iPad Pro vs. iPad mini 4 vs. iPad: Which one should you buy?


These days, picking an iPad can be tricky, but here’s the lowdown on which model is right for you.

So you’re in the market for a new iPad. Excellent choice—I couldn’t live without mine. It’s my companion when I’m catching up on news and email in the morning over tea, reading a comic book in the evening to unwind, or watching a movie while traveling on a plane. Update 6-22-2017: This article has been updated to include information about the new 2017 iPad, as well as the upgrades to the iPad Pro line.

But these days, picking an iPad can be tricky. Apple currently sells four different models of iPad, with prices ranging from $329 to $1229. There are size, storage, color, and connectivity options to consider. All in all, there are 60 different variations of iPad from which to choose. So which iPad is right for you? Read on.

When size matters: 12.9 inch-iPad Pro

This iPad Pro is definitely the biggest iPad, with a 12.9-inch diagonal screen. It’s a bit like someone ripped the screen off of a 13-inch laptop and turned it into an iPad. The iPad Pro models are also the fastest iOS device ever and offer many features that aren’t available on any other device. Read our full review here.

If you’re an artist who has dreamed of having a larger and more responsive iPad to draw on, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a dream come true with its extra large canvas. It’s one of the only iPads to support the $99 Apple Pencil, and while there are other pressure-sensitive iPad styluses on the market, this is the one that’s made by Apple—and that means it’s the best in its class, if for no other reason that it will be deeply integrated into the iPad Pro’s software. In 2017, Apple reduced the latency of the Apple Pencil to 20 milliseconds, making it the fastest digital pen out there.

If you’re someone who does a lot of serious creative work on your iPad, this iPad Pro is made for you, too—its larger screen is perfect for running two apps in Split View. And rather than having to rely on Bluetooth to attach an external keyboard, the new Smart Connector supplies data and power to both Apple’s $169 Smart Keyboard (which doubles as a carrying case) as well as other forthcoming keyboards, including the Logitech Create.

But despite its name, the iPad Pro isn’t just a tool for artists and other people wanting a more powerful and expansive iPad to get work done. It’s also a fantastic (albeit pricey) entertainment device, thanks to its stereo speakers and that gorgeous 2732-by-2048-pixel display.

For all its size, the iPad Pro doesn’t feel heavy. At 1.6 pounds, it’s about as heavy as the original iPad—but its weight is spread over a much larger area, making it comfortable to hold.

Color options: Silver, Gold, Space Gray.

Storage options: 64GB ($799), 256GB ($899) or 512GB ($1099).

Cellular option: 64GB ($929), 256GB ($1029) or 512GB ($1229).

Who it’s for: Artists and creative pros, people who use their iPads to get work done, and anyone who wants a big, bright screen (and good audio) for watching videos.

Friendly yet powerful: 10.5-inch iPad Pro

After releasing the short-lived 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple updated the model to be just a tiny bit bigger. Meet the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. Because the bezels have shrunk, this new display is actually 20 percent bigger than its predecessor. However, this iPad Pro is still significantly smaller than its 12.9-inch mega sibling. This makes it a more practical (not to mention, affordable) option, without sacrificing the Pro line’s powerhouse features. Read our full review here.

Apple has upgraded both iPad Pro models to be identical in terms of internal specs: You’ve got a top-of-the-line A10x fusion chip, 4GB of RAM, and a 12-megapixel rear camera. These models also have a new feature called ProMotion that automatically adjusts the refresh rate depending on what you’re doing to produce a more responsive display or to conserve energy. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro can be hooked up to a Smart Keyboard and be used with Apple Pencil. So you get the best of both worlds: the power of an iPad Pro with the portability of an iPad Air.

Besides the size, the other major difference between the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and this model is the price tag. If you are not looking to spend at least $800 for an iPad, this model starts at an more-reasonable $649. Oh, and another major selling point for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is that it’s the only iPad that comes in Rose Gold. But you wouldn’t based your buying decision solely on that, would you?

If you want Pro features and Smart Accessories but in a more portable size and with a friendlier price tag, it doesn’t get any better than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

Color options: Silver, Gold, Space Gray, Rose Gold.

Storage options: 64GB ($649), 256GB ($749), or 512GB ($949).

Cellular option: 64GB ($779), 256GB ($879), or 512GB ($1079).

Who it’s for: People who want to be productive on a machine that weighs no more than a pound. People who need Pro features but are not thrilled by a higher price tag.

Back to simple: iPad

When it came to updating iPad Air 2, Apple decided to drop the Air and keep it simple. The new 2017 iPad still delivers. It’s 25 percent brighter than its predecessor and the A9 chip that’s bound to support future iOS updates for a few more years. So if you’re not looking for a MacBook-replacement, but simply want an iPad that can do “iPad things,” the answer doesn’t get any simpler than this. Read our full review here.

The 2017 iPad proves that not every tablet should aim to be as powerful as a MacBook. Sometimes you just need an iPad to be a really good iPad. With its 9.7-inch display, this model is perfect if you just need an iPad for reading ebooks or magazines, watching movies, and casually browsing the web. This is the iPad that can live in the kitchen, and the one the whole family uses to answer FaceTime calls from grandma. It can also be great as a Home hub for all your connected devices.

Now that the iPad mini 4 only comes with 128 GB for $399, the 2017 iPad is actually the cheapest one you can get. The starting model is $329 for 32GB. That means that for you can even get a cellular model that’s still cheaper than the starting 10.5-inch iPad Pro. So if your kids want an iPad for playing games, this one is the one to go for.

The 2017 iPad is for doing just “iPad things,” but it does them very well.

Color options: Silver, Gold, Space Gray.

Storage options: 32GB ($329) or 128GB ($429).

Cellular option: 32GB ($459) or 128GB ($559).

Who it’s for: For families, for kids. It can the iPad you use to control your HomeKit-enabled devices, or the iPad you whisk away with you on a long flight.

Small is beautiful: iPad mini 4

Apple pretty much took 2014 off when it came to the iPad mini, adding a Touch ID sensor (and very little else) to the iPad mini 3. But 2015 has been very, very good to fans of the smallest iPad. The iPad mini 4 is powered by a speedy A8 processor and has 2GB of RAM, making it almost—but not quite—the match of its big brother, the iPad Air 2. The Air 2 is a little bit faster, but only by a hair. And the iPad mini 4 has access to all the advanced features of iOS 9 that its predecessors didn’t have, including Split View multitasking.

The iPad mini 4’s screen is also to die for. The Retina display is laminated directly to the glass, reducing reflection and making you feel like the pixels are right underneath your fingers. The 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution is the same as the iPad Air 2—the only difference is that all 3.1 million pixels are packed into a 7.9-inch diagonal screen, as opposed to the Air’s 9.7-inch diagonal.

But making the trade-off that favors smaller size is what the iPad mini line has always been about. It’s a pretty great size, at 8 inches tall by 5.3 inches wide, two-thirds of a pound. My 11-year-old son has been toting around an iPad mini for the last couple of years, and he absolutely loves it. As for me, I always found the smaller size of the iPad mini preferable to the iPad Air, but in the last year I’ve become aware that my aging eyes feel a lot less strain when viewing all those pixels on a bigger screen.

If you want the smallest screen with the most power, though, the iPad mini 4 delivers.

Color options: Silver, Gold, Space Gray.

Storage options: 128GB ($399).

Cellular options: 128GB ($529).

Who it’s for: It’s the perfect device for someone who wants it all, but wants to keep it small.

Click to the next page if you want to see information about discontinued iPads.

Discontinued: iPad Air 2

It was introduced more than a year ago now, but the iPad Air 2 is still the beating heart at the center of the iPad product line. It was so advanced compared to any other iOS device that preceded it, that even a year later it’s the model that most people should consider when they’re shopping for a new iPad.

In terms of tech specs, the iPad Air 2 is impressive: It’s got a three-core Apple A8X processor and 2GB of RAM. This year’s iPad Mini 4 can’t even match it in terms of speed, and the extra RAM improves almost everything when it comes to switching among a bunch of different apps. While it’s technically “last year’s model,” it’s probably more accurate to say that the iPad Air 2 was next year’s model back in 2014, and in 2015 it’s still in its prime.

The iPad Air 2’s 9.7-inch display puts it firmly in the center of the iPad product line. It’s got the same screen size as the original iPad model from five years ago—but of course, things have advanced an awful lot since then. This screen is a Retina display at 2048-by-1536 pixels, and is laminated to an anti-reflective glass coating, the result being a relatively low-glare screen that feels incredibly close to the surface. It’s also thin and light, weighing in at less than a pound.

Yes, the displays of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 2 offer the exact same number of pixels. What sets them apart is sheer size. On the Air, those pixels are given room to breathe—and if you’ve got aging eyes, you’ll be grateful for that. I’ve found reading comic books much more pleasurable on the iPad Air 2 than on the iPad mini, and it’s entirely down to the fact that everything on the screen is bigger.

To sum it all up, the iPad Air 2 is a powerful, thin, light iPad with a beautiful screen. It’s the mainstream iPad and the one that most potential iPad buyers should consider first.

Color options: Silver, Gold, Space Gray.

Storage options: 16GB ($499), 64GB ($599), or 128GB ($699).

Cellular options: 16GB ($629), 64GB ($729), or 128GB ($829).

Who it’s for: Just about anyone, but especially people who are happy to trade a little weight and size for a larger screen that’s more comfortable for imperfect eyes to scan.

Discontinued: iPad Air

The original iPad Air, released in 2013, is still available for sale. It’s $100 or $150 less than the iPad Air 2, but it’s quite a bit slower and doesn’t have access to some new features like Split View multitasking. The screen, while the same resolution as the iPad Air 2, isn’t laminated to the glass, so it’s got more glare and feels a bit further away when you hold it.

This is not a bad iPad by any means, but it is two-year-old technology, and for the same price as the 16GB model you can buy the 16GB iPad mini 4, which is faster and has more RAM. The best buy in the line is the 32GB model, which is $150 less than the iPad Air 2—but also has half the storage capacity. And you can’t get more than 32GB of capacity in this model—if you want more storage, you’ll need to buy a different model.

In general, we’re reluctant to recommend that anyone buy an original iPad Air unless price is absolutely the biggest consideration, and even then, the iPad mini 4 is worth considering. Chances are good that many future iOS features will not support this device, so if you care about speed and a long device life, steer clear. On the other hand, the iPad Air has a big 9.7-inch Retina display and is perfectly suitable for everything but the most taxing productivity multitasking and the latest cutting-edge games.

Color options: Silver, Space Gray.

Storage options: 16GB ($399), 32GB ($449).

Cellular options: 16GB ($529), 32GB ($579).

Who it’s for: Price-conscious buyers who want a full-size iPad and don’t mind if it’s a little slower than the mainstream model.

Discontinued: iPad mini 2

Like the iPad Air, the iPad mini 2 was originally released in 2013. As a result, it’s slower and has less RAM than modern models. But it’s the cheapest iPad by far, starting at $269. For that price, you get a light (three-quarters of a pound), small iPad that’s got the same 2048-by-1536 resolution as the other iPad mini and iPad Air models.

Yes, there are some concerns about buying a new iPad that’s using two-year-old technology. Certainly if you are someone who was committed to cutting-edge games and multitasking between lots of productivity apps, this model might not be for you. But if there’s someone in your life who just wants to play games, or surf the web, or check Twitter, this is a pretty great little tablet for a pretty great price.

Until this summer, when I switched to the iPad Air 2, my everyday iPad was an iPad mini 2, and I loved it. Yes, it’s not as good as this year’s models, but it’s still pretty great.

As with the iPad mini 4, my only caution is for people who are older and are dealing with aging eyes or failing eyesight. My mother’s first iPad was an original iPad mini, but she’s much happier now with a full-sized iPad Air. The mini screen size is ideal for people with good vision.

Color options: Silver, Space Gray.

Storage options: 16GB ($269), 32GB ($319).

Cellular options: 16GB ($399), 32GB ($449).

Who it’s for: Kids, casual users, pretty much anyone who wants a low-cost iPad and doesn’t mind the smaller screen size.

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