The Best iPads 2021: iPad Air, iPad Pro, iPad (9th Generation) - Rolling Stone
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Apple’s iPads are Still Among the Best Tablets — Here’s How to Pick the Right One for you

Every iPad is powerful and reliable, but we’ve broken down the key features of each model

iPad Pro (5th Generation)

Amazon

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If you want a tablet, whether it’s for casual use or productivity, your best choice is still the iPad. 10 years after its introduction, Apple’s tablet is still the gold standard; its only competition is Amazon’s Fire Tablet line. Originally there was only one type of iPad, but Apple has expanded the line to include iPad models that are suited for particular types of tasks.

There are many reasons iPads remain dominant: They run iOS, the same operating system Apple designed for the iPad, they’re made out of premium materials (aluminum and glass), and their hardware is built to last several years.

If you’ve been considering an iPad, whether it’s for recreational use, or to replace your current computer, this guide breaks down the three models you should consider. There’s no wrong choice, but we’ll help you pick the one that suits your needs best.

What Is The Best iPad?

Screen Size: The biggest difference between iPad models is the size of their screen, which ranges from 8.3-inches to 12.9-inches. All of them have the same pixel density (264 pixels per inch), so text, images, and videos will look sharp regardless of which one you choose. Bigger screens are better if you plan on watching a lot of media, or running productivity apps like audio or video editors. Smaller screens are better if you want a more portable tablet for web browsing or reading.

Storage: If you plan on downloading a lot of media or apps, you’ll want to get a tablet with a lot of storage. Some tablets let you upgrade their storage down the line, but that’s not always the case. All of the tablets we’re recommending have at least 16GB (gigabytes) of storage, which is enough to hold thousands of songs, dozens of apps, and at least 10 hours of full HD video.

Operating System: All of the iPads in this guide can run the latest version of iOS, the operating system Apple designed for its smartphones and tablets. They also support iOS 14, the next version of the operating system slated to be released later this year.

Battery Life: Apple says every model of iPad gets 10 hours of battery life per charge, but the amount you actually get will vary based on the apps you use, your screen brightness, and your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings.

Cellular: Every iPad in our guide can connect to the internet using Wi-Fi, and to accessories like wireless headphones over Bluetooth, but you also have the option to pop in a SIM card and connect to a cellular network. If you choose this option, you’ll be able to use the internet from anywhere you get cellular service, just like your smartphone. This feature requires you to have an active data plan for your iPad, which will cost about $30 a month.

1. iPad Air (4th Generation)

Best Overall

iPad Air (4th Generation)

Amazon

Apple’s iPad Air (4th Generation) includes many of the best features of the iPad Pro in a more portable package.

The tablet has a 10.9-inch high-resolution “liquid retina” display with a resolution of 2360 X 1640; images, text, and videos will look incredibly sharp on this screen. The iPad Air (4th Generation) also supports an Apple technology called True Tone, which automatically adjusts its color temperature based on the lighting conditions in your room. The display is laminated, which reduces glare, and can show the entire P3 wide color gamut, so colors in photos and videos will look a lot more realistic.

This tablet comes in two storage sizes: 64GB and 256GB. The smaller size is enough for dozens of apps, a healthy photo and video library, and some games, while the larger one is better if you have a large media library, or plan on downloading lots of videos from streaming services like Netflix and Prime video. You cannot upgrade an iPad’s storage, so make sure you get enough. Like all iPads, the Air (4th Generation) gets 10 hours of battery per charge. It has a USB-C port, and supports fast charging

On the technology side, the iPad Air (4th Generation) fares very well. It has Apple’s A14 Bionic processor, which is fast enough for modern games and productivity apps, Touch ID, which lets you unlock the tablet using your finger print, and support for both the second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard. Those two accessories can turn your iPad into a drawing tablet and compact laptop respectively.

The only place the iPad Air (4th Generation) falls short is its camera system. It has an 12MP (megapixel) camera on the back, which can shoot 4K video at 60fps (frames per second). Its front-facing camera is 7MP, and can also shoot videos at 1080P. The front-facing camera doesn’t support Center Stage, a new camera feature that keeps you in frame as you move around.

If you want a mid-sized tablet that can handle productivity software and gaming in addition to web browsing, posting on social media, and shopping, Apple’s iPad Air (4th Generation) is the right choice.

Buy: iPad Air (4th Generation) at

2. iPad (9th Generation)

Best Value

iPad (7th Generation)

Walmart

The iPad (9th Generation) may not have a lot of extras, but it nails the essential features you’ll rely on every day for casual use.

The tablet has a 10.2-inch high resolution “retina” display with a resolution of 2160 x 1620, which gives it the same pixel density (amount of pixels per inch) as the iPad Air (3rd Generation) and iPad Pro (5th Generation). In other words, this screen is very sharp. But, it doesn’t support the P3 color gamut, so colors won’t look as vivid, and the display isn’t laminated, so it’ll reflect more light.

This iPad is available in two storage sizes: 64GB and 128GB. You should get the smaller size if you rely on a handful of apps, don’t have a big photo or video library, and plan to use the tablet for casual tasks like web browsing. The 256GB version is the way to go if you’d like more apps, want to store your media locally, and use the tablet with productivity tools. The iPad (9th Generation) has a Lightning connector, and supports the Apple Pencil (1st Generation) and Smart Keyboard.

On the tech spec side the iPad (9th Generation) is good enough for all but the most intense apps. It has Apple’s A13 processor, a Touch ID fingerprint reader, and a dramatically improved camera system. The latest-generation iPad features a 12MP front-facing camera that supports Center Stage, a feature that always keeps you in frame. The back facing camera is 8MP, which will take pretty good photos in good lighting. Both cameras can record 4K video.

If you need a tablet for common tasks like web browsing and reading, and the occasional resource intensive app, the iPad (9th Generation) is your best choice.

Buy: iPad (9th Generation) at $329.99

3. iPad Mini (6th Generation)

Most Portable

iPad Mini

Amazon

The iPad Mini just received its biggest upgrade ever, and it’s the best smaller-sized tablet available right now. The machine has an 8.3-inch “liquid retina” display with a resolution of 2266 x 1448.

This tablet is powered by Apple’s A15 processor, its latest mobile processor. The iPad Mini is capable of running the latest games, photo or video editing apps, and other resource-intensive software without skipping a beat. Apple paired the Mini’s leap in processing power with a big camera upgrade: This tablet sports a 12MP front-facing camera with center stage, and a 12MP back camera.

The iPad Mini (6th Generation) has a Touch ID fingerprint reader, and support for Apple’s second-generation Pencil. Apple hasn’t developed a first-party keyboard for this tablet, but it’s compatible with any Bluetooth model. The iPad Mini’s biggest strength is its thin and light design, which makes it easy to hold with one hand. The fact that Apple didn’t sacrifice any substantial features to fit inside this compact design is a big achievement.

Buy: iPad Mini (6th Generation) at $569.00

4. iPad Pro (5th Generation)

Laptop Replacement

iPad Pro (5th Generation)

Amazon

The iPad Pro (5th Generation) is a high-powered tablet with features on par (or better) than the ones available in Apple’s MacBook laptops.

It’s available in two screen sizes: an 11-inch model with a resolution of 2388 x 1668, and a 12.9-inch model with a resolution of 2732 x 2048. Both have laminated screens, and support both the full P3 color gamut and TrueTone. The big difference between these two screens — besides their size — is that the 12.9-inch model features a Mini LED “Liquid Retina XDR” display. The screen is far better at displaying colors and contrast accurately.

Both models of the current-generation iPad Pro are powered by Apple’s M1 chip, the same processor found in its 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. They’re It’s available in four storage sizes: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB (terabyte), so you’ll have ample space for pictures, videos, apps, and games. The 1TB and 2TB have double the memory, though, which is something to consider if you’re moving over from a traditional laptop to the iPad Pro.

One feature Apple’s iPad Pros have that all other iPads (and Macs) lack is ProMotion, which allows them to to dynamically change the frame rate  (the amount of times it changes what’s on screen each second) of their display. This results in far smoother scrolling. The iPad Pro supports FaceID, a feature that allows you to unlock the tablet just by looking at its front-facing camera.

One of the iPad Pros’ most impressive specs is Apple’s new camera system; It features two back-facing cameras: a 12MP wide angle lens and a 10MP ultra wide angle lens. Both are capable of capturing 4K video at up to 60fps. Its 12MP front-facing camera can record video at 4K, and supports Center Stage.

The camera system also has a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor, which allows the cameras to approximate depth more accurately. Equally impressive is the iPad Pros’ four-speaker audio system, which supports stereo sound, and was designed to prevent distortion at high volumes. I’ve been an iPad Pro user for the past year and a half, and rarely find myself pairing it to a Bluetooth speaker because the internal ones are so good.

You can use either iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), and both the Magic Keyboard (11-Inch or 12.9-Inch version). If you want a tablet that can handle resource intensive tasks like video and image editing, or want to replace your traditional computer, an iPad Pro is the best choice.

Buy: iPad Pro 12.9 (5th Generation) at $1,089.00

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