Best iPad Buying Guide 2021: Find The Right Tablet For You — Macworld UK

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.2-inch iPad

Starting at the low end of the ‌iPad‌ price spectrum, Apple has the basic 10.2-inch ‌iPad‌ starting at $329 for the Wi-Fi only model. This ‌iPad‌ is perfect if you’re on a budget as it is also frequently on sale, and is popular in the education field.

Battery life

For all five currently available iPads, Apple makes the same claim concerning battery life: that they will last «up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi or watching video» or «up to 9 hours of surfing the web using a mobile data network».

But it’s a well-known fact that bigger iPads have bigger batteries, and (despite powering larger screens) tend to last longer away from a power supply. Here are the available battery specs for the current range:

  • iPad Pro 12.9in (2021): 40.88 watt-hour
  • iPad Pro 11in (2021): 28.65 watt-hour
  • iPad Air (2020): 28.6 watt-hour
  • iPad 10.2in (2021): 32.4 watt-hour
  • iPad mini (2021): 19.1 watt-hour

There are factors other than capacity influencing battery life, such as how many pixels that battery is powering, the energy savings that can be made by a more modern processor, and the kind of apps you’re using.

With these general observations out of the way, it’s time to look at each device in more depth. For each iPad we record the essential information, its pros and cons, which buyer should pick it and whether now is a good time to buy.

Buying a refurbished ipad

We’ll mention this only briefly because it’s covered elsewhere, but one option you should absolutely consider is Apple’s Refurbished store. It’s a sort of halfway house between new and second-hand: the devices are pre-owned, but Apple has checked them thoroughly, replaced any worn-out components, and rated them as good as new (and you get a warranty to prove it).

If this sounds appealing, have a look at our in-depth article: Should you buy a refurbished iPad?

Cellular

For most people 3G/4G/5G connectivity is a luxury, even if it’s a nice one to have. For an extra £100/$100 or so (more in the case of the Pros), you’ll be able to access the web and email, and use connected apps, away from a Wi-Fi network. You also need to factor in the cost of a data plan.

Consider carefully how often you’re going to do that — with an iPad mini there’s likely to be more on-the-go use than with a full-size iPad, but it’s still a lot to pay for something you may only use from time to time. Have you got a regular (overground) commute where you’d enjoy catching up on news headlines or email? Then it could be worth the extra.

Just bear in mind that the cellular option also brings with it a GPS radio — meaning you’ll be able to pull in accurate location data when using your device on the go.

We think the best option if you want to be able to get data on your iPad when you are out and about is to create a hotspot and share it from your iPhone. Here’s how to create an iPhone hotspot to share your mobile web connection.

Extras

Now you’ve picked an iPad model, there are just a few extras to consider: storage, colour, cellular and how to buy.

How much storage do you need?

The five iPads offer anywhere from 32GB to 2TB of storage. How much capacity will you need?

Well, first of all remember that you can’t upgrade the storage capacity of an iPad at a later date: this is your storage limit from now until you buy another iPad, so aim high and buy as much storage as you can afford. It’s better to spend an extra few pounds now than to buy an entire new iPad in six months’ time.

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Storage capacity is mainly used up by three things: music, photos, and videos, in increasing order of storage drain. If you want to keep lots of films or TV shows — or even a few, to be honest — then you need high storage: probably 64GB or higher for video fans.

The same applies to large photo or music libraries, to a lesser extent, although iCloud Photos and iTunes Match make it possible to keep your stuff in the cloud and access it remotely (if you pay the fees for iCloud storage).

The other thing that will fill up your storage is apps. Those heavy-duty games we talked about earlier will use up a lot of space, and gamers should aim high on storage — 128GB is a good bar to aim at.

Ipad 10.2in (2020)

This is the cheapest iPad you can buy, while remaining powerful enough for most purposes.

Back in 2021 Apple increased the screen size from 9.7in to 10.2in. The 2020 model retains that design, but is improved in every other way, with a faster A12 processor (previously A10). The arrival of this processor means that the iPad now has the Neural Engine, which is good for image processing and AR features.

The iPad 10.2in has a good screen size for gaming and films, while remaining slim, light and portable.

Indeed we would go so far as to say that the agreeable price, the extra viewing room, the Smart Connector and the overall quality under the hood combines to make this the best and most approachable entry-level Apple device.

Pros: Beautifully thin and light — though not as thin and light as the Air. Low price. Its A12 chip will handle pretty much anything on the App Store right now, although the arrival of the M1 chip in the Pro range may see the top tier of apps move out of this iPad’s reach. Can use the Apple Pencil (first-gen only).

Cons: Feels cheaper thanks to the unlaminated screen. Only goes up to 128GB. Lacks True Tone. 1.2MP front camera is poor compared to all other iPads (which offer 7MP or more).

Ideal for: Anyone who needs a big screen (not a huge screen — they’ll want the 12.9in iPad Pro) but is on a budget, and can cope without the latest in processing and camera power. Anyone who still likes the Home button, which is now available on the 10.2in iPad and iPad mini only. It’s a good-value all-rounder.

Is now a good time to buy? Fairly good, yes. It launched in September 2020 and is still pretty new.

Best deals:

Read more:iPad 10.2in (2020) review

View iPad 10.2in on the Apple Store

Ipad air (2020)

This device set the cat among the pigeons when it launched in September 2020, bringing an iPad Pro-esque all-screen design, moving Touch ID from the Home button to the power button, introducing the A14 Bionic chip before it even appeared in the iPhone, and improving the camera.

It’s an elegant, powerful and easy-to-use tablet that at the time largely matched the 2020 Pro range at a price closer to the mini and 10.2in models — another triumph for the inbetweener. Since then, however, Apple has updated the Pros for 2021 with M1 chips, improved cameras, 5G and the XDR display, and the status quo has been somewhat restored.

Pros: Lovely big screen. Very powerful, but significantly cheaper than the Pros. Supports the Pro accessories: the Apple Pencil (second-gen) and the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Lovely colour options.

Cons: Much more expensive than iPad 10.2in — especially following 2020 price increases. Overkill for many situations. Doesn’t come with very latest features of 2021 Pro update: M1 chip, 5G, XDR display.

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Ipad mini (2021)

Launched in March 2021, the iPad mini is available in two storage capacities (64GB, which will be plenty for most people, or 256GB), and three colours: silver, gold and Space Grey.

Whichever version you go for, you’ll get an A12 Bionic processor chip (which is three generations old now, if you include the M1) with an M12 motion co-processor, a Retina screen and 8MP/7MP rear/front cameras.

Beyond colour, the only thing to decide is whether you want to grab the Wi-Fi-only model or the cellular version so you can get on a 3G or 4G network. There is a steep price difference between Wi-Fi and cellular — £120/$130 — which might seem a lot, but if you expect to travel with your mini (surely one of the main benefits of the smaller model) then 4G support might be worth the extra cost.

Pros: Very portable and still respectably powerful. Affordable, and cheapest version has good amount of storage (64GB). Supports first-gen Apple Pencil.

Cons: Small screen, which may not be great for those who get eyestrain or who like immersive films and games. Doesn’t support second-gen Apple Pencil.

Ideal for: The portability-conscious. Gamers on the go. Tablet photographers. Ebook enthusiasts.

Is now a good time to buy? We would say not. The mini is the only iPad that Apple didn’t update in 2020 and hasn’t yet been touched in 2021, which means it could get an update at any moment. Rumours point to an imminent new iPad mini with a larger screen, but the fact it didn’t appear at the spring event in April suggests it may have been put off until the summer.

Read more:iPad mini (2021) review

Best deals:

View iPad mini (2021) on Apple Store

Ipad pro 11in (2021)

  • 128GB: £749/$799
  • 256GB: £849/$899
  • 512GB: £1,049/$1,099
  • 1TB: £1,399/$1,499
  • 2TB: £1,749/$1,899
  • 128GB (cellular): £899/$999
  • 256GB (cellular): £999/$1,099
  • 512GB (cellular): £1,199/$1,299
  • 1TB (cellular): £1,549/$1,699
  • 2TB (cellular): £1,899/$2,099

The newest iPad Pro models came out in April 2021. These brought no external changes, but a number of important upgrades within.

Ipad pro 12.9in (2021)

  • 128GB: £999/$1,099
  • 256GB: £1,099/$1,199
  • 512GB: £1,299/$1,399
  • 1TB: £1,649/$1,799
  • 2TB: £1,999/$2,199
  • 128GB (cellular): £1,149/$1,299
  • 256GB (cellular): £1,249/$1,399
  • 512GB (cellular): £1,449/$1,599
  • 1TB (cellular): £1,799/$1,999
  • 2TB (cellular): £2,149/$2,399

Price

Many buyers simply want the best iPad they can get for their money, but that all depends on budget.

The good news is that there is a wide range of iPad prices, from £329/$329 for the 10.2in iPad all the way up to £2,149/$2,399 for the top-end 12.9in Pro.

Back in the day our perennial advice was to steer clear of the very cheapest model in the range. But that’s not true any more: the 10.2in iPad launched in September 2020 is a much more impressive package than its cut-price predecessors. The device’s low price, combined with some great tech, makes this budget iPad an attractive option.

If you have more to spend, what can you get for your money? The iPad mini costs more than the standard iPad at £399/$399 and has a better front-facing camera, and a fully laminated display with anti-reflective coating. The iPad Air starts at £579/$599, which is a £100/$100 increase on the price of the 2021 model, but it has some really impressive features that give even the 2021 iPad Pros a run for their money.

But that April 2021 update means that more than ever, the iPad Pro is the ultimate in this category. Starting at £749/$799 the Pro has a lot to offer, albeit probably more than the average person needs.

Those are the prices that Apple sells its iPads for, but you don’t have to pay that much. Take a look at our regularly updated iPad deals page for the lowest prices and best discounts on iPads new and old.

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Should you buy your ipad on contract?

We’d generally say not — it’ll be cheaper up front but you’ll end up paying more in the long run. But it all depends on your budget and the most convenient way to pay for your device. (Businesses often prefer to pay for employees’ tablets on contract.)

Remember that you won’t be able to switch to a different data provider until you’ve finished paying off the contract, as the iPad is likely to be locked to the original contract provider. Here’s how to unlock an iPad from its network, once you’ve fulfilled your contractual obligations.

We discuss the best iPad contract deals in a separate article.

Speed

The iPad Pro models are, as you would expect, faster than their smaller equivalents. You can get an idea of relative speed by looking at a few relevant specs:

  • iPad 10.2in (2021): A12 Bionic
  • iPad mini (2021): A12 Bionic
  • iPad Air (2020): A14 Bionic
  • iPad Pro 11in (2021): M1
  • iPad Pro 12.9in (2021): M1

The big news is that an iPad has been released without an A-series chip for the first time: the latest Pros for 2021 get the M1 chip that won such widespread acclaim in the Mac range. This should result in some outstanding performance, and we can’t wait to get review samples into our testing lab.

But that doesn’t mean the A chips are suddenly sub-standard, or incapable of running apps to a high standard of performance. Keep in mind that the software on the App Store was designed with A chips in mind, and it will be months before apps catch up with the power of the newest Pro hardware. Even then, most developers will want to make their software accessible to as many iPad owners as possible.

So this is a question partly of your requirements, and partly of how long you intend to use your iPad for. Within six months to a year the most demanding graphic-design, video-editing and audio apps will demonstrate improved performance with the M1 processor; if you’re looking at high-level workloads multiple years down the line the M1 will really show its worth.

Final conclusions: which ipad should you buy?

The iPad 10.2in (2020) is a good option for newcomers and those whose usage will be light. Since Apple updated it with a better processor in September 2020 we are a lot more comfortable recommending it.

For most people, however, our recommendation would be the iPad Air (2020). The redesign in September 2020 gave it a more modern look and the A14 processor will future-proof this model for many years. We love that it retains Touch ID via the power button, but expect some people will miss the Home button. However, Apple has bumped up the price of the Air and it’s now $250/$250 more than the 10.2in iPad.

If you’re attached to the Home button you’d be best to advised to go for the iPad 10.2in. The iPad mini (2021) also has a Home button, but it’s more than two years since Apple updated it. Go for this if your priority is portability and you need to buy right now, but we’d suggest that a better option would be to buy the iPad 10.2in instead, or wait for Apple to update the mini.

The remaining iPads will be too expensive for the average buyer. The 11in and 12.9in Pro models are amazingly powerful and well made, with a fantastic all-screen/Face ID design. But the iPad Air also has an excellent processor, and a similar design, and costs considerably less.

Finally, before taking the plunge, have you considered if a laptop might suit your needs better? See iPad vs MacBook for more advice on that front.

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