When it comes to tablets, Apple is the unequivocal leader of the pack.
Sure, the Microsoft Surface Pro is great for working and there’s plenty of versatility from the likes of Huawei and Samsung. But really, this is Apple’s show.
The tech giant further cemented its place at the top with a recent launch of two new members of the iPad family: a fully refreshed iPad mini and a new iPad Air. These new products bring the total number of iPads up to five; two iPad Pros, an iPad Air, an iPad and an iPad mini.
Who are all these iPads for? What’s the difference between them? Which one should YOU buy (spoiler alert: iPads aren’t cheap) with your very own money?
Fear not, because what follows is a total breakdown of all the different models explaining just what kind of circumstances they’re each good for. In some cases, we’ve even tried out those iPad models and can provide a bit of first-hand guidance.
Grab yourself a drink and make yourself comfortable for this one, we’ll start with the newest iPads first.
iPad mini (2019)
This diminutive little chap was released quietly by Apple not one month ago and it’s been a long time coming. The newest iPad mini updates a product that was four years old and beginning to show its age.
Outwardly, the mini hasn’t changed one iota. It’s still got a 7.9-inch screen, a 3.5mm headphone jack and Apple’s Home button with a fingerprint sensor built in. Apple let me test one out for myself, perhaps because the company knows I feel it’s the best iPad there is.
Roughly the size of a paperback book, the mini weighs about 300g and is 6.1mm thin. Living in London teaches you space is a premium and having a device this svelte and portable is brilliant for tube journeys, cramped desks in tiny offices and backpacks rammed with the likes of water bottles, laptops and headphones.
Apple has updated this iPad with the same processor as the £1,000 iPhone XS and given it support for the (older) Apple Pencil stylus. You’re basically getting a grand’s worth of processing power for £400. Of course, you can bump that price up if you opt for 256GB storage space instead of 64GB and even further if you want cellular capability. Eventually, you can top this thing out at £669 if you want.
If you want a compact version of iOS for browsing, watching, reading and sketching without opting for an iPhone then you should stop reading and get the iPad mini. It’s the best compact tablet on the market, bar none.
If you’re on a budget then the de facto iPad is what you should be looking at. This 9.7-inch device comes in at £319 in its cheapest guise. It’s the spiritual successor to the very first iPad that Steve Jobs unveiled on stage back in 2010 all those years ago.
Like every other iPad that Apple has, it supports the Apple Pencil and has access to all the iPad focused apps in the App Store. There’s no support for more ‘premium’ features like the Smart Keyboard or USB-C but if you want a regular iPad for consuming content and don’t want to hand over a fortune, this is the best bet.
The 9.7-inch iPad comes in a choice of either Silver, Space Grey or Gold and both the regular and cellular options can be had with either 32GB of storage space or 128GB.
Although the screen is pin-sharp, the processor is starting to show its age a little bit – it’s the A10 Fusion chip that was first used in the iPhone 7 back in 2016. Similarly, the bezels around the screen are also a little bit old school. But, in the grand scheme of things, that shouldn’t matter if you just want the cheapest possible iPad for watching content and playing games on a trip.
iPad Air (2019)
The iPad Air is a step up from the regular 9.7-inch iPad and offers a few key advantages. There’s support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard connector, an upgraded processor (the same one from the iPhone XS), a bigger screen (10.5 inches) and more storage space – a choice of either 64GB or 256GB.
The way to think about this model is that it’s the iPad to buy if you want the regular iPad but with the option of doing more work on it. That is, typing and bits of photo, video or music editing.
There are a couple of reasons for choosing this over the Pro range, not least because it’s much cheaper. Prices for the Air start at £479 while the cheapest Pro will cost you £769. But the other reason is it retains the Lightning port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. Which is handy if you’ve built up a solid collection of Lightning accessories and headphones.
iPad Pro 11-inch (2018)
Now we’re getting to the business end of the piece. The iPad Pro takes a significant jump in both performance and price. As mentioned, it starts at £769 for the 11-inch model but that can grow to £1,669 when you add all the trimmings – like 1TB of storage space and a cellular connection.
Of course, you’re also going to want to buy a smart keyboard (£179) and a second generation Apple Pencil (£119) so tally this up to between £1,061 and £1,967. As you can see, we’re firmly in full-blown-computer territory here. Thing is, this device will last you comfortably through five years. So if it makes you feel any better, you can think of it as between £212.20 and £393.40 each year.
Enough about the price. The Pro devices sport a new design that’s more wedge-like than the curving Air and mini. It’s also got much smaller bezels and, crucially, a new USB-C port on the bottom. This can be used for connecting to an external display or one of the many USB-C accessories that are starting to be produced. However, there’s no headphone jack so be wary. The Pro uses FaceID to unlock as, like the iPhone, there’s no longer a Home button.
Pretty much what you get here is raw power. The beating heart of the device is the A12X processor which allows you do things like import and edit 4K footage without any trouble.
Apple has put four sets of speakers (a tweeter and a woofer) in each corner of the iPad Pro giving it impressive stereo sound. The extra audio power means it doesn’t get muffled when you’re switching around your grip.
If what you want is the best possible iPad and money is no object (or the office is paying for it) then I’d recommend going for this one. The 11-inch screen size is the sweet spot for portability and the updated design and sheer power mean this’ll be future-proofed for a long time to come.
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2018)
Here we are. The mothership. The big kahuna. The Lord of Tablet Town and the device that Apple says can replace your existing laptop in its entirety.
I’ve actually been able to use this one and was blown away by just about everything it had to offer.
If money *really* is no object and you’ve got plenty of space in your luxurious private office overlooking Mayfair or Canary Wharf, then you should buy this.
The 12.9-inch Liquid Retina screen has a display refresh rate up to 120Hz and the graphical power to rival an Xbox One S. The higher refresh rate means that latency when scrolling or using the Apple Pencil is reduced and games are smooth to run. The battery life is also stellar. Apple quotes up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music. I found that I could use the tablet comfortably for a variety of tasks (email, watching videos, writing this review) for about two days before I needed to plug it in again.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at £969 for the Wi-Fi model and £1,119 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular version. Those are just the starting prices. If you wanted to go full-bore for the top-tiered model (12.9, 1TB, WiFi/Cellular) this gadget would cost you £1,869.
Although there’s more than enough power here to replace a standard laptop the sticking point with the iPad Pro comes down largely to iOS. I don’t feel Apple’s mobile operating system has the chops to replace either macOS or Windows 10 when it comes to getting everything out of a computer.
That being said, if you’re a creative professional or an iOS developer, you’re going to want this machine pretty badly.
This really is the best tablet around at the moment thanks to the hardware, performance and industrial design. It rightly keeps Apple at the top and dominating the tablet space completely. Just warn your other half before you pull the trigger on buying this one.