What generation are the latest iPads? We break it down

Apple’s iPad lineup is confusing. We'll break it all down for you

So you’ve decided to buy a new iPad. Not only that, you’re ready to drop some serious coin for Apple’s newest model. But which one is the new one, exactly? To the untrained eye, they can sometimes look nearly identical. Recently, however, there have been some major changes.  We break down all the newest devices in Apple’s iPad lineup, and what makes them stand apart from one another. To see which one’s for you, see our iPad buying guide.

Latest generation for each iPad category

Before we dive in, here’s a quick summary of what generation the latest iPads are in each category.

  • iPad Mini: Fifth generation
  • iPad: Sixth generation
  • iPad Air: Third generation
  • iPad Pro: Third generation

iPad Mini (2019)

iPad Mini 5
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It took four years, but we’ve finally got a new iPad Mini. If you’re looking for a smaller-than-average Apple iPad, then the fifth generation of the iPad Mini is the tablet you’re looking for. At first glance, the iPad Mini 5 appears aesthetically identical to the iPad Mini 4 — and that’s because it is. It packs the same 7.9-inch display with the same resolution, and though it’s a great display, it’s hard not to feel disappointed when you see the edge-to-edge designs other tablets are adopting.

But while anyone waiting for an iPad Pro-style redesign of the Mini range is likely to be disappointed, anyone looking for a powerful tablet won’t be. The new iPad Mini packs in the same powerful A12 Bionic processor as the latest iPhones and 64GB of storage on the base model. That’s plenty of space for movies and loads of processing power for smooth performance in the latest 3D games, and iOS 12 means your day-to-day experience is going to be good too. You’re reliant on bottom-firing speakers for sound though, so pick up a Bluetooth speaker if you’re an audio-lover.

The battery life was pretty good during our testing, but the charging speed really disappointed. On the plus side, it comes with eSIM support, and it’s also the smallest iPad that offers Apple Pencil support — though you’ll need a first generation Apple Pencil. Still, if you’re looking for a powerful pint-sized tablet, then the $400 iPad Mini is absolutely what you want.

iPad 9.7-inch (2018)

Apple

If you’re looking for the cheapest iPad on the block, then the newest 9.7-inch iPad should catch your eye. This sixth-generation iPad released in 2016 and was updated last year. It’s powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion processor with an embedded M10 coprocessor, which is a jargon-laden way of saying it’ll comfortably carry you through everyday tasks. 32GB of storage space on the base model should also be enough for most casual users, and there’s a 128GB version for anyone who needs more space.

For audio, the iPad 9.7-inch relies on bottom-firing speakers that don’t sound as loud or fill the room as well as its larger siblings. If you want to watch a lot of movies or listen to music headphone-free, you may want to pass on this one.

The 9.7-inch is the cheapest iPad that offers Apple Pencil compatibility. To be clear, you’ll need the first generation Apple Pencil, which charges via the lightning port at the bottom of the iPad. It looks ridiculous, but thankfully you’ll only need to plug it in for 15 or so seconds to reap an impressive 30-minute charge.

iPad Air (2019)

ipad air 2019 news new smart keyboard with apple pencil 03192019

This one took us by complete surprise when it was launched alongside the new iPad Mini. Long considered defunct in a world where slim builds are no longer considered special, we thought the iPad Air range had ended with the iPad Air 2 from 2014. However, we now have a third generation of the iPad Air, giving you yet another iPad to consider.

So what sets the iPad Air apart from the standard iPad 9.7? It’s certainly not looks, as the iPad Air is missing the modern edge-to-edge design from the latest generation of the iPad Pro. However, it’s packing a large 10.5-inch Retina screen, and some extremely powerful hardware tucked away inside. You’ll find Apple’s powerful A12 Bionic processor in the iPad Air — the same chip that provides super-smooth performance in the latest iPhone range, and it’s just as good here, providing grunt for handling a variety of tasks.

If the standard iPad is for casual use and the iPad Pro is meant for serious enterprise, then the iPad Air is meant to sit between the two. It’s cheap enough at $499 to work as a casual tablet, but it also has support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard and the first generation Apple Pencil if work needs to be done. The LTE variants also have eSIM support, making world-hopping a breeze. Think of this as the next rung up from the standard iPad and you’re not wrong.

iPad Pro 11-inch and 12.9-inch

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We’ve finally made it to Apple’s newest and most impressive iPads to date, and these are strikingly different from the others. With one glance you’ll notice the third-generation iPad Pro devices have a completely new look. Aside from simply being larger, the newest iPad Pro devices have the thinnest bezels yet, with equal width on all sides. Gone is the design language we’ve grown so familiar with, replaced with a cleaner, more modern aesthetic.

Apple has dressed up the internals as well, equipping the iPad Pro with its high-end A12X Bionic chip that breezes through any heavy app or multitasking challenge you throw at it.

The charging port has received a drastic overhaul as well. The Lightning port has been replaced by a USB Type-C port, a welcome change that allows for much greater versatility and compatibility with accessories, including (but not limited to), external monitors and an ethernet adapter in our testing. Magnets along the top edge in portrait mode now enable you to wirelessly charge your second generation Apple Pencil in a much cleaner and practical fashion.

Not all news is good news though. As with the iPhone, there’s a distinct lack of a headphone jack. It would seem the once ubiquitous port continues to fade into oblivion. To use wired headphones with this iPad Pro, you’ll need to purchase a USB Type-C headphone adapter. Welcome to the future.

Lastly, we have to mention the price. These are by far the most expensive iPads ever. Starting at $799 for the 64GB WiFi 11-inch and skyrocketing all the way to $1899 for the 1TB cellular 12.9-inch model, this beauty clearly comes at a premium.

That aside, if it’s the biggest and most powerful tablet in the world you’re after, look no further than the new iPad Pro. It’s so powerful, you may finally be able to leave the laptop at home.

Conclusion

There are other iPads available you can purchase from other retailers, but these are what Apple currently sells on its website. Eight years after its initial launch, sifting through each size and model to determine what iPad to get has become an arduous chore. We hope this guide will help you make the right decision when purchasing what’s objectively one of, if not the best tablet you can buy.

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