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Which iPad should you buy? Pro vs Air vs Mini vs iPad 10.2

Once upon a time, buying an iPad meant buying the iPad. Apple made one model, in one size. You just had to pick a colour, a storage capacity and a connectivity option.

Things are different now. Apple offers four different iPad variants in five different sizes, each with its own components, perks and wildly varying price tags. And each model ticks different boxes: one promises powerful creative performance, while another delivers a satchel-friendly form factor.

If you’re planning to spend a few (or several) hundred quid on a tablet, you’ll want to make sure you end up with a device that’s perfectly suited to your needs. Not sure which iPad is best for you? Whether you’re shopping for a simple second screen or need a slate to upgrade your digital doodling, we’ve explored the benefits of – and differences between – every current iPad model in our buying guide below.

Additional words: Andrew Hayward, Craig Grannell, Dan Grabham

iPad Pro (2021) (from £749)

When it launched in 2018, the iPad Pro made good on Apple’s promise of an all-screen slate that ‘becomes’ whatever app is running. Sketching in Procreate? The entire iPad Pro is your canvas, thanks to barely-there bezels.

The 2021 update improves things further: shipped in two display sizes (12.9in and 11in), it remains a sleek, premium, slightly weighty slate that’s comfortable in the hand. While only the 12.9in model gets Apple’s new mini-LED tech (see below), both panels feature ProMotion for slick visuals at 120Hz.

Beneath its aluminium shell, the iPad Pro is Apple’s most powerful tablet ever. And then some. Stuffing an M1 chip inside is overkill for most, but it ticks all the boxes for those who demand more oomph. Whether gaming, app-switching, editing videos or designing graphics, it deals with everything swiftly. Opt for one of the 1TB or 2TB models and you’ll get a hefty 16GB RAM to make doubly sure you can blitz through workflows.

Round the back, the two-camera/LiDAR array remains, but the big news for 2021 is the addition of a 12MP ultra-wide TrueDepth camera that faces you. Center Stage smarts make the most of its 122-degree field of view, intelligently tracking subjects to keep you centred in the frame.

Elsewhere, there’s a single USB-C connector which now supports Thunderbolt and USB 4, allowing you to transfer files at blazing speeds. Plus you get access to the full complement of pro-grade apps with iPadOS 15, as well as Apple Pencil 2 compatibility. So the iPad Pro marries performance and versatility in a streamlined package that’s all screen and all the better for it. It’s a true powerhouse tablet and a genuine laptop substitute, provided your main digital pursuits revolve around creativity and entertainment.

Buy the iPad Pro if…you want the very best Apple tablet money can buy

iPad Air (2020) (From £579)

iPad Air (2020) (From £579)

A bit more pro and a lot more expensive, the updated iPad Air is a very different beast from the streamlined slates that camera before it. Previously, the Air was a tablet more powerful than the standard iPad but more affordable than the iPad Pro. Now it looks like an iPad Pro and supports Apple’s snazzy accessories – and demands an extra £100 for the privilege.

Visually, the refreshed iPad Air is the spitting image of the iPad Pro 11in from 2020. That means flat sides, delightful aluminium all over and a screen that fills the front (despite slightly thicker bezels than the Pro). The panel is marginally larger than before at 10.5in. It doesn’t offer ProMotion’s fast refresh rates, but it is clear, bright and gives great viewing angles.

Unlike the Pro, there’s only one camera on the rear – a 12MP wide lens – but the front sensor is the same as the last-gen Pro, which means it’ll shoot 4K video. You also get stereo sound in landscape orientation, for more immersive audio. There’s no Face ID, but Touch ID is neatly integrated into the power button. And like the Pro, the latest Air also ditches Lightning in favour of USB-C, which makes accessory support that much broader (alongside compatibility with the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard).

At the heart of the Air is Apple’s A14 Bionic chip, which is plenty powerful enough for most people. It comfortably matches the iPad Pro from 2020 in performance tests, even feeling zippier in some instances. Unless you’re planning to tackle the most demanding creative projects, you shouldn’t face any issues. In short: it’s no slowpoke. The mix of refined design, raw power and accessory support makes the iPad Air a solid option if you’re not fussed about advanced cameras or a 12.9in display.

Buy the iPad Air if…you want Pro performance without the bloated price tag

iPad Mini 6 (from £479)

iPad Mini 6 (from £479)

Mini it might be, but the smallest iPad doesn’t go little on specs: equipped with the same A15 Bionic chip found in the latest iPhones, it offers a full iPad experience that’s broadly free from compromise. It transforms the iPad Mini from a portable plaything into a proper pint-sized powerhouse.

With a design that’s finally been refreshed, the 6th-gen Mini looks like an iPad Air that’s shrunk in the wash. The Home button’s gone, leaving behind a blank canvas surrounded by a reasonably big but unobtrusive bezel. It looks great and feels suitably premium in the hand, while the smaller-than-A5 dimensions mean it should fit into bags, folders and roomy pockets.

Further aping the Air, the Mini moves its Touch ID sensor to the power button, swaps Lightning for USB-C and presents you with a True Tone display that’s sharper than any other at 326ppi. It looks great, even without 120Hz ProMotion. The landscape stereo speaker setup also has surprising oomph, while the repositioned volume buttons automatically switch actions depending on orientation.

That A15 chip keeps things zippy with even the most demanding apps and games, even if some titles currently have issues with the new 14:9 aspect ratio used by the 8.3in screen. The 12MP front camera is the same ultra-wide number now found in all iPads apart from the Air – which means a 122-degree field of view that can follow you with Centre Stage smarts.

The iPad Mini 6 is clearly a more niche product, especially given the price hike that comes with it. Its size can make the interface fiddly, although the Apple Pencil helps with inputs. But if you prize portability, don’t need a traditional keyboard option (there’s no Magic Keyboard for the Mini) and have the eyes for a smaller, sharper display, the new iPad Mini is an excellent package.

Buy the iPad Mini if…you want a properly portable powerhouse tablet

iPad 10.2 (2021) (from £319)

iPad 10.2 (2021) (from £319)

For all the bells and whistles of its flagship tablets, the standard iPad has long been Apple’s best-selling slate. Makes sense, then, that Apple wouldn’t change a proven formula with the 2021 edition: it shares the same dimensions and design as the previous two iterations, with the key tweaks to be found inside.

That means you don’t get the natty retro-futuristic redesign seen across all other iPad models. Instead, you’re stuck with that oh-so-familiar rounded chassis, chunky bezels and home button (which houses the Touch ID sensor). The 10.2in display is also the same size and sharpness as before, although the panel finally supports Apple’s True Tone tech, which adjusts colour intensity according to the ambient light around you.

The standard iPad is now the only tablet in Apple’s range to still feature a Lightning port, as well as a headphone jack. Which is no bad thing if you’ve already got compatible accessories. Like the 8th-gen iPad before it, the new iPad also supports the handy Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil (but only the original version).

The major changes come in the power department: the 9th-gen iPad gets Apple’s A13 Bionic processor, as seen on the iPhone 11. That might seem old hat, but it’s a good compromise for the price point. It means the iPad Mini 6 and iPad Air offer speedier chips, but in general use there’s barely any difference between the three. The A13, after all, was a flagship chip just a few years ago.

Apple has also doubled the amount of storage offered as standard with the 2021 iPad. That means 64GB and 256GB variants. Perhaps more importantly, the most affordable iPad also gets that 12MP front-facing camera with Centre Stage compatibility, for a significantly improved FaceTime experience that keeps your mug front and centre.

Buy the iPad (2021) if…you want a well-rounded, well-priced tablet with Pencil support

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