencil. Take time to verify that your prospective iPad will play nice with all your favorite tools and accessories.

Storage: When shopping for your next iPad, be sure to carefully consider how much internal memory you’ll need, because you won’t get the chance to upgrade later. Cloud-based storage services can help you out, but we think it’s better to find a model that has enough built-in memory to address your needs. At the bare minimum, we recommend you don’t pick anything with less than 64GB—not unless you’re keen on constantly deleting files and photos.

FAQs

Q: Which iPad is the best for students?
We think the 4th-Generation iPad Air is the best iPad model for students. Not only does it offer power and performance similar to what you see in Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad Pro, but the lightweight iPad Air travels easily in your backpack, bag, or purse, so taking it to and from class won’t be an issue.

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Q: How much does an iPad cost?
iPads vary in cost, starting out around $300 and going as high as $2,500. As with most things, cost is relative to iPad’s specs and features. Generally speaking, from low to high, the cost of iPads goes: iPad, iPad mini, iPad Air, and the iPad Pro. Another cost to keep in mind is storage. The more storage you add on, the higher the price becomes.

Q: Is 32GB enough for an iPad?
In short, no, it’s not. We recommend 64GB at the minimum. Why isn’t 32GB enough? Well, for starters, it’s not 32GB. Your iPad comes with preinstalled OS and software, so right out of the box, you’ve probably only got around 25GBs of free space. Realistically, that is not enough space in the long run, even for those of us who are especially thrifty with our camera roll, apps, etc.

Q: What is the best inexpensive iPad?
The 10.2-inch iPad (9th Generation) is the best inexpensive iPad that you can buy right now. Despite its many features, the base model still comes in at just over $300. That’s the same price as the previous generation, which barely holds a flame to this model.

Q: How to recycle your iPad?
To recycle your iPad, you should first visit Apple’s Trade-In website. There, you will find information on how to trade in or recycle your iPad in your area of the world.

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Q: What’s the difference between the iPad and iPad Pro?
The biggest difference between the iPad and the iPad Pro is the chipset. Both size variants of the iPad Pro feature Apple’s very own M1 CPU, the fastest, most powerful processor ever put into a mobile device. The current generation of iPad features an A13 Bionic chipset, which is a fast and efficient SoC on its own, however it just can’t compete with Apple’s new top-tier silicon. Few chips can.

Final Thoughts on the Best iPads

Able to meet the wants and needs of almost every type of user, the 10.2-inch iPad is the best choice for most people. Bolstered by its lightning-fast A13 Bionic chipset, the 9th-Generation iPad’s powerful combination of speed, performance, and display quality means there are few tasks or functions it cannot handle. Add to that the fact the 64GB base model is one of the least expensive iPads you can buy, what we’re talking about is a device that’s both capable and fairly wallet friendly. In other words, the balanced, budget-friendly 10.2-inch iPad (9th Generation) is the best iPad for most people.

Looking for the best eReaders? Or, win big with the best gifts for gamers.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.

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