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ZDNET's reviewers and editors have been testing and using tablets for years. When we test a new iPad, we spend at least two weeks (and often several months) using the device in our everyday lives -- doing everything from working to browsing to video editing to streaming shows to gaming. We seek to get a feel for how you'd actually use the device day to day, and any pros and cons related to performance, display, battery life, cameras, and other features.
What to Consider
Ultimately, Apple only has four iPad models, so there is little selection. However, each iPad is different enough by design to suit different needs.
Even though each iPad is an Apple product, we considered which iPads are compatible with accessories such as the second-generation Apple Pencil and which have the latest OS.
The different iPad models will vary in cost since they focus on different things. For example, the iPad Mini's focus is portability, so it is small and costs less, while the iPad Pro is a powerhouse meant to replace a laptop, so you'll see a higher price tag.
Apple's iPad lineup is arguably unmatched by any other tablet maker. While our list only features what ZDNET thinks to be the four best options, each iPad is fit for different students, professionals, and creatives alike for multiple use cases.
From the iPad Mini to the iPad Air, these premium tablets consistently find their way to the top of performance charts. They offer 10 hours of battery life, clear and crisp displays, and access to thousands of apps in the App Store.
And because Apple keeps updating and enhancing iPadOS, the iPad keeps gaining valuable features like widgets on the home screen, trackpad support, new Apple Pencil features, and more Mac-like features, while differentiating the tablet lineup from the iPhone. The latest version, iPadOS 17 just arrived in September, with new features like interactive widgets, webcam support, and better support for PDFs.
Below, you'll find Apple's current iPad lineup and details about what differentiates each model in a bid to help you find the best iPad model for your budget and needs. My top pick is the sixth generation iPad Pro, but the other three models are worthy in their own right. Plus, we've called out sales and deals so you can save for holiday shopping.
iPad Pro (6th generation)specs: Display: 11-inch Liquid Retina display or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion and True Tone | Processor: Apple Silicon M2 | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB | Biometrics: Face ID | Colors: Silver, space gray | Cameras: 12MP wide, 10MP ultrawide rear and 12MP TrueDepth FaceTime front | Weight: 11-inch: 1.03 pounds, 12.9-inch: 1.5 pounds | Dimensions: 11-inch: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches, 12.9-inch: 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.25-inches| Connections: USB-C Thunderbolt/USB-4 | Battery life: 10 hours
Apple's 2022 iPad Pro lineup is by far the most capable and impressive iPad lineup I've seen, making it my best overall pick. It's also the most expensive by a long shot. The design hasn't changed much on the outside, but on the inside, you'll find Apple's M2 processor, which consists of 20 billion transistors -- 25% more than the M1. It's the same exact processor that Apple is using in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
ZDNET writer Jason Cipriani spent some time with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and found it to be faster and more capable than any other iPad model he's tested to date. You can expect download speeds up to 2.4Gbps, twice as fast as the previous model, 15 percent faster performance, and up to 35 percent faster graphics performance.
Cipriani was particularly impressed by the Pro's power when handling a large workload.
"The combination of Stage Manager and external monitor support means you can have up to eight apps open and in use on the iPad Pro at the same time. This, of course, will tax the performance of the tablet, but Apple's M2 processor is the most capable when it comes to powering through whatever you throw at it," he said.
The Pro also supports the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, and there's a new hover feature thanks to the M2 chip. The feature works like this: When the tip of the Apple Pencil gets within 12 millimeters of the display, parts of the interface come to life in apps that support the new feature.
Although the differences between the 5th-generation and this 6th-generation model are more subtle, the M2 chip is really what makes it a powerhouse tablet. The iPad Pro, combined with iPadOS and the M2 chip, is as close as you can get to a laptop without actually buying a laptop.
Deal alert: Save $100 on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro when you buy at Amazon.
Landscape front-facing camera is superior to other iPad models
Four colors to choose from
$120 more than predecessor
Dongle required to charge Apple Pencil (1st generation)
iPad (10th generation)
Best base model iPad
iPad (10th generation) specs: Display: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone | Processor: A14 Bionic chip with 16-core Neural Engine | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Silver, Pink, Blue, Yellow | Cameras: 12MP f/1.8 wide, 12MP Landscape f/2.4 front | Weight: 1.05 pounds | Dimensions: 9.79 x 7.07 x .28 inches | Connections: USB-C, Smart Connector | Battery life: Up to 10 hours of video playback with USB-C charging
Apple's tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value in the group. You get the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models in a lightweight form factor with a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone and thinner bezels than the previous generation.
Apple updated the iPad in the fall of 2022 with the A14 Bionic processor, USB-C support, 5G support for on-the-go tasks, and a new 12MP ultra-wide camera. It also has support for the Magic Keyboard Folio made specifically for this iPad and includes an adjustable kickstand with a 14-key function row for shortcuts.
ZDNET editor June Wan went hands-on with the iPad and puts the model ahead of even the M2 iPad Pro.
"The area where the regular iPad edges out the Pro is camera placement," he said. "Generally speaking, having the camera located on the long side really does bring an improvement to how you're presented in video calls and photos."
It also comes in fun colors that break out of the standard space gray and silver we have seen for so long. The colors include pink, blue, yellow, and classic Apple silver.
One major downside of the new iPad is that it doesn't support the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil. Instead, you'll have to connect your 2nd-generation Apple Pencil to a dongle in order to use it, making it an unnecessary hassle.
Deal alert: Save $50 on the base-model iPad at Walmart ahead of Black Friday.
Compatible with Magic Keyboard and 2nd-generation Apple Pencil
Same design we saw Apple bring to the Air in late 2020
iPad Air (5th generation)
Best iPad for anyone
iPad Air (5th generation) specs: Display: 10.9-inch Retina display | Processor: Apple Silicon M1 | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Space gray, starlight, pink, purple, blue | Cameras: 12MP rear, 4K video. 12MP Ultra Wide camera | Weight: 1.02 pounds | Dimensions: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.24 inches | Connections: USB-C port | Battery life: 10 hours
Apple's latest update to the iPad Air is more of a catch-up announcement than anything. The 5th-generation iPad Air keeps the same design we saw Apple bring to the Air in late 2020, but it now boasts an M1 processor and 5G connectivity. That's a lot of performance for the cost, which starts at $599.
Cipriani ran tests on its performance, and the iPad Air is almost as powerful as the iPad Pro.
"Geekbench 5 on the iPad Air resulted in a single-core score of 1,701 and a multi-core score of 7,137," he said. "I ran the same test on my personal 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the same M1 processor with 16GB of memory, compared to the iPad Air's 8GB, and the scores were much closer than I anticipated: The iPad Pro scored 1,708 for single-core and 7,297 in the multi-core test."
With a 10.9-inch display and a Touch ID sensor that doubles as a power button on the side of its housing, the iPad Air is more affordable and slightly different than the iPad Pro. The new iPad Air still works with the Magic Keyboard and 2nd-generation Apple Pencil.
Apple also updated the color lineup for the Air, matching the iPad Mini's color lineup, with the addition of a new blue color.
Deal alert: Save $99 on the iPad Air at Amazon when you use a coupon.
Unless you really value the size, you're better off going with another iPad
iPad Mini (6th generation)
Best compact iPad
iPad Mini (6th generation) specs: Display: 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Space gray, pink, purple, starlight | Cameras: 8MP rear, 1080p video. 12MP FaceTime camera with Center Stage | Weight: 0.65 pounds | Dimensions: 7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches | Connections: USB-C | Battery life: 10 hours
If you want something smaller and more manageable, the Apple iPad Mini fits the bill. Apple's recent update to the Mini brought it current with the company's new flat-edge design, a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and support for the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil.
It's powered by the A15 Bionic processor, and the display size was increased from 7.9 inches to 8.3 inches. By removing the home button and putting Touch ID in the top button, the overall size of the Mini actually decreased.
There's also a spot on the right side of the tablet to charge the Apple Pencil, and it makes for a fantastic tablet to draw or write notes on.
Deal alert: Get $30 off the iPad Mini at Amazon as an early Black Friday deal.
Show Expert TakeShow less
What is the best iPad?
The iPad Pro is the best iPad money can buy. It's the most capable in terms of performance and can be used for anything from graphic design to entertainment.
11-inch Liquid Retina display or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Apple Silicon M2
10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone
10.9-inch Retina display
Apple Silicon M1
8.3-inch Liquid Retina display
Which is the best iPad for you?
If you're deciding between getting the base model iPad or the iPad Air (or for that matter, the iPad Air or the iPad Pro), we recommend sitting down and thinking of all the ways you want to use the iPad.
If your list primarily consists of consumption activities, like watching videos and reading news, odds are the base model iPad is what you should go with. However, if you want to do a fair amount of emailing, messaging, writing, and web browsing, then the iPad Air is where your search should begin. As for the iPad Pro, it's clear that it's now meant for users who plan to push it to its limits while they work by connecting multiple accessories and monitors or other peripherals.
If you need a laptop replacement and love the iPad, then the iPad Pro is where to start your search.
Choose this iPad...
If you want...
The best overall option. This iPad can completely replace your laptop with its impressive power.
The portability of a tablet but don't want to replace your computer. The new 12MP ultra-wide camera even beats out the Pro.
To use your tablet for work and play. At just over a pound, the Air is compatible with the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil.
A smaller, more manageable iPad model with an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display with mighty graphics.
How did I choose these iPad models?
I, along with other ZDNET writers like Jason Cipriani and our reviews editor June Wan, have been testing and using tablets for years. The selection process for the best iPad consists of using the tablet, reading other reviews both from consumers and product reviewers, and then determining what should and shouldn't make the list. I also considered the following factors:
Availability: Ultimately, Apple only has four iPad models, so there is little selection. However, each iPad is different enough to suit different needs.
Compatibility: Even though each iPad is an Apple product, I considered which iPads are compatible with accessories such as the second-generation Apple Pencil and which have the latest OS.
Price: The different iPad models will vary in cost since they focus on different things. For example, the iPad Mini's focus is portability, so it is small and costs less, while the iPad Pro is a powerhouse meant to replace a laptop, so you'll see a higher price tag.
What is the best iPad for kids?
The base model iPad is the best tablet for kids since it's easy to use, lightweight, and can grow with your child as they need it for different purposes. The iPad Mini would also be a good choice since it's the smallest iPad in the lineup, perfect for little hands.
What is the best iPad for drawing?
The best iPad for drawing is definitely the iPad Pro, thanks to its mini LED display that Apple calls Liquid Retina XDR, which is brighter and offers more color contrast when you're drawing.
The Pro is also great for drawing since it supports the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it.
What is the best iPad for students?
The best iPad for students is the 5th-generation iPad Air. It has many of the same features as the powerful iPad Pro but costs a lot less for students' budgets.
It's also compatible with the Magic Keyboard and the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, so students can utilize it in different ways.
Should I get the iPad Pro or the iPad Air?
Where the iPad Pro is the model for those who want nothing but the best and most updated features, the iPad Air is the model for those who want to use the tablet for work and play, without big sacrifices in performance or features.
What are the differences between an iPad, Amazon Fire, and a Samsung tablet?
It's easy to see the price difference between one of Amazon's Fire tablets and an iPad. However, you have to remember that Amazon designs and builds its tablets as entry-level tablets that do the bare minimum.
Performance is going to be slower, and app selection is going to be worse on Amazon's Fire tablet lineup. The iPad has access to the same App Store as the iPhone, with most apps optimized to take advantage of the larger display on the iPad.
As far as Samsung tablets go, these devices will run on Android OS and are closer to iPads in terms of performance, design, and features. The Galaxy Tab S series is ideal for users who need power, such as creators and professionals. The tablets in this series have larger screens and more processing power, comparable to the iPad Pro.
On the other hand, Samsung also makes a Galaxy Tab A series, which comes at a lower price point with smaller screens for those who need a simple tablet for everyday tasks and entertainment.
Are there alternative iPad models to consider?
If you still want an iPad but want to pay less and don't mind older versions, you can buy a renewed iPad through Amazon's Renewed Store, which sells high-quality, like-new products that are refurbished and pre-owned.