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The best iPads for students: Surprise, the Pro isn't the best option

Finding the perfect laptop or tablet to make it through college or university can sometimes be tricky. But, with Apple continuing to improve its tablets, an iPad may be just what you need to secure that college diploma.
Written by Josh Slate, Contributor on

The most important factor in completing work on time in college today is a good laptop. But, who said you can only rely on laptops to do your work instead of an advanced tablet?

Today's iPad Pro features an Apple M2 chip, which allows for incredible computer-like speed from a tablet you can take anywhere. With the Magic Folios Keyboard attachment, you can use with your iPad, a cheaper and more reliable option to get your work done is now here.

iPads continuously get better, and with iPadOS updating frequently, the iPad just continues to get better even after you take it out of the box. Below you'll find the best iPads for college students, learn how we decided on these five, and some alternatives worth considering before you make your purchase.

Also: 18 iPad deals happening right now: Save $400 on an iPad Pro

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Apple M1 Chip
  • Affordable option for amazing quality
  • Fast USB-C connectivity
Cons
  • 64 GB isn't enough
More Details

Specs: Screen size: 10.9-inch | Chip: M1 Chip | Weight: 1.02 pounds | Front camera: 12MP Ultrawide | Wi-Fi version: WiFi 6

There are many options on the market when looking for a tablet that can fulfill your needs as a student, but very few that have the specs that this iPad Air has. While being powered by an Apple M1 chip, this iPad features performance that is 60% faster than the fourth generation of this product. In addition to the speed upgrade with the M1 chip, you can also run multiple apps at once, much like a MacBook.

While schoolwork has drastically changed over the last few years in part to the pandemic, having a quick computer with a clear camera is essential. This iPad Air contains a 12MP ultrawide front camera equipped with Center Stage so you are always in the center of the frame when recording a video or on a Zoom meeting. Additionally, with its 10.9" Liquid Retina display, you will see everything on your screen with exceptional clarity and color.

Unfortunately, a keyboard isn't included with the purchase of the iPad Air, but you can purchase one through Amazon or through Apple when purchasing your iPad. This unit is compatible with both the Smart Keyboard Folios as well as the Magic Keyboard so you can attach a keyboard to this iPad and essentially have a laptop. With both of these keyboards, a trackpad is built-in so you won't need to smudge your screen with your fingers if you prefer to use it like a laptop.

Review: iPad Air (2022) review: So good I almost regret buying my iPad Pro

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Affordable
  • USB-C replaces lightning port
  • Lots of colors to choose from
Cons
  • Isn't compatible with Smart Keyboard Folio
  • Doesn't work with 2nd generation Apple Pencil
  • Only available in 64GB and 256GB
More Details

Specs: Screen Size: 10.9-inch | Chip: A14 Bionic Chip | Weight: 1.05 pounds | Front Camera: 12MP ultrawide | Wi-Fi Version: Wi-Fi 6

Sometimes it's just as important how your tablet looks as how it performs. Luckily enough, this 10th generation iPad performs just as incredible as it looks. With four color options to choose from, students from all around can get a sleek-designed tablet to complete their daily tasks wherever. To add to the exquisite external design, the screen and hardware within this iPad are perfect for about anything. 

This iPad features a lot of features including compatibility with both the Magic Keyboard Folio as well as the first generation Apple Pencil. While being compatible with the Magic Keyboard Folio, you can get work done in your dorm, library, or campus center with ease. Did I mention this keyboard doesn't even need to be charged?

 With the 10.9" Liquid Retina display, you can edit all the videos and pictures you take with the built-in 12MP camera with ease. Along with editing content, you can also relax and play graphics-intensive games on this iPad with a smooth frame rate in part to the A14 Bionic Chip and True Tone technology.

Review: iPad 2022 (10th Gen) review: A confusingly good iPad

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Battery life is impressive
  • Sleek design
  • Small size makes it east to fit in a backpack
Cons
  • Not compatible with Magic Keyboard or Smart Keyboard Folio
  • No UltraWide camera
More Details

Specs: Screen size: 8.3-inch | Chip: A15 Bionic Chip | Weight: .65 pounds | Front camera: 12MP wide | Wi-Fi version: Wi-Fi 6

Nothing screams portable like an iPad Mini. But, don't let its small size fool you; this .65-pound tablet can do more than what its size may entail. With an edge-to-edge screen, Apple left the excess material out to create a near-borderless design. While the name states it is "mini," the screen produces a "mega" color with a Liquid Retina display featuring True Tone, a P3 wide color, and an anti-reflective coating to make the picture that much clearer. 

The pictures shown on the screen mean nothing without powerful sound to immerse yourself in the content. This iPad Mini has four landscape speakers, on both the top and bottom of the tablet. With that, when you have it propped up in landscape mode, you can hear it all without needing to cup your hand around the speakers.

To loyal Apple users, you know the pain of searching everywhere for a lightning cable whenever you need to charge your device. But, this iPad Mini uses USB-C charging for 2x faster transfer speeds and fast charging -- finally. In addition to fast charging, the 6-core CPU in this iPad model delivers 40% faster CPU performance so you can game, finish school work, and capture content in a blink of an eye.

Review: Apple iPad Mini (6th Gen.) review: Unmatched portability and power

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Available with 12.9" display
  • Compatibility with external displays
  • Multitasking feature
Cons
  • Almost does too much for a student
  • Expensive choice for students
More Details

Specs: Screen size: 11-inch | Chip: M2 Chip | Weight: 1.03 pounds | Front camera: 12MP and 10MP UltraWide | Wi-Fi version: Wi-Fi 6E

As many Apple fans know, the fruit-labeled brand has yet to release a touchscreen laptop -- well, this iPad Pro almost changes that. While it isn't technically a laptop, the M2 chip within this iPad can make it a replacement for your current computer. This chip offers 15% faster CPU speeds, 35% faster GPU speeds, and a 40% faster Neural Engine allowing for 50% more memory bandwidth. Phew, that's a lot.

In today's schooling, the need for a clear front-facing camera is a necessity for all the Zoom meetings you may find yourself in. Fortunately, this iPad Pro has a 12MP UltraWide camera with Center Stage so you never leave the center of the frame. But on the other side, literally, two cameras highlight the back-facing side with one 12MP wide camera and a 10MP UltraWide camera. With cameras as powerful as this, put together videos, short films, and class projects together all with a couple of taps on the Liquid Retina display.

Lastly, to get the most out of this iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil 2 and the Magic Keyboard are essentials. While the Magic Keyboard can transform your iPad into a laptop, the Apple Pencil can transform your experience from amazing to perfect. For typical students, it's hard to say that you will need all the features this iPad offers, but if you're willing to make that investment to replace your laptop, then you're in for a treat.

Read the review: iPad Pro (2022) review: Stop me if you've heard this one before, but…

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Front camera features Center Stage technology
  • Can use multiple apps at once
  • Affordable price for a lot of storage
Cons
  • Back camera could use some work
  • Slightly heavier than the other options
  • Design isn't the flashiest
More Details

Specs: Screen size: 10.2-inch | Chip: A13 Bionic Chip | Weight: 1.07 pounds | Front camera: 12MP ultrawide | Wi-Fi Version: Wi-Fi 5

As someone who just graduated from college, I know the importance of a college budget. This iPad 9th generation is perfect for those looking for a powerful Apple product with a budget of less than $500.

While this iPad doesn't feature the near-borderless design as some of the newer units included in this list, with a 10.9-inch display there is still plenty of room to draw or write with your Apple Pencil and connect the Smart Keyboard to transform your iPad experience. 

Lastly, if you need to take this iPad on the go, there's no need to fret. You have the ability to connect this iPad to your cellular carrier so you can get Gigabit-class LTE wherever you may be.

Review: Apple iPad (2021) review: If it's not broken, don't fix it

What is the best iPad for students?

Powered by the Apple M1 chip and a Liquid Retina display with True Tone, it's hard to argue that there is a better iPad for students than this iPad Air. From its slim, sleek design available in an array of colors to its powerful capabilities internally, this iPad gives you the "wow" factor with its usage and with its price.

Though the iPad Air is our top pick, there are still plenty of good options in Apple's fleet of tablets. The table below helps you compare the five iPads by a few of their key features.

iPads for students

Price

Screen size

Chip type

iPad Air

$599

10.9"

M1

iPad (10th generation)

$400

10.9"

A14 Bionic

iPad Mini

$399

8.3"

A15 Bionic

iPad Pro

$729

11" or 12.9"

M2

iPad (9th generation)

$299

10.2"

A13 Bionic

Which iPad for students is right for you?

There is an abundance of factors that go into the decision when purchasing anything, especially high-quality tech. From surfing the web to editing high-quality videos and pictures, iPads can seemingly do it all. Consider this table when deciding which iPad will be the next addition to your backpack.

Choose this iPad for students

If you want…

iPad Air

The best iPad for students on the market

iPad (10th generation)

A reliable iPad with a sleek and fun design

iPad Mini

A smaller tablet that is still highly capable, that lacks a few features

iPad Pro

An iPad that can fuel your passion for content creation 

iPad (9th generation)

To save a little money with an older, but still capable iPad

How did we choose these iPads for students?

With four different lines within the iPad brand, there are so many great features packed into each of them, making the decision process quite tough. But, through comparing the specs of each iPad and reading reviews from some of ZDNET's experts, I was able to rank them confidently.

The most important factors I wanted to research were the chips within the iPads, their screen size and display, their camera capabilities, and obviously how many of the features would benefit a college student. While the iPad Pro is clearly the top pick for all the bells and whistles, for college students, it's almost a little bit too much. That being said, I chose these iPads based on which ones I would use in the classroom based on the needs that students have.

Are iPads cheaper for students?

Apple rarely has sales on their powerful products, but you can sometimes find deals on their website. For example, you can get the newest MacBook Air for $100 off as a current or newly accepted college student -- this option also extends to their parents as well as faculty, staff, and homeschool teachers.

Do iPad covers fit all iPads?

No. Much like phone cases, the size and layout of these iPads change with every model that is released. But, you can find cases for any line of iPad at places like Best Buy, Amazon, and Target.

Are there stands for iPads?

There is an abundance of different stands you can purchase for your iPad, with some including keyboards as well. If you want to make the most out of your iPad a keyboard is highly recommended, especially when using them for work and academics.

Are there alternative iPads for students worth considering?

There are always alternatives when making decisions, but when it comes to high-quality technology like iPads, the number of alternatives is narrow. But, there are still a few more iPads for students worth considering before completely making up your mind on your purchase.

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