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The best iPad to buy in 2021

There’s little doubt that the Apple iPad is the most popular tablet ever released, and it’s also arguably the best. However, with Apple expanding its range of iPads almost every year, it may be hard to decide which iPad is the right one for you. That’s why we’ve put together a full run-down of the best iPads for 2020.

Rather than simply settle on a single iPad and declare it “the best,” we’ve chosen the best iPads in various categories. So whether you’re looking for the best iPad overall, the best budget iPad, or the best small-screen iPad, we’ve got you covered.

Looking for some enticing iPad or tablet deals? Check out our list of the best Black Friday iPad deals and our best Black Friday tablet deals. We also have a more general list of the best Black Friday deals, just in case you’re looking for gift ideas or simply want to browse.

Best iPads at a glance

Best overall: Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro is the best iPad available right now, boasting great looks and stunning performance.

Who’s it for? Professionals, creatives, anyone who loves flagship tablets and has the budget for them.

Why we picked the iPad Pro (11-inch):

With slim bezels and straight edges, Apple’s iPad Pro is a beautiful tablet that provides plenty of display without being too big or uncomfortable. The latest 2020 iPad Pro 11-inch houses the highly powerful Apple A12Z Bionic chip, which Apple claims is more capable than most PC laptops, and which tests show does in fact live up to Apple’s hype. It also comes with an improved camera that adds an additional, ultrawide lens, as well as increased AR capability, thanks to the addition of a new LiDAR lens.

As with the (also excellent) 2018 iPad Pro, the 2020 iPad Pro ditches the Home button in favor of Face ID, making it more secure and easier to use. It also offers a USB-C port instead of the usual Lightning variant, providing you with a much greater range of accessory options.

Not only is the iPad Pro super fast, but its display is absolutely gorgeous. Packing 2388 x 1668 pixels, its clarity is enhanced by the use of Apple’s ProMotion 120Hz technology, which results in an incredibly fluid update rate. When combined with the A12Z Bionic and 6GB of RAM, you’ll find that pretty much any application or game will run as smoothly as possible. It also helps that the tablet offers 128GB of internal memory as standard, with the option (for a higher price) of going all the way up to 1TB.

In other words, the iPad Pro (2020) is pretty much a powerful laptop with a touchscreen, with its 10 hours of battery life allowing it to last an entire day of work without needing a recharge. It’s also compatible with the Apple Pencil, which attaches magnetically to the tablet and can be used to draw, take notes, and mark up documents. When you add Apple’s Magic Keyboard, you’ll have possibly the most versatile piece of digital technology available right now, particularly if you throw in the cellular option.

Needless to say, these extra add-ons require extra money. Taken with the already-high price of the iPad Pro, this may mean that the tablet will just be too expensive for some. Nonetheless, it really is the best iPad overall in terms of sheer performance and usability, so the extra expense is worth it.

Read our full iPad Pro review

Best value iPad: Apple iPad Air (2020)

iPad Air 4
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this? The iPad Air keeps the core features of the iPad Pro but takes off $200.

Who’s it for? Anyone looking for a midrange iPad that still performs great.

Why we picked the iPad Air (2020):

The iPad Air isn’t as affordable as the entry-level iPad, which earns our pick for in “Best Budget” category, but if your budget goes up to $600, then it certainly is the best iPad you can buy right now. It’s a very distinct step up from the standard iPad, offering an overall package that’s surprisingly close to the iPad Pro, despite the $200 drop in price.

Most impressively, the iPad Air (2020) runs on Apple’s latest-and-greatest A14 Bionic chip, which handles pretty much all of the latest apps and games with ease. It may not have as many cores as the A12Z processor you’ll find in the iPad Pro has more cores, but we’ve found that the performance is mostly the same on balance, so you’ll struggle to notice any difference.

The iPad Air also supports all of the accessories you can use with the iPad Pro, further reducing the distance between the two. This means you can invest in a Magic Keyboard to enhance the productivity of the tablet, as well as a second-generation Apple Pencil.

One small yet noticeable difference between the iPad Pro and the iPad Air is that the Air doesn’t support a 120Hz refresh rate. Still, at 10.9 inches and with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels, it offers basically the same number of pixels per inch — 264 — as the Pro. You’ll therefore enjoy watching videos and viewing content on it almost as much as you would with its more expensive stablemate.

Something similar can be said for the iPad Air’s camera, which doesn’t come with the extra ultrawide lens. Even so, with a fantastic processor, slimline good looks, and great usability, the iPad Air definitely hits that sweet spot between peak performance and affordability.

Read our full Apple iPad Air (2020) review

Best budget: Apple iPad (2020)

Why should you buy this? The iPad is supremely usable, capable, and reliable, and it comes at a very affordable price.

Who’s it for? Anyone who wants an iPad but doesn’t need maximum performance.

Why we picked the Apple iPad (2020):

It may not be as glamorous as the Pro or the Air, but the eighth-generation iPad (2020) benefits from Apple’s many years of building highly dependable tablets. It won’t provide any nice gimmicks or novelties, but it’s a solid all-around tablet that still performs to a high standard, despite its accessible price.

It runs on Apple’s A12 Bionic processor and a generous 3GB of RAM, which is all most people need to have their favorite apps running cleanly. The A12 obviously isn’t as powerful as the A14, but given that it’s only two years old, the processor is more than enough to ensure that iPad doesn’t lag or slow down when you need it.

The iPad also comes with a 10.2-inch Retina display, which contains 2160 x 1620 pixels, giving it the same pixels per inch — 264 — as the iPad Air. It’s therefore perfect for watching videos, while the smaller size makes it exceedingly comfortable and convenient to use for extended periods.

Admittedly, the 8-megapixel rear camera isn’t quite a match for the 12MP cameras of the Air or Pro, but it will take perfectly good photos in the right conditions. Another drawback is that it comes with only 32GB of storage as standard, which is quite stingy compared to the 64GB you get with the iPad Air.

One advantage of the iPad is that it delivers more or less the same 10 hours of high-definition video playback as the other models, while it can last for much longer if you use it more moderately. As such, the Apple iPad (2020) is a great option if you don’t want to stretch your wallet too far, but still want an excellent iPad. Check out our best iPad deals for more info.

Read our full Apple iPad (2020) review

Best small-screen tablet: Apple iPad Mini 5

iPad Mini 5
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this? The iPad Mini is a potent small-screen tablet that can be carried anywhere.

Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a smaller iPad.

Why we picked the iPad Mini 5:

The iPad Mini 5 may look almost identical to its predecessor, but it brings some important changes. As with the standard iPad, it now runs on the A12 Bionic chip, which equips it with all the processing power it needs to juggle the latest software and applications.

More importantly, the diminutive 7.9-inch display makes the iPad Mini 5 the perfect iPad for e-reading, while it’s also very good for watching TV or playing games, despite its smaller size. It’s also a pretty good option if you want an iPad for productivity, since Apple has now included support for the first-generation Apple Pencil, which will let you take notes and draw.

Its appeal is further improved by its battery life, which will see you through 10 hours of constant use, or a few days of light-to-moderate use. There’s also an 8-megapixel main camera and a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, which puts it ahead of the standard iPad (2020) in terms of its selfie and FaceTime capabilities.

On the other hand, it’s about $80 more expensive than the latest iPad, while its design is looking fairly dated in comparison to the iPad Pro or iPad Air. That said, if you want the most portable and comfortable iPad you can possibly find, the iPad Mini 5 is certainly it.

Read our full iPad Mini 5 review

Best big-screen iPad: Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch)

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro is extremely powerful and offers a huge screen.

Who’s it for? Gamers, power users, creatives.

Why we picked the iPad Pro (12.9-inch):

If you want to go that extra mile, the iPad Pro (12.9-inch) is the best big-screen iPad around right now. It takes the core internals of the 11-inch iPad Pro (2020) and adds a larger screen with more pixels, making it perfect for gaming, multimedia, and drawing. As with the 11-inch model, it flaunts narrow bezels that have enabled Apple to maximize its display size without making it too clunky, while the use of Face ID (rather than the Home button) further improves its usability.

It also boasts Apple’s ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate, while adding a resolution of 2732 x 2048 pixels. When you add Apple’s A12Z Bionic chip and Neural Engine, you end up with an iPad that’s ideal for games. It’s pretty much ideal for everything else, too.

Overall, it’s basically just as excellent as the 11-inch iPad Pro, with its battery life also providing as much as 10 hours of video playback. However, the enlarged 12.9-inch screen makes it more impressive to behold and to watch, and will potentially make you want to use it more often than its smaller sibling.

Sure, it will be expensive, particularly if you buy additional storage or any accessories. Nonetheless, the iPad Pro (12.9-inch) is undoubtedly the best iPad if you want something bigger that will heighten your enjoyment of games, movies, and more.

Read our full iPad Pro review

Things to remember when buying an iPad

Much like iPhones, iPads are well-made devices and built to last, at least compared to certain other tablets. Apple will roll out software updates for them on a regular basis, while it will also support them with updates for a good few years. This means an iPad bought today will probably be supported long past the point at which you start looking to upgrade to a newer model.

If this is your first time buying an iPad — but you’ve previously owned iPhones — you’ll be reassured to know that iPadOS is nearly identical to iOS. The main difference between the two operating systems is that iPadOS is built more for multitasking, with such features as Split View and Slide Over making it easy to use two apps at once or quickly swipe between apps. Another difference is that iPadOS’ Safari is billed as “desktop class,” in that many popular web apps (e.g. Google Docs) work better on it than on iOS’s version.

If you’re coming to an iPad for the first time from Android, you may initially be daunted by iPadOS. However, one of the main selling points of iPadOS (and iOS) is its streamlined simplicity. The operating system is logically laid out and structured, and while some complain about the “closed-in” lack of customizability, the security and cohesion it offers is usually a compensation most users are willing to accept.

One other thing to bear in mind is that, if you’re coming from Android, you may not be able to transfer all of your data over to your new iPad. Apple states that you can transfer over your contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, web bookmarks, email accounts, and calendars, although not all apps may be transferable, while some messaging apps may not let you transfer over all of your data.

As we noted above, some of the accessories available for the iPad may be a bit pricey. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, for example, costs $299, while the second-generation Apple Pencil costs $129. This heaps on additional cost to already expensive tablets, and you may also find that making that initial investment in Apple products locks you into the Apple ecosystem, insofar as Apple accessories are compatible only with Apple devices. That said, Apple’s products usually are high-quality and highly reliable, so you’ll almost always get your money’s worth.

Can you print from an iPad?

Yes, you can indeed print from an iPad. Check out our guides on how to print from an iPhone for everything you need to know.

Can you make phone calls on an iPad?

They may not be smartphones, but you can make phone calls with iPads. Either you make use of Wi-Fi calling, which involves routing Wi-Fi calls through your iPhone, or you can buy an iPad with cellular support. This entails paying extra for cellular (usually about $150 extra), and it also entails having to sign up for a service plan of some kind.

Another option is to use FaceTime on an iPad to make video or audio-only calls. There are also a number of third-party video-calling apps, such as Skype and Zoom, although these require that the person you’re calling has also downloaded these apps.

If you’re interested in this option for a business, then it may also be worth considering one of the best VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services.

Can you text on an iPad?

Yes, you can use iMessage to send text messages on an iPad, although this lets you send messages only to other iOS devices or Mac computers. Fortunately, there is also a range of third-party text-messaging apps that you can use with your iPad.

How we test

We rigorously test all the iPads we receive, living with them for extended periods of time to learn just how they perform in real-world settings. This means working on them, playing games, watching TV and movies, reading e-books, taking photos, capturing video, and using all of the latest and most demanding apps. In other words, we use them exactly as you would use them, and while we naturally value innovative and quirky features, we also love tablets that simply get the basics right. Using them regularly also means we learn the particularities of each iPad we test, including their weakness and strengths, allowing us to make informed recommendations.

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