Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

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 2021.

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 Amazon Prime Day iPad deals and the best Amazon Prime Day tablet deals.

Best iPads at a glance

Best overall: Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)

Apple iPad Pro M1 Lifestyle Image

Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro 11 is still the best iPad available right now, boasting great looks and stunning performance.

Who’s it for? It’s for professionals, creatives, and anyone who needs a powerful tablet with a well-sized display.

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

Once again, Apple’s iPad Pro range has come split into two forms — the compact 11-inch model and the super-sized 12.9-inch model. That means that, once again, it’s the 11-inch model we recommend as the best overall iPad for pretty much everyone. It has the same slim bezelled design we’ve grown to know and love, a laptop-level M1 processor, a USB4/Thunderbolt 3 port, and iPadOS, making it one of the most capable devices on the market.

But let’s address the elephant in the room before diving into the tablet’s features any further. Usually, the difference between the iPad Pro models is simply the size of the display, but this year, Apple has decided to make bigger changes. The larger iPad Pro 12.9-inch gets a mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display, while the smaller iPad Pro 11-inch sticks with the traditional LED-based Liquid Retina display. As a result, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch’s display is going to be better than its smaller sibling. But it’s important to note the iPad Pro 11-inch’s display is still excellent, so unless you’re really into screen tech, don’t let the mini-LED display weigh too heavily on your choice.

With that out of the way, we can move on to discussing the iPad Pro 11-inch’s many great features. Size-wise, it’s a good size. The 11-inch display with slim bezels is big enough for most tasks without being too large to make it unwieldy when moving it around. In short, it’s extremely portable and lightweight, which makes it a great choice if you need an iPad with strong adaptability. The display is impressive, too, despite the lack of new mini-LED tech. The 2388 x 1668 resolution is crisp and colorful, and the 120Hz ProMotion tech makes using it a pleasure.

The aforementioned M1 chip is the same chip you’ll find in the new MacBook Pro 13, and it’s an exceptional piece of work. The A12Z Bionic chip in last year’s model was no slouch, though, and it’s unlikely you’ll see any real difference between the two. But RAM has seen an upgrade, with the choice of 8GB or 16GB, depending on the configuration. Internal storage is even more impressive, and you can choose from 128GB all the way up to a mighty 2TB. That’s a lot of room for videos, files, apps, and whatever else.

It also now supports 5G, so if you need a tablet with a speedy data connection, well, the new iPad Pro has your back (as long as you have a nearby 5G connection). Like last year’s model, there’s no Home button — it uses Face ID instead. And the USB-C port also has support for Thunderbolt 3 now as well. Throw in support for the Apple Pencil 2 and the Magic Keyboard, and you’ve got a tablet that’s possibly one of the most versatile around.

But to get the most out of this tablet, you’re going to need to spend extra money. The previously mentioned Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2 are extremely useful tools, but they’re expensive, and adding them to the high price of the iPad Pro may put this tablet out of reach for some. But if the price is no object, then the iPad Pro 11-inch is absolutely the best iPad overall where performance and usability are concerned.

Read our full iPad Pro (2021) 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, but we’ve found that the performance is mostly the same, 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 8th-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 1st-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 8MP main camera and a 7MP 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)

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

Who’s it for? Gamers, power users, creatives. Anyone who wants a big screen to do their thing.

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

Few people are going to need it, but we know a lot of people are going to want it. The iPad Pro 12.9-inch is the iPad if you’re a fan of a big screen, and it’s the one we recommend if you need a big screen for whatever reason. The 12.9-inch display has a 2732 x 2048 resolution, but the real improvement in the display lies in the underlying tech. 2021’s big iPad uses mini-LED tech in its display, which basically means it can output stronger colors and deeper blacks by offering more backlights.

That big screen is backed up by some serious power. Like its smaller sibling, the iPad Pro 11-inch, the 12.9-inch model is running Apple’s M1 chip, a laptop-grade processor that debuted in last year’s MacBook Pro. All of this extra power and the large screen means the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is likely to be able to handle anything a modern laptop can do, up to and including some hefty video editing. And when that’s all over, use that power to play some iPad games as well.

All of this power and screen real estate means the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is the iPad to grab if a big screen is what you need out of your iPad. However, be aware the increased size means it won’t be as easily portable or stowable as the 11-inch model — but if you need room to breathe, then the extra 1.9-inches is exactly what you need. The same warnings apply as with the smaller iPad Pro, though, and adding the extra (and desirable) accessories will push up the price of the already expensive iPad Pro 12.9-inch. But even with that in mind, this iPad 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 (2021) 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 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 OS is logically laid out and structured, and while some complain about the “closed-in” lack of customizability, the security and cohesion it offers are usually compensation that 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 an 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.

Editors' Recommendations