Which iPad should you buy? New iPad Air and iPad Mini detailed

Apple’s got a whole load of iPads available, but what’s the difference between them all?

If you’re in the market for a top-notch tablet, for most there will be little reason to look beyond Apple’s mighty iPads. The combination of premium design, powerful hardware and the robust ecosystem of apps and accessories they support is hard to beat.

The company’s last Special Event of 2018 saw the unveiling of two new iPad Pro models that changed up some of the tablet family’s defining elements but overall made for even more potent slates than their predecessors. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of every iPad you can buy right now and what each brings to the table.

Apple iPad Air

iPad Air 2019 – Starting at £479/$499

The recently announced iPad Air 2019 brings back the classic moniker from 2015. This tablet is very similar to the iPad Pro 10.5 (which is no longer sold) and boasts features like a Smart Connector for use with the Smart Keyboard and a 10.5-inch Retina display. It is, however, missing the high refresh ProMotion tech which is now restricted to the two sizes of the iPad Pro.

Inside you’ll find the same A12 Bionic chipset as the iPhone XS, a reported 10 hours of battery life and the option of LTE connectivity. This feels very much like Apple’s new default pick for anyone who wants a very capable tablet for more than just consuming media on.

There’s Apple Pencil support here too, and it uses the first-gen Lightning Pencil rather than the updated magnetic version. That also means it lacks the more modern USB-C connector on the bottom, which is something of a shame.

We’ll have a more thorough opinion of just how good model compares to the rest of Apple’s tablet line once we’ve fully reviewed it.

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Apple iPad Air

iPad Mini 5 – Starting at £399/$399

Barely touched in years, Apple’s recent announcement of an updated iPad Mini came as something of a shock.

The fifth-generation iPad Mini looks very much like the older ones, with the classic metal and glass design along with a TouchID-toting home button, Lightning connector and headphone jack. What is new though is that the 7.9-inch display now supports Apple’s True Tone tech for altering the colour temperature depending on your environment to make it a lot more comfortable to read on. You’ve also got Apple’s latest A12 Bionic chipset and support for the Apple Pencil.

Like with the new iPad Air, until we’ve properly reviewed the iPad Mini 5 we won’t know exactly how well it performs against the competition.

 

iPad Pro 11-inch and Apple Pencil 2

iPad Pro 11-inch – Starting at £769/$799

Best all-round iPad

The smaller 11-inch iPad Pro offers the same underlying hardware and power as its larger sibling in an even more compact package. Impressively, Apple has managed to squeeze this new, larger screen, onto a device that has the same footprint as 2017’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro and the same thickness – at 5.9mm – as the new 12.9-inch model.

The move to USB-C in place of Lighting should negate the necessity for quite so many dongles, letting you more readily interface with peripherals such as external displays and digital cameras. Apple has released new keyboard folio covers for both 2018 Pros, along with implementing an enhanced version of Face ID that works in any orientation.

With the option of LTE and storage now available up to 1TB, it’s clear that Apple is serious about marketing its iPad Pros as legitimate competitors to more traditional laptops, convertibles and 2-in-1s.

new ipad pro 2018

iPad Pro 12.9-inch – Starting at £969/$999

Best iPad for power users

Just as the iPhone X brought about a significant reimagining of what an iPhone looks and feels like, Apple’s new iPad Pros for 2018 pull a similar trick. They sport a markedly different design and ditch the home button (and Lightning connector) of their predecessors.

The largest of Apple’s newest slates features the same-sized screen as 2017’s biggest model but this time it’s set within smaller dimensions overall. The result is a big-screened tablet that, by comparison, should be easier to handle.

It’s powered by Apple’s own A12X Bionic chip – a beefier version of the A12 chip found in 2018’s iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, and thanks to upcoming apps such as a full-featured rendition of Adobe Photoshop, users will soon be able to put all of that additional power to meaningful use.

The tablet launched alongside a revised Apple Pencil stylus, which offers the same functionality as before, but with a new design and new gesture controls. What’s more, it magnetically attaches to either 2018 iPad Pro, automatically pairing with them and charging as it does so.

 

iPad 9.7-inch top down with Apple Pencil cropped

iPad 9.7-inch (2018) – Starting at £319/$329

Best value iPad

Not everyone needs the power – or wants to pay the price – of an iPad Pro, and if that’s you then the basic 2018 9.7-inch iPad should be more than capable for your needs. Like the 10.5-inch Pro, you get first-generation Apple Pencil support and a similarly capable A10 Fusion processor running the show. It’s so capable, in fact, that we went so far as to call it an “iPad Pro Mini” in our full review of the slate.

A Touch ID fingerprint sensor resides within the tablet’s bezel, which skirts a 9.7-inch Retina IPS LCD, boasting a resolution of 2048 x 1536 (meaning a pixel density of 264ppi). The software is upgradable to the latest iOS 12 release, meaning more tablet-specific interaction options, and while Apple doesn’t offer its own keyboard folio cover as it does for its Pro iPads, you can still find recommended third-party alternatives on the company’s website.

It’s available in a choice of three colours – silver, gold and Space Grey – and storage is split between 32GB and 128GB, with a price hike of £90/$100 for the latter option. An LTE variant is also available for on-the-go connectivity, at a cost.

Which iPad is best for me?

Right now, your money is best spent on Apple’s 11-inch 2018 iPad Pro. It can’t quite serve as a true laptop replacement but that limitation falls to iOS rather than the Pro’s hardware. However, this does suggest that Apple could make some radical changes in order to close the gap between the two experiences, while still relying on the iPad Pro’s powerful innards.

The A12X Bionic chip is more than capable of ensuring that this slate feels fast and it will multitask faultlessly for a number of years before showing any major signs of degradation. The option of up to 1TB of local storage also means you’ll be unlikely to fill up the Pro anytime soon.

The 11-inch model offers greater portability than any other Pro, considering the size/performance balance it strikes. Plus, added extras such as Apple Pencil 2 support and the newly tailored folio covers for the tablet’s redesigned smart connector also extend its creativity and productivity capabilities yet further. Note, too, the switch to USB-C adds greater versatility to the overall package.

Still too much money? Then 2018’s 6th-generation iPad will get you most of the way there for less than half the price – and it won’t feel dated for at least another year.

iPad/iPad Pro competitors

Apple has made sure that if you’re considering a tablet purchase then an iPad will be at the top of your list. However, these stylish slates aren’t a perfect fit for everyone. If you’re not locked into the Apple ecosystem then an iPad might hold little appeal. If this is the case then there are a couple of alternatives worth looking into.

Galaxy Tab S4

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Best tablet for entertainment

Samsung’s 2018 tablet of choice offers the same focus as Apple’s iPad Pro line: a premium build with its strengths in entertainment, creativity and productivity. Like the Pro line, the Tab S4 can be paired with an additional folio keyboard. Samsung includes its own S Pen stylus in the box, which means that sketching, annotation and general digital art are feasible as part of the base price.

The Snapdragon 835 processor feels a little dated, but slick technologies such as iris unlock and an HDR-compliant display make up for the comparative lack of raw power.

The Tab S4 also integrates a dedicated DeX mode into its Android-powered user experience, creating a desktop-style environment to work in that includes easier multitasking and floating window support.

Amazon Fire HD 8 2018

Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018)

Best tablet for families

Amazon’s most recent Fire tablet offers the expected mix of incrementally updated hardware in an eye-catching polycarbonate shell. And at £59.99/$79.99, there’s little reason not to love what the HD 8 is offering here.

The company’s wealth of entertainment and education content is placed front and centre, while the Amazon app store has a few choice offerings to supplement your basic tablet needs.

The addition of integrated Alexa support is one of the HD 8’s most appealing aspects. And paired with the dedicated dock, the tablet can serve as a makeshift Amazon Echo Show for a much lower price.

Check out our Best Tablets roundup for a full rundown on which tablets are worth your money right now.

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