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The Best iPads In 2021: Which Apple Tablet Is Right For You?

Which is the best Apple iPad for you and your budget? Apple offers good tablets in all price classes. Here are our recommendations.

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iPad Pro 2020 test

Apple pretty much rules the tablet space, with its extensive iPad range catering to every price bracket. From the bleeding-edge iPad Pros to the budget vanilla iPad, Apple will surely have a device that fits the bill for everyone, with each offering an equally great software experience — which happens to be Apple’s biggest strength.

It not only delivers consistent security and other major OS updates to many of its older tablets, but the redesigned iPadOS also makes better use of the extra display estate and the power underneath. You’re now able to easily move files across devices without the annoying restrictions of iOS, and multitasking is also a breeze with new tools and gestures that make it possible.

There is a lot going on in the iPad space, and it’s going to get only better hereon — you certainly wouldn’t want to miss anything. We have a few recommendations for you to consider if you’re out in the market looking for a tablet under any budget.

Best Apple iPads: An Overview

Here is your quick look at the best iPad options available right now.

  • Best Apple tablet for professionals: iPad Pro (on Amazon*). On many metrics, the iPad Pro line turns out to be the leading device, not just in Apple’s own lineup but also in the tablet category in general. It has got everything that you can possibly ask for from a model tablet and then some. Though being a professional-grade device, it comes with a price that may not be affordable for many. If the iPad Pro meets your needs, there isn’t a better device of its class right now on the market.
  • Best premium Apple tablet: iPad Air (on Amazon*). For most, the Pro will be outrageously expensive if you don’t have any professional needs. The new iPad Air gives you the best of both worlds for a much more palatable price. With a new face, the Air is very much a premium-looking (as well as -feeling) tablet from Apple that is capable enough for anything you can think of doing on a tablet screen.
  • Best budget offering: iPad 8 (on Amazon*). The latest budget iPad from Apple didn’t get as big an overhaul as the Air, but it got its internals upgraded. With the new A12 Bionic chip, Apple’s cheapest tablet is now even more popular for quite a lot of use cases. We had no complaints from the device in terms of its performance. However, that old design has started to feel outdated in this day and age.
  • Best small-screen Apple tablet: iPad Mini (on Amazon*). Despite being a couple of years old, the iPad Mini is still the king of small-screen tablets. It fits your palm, can easily slide into your jacket pocket, and is just a delight to use when you’re on the go and don’t want something hefty to carry along. The tablet’s design hasn’t changed quite literally in years, but that isn’t something that will keep you from enjoying using the tablet.
  • Best entry-level option: iPad 7 (on Amazon*). When the iPad 7 came out in late-2019, there was simply no other tablet that could match what Apple had to offer for under $300. And the only tablet to trump it was its follow-up. In nearly all aspects, the iPad 7 matches its successor and is still capable of handling day-to-day tasks without a hiccup. Apple’s excellent software policy ensures that your device will stay up to date for years to come.

Best Apple iPads: In-Depth Look

We’ll now talk a little more in depth about all iPad models that Apple has on offer.

iPad Pro (2020)

iPad Pro 2020 keyboard comparison

Apple iPad Pro 2020 on* Amazon

The Pro tag in the name should be enough of an indicator that we’re looking at the top-tier models from Apple. The tech titan gave its Pro range a refresh back in 2018, and the modern design philosophy has been maintained with the 2020 models. The two Pros build upon their predecessor to offer some additional hardware features, particularly in the camera department.

The most prominent addition has to be the dual-camera setup on the back, which gives you an extra lens to click images through. Right next to the camera pair sits a new LiDAR sensor that helps this powerful machine in better understanding the depth in your surroundings to improve AR applications. Apart from these cameras, not a lot appears to have changed on the outside.

Both the 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pros get a top-of-the-line A12Z Bionic chip that is marginally powerful than its predecessor in graphics performance. That means you still get that class-leading performance for absolutely anything that you can throw at it. To efficiently make use of all that power, Apple started including its tablets with iPadOS, which takes multi-tasking a notch higher and now even natively supports pointer input.

And as its name suggests, this tablet is meant primarily for the professionals who simply cannot afford to settle for anything not as powerful due to their workflow. Apple also makes an excellent keyboard case for the tablet for better productivity, but you’ll have to pick it up separately and it doesn’t come cheap.

Without a speck of doubt, the iPad Pro range is among the best options in the tablet space. Recommending either of the Pros isn’t tough at all, though its sky-high price could be a reservation if you don’t fall under the target category. It’s also true that you aren’t likely to find something comparable to these premium Apple slates if you were out there, looking on the Android side.

Read: Our Apple iPad Pro 2020 Review

iPad Air (2020)

Apple iPad Air 4 tested

Apple iPad Air 4 on* Amazon

When Apple updated the design of its most premium tablet line, we had our fingers crossed to someday see the design language trickle down to more economical options. It finally happened with the iPad Air, which got its most significant facelift since its debut. Apple didn’t stop there; it launched the tablet in a bunch of colorways, which certainly add to the fun factor of the device. The Air 4 got close to its Pro sibling as much as it was reasonably possible while keeping the price in check.

The iPad Air is undoubtedly among the best slates in the $600 price range, and that shows right when you pick it up. It gets an excellent build quality, something we’ve come to expect from Apple, and matches in almost every dimension with the first redesigned iPad Pro. You now have thin bezels for the modern look on the front, and the back is also now flat with just the camera lens protruding in the top corner.

Even though the front has been redesigned on the Air, Apple kept some high-end features exclusive to the Pro range. You don’t get a high-refresh-rate screen, nor do you get Face ID for instant unlocks. Instead, the company has provided its reliable Touch ID sensor built into the tablet’s power key — a first for any Apple device so far. It’s fast enough and reliable for day-to-day usage, and we had no complaints about it.

We found the new stereo speaker comparable to the Galaxy Tab S7, simply meaning that it’s rather good for watching movies or even listening to music without the need for an external speaker. Oh and, the headphone jack is now gone, so you’ll often find yourself relying on those speakers if your Bluetooth headphones aren’t around.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the new iPad Air, though the lack of a high-refresh-rate screen may be a bummer if you’re coming from the Pro. Plus, with first-party accessories, the whole package can quickly kick you out of your budget, so do take note of any adding costs.

Read: Our Apple iPad Air (2020) Review

iPad 8

Apple iPad 8 review

Apple iPad 8 on* Amazon

With this new baseline iPad, the performance is the one area that has seen the biggest jump. Thanks to the A12 Bionic, found inside many recent iPhones, the $300 tablet can now match the iPad Mini in terms of performance. This means that you’ll be able to enjoy the same kind of game playback on a bigger screen without having to sacrifice the graphics quality or your experience.

Other than the new processor, not a lot has changed on the tablet since the last model. You still get the excellent metal build along with a Touch ID sensor on the front as before. That also means that Apple hasn’t dropped the headphone jack, which has been removed from both the new Pro and Air models. However, you’ll still have to put up with the old Apple Pencil that has a weird charging mechanism if you’re into sketching or note-taking on your tablet.

In terms of software, you get the same interface as the more expensive iPad models, which is a big selling point for Apple devices. The redesigned iPadOS gets a lot of things right and helps bridge the divide between laptop and tablet operating systems, though it’s still got a long way to go. The best thing about the software is the available selection of apps and games that are made for an iPad screen. And since the iPad 8 is new, you can expect it to get updated to the latest OS versions for at least a few more years down the line.

The iPad 8 is a perfect entry point for anyone looking for an arguably better experience than an Android tablet and is ready to jump ships. While not Pro-level, the vanilla iPad’s performance has enough headroom for all your everyday apps, games, and productivity applications. Often available for under $300, the iPad 8 makes for a compelling buy for most of us.

Read: Our Apple iPad 8 Review

iPad Mini

iPad Mini 2019 Fortnite

Apple iPad Mini 2019 on* Amazon

Announced alongside the 2019 iPad Air, the iPad Mini is the smallest tablet from the company, with its performance still comparable to the Air. It deploys the same A12 Bionic processor that can handle any app available on the App Store. It is a compact tablet that you can carry along without feeling the bulk, for maybe reading a book or replying to your mails.

The Mini got this update after several years, bringing an improved display with features like True Tone that make it better than the baseline model, which even lacks a laminated top glass. However, the old design may not stand the test of time over the years. It still isn’t bad, considering you get the more reliable Touch ID and the headphone jack, which will most likely disappear if the Mini were to get an iPad Pro-like facelift.

It was good that Apple added the support for the Apple Pencil, albeit the first-gen one. It makes the Mini a fantastic note-taking machine, especially for the tablet’s manageable size and better ergonomics. The Mini makes for a much more sensible tablet for the Pencil than the cheapest iPad because of the better display it uses.

We found its battery life to be satisfactory in our review, and it should last you a day or two based on your use. The speakers are only on one side of the tablet, but their quality is quite good, and similar is the case with its cameras. There aren’t many small tablets as capable as the iPad Mini. If having a small screen tablet is a top priority, you shouldn’t think twice before picking this one up.

Read: Our Apple iPad Mini Review

iPad 7

Apple iPad 7 experience

Apple iPad 7 10.2-inch on* Amazon

The 2019 edition of the budget iPad from Apple continues to be a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a tablet for under $300. While it seems to have maintained the form factor from its forerunner, the iPad 7 is technically closer to the 2019 iPad Air in terms of its physical dimensions. Apple gave it a lot more attention without raising the asking price of the device.

For one, you’re getting half an inch of extra display estate over the outgoing iPad 6. The display itself is high-quality, particularly for its price, though it still isn’t laminated. Apple has included its proprietary connector to the iPad’s side, like the Air has, to connect the first-party keyboard without the need for a pairing process or to charge the keyboard separately. This turned out to be a big deal for anyone wanting a productivity or a classroom device on the cheap.

While we had a couple of minor gripes with this machine, everything else more than compensated for it. The performance will still be good, even though Apple hasn’t made many changes on the inside. Still, the overall usage turned out to be much better since it used the improved iPadOS and all its multitasking features along with other bells and whistles.

Except for a significant performance boost, the newer iPad 8 is similar to this model in all aspects. The latest budget tablet from Apple will make more sense if your use case requires that extra horsepower. But for everyone else, the iPad 7 is still powerful enough — not many will be able to differentiate between the two just based on their performance for day-to-day stuff.

With the arrival of its follow-up, Apple officially discontinued the iPad 7, but there’s a good chance that you may still be able to find one selling for well under $300 from various third-party sellers. You can also consider getting a refurbished model if your budget is even tighter.

Read: Our Apple iPad 7 Review

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