Originally, the Apple iPad was a single one-size-fits-all device, beyond a few storage size options. Then came colors and screen sizes, and Mini, Air and Pro variants. Today, the line has thinned back down a bit to the iPad and iPad Pro, plus an older Mini holdover -- but that doesn't make it much easier to choose which model is right for you.
The newest "sixth-generation" iPad, unveiled in March, is affordable, and comes with a speed boost and support for Apple's excellent pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus. But there are also iPad Pro models, with larger screens, which are over a year old. Also, the smaller iPad Mini, which is even older. Should you even get a cellular iPad at all? And what about storage options? Are you already getting a headache?
Unlike last year, Apple didn't unveil new iPad Pro models at its June developer conference. This means, most likely, that iPad Pros won't be here until the fall. If you want the best, perhaps just keep waiting.
But if you just want a good basic tablet? The 2018 iPad (just called "iPad") is fine. Go for it. And, if you're really desperate for an iPad Pro, they still have some distinct advantages.
First off: Know that more iPads are coming... someday
The 9.7-inch 2018 iPad is the first shoe dropping in this year's iPad release schedule from Apple. Presumably, there will be upgraded iPad Pros, too, coming later this year. Expectations for these 2018 iPad Pro models are that they will have Face ID instead of Touch ID, and maybe more screen space in a smaller body -- as well as the usual faster CPUs.
Last year, these iPad Pro models were unveiled at Apple's Apple's WWDC developer conference. This year, that didn't happen. The next most likely unveiling would be alongside new iPhones ($1,000 at Cricket Wireless) in September -- or possibly later.
Are they worth waiting for? If you're spending a lot for one, maybe.
Just want a basic, good iPad now? Get the 2018 9.7-inch, you'll be fine
There's no better iPad value right now than the new 9.7-inch model, and that won't change in a month. The A10 processor is speedy, the battery life is great (12 hours plus), and sure, it's the same sturdy design and feel as iPads from years past. The Pencil support is a great added bonus if you or your family dreams of creating art in any way: It's the best art tool I've seen on a tablet. The display is still really good, but lacking a few extras that the Pros offer, which you'll probably never really notice if you're not a display obsessive.
It's compact, runs every app you'd need, and it's a perfect everyday-use iPad.
How about the 2017 9.7-inch model?
Last year's low-cost fifth-gen iPad, also called "iPad," is worth getting if you see it on sale for $250 or less. It doesn't work with Apple's nice pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus, but It's extremely similar to this year's budget iPad in most other ways, with a slightly slower processor. It's perfect for everyday streaming, reading and tablet-y things.
What's different about the current Pro models? And why should you care?
Even at a year old, last year's iPad Pros (still the most current Pros) are technically the best, fastest, highest-quality iPads around. Now that Pencil support has come to the entry-level iPad, the Pro tablets do lose one of their key discerning features. That leads me to think the next wave of Pros will get something else even better (wild guess: better modular keyboard attachments and docks?).
I think the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is the best iPad -- if money is no object. The 12.9-inch version has an even bigger screen and similar speed, but it feels too big and expensive for my tastes. Artists might prefer its extra canvas size. The distinct advantages to the Pro models, both of them, are below, and they'll definitely matter to serious iPad users:
- The Pro's display has color tone adjustment (True Tone), a wider color gamut, and an up-to-120Hz display that's smoother scrolling and has benefits for Pencil precision. The display's more seamlessly connected to the glass, too, which helps for fine stylus work. (They're mostly subtle differences.)
- Better quad speakers and stereo sound, versus the tinnier entry-level iPad's speakers.
- The A10X processor is faster.
- Battery life tested better by a few hours.
- The cameras are improved (and they shoot 4K video, unlike the entry-level iPad).
- A side Smart Connector allows things like Apple's Smart Keyboard Cover to attach without needing Bluetooth or separate charging.
But they're also considerably more expensive. The 2018 iPad maxes at $429 for 128GB of storage, while the Pro models at $649 and $799 (with 64GB of storage), and ramp up to a crazy $999/$1,149 for 512GB of storage. And that's not even including a cellular antenna for optional LTE (an extra $130 on top of that), or the Pencil stylus ($99), or the Apple Smart Keyboard Cover ($159, but there are plenty of cheaper keyboard options).
iPad Prices compared (base model, Wi-Fi)
|iPad (9.7, 2018, 32GB)||iPad Pro 10.5 (2017, 64GB)||iPad Pro 12.9 (2017, 64GB)||iPad Mini 4 (128GB)|
Cellular? I'd skip it, unless you crave it
No doubt, using LTE on a tablet is great. I wouldn't pay $130 for the opportunity to pay an extra monthly fee for it. Instead, you can easily tether your phone for free. Pros might consider it if someone else is footing the bill, or if this is your main connected device. Up to you.
iPad Mini? Skip it, too
The iPad Mini 4 is somehow still being sold despite being nearly three years old. That's fine, but it's not getting any discounts on Apple.com: It's $399 for 128GB of storage. That is plenty of space, but its A8 processor is getting long in the tooth, and wasn't even that zippy when I first reviewed it. Pass on this unless you see it on sale, or are desperate for a small-size iOS reading tablet no matter what.
For kids: Also consider a Fire tablet (or Chromebook)
The iPad's a great family choice, and a pretty nice gift for kids. But it's still really expensive. Amazon's Fire tablets are ridiculously affordable, and perfectly good for reading, watching movies, playing games, and doing plenty of things -- the Fire HD 8, in particular. They're not as good as iPads, especially not for things like writing or creating art, but you can get a Fire tablet for as low as $35. Kid-optimized versions cost a bit more. And at least Amazon has pretty robust parental controls for kid accounts, more so even than Apple.
In our review of the latest Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition tablet, we pointed out that it comes with a one-year subscription of Free Time Unlimited, "a Netflix-like subscription service chock full of kid-appropriate e-books, videos and games." After one year, it's $3 a month, but offers a lot of kid-friendly content.
Chromebooks aren't the same thing as tablets, but at $300 or less they're a great choice for kids looking to use a laptop at home (and some, like the Asus Chromebook Flip, can transform into tablet-like devices just fine).
Want a better deal? Look beyond the Apple Store
There are almost always decent iPad sales afoot. For instance: at Costco, the 2018 32GB iPad is being sold with the Pencil stylus for $355, which is a nice deal on Pencil. Best Buy is offering the iPad, no Pencil, for $30 off. Meanwhile, Apple will always sell at MSRP. (That said, Apple does offer an education discount of $20 for the 9.7-inch iPad and $10 off Pencil.)
For most people looking for a basic iPad: get the 2018 9.7-inch model.
Best kid iPad? If iOS compatibility is a must-have, get the 2018 9.7-inch model (or the 2017 model on sale). Otherwise, opt for the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition (for younger kids) or a Chromebook (for older kids).
Best iPad at any price? The 10.5 iPad Pro (I prefer Wi-Fi only and 64GB of storage, for the price).
What about iOS 12? Most likely starting in the fall, you'll be able to update any current iPad to iOS 12, which includes features like 32-person FaceTime calls and animated Memoji avatars -- but it won't substantially change your tablet experience.
It still feels like until new iPad Pros emerge, this is an unfinished story. But, that's how the iPad in 2018 is shaking out so far.
Apple's new iPad 9.7 vs. the old iPad 9.7: Apple updated its lineup with a somewhat refreshed version of its most popular iPad.
Apple iPad Mini 4 lives on: The littlest iPad hasn't seen a major update since 2015, and things are looking grim.