There’s little doubt that the Apple iPad is the most popular tablet ever released, and it’s also arguably the best. However, with Apple expanding its range of iPads almost every year, it may be hard to decide which iPad is the right one for you. That’s why we’ve put together a full run-down of the best iPads for 2021.
Rather than simply settle on a single iPad and declare it “the best,” we’ve chosen the best iPads in various categories. So, whether you’re looking for the best iPad overall, the best budget iPad, or the best small-screen iPad, we’ve got you covered.
Looking for some enticing iPad or tablet deals? Check out our list of the best Amazon Prime Day iPad deals and the best Amazon Prime Day tablet deals.
Best iPads at a glance
Best overall: Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)
Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro 11 is still the best iPad available right now, boasting great looks and stunning performance.
Who’s it for? It’s for professionals, creatives, and anyone who needs a powerful tablet with a well-sized display.
Why we picked the iPad Pro (11-inch):
Once again, Apple’s iPad Pro range has come split into two forms — the compact 11-inch model and the super-sized 12.9-inch model. That means that, once again, it’s the 11-inch model we recommend as the best overall iPad for pretty much everyone. It has the same slim bezelled design we’ve grown to know and love, a laptop-level M1 processor, a USB4/Thunderbolt 3 port, and iPadOS, making it one of the most capable devices on the market.
But let’s address the elephant in the room before diving into the tablet’s features any further. Usually, the difference between the iPad Pro models is simply the size of the display, but this year, Apple has decided to make bigger changes. The larger iPad Pro 12.9-inch gets a mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display, while the smaller iPad Pro 11-inch sticks with the traditional LED-based Liquid Retina display. As a result, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch’s display is going to be better than its smaller sibling. But it’s important to note the iPad Pro 11-inch’s display is still excellent, so unless you’re really into screen tech, don’t let the mini-LED display weigh too heavily on your choice.
With that out of the way, we can move on to discussing the iPad Pro 11-inch’s many great features. Size-wise, it’s a good size. The 11-inch display with slim bezels is big enough for most tasks without being too large to make it unwieldy when moving it around. In short, it’s extremely portable and lightweight, which makes it a great choice if you need an iPad with strong adaptability. The display is impressive, too, despite the lack of new mini-LED tech. The 2388 x 1668 resolution is crisp and colorful, and the 120Hz ProMotion tech makes using it a pleasure.
The aforementioned M1 chip is the same chip you’ll find in the new MacBook Pro 13, and it’s an exceptional piece of work. The A12Z Bionic chip in last year’s model was no slouch, though, and it’s unlikely you’ll see any real difference between the two. But RAM has seen an upgrade, with the choice of 8GB or 16GB, depending on the configuration. Internal storage is even more impressive, and you can choose from 128GB all the way up to a mighty 2TB. That’s a lot of room for videos, files, apps, and whatever else.
It also now supports 5G, so if you need a tablet with a speedy data connection, well, the new iPad Pro has your back (as long as you have a nearby 5G connection). Like last year’s model, there’s no Home button — it uses Face ID instead. And the USB-C port also has support for Thunderbolt 3 now as well. Throw in support for the Apple Pencil 2 and the Magic Keyboard, and you’ve got a tablet that’s possibly one of the most versatile around.
But to get the most out of this tablet, you’re going to need to spend extra money. The previously mentioned Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2 are extremely useful tools, but they’re expensive, and adding them to the high price of the iPad Pro may put this tablet out of reach for some. But if the price is no object, then the iPad Pro 11-inch is absolutely the best iPad overall where performance and usability are concerned.
Read our full iPad Pro (2021) review
Best value iPad: Apple iPad Air (2020)
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this? The iPad Air keeps the core features of the iPad Pro but takes off $200.
Who’s it for? Anyone looking for a midrange iPad that still performs great.
Why we picked the iPad Air (2020):
The iPad Air isn’t as affordable as the entry-level iPad, which earns our pick for in “Best Budget” category, but if your budget goes up to $600, then it certainly is the best iPad you can buy right now. It’s a very distinct step up from the standard iPad, offering an overall package that’s surprisingly close to the iPad Pro, despite the $200 drop in price.
Most impressively, the iPad Air (2020) runs on Apple’s latest-and-greatest A14 Bionic chip, which handles pretty much all of the latest apps and games with ease. It may not have as many cores as the A12Z processor you’ll find in the iPad Pro, but we’ve found that the performance is mostly the same, so you’ll struggle to notice any difference.
The iPad Air also supports all of the accessories you can use with the iPad Pro, further reducing the distance between the two. This means you can invest in a Magic Keyboard to enhance the productivity of the tablet, as well as a second-generation Apple Pencil.
One small yet noticeable difference between the iPad Pro and the iPad Air is that the Air doesn’t support a 120Hz refresh rate. Still, at 10.9 inches and with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels, it offers basically the same number of pixels per inch — 264 — as the Pro. You’ll therefore enjoy watching videos and viewing content on it almost as much as you would with its more expensive stablemate.
Something similar can be said for the iPad Air’s camera, which doesn’t come with the extra ultrawide lens. Even so, with a fantastic processor, slimline good looks, and great usability, the iPad Air definitely hits that sweet spot between peak performance and affordability.
Read our full Apple iPad Air (2020) review
Best budget: Apple iPad (2020)
Why should you buy this? The iPad is supremely usable, capable, and reliable, and it comes at a very affordable price.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants an iPad but doesn’t need maximum performance.
Why we picked the Apple iPad (2020):
It may not be as glamorous as the Pro or the Air, but the 8th-generation iPad (2020) benefits from Apple’s many years of building highly dependable tablets. It won’t provide any nice gimmicks or novelties, but it’s a solid all-around tablet that still performs to a high standard, despite its accessible price.
It runs on Apple’s A12 Bionic processor and a generous 3GB of RAM, which is all most people need to have their favorite apps running cleanly. The A12 obviously isn’t as powerful as the A14, but given that it’s only two years old, the processor is more than enough to ensure that iPad doesn’t lag or slow down when you need it.
The iPad also comes with a 10.2-inch Retina display, which contains 2160 x 1620 pixels, giving it the same pixels per inch — 264 — as the iPad Air. It’s therefore perfect for watching videos, while the smaller size makes it exceedingly comfortable and convenient to use for extended periods.
Admittedly, the 8-megapixel rear camera isn’t quite a match for the 12MP cameras of the Air or Pro, but it will take perfectly good photos in the right conditions. Another drawback is that it comes with only 32GB of storage as standard, which is quite stingy compared to the 64GB you get with the iPad Air.
One advantage of the iPad is that it delivers more or less the same 10 hours of high-definition video playback as the other models, while it can last for much longer if you use it more moderately. As such, the Apple iPad (2020) is a great option if you don’t want to stretch your wallet too far but still want an excellent iPad. Check out our best iPad deals for more info.