For many, buying the latest and greatest version of a product is the only option, but for the rest of us, there are actually a few good reasons to consider last year’s model. In terms of buying a tablet from Apple, you may find yourself with just one question – “which iPad should I buy?”
Let’s step aside just one moment, I need to address something that I know most of you already know, but is a common oversight for many, especially for the people in my world. The word “iPad” is often used as a synonym for the word “tablet.” To be clear, an iPad is a tablet built by Apple, but you need not read further in this article if you are looking for an Android tablet, we’ve got those over here, or a Windows tablet.
Before we dive into what you might look for in a tablet, let’s look at what exactly the iPad family has to offer.
We will regularly update this article, including the following lists with the latest iPad releases. We previously had this list arranged grouping iPads together by the year they were released, let’s try simplifying things, first up are the iPads that are currently readily available for sale in new condition straight from Apple, then are the tablets that Apple no longer directly sells on their site, for all intents, these are the discontinued iPads. Click on any of the iPads in the list to go to a sales option on Amazon.
With that out of the way, let’s take a slight dive deeper to see what the technical differences are between these devices.
(Update, April 2016: iPad Pro 9.7) Yet another tablet is available, the iPad Pro 9.7 combines the familiar size of the iPad Air 2, and previous 9.7-inch devices, with the power and functionality of the larger iPad Pro. A fast and fluid tablet, the iPad Pro 9.7 has proven to us, at least so far, to be an exceptional iOS device.
(Update, December 2015: iPad Pro) With the iPad Pro finally released, there is now a third size option in the iPad collection. Introduced in September, and put up for sale in November, the 12.9-inch tablet rocks stereo speakers, optional Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, a smart stylus, and a little bit more. Without the optional accessories, you are looking at the next size up of iPad.
(Update, October 2015: iPad mini 4) Apple recently announced two new iPads to the line. The monster sized iPad Pro is scheduled for release in November, check back for an update on this post then. The iPad mini 4 launched near immediately after the announcement, which was itself seemed little more than an afterthought by Apple. Despite that lack of stage time, the iPad mini 4 is proving an excellent device.
Related: iPad Mini 4 review!
As you may have seen in our review and subsequent “vs” posts, the iPad mini 4 is almost entirely a duplicate of the previous mini iPads, save for the removal of the Hold switch, and a few other tiny cosmetic changes. Mostly, you’ll notice different dimensions, with the iPad mini 4 clocking in significantly thinner and little bit taller.
The real differences are under the hood, with the iPad mini 4 rocking the A8 chipset and enough other goodies that it can handle the best that iOS 9 has to offer.
(Original, August 2014): Starting with the full size offerings, each with a 9.7-inch display, the newest iPad Air 2 has the absolute best that Apple currently offers in a tablet. Each generation of full size iPad came equipped with a different processor and RAM. The iPad Air 2 includes the Apple A8X SoC with 2GB of DDR3 RAM.
Each successive model of the iPad going backwards through time has an older SoC and less and/or slower RAM. The iPad Air (1) has the Apple A7 processor with 1GB of DDR3 Ram.
Heading over to the mini versions, we have tablets with 7.9-inch displays. The iPad Mini 3 is the current gen device, it is not as powerful as the iPad Air 2, with the Mini 3 rocking the older A7 SoC and 1GB of DDR3 RAM. Strangely enough, the iPad Mini 2 shares these specifications, with the only readily noticeable change being the addition of a fingerprint scanner in the newer iPad Mini 3.
The original iPad Mini is a completely lacking device on the spec sheet, heading back to the Apple A5 SoC, 512MB of RAM and just 1024 x 768 screen resolution. One might expect to pay under $50 for a similarly powered Android tablet right now.
If all of the specifications above are gibberish to you, no worries, let’s look at things from a more human friendly perspective. I will go out on a limb here, I want to group the iPads together by their usability and specific available features, this should be fun.
Powerful tablet for gaming and productivity
Where the iPad Air 2 once stood alone in this category, the new iPad mini 4 clocks in with nearly the same horsepower, and the iPad Pro take things to the next level. This is not to say that the other iPads are without power or are incapable of keeping up with your needs, just that the iPad Air 2 is still Apple’s current flagship tablet in the 10-inch range and the iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro are here to rock the 8-inch and 13-inch segments. All three of these devices are capable of getting the most out of the new multi-tasking capabilities in the iOS 9 update.
Further, the iPad Air 2, mini 4 and Pro are the only iPads equipped with the higher end 8MP camera. But of course, the iPad Pro 9.7 now rocks a 12MP sensor with 4K video recording.
Still powerful tablet, but not all of the bells and whistles
(Update, October 2015): With the launch of the iPad mini 4, we were surprised to see Apple pull the plug on the iPad Mini 3, while keeping the iPad Mini 2 in stores. While we still believe the iPad Mini 3 to be superior to the iPad Mini 2, there is no question that the new iPad mini 4 is the new king of the mini iPad crowd.
Aside from roughly doubling the performance over the iPad Mini 3, the new iPad mini 4 brings that A8 processor, 2GB of RAM and an updated graphics processing unit. If the ability of these new specs to handle the latest iOS 9 multi-tasking features is not enough for you, you’ll be sure to notice improved app load times and a tad less lag in your favorite power hungry games.
(Original, August 2015): There is one iPad in this category that stands above the others, the iPad Mini 3 must be regarded as more capable as it is the only iPad to join the Air 2 in having a fingerprint scanner. While having a fingerprint scanner in itself may not really appeal to you, do keep in mind that its inclusion relates directly to enabling the use of Apple Pay.
You may notice a trend here, as I am generally lumping together products of the same year and/or with the same processor. As such, the iPad Air, the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Mini 3 share this grouping. All three are equipped with an A7 series processor and 1GB of RAM, you will find performance to be near identical, which is to say that these tablets are more than capable of keeping up with most of your daily chores and entertainment.
Not bad, but starting to feel outdated
Moving older once again, the iPad (4th gen) and iPad (3rd gen) are the newest Apple tablets no longer in active production.
These two tablets come equipped with the slower DDR2 RAM, as well as other specs that generally just mean that they may struggle to keep up with even some of your more menial tasks. Truth is, this is where I would recommend drawing the line, I would consider these tablets to be the bottom of the list for iPads you should consider buying.
Just don’t pay too much for these tablets, they are fairly old, they will not support all of your favorite apps or accessories moving forward and iOS 9 may be their last software update.
Totally budget level capabilities
I debated heavily to include the iPad (3rd gen) in this last group, along with all of the other older iPads. It was the old 30-pin connector that urged me to put the 3rd gen in the ‘do not recommend’ group, but it will be the display resolution that truly creates the divide. But be warned, when we update this post in the fall with any new iPads, the iPad (3rd gen) will be demoted to ‘do not buy’ status.
Speaking of “do not buy,” the remaining older iPads, being the iPad Mini, the iPad 2 and the original iPad, we would not recommend purchasing any more. At least not for a daily use tablet. We all know that there are uses for low-end, low-cost tablets, like for handing over to your young child or as a single purpose production device. Aside from this, these iPads will be noticeably slow performing and all have the much lower 1024 x 768 display resolution.
In terms of software, it is our guess that iOS 9 is the end of the road for the iPad 2 and iPad Mini, the original iPad has already been left behind, stopping at just iOS 5.1.1.
We all know that price is truly the deciding factor when it comes to the decision of which iPad to buy. Luckily, each device exists in its own price range, so you shouldn’t have any difficulties here. keeping in mind that you will likely only find the discontinued models as refurbished or used units at this point, and there are plenty of deals to be had on all of the rest, here is what you should expect to pay if you do not shop around:
iPad (3rd generation)
iPad (4th generation)
iPad Air 2
iPad Pro 9.7
iPad Mini 2
iPad Mini 3
iPad mini 4
There are many schools of thought on choosing the right iPad for your needs, and there is little doubt that price is a major factor in this decision. Using the info above, I hope that you can narrow down just which iPad offers the power, size and function to keep you happy.
There is absolutely room to purchase an older iPad to save some money, without seriously compromising your experience. However, there is only one choice today if you would like a device that will make use of every function in the coming iOS 9 update, the iPad Air 2. Update: Make that four choices, the iPad mini 4 packs almost the same punch as the iPad Air 2, and the iPad Pro is a step above in performance. While the iPad Air 2 is now (Spring 2016) a step down, the iPad Pro 9.7 is a significant update in the 10-inch tablet offering.
Now to the rumor mill, all signs point toward a new iPad Mini this fall, but it is as yet unexpected to see a full size iPad. Perhaps the new iPad Pro will launch, with its rumored 12.9-inch display, but we do not know enough to bank on that either. As it is nearly the fall already, I might suggest that you hold off to see what Apple announces, but if the rumors are correct, the iPad Air 2 is, again, a safe purchase if you cannot wait, like if you are equipping yourself or your child for school.
(Update, October 2015): The rumored iPad mini 4 has hit the market, and the iPad Mini 3 has been discontinued. We had mistakenly thought it would survive for another year, but you’ll soon only be able to find it as a refurbished unit. The iPad Pro is real. At nearly 13-inches, the Pro is also packed with the absolute latest specs that Apple has to offer. With the also introduced Apple Pencil and Smart keyboard, the iPad Pro looks to take on the Microsoft Surface. Stay tuned for next month, we’ll be putting the iPad Pro to the test.
(Update, April 2016) The iPad Pro 9.7 is the latest device on the block, and by all accounts one of the most impressive iPads we’ve ever laid hands on. Admitting that the iPad Pro is still more powerful, the versatility of the original iPad-sized Pro 9.7 makes the latest tablet an easy recommendation, if you are not sure which iPad to purchase right now, go for the iPad Pro 9.7, it’s fast, it’s powerful, it has quality specs, it supports all the best iOS 9.x features and it’s available in Rose Gold. Except that last part may not be all that important.
What do you say, there is so much to consider, but, what iPad would you purchase if you were buying an iPad today?