iPad buyer’s guide – Which iPad is right for me?

Welcome to the JSwordSmith iPad buyer’s guide! I put this little resource together to help shoppers make the best decisions when shopping for an iPad.  

Updated (3/31/2019): Apple updated for the new iPad Air and iPad Mini that were released this week.

What are my options?

Apple is now making more iPads than ever before. Last week they increased the line by introducing a brand new iPad Air which takes the place of the iPad Pro 10.5 and has revamped the iPad Mini with new internals. This has changed what I recommend as the best iPad for what you’re trying to do.

iPad Line-Up March 2019
iPad Line-Up March 2019

Every iPad comes in different colors, but which colors depend on which model you end up picking.  If color is the main thing you are looking for in an iPad, then your choice might be slightly limited.  

How do you use your iPad?

The iPad can be used for so many different things.  For some, it is a laptop replacement, a place where you can do all the work your laptops used to do.  If that’s the case, you’ll probably be more interested in buying an iPad Pro.  

If you mostly use an iPad for surfing the internet, watching videos, and reading you probably will not need as much power.  That means you can pick a cheaper version and still be plenty happy.

So the first thing you need to decide is how you’d like to use your iPad.  Defining how you will use it will help focus the buying process.  

LTE

Adding an LTE option is available on every model.  

If you choose to go with the LTE version, you will be able to access the internet where ever you can get cell phone service.  You generally will not have to worry about having a wifi signal since you can use the cell phone antennas to get internet access.  

But it comes with a price.

 The LTE versions of the iPad are more expensive (by at least $130), but you get the freedom to travel with your device and not worry about getting wifi.  

You’ll need to check with your provider to see how much it will be to access the LTE service as well.  The good thing about the iPad with LTE is that it’s not locked down by the carrier.  You can move around carriers, choosing 5 options with the included e-sim, and you can always put a nano-sim in the sim card slot, which will allow you to use any service you want, even over seas providers.

iPad Pro

The new iPad Pro 2018
The New iPad Pro

If you want the most out of your iPad, then the iPad Pro is the way to go.  This is one of the best iPads that I have ever used, but it is still limited by the operating system.  This means that it’s the same on all of the iPads, not just the pros.

Still, if you are planning on using your iPad as your main device, or if you plan to do lots of work on your iPad, or make videos, this is the iPad for you.  This iPad is almost as fast as Apple’s MacBook Pros.  It is the fastest iOS devices ever made.

It is also one of the slimmest devices, which makes it great for portability.  

2018 iPad Pro
the iPad Pro 2018

You have two screen size options with this pro, the 11-inch and the 12.9.  The 12.9 is giant, but because of the reduced size and weight from the previous years iPads, it is fully manageable to carry around.  Both screens go from edge-to-edge and have the full-color gamut.  It also has Pro-Motion, which makes the user interface of the iPad buttery smooth.  Once you use an iPad with ProMotion, it’s hard to go back to a normal screen. 

Apple has added FaceID and taken away the home button on these iPads.  New gestures like swiping up from the button have replaced the old standard button.  If you’ve used an iPhone X or newer, you’ll likely be used to the gestures.  If you’ve never used them before, it might take you a bit to grow accustomed, but it really is just as easy and offers more flexibility. 

This is the fastest iOS device that you can possibly get at the time of writing this. The iPad Pros are getting close to closing the speed gap between iOS and MacBook Pros, they are that close. I would look forward to software updates that will make these chips even more impressive once we get to iOS 13.

Options

These new iPads only come in Silver and Space Gray.  The Space Gray is darker than most other versions (Space Gray is a very broad color it seems).   No matter what color you choose, the front will be black now.

Here’s how the prices of the iPad Pro break down:

64GB256GB512GB1TB
11 inch iPad Pro Wifi$799$949$1149$1549
11 inch iPad Pro Wifi + LTE$949$1099$1299$1699
12.9 iPad Pro Wifi$999$1149$1349$1749
12.9 iPad Pro Wifi + LTE$1149$1299$1499$1899

Who should get the iPad Pro

You should get the iPad Pro if you:

  • plan to encode video on your iPad
  • Want the most powerful tablet out there
  • want FaceID on your tablet
  • need the biggest screens
  • love technology.
  • do most of your work on an iPad already
  • plan on replacing your laptop
  • you need the most storage possible (1TB! That’s crazy)

Who should avoid the iPad Pro

Avoid the iPad Pro if you:

  • Own the previous generation iPad Pro already and are happy
  • Are trying to save money
  • Only surf the internet, read, or watch videos
  • Prefer TouchID
  • ike the Home Button

iPad Pro 10.5

Update (3/31/2019): As of March 2019, Apple has discontinued the iPad Pro 10.5 and replaced it with a new and cheaper 3rd generation iPad Air. If you can find a great deal on this iPad Pro, it is still a great machine, but it does have an older processor. The new iPad Air has a faster chip but lacks Pro Motion and the camera of this iPad Pro. You’ll need to weigh what you want out of an iPad before you buy.

In Apple fashion, when they announced the new iPad Pros, they kept the previous iPad Pro 10.5-inch around in the overseas.  While this iPad isn’t as fast as the newer iPad Pros, it is still plenty speedy.  

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro still has the thick bezels at the top and bottom of the screen and the Home Button with TouchID.  But the screen on this iPad is great.  It has the wide color gamut and ProMotion as well.  It’s buttery smooth just like the new iPad Pros.

Inside the iPad Pro 10.5 is an A10X Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture. When it was realized, it was one of the speediest chips that Apple ever made. It has since been passed up by the A11 (which is in the iPad 6th generation) and the new A12 and A12X which are in the new iPhones and iPad Pros respectively.

Rounding out the features are a pretty solid 12-megapixel iSight camera which can also record video in 1080p HD quality. It does protrude from the body a bit, but it doesn’t wobble when placed on a table really.

Apple’s iPad Pro 10.5
The iPad Pro 10.5 in all colors

It also still comes in multiple colors. In fact, if you want the rose gold color, this is your only option here.  

Honestly, this is still a great iPad, and it’s plenty powerful for most people.

Price

The iPad Pro 10.5 only comes in one screen size, but it does come with multiple colors and three storage options.

64GB256GB512GB
iPad Pro 10.5 wifi$649$799$999
iPad Pro 10.5 wifi + LTE$779$929$1129

Who should get the iPad Pro 10.5

You should get the 10.5-inch iPad Pro if you:

  • Need a powerful tablet, but don’t want to spend the money for the new iPad Pros
  • Want Rose Gold
  • Want a powerful iPad with TouchID
  • Need more screen space than 9.7-inches

Who should avoid the iPad Pro 10.5

Avoid the iPad Pro 10.5 if you:

  • Don’t want a bigger iPad
  • Want the biggest screen possible
  • Will only use your iPad for web browsing, reading, and videos

iPad Air – 3rd generation

In March of 2019, Apple surprised the masses by updating a line of the iPad that everyone thought was long gone – The iPad Air 3rd generation.

iPad Air 3rd generation
iPad Air 3rd generation

The iPad Air is a middle ground iPad between the low-cost 6th generation iPad and the newer iPad Pros. Apple seems to have taken the body of the previous 10.5-inch iPad Pro and updated the processor and adjusted the screen.

The iPad Air -3rd generation has an A12 bionic chip inside it. This is the same chip that is inside the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. It is plenty fast for pretty much anything you’d want to do and is only bested by the iPad Pros with the A12X.

To make the iPad cheaper, Apple did change the screen technology. It still has a retina screen as well as a wide color display (p3). It is still a laminated display, which means the screen appears much closer to the surface of the screen. Apple didn’t include ProMotion on these displays and they are just a little less bright than the iPad Pros. Still, the screen on these guys should be great for anyone.

On the other side of the iPad, Apple has downgraded the camera. The camera is now rocking an 8-megapixel camera unlike the 12-megapixel the iPad Pros have had. It does still take High Dymanic Range photos though. Plus there’s not camera bump.

This iPad can still use the Smart Keyboard cover and the 1st generation Apple Pencil.

Price

Apple has cut the Rose Gold option, but still offers Silver, Space Gray, Gold. It comes in 2 storage options and has the ability to access LTE for the up charge.

64GB256GB
iPad Air Wifi$499$649
iPad Air Wifi + LTE$629$779

Who should get the iPad Air

You should get the 10.5-inch iPad Air if you:

  • Need a powerful tablet, but don’t want to spend the money on the new iPad Pros
  • Want a powerful iPad with TouchID
  • Need more screen space than 9.7-inches
  • What to use the Smart Keyboard cover.

If you want the best all-around iPad for the cost, I think the iPad Air should be the iPad you look at first. If you want the most versatile iPad this would be the one for the best price. You can draw, type, or use the device as a tablet and it starts at just $499.

Who should avoid the iPad Air

Avoid the iPad Air if you:

  • Want a smaller iPad
  • Want the biggest screen possible
  • Will only use your iPad for web browsing, reading, and videos
  • Want a cheaper iPad

iPad – 6th generation

Earlier this year, Apple released the 6th generation iPad.   It is a versatile tablet which is almost as speedy as the iPad Pro 10.5, and it can use the iPad Pencil.  

IPad 6
The iPad 6th generation

It comes in 3 colors Silver, Gold, and Space Gray – there’s no rose gold, but the gold color used seems to be an in between of the golds.  It also uses TouchID.  You do lose ProMotion and the higher color gamut on this iPad.  Apple also didn’t include the smart connector that the Pro devices have.  This isn’t a huge set back since not many devices use the smart connector.  But if you want a keyboard case, you’ll most likely have to now charge it and the iPad.  

So it has some compromises.  But honestly, this is the iPad most people should get.  

Price

The best thing about this iPad is that for as speedy as it is, it is really cheap.

32GB128GB
iPad wifi$329$429
iPad wifi + LTE$459$559

Who should get the iPad?

Get the iPad if you:

  • Want the cheapest iPad
  • Have never used an iPad before and want to see what it’s about
  • need a smaller device for travel.

Who shouldn’t get the iPad?

Avoid the iPad if you:

  • Want the most power
  • Like bigger screens
  • Need more storage
  • Want to attach a keyboard you don’t want to charge.

iPad Mini

Apple finally updated the smallest iPad in its line-up in March 2019. The Mini had languished without an update for 4 years. Now though, the Mini is a capable device again!

The IPad Mini
The iPad Mini

The iPad Mini now has an A12 Fusion Processor inside and it packs a punch. The smallest iPad got better. I don’t have a problem recommending the Mini anymore now that it has been updated. If you need a small device for travel and an iPhone won’t cut it, I think the Mini would be a great device to have.

This is pretty much the smaller version of the iPad Air. All of the insides are pretty much the same just in a smaller package. It has the better processor, but it also doesn’t have the best screen, it lacks ProMotion. It also has the 8-megapixel camera on the back for taking photos.

It can also use the 1st generation Apple Pencil, but it doesn’t have a Smart Connector – not that you’d really want a keyboard that small all the time.

Not much else was changed about the outside of the device so if you already have a Mini and want to upgrade your cases should still work. I haven’t gotten to compare them to the older version yet, so that could be wrong.

Still, this is the best iPad with regards to portability.  

Price

The Mini comes in the same three colors as well – Silver, Gold, and Space Gray. It also comes in 2 hard drive sizes 64GB and 256GB. But the miniaturization comes with a cost. It is more expensive than the iPad 6th- generation.

64GB256GB
iPad Mini with Wifi$399$549
iPad Mini with Wifi+LTE$529$679

Who should get the iPad Mini?

Get the iPad Mini if:

  • You want the smallest iPad
  • travel often and have small carry-on
  • Want to update your iPad Mini
  • Enjoy the smaller form factor
  • Want to see what a smaller tablet is like so you can get ready for the oncoming slate of folding phones.
  • Want a small artist notebook to take with you.

Who shouldn’t get the iPad Mini

Avoid the iPad Mini if:

  • Want the biggest iPad
  • Want the cheapest iPad
  • Want the most powerful iPad

Accessories

For the first time ever, all of Apple’s iPads can now use the Apple Pencil. The iPad, iPad Mini, iPad Air, and 10.5-inch iPad Pro all use the 1st generation Apple Pencil, which you can get here. If you are an artist, I would recommend the larger iPads (10.5 or larger). It will give you the most canvas to work on. However, smaller screens do travel better. You’ll need to decide on how you want to use them.

The newest iPad Pros use the second generation Apple Pencil, which improves on the 1st generation in almost every way in regards to storage and charging. In actual use though, they are very similar.

The iPad Pro 10.5, 11, and 12-inch can all use the Smart Keyboard of their respective size. New this year (2019), the iPad Air can also use the Smart Keyboard Cover which the iPad Pro 10.5 uses as well. Just makes sure that the keyboard size matches the size of your iPad and you’ll be good.

Of course, you can always buy a laptop case for any iPad and use Bluetooth, the smart keyboards that Apple makes are great at staying out of the way.  I have heard that the Brydge keyboards have been great as well, it makes the iPad more laptop-like.  These are things to consider as well.  

Wrap up

I hope this helps you make a choice.  What I usually do when someone asks me which to get is start with the iPad and go from there.  If they need more power and fancy things, go up.  If they want less… there’s not much else.  The iPad is cheap as it is.  

The iPad Pro is still the best device that I’ve bought this year though.  I love it, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.  Your usage may vary.  

Please feel free to send this iPad Buyer’s guide to your friends and family.  I hope it helps you make some choices coming up on the holidays.  Don’t forget to check out the iPhone’s Buyer’s guide as well if you’re looking for a new iPhone.

Check out the MacBook Buyers Guide

Get a new device? Check out our Gift Guide

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