The best iPad for 2024: How to pick the best Apple tablet for you

The best iPad for 2024: How to pick the best Apple tablet for you
By: Engadget Posted On: April 15, 2024 View: 21

Figuring out the best iPad for you can feel more complicated than it needs to be. Between the iPad Air, the 10th-generation iPad and the iPad Pro, Apple sells three different tablets with nearly 11-inch displays and mostly similar designs, but important differences in terms of specs and accessory support. The older 10.2-inch iPad and iPad mini are still hanging around as well. If you’re looking to buy a new iPad today, we’ve tested each model and rounded up the best values below in our buying guide.

Editor’s note (4/15/24): Rumors of new iPads have swirled for months, but they may finally become a reality soon. According to reliable Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple is likely to introduce a slew of new tablets during the week of May 6. Expected are two overhauled iPad Pros with OLED displays, a refreshed iPad Air and an all-new iPad Air with a 12.9-inch display. A new Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil are reportedly on tap, too. Gurman says that the new iPad mini and entry-level iPad are also in the works, but those aren’t expected until the end of 2024 “at the earliest.” Still, most people should hold off on buying an iPad until next month. We’ve left our advice for the existing lineup intact below, and all of our picks are still fine tablets in a vacuum. But if you can wait, do so.

Quick Overview

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Screen size: 10.9 inches | Display resolution: 2360 x 1640 | Storage: Up to 256GB | RAM: 8GB | Weight: 1.02 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 12MP

Of the six iPad models currently on sale, the iPad Air is the closest to being universally appealing and the best iPad for most people. We gave the latest Air a review score of 90 in March 2022: It has the same elegant and comfortable design language as the iPad Pro at a lower price, with a bright, sharp and accurate 10.9-inch display surrounded by thin bezels and flat edges. It comes with a USB-C port, just like recent MacBooks and iPhones, and while it's not a Thunderbolt connection as on the iPad Pro, simply being able to charge the Air with the same cable you use with your other gadgets is a plus.

Apple refreshed the Air in 2022 with its M1 system-on-a-chip, which is the same silicon found in the entry-level MacBook Air. This isn’t Apple’s newest SoC, but it’s still powerful enough for virtually any task you can throw at it, and an increasing number of iPadOS features are exclusive to M-series chips. The Stage Manager multitasking mode isn’t supported on lower-cost iPads, for instance, nor are the ports of demanding games like Death Stranding and Resident Evil Village.

The iPad Air is also compatible with Apple’s best accessories, including the second-generation Pencil stylus and the (excellent) Magic Keyboard, just like the 11-inch iPad Pro. These add a good bit of cost to the bottom line, but for digital artists or frequent typers, they’re there.

The middle of Apple’s iPad lineup is a bit congested. If you need more than the Air’s default 64GB of storage, you might as well step up to the 11-inch iPad Pro, which starts at 128GB and packs a better 120Hz display and faster M2 chip for not much more than a higher-capacity Air. (The display on the 2021 iPad Pro is better, too.) The newer 10.9-inch iPad isn’t bad, either, but with its non-laminated display and lacking accessory support, it’s a harder sell unless you see it on deep discount. Still, while the iPad Air isn't cheap, it's the best blend of price and performance for most people.

Pros
  • Fast, with more futureproof chip than lower-cost iPads
  • Good battery life
  • Well-built
  • Works with Apple's best Pencil and Magic Keyboard
  • Better display than cheaper models...
Cons
  • ...But it's still limited to 60Hz
  • 64GB of base storage is limiting
  • No Face ID
$500 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Screen size: 10.2 inches | Display resolution: 2160 x 1620 | Storage: Up to 256GB | RAM: 3GB | Weight: 1.07 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 8MP

If you can’t afford the Air, or if you just don’t want to spend that much on a new tablet, get the 9th-gen iPad instead. It'll reportedly be phased out in the coming months, but at $329 for a 64GB model — and regularly available for less than $300 — it remains by far the most wallet-friendly way into iPadOS right now. And while its hardware is an obvious step down from the iPads mentioned above, it’s still capable for the essentials.

We gave the 9th-gen iPad model a review score of 86 in 2021. It's the only "current" iPad to follow Apple’s older design language: It’s just a tiny bit thicker and heavier than the 10th-gen iPad and iPad Air, but its wider bezels mean there’s only enough room for a 10.2-inch display. Like the 10th-gen iPad, that screen is more susceptible to glare and not laminated, though it’s just as sharp. There’s a Home button on the bottom bezel with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, and the device charges via Lightning port rather than USB-C. Its speakers don’t sound as nice, either, but it’s the only iPad to still have a headphone jack. Its 12MP front camera is also fine, though it’s not landscape-oriented as on the 10th-gen iPad.

The 9th-gen iPad runs on Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, which is the same SoC used in 2019’s iPhone 11 series. It's not as fluid or futureproof as the M1, but it’s still quick enough for casual tasks. In terms of first-party accessories, the tablet supports Apple's Smart Keyboard and first-gen Pencil stylus. Those aren't as convenient than the company’s newer options, but they’re serviceable.

In the end, it’s all about the price. The 10th-gen iPad is better in a vacuum, but the 9th-gen model is much more affordable, and those savings go a long way toward papering over its issues.

Pros
  • Much more affordable than other iPads
  • Design and performance are solid for the price
  • Better software experience than other tablets in its price range
  • A headphone jack!
Cons
  • Much more dated design than other iPads
  • Display isn't laminated
  • 64GB of base storage is limiting
  • No USB-C or Face ID
$249 at Amazon

Photo by Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Screen size: 8.3 inches | Display resolution: 2266 x 1488 | Storage: Up to 256GB | RAM: 4GB | Weight: 0.65 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 12MP

The iPad mini is exactly what it sounds like: the small iPad. It’s easily the shortest (7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches) and lightest (0.65 pounds for the WiFi model) of every current iPad, with an 8.3-inch display that’s more comfortable to operate with one hand.

We gave the iPad mini a review score of 89 in 2021. Its design follows closely after that of the iPad Air: squared-off edges, thin bezels, no Home button, a Touch ID sensor in the power button, stereo speakers, solid cameras and a USB-C port. Its display is technically sharper, but otherwise gives you the same max brightness, lamination, anti-reflective coating and wide color gamut. It doesn’t have a “Smart Connector” to hook up Apple-made keyboards, but it does support the second-generation Apple Pencil.

The mini runs on Apple’s A15 Bionic SoC, the same as the one in 2021’s iPhone 13 phones. This is technically faster than the chip inside the 10th-gen iPad model and, again, more than powerful enough for most tasks, though it’s a step behind the laptop-grade M1 or M2 chip.

The mini has an MSRP of $499 for the 64GB model and $649 for the 256GB model. That’s a lot, though in recent months we’ve seen both SKUs available online for up to $100 less. If you specifically want a smaller tablet — whether it’s to easily stuff in a bag, use with one hand or treat like a high-end e-reader — this is the only one Apple sells, and the best option in its size range altogether.

Pros
  • The only compact iPad
  • Modern, well-built design
  • Fast for most needs
  • Works with all Apple Pencils
Cons
  • 64GB of base storage is limiting
  • No Face ID
  • No M-series chip
  • 60Hz refresh rate
$400 at Amazon

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Screen size: 11 inches or 12.9-inches | Display resolution: 11-inch: 2388 x 1668 / 12.9-inch: 2732 x 2048 | Storage: Up to 2TB | RAM: Up to 16GB | Weight: Starts at 1.03 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 12MP + 10MP

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro exists in something of its own realm within the iPad lineup. It starts at $1,099 for 128GB of storage, which is $100 more than the entry-level MacBook Air. That’s well beyond what anyone needs to pay to do the vast majority of iPad things and a huge chunk of change for a platform that still has issues with laptop-style productivity. That said, this is the best tablet Apple makes, period.

We gave the latest iPad Pro a review score of 87 in November 2022. The displays on both the 11- and 12.9-inch Pros can get brighter than the one on the Air, and both feature a 120Hz refresh rate that makes scrolling look more fluid than the Air's 60Hz panel. The 12.9-inch Pro’s Liquid Retina display is more of an upgrade than the 11-inch model, however, as it’s the only iPad to use mini-LED backlighting, which can deliver higher peak brightness, improved contrast and a generally more realistic image.

The Pro also runs on Apple’s M2 SoC, which isn’t a huge upgrade over the M1 in real-world use but offers more performance overhead going forward. It has the same 12MP rear camera as the Air, but adds a 10MP ultrawide lens and an LED flash (plus a LIDAR scanner for AR apps). The 12MP front cameras, meanwhile, can take shots in portrait mode.

Beyond that, the Pro has a faster Thunderbolt USB-C port, more robust speakers and Face ID support. There are more storage options, going all the way up to 2TB, and the 1TB and 2TB models double the RAM from 8GB to 16GB (albeit at a super high cost). The device still works with all of Apple’s best accessories, and it can recognize when an Apple Pencil is hovering above the display and preview would-be inputs.

It's a powerhouse of a tablet, and if you do want to use an iPad more heavily for work, the roomier display on the 12.9-inch Pro should make it the most amenable option for all-day, laptop-style use. You’ll want to add a keyboard to get the most out of that, but if you’re spending this much on an iPad to begin with, that may not be as big of a deal.

Like the iPad mini, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is very much a niche device. It’s prohibitively expensive, and its hulking size makes it less portable than other iPads. Certain creative types have made it work as a Mac laptop replacement, but for most, iPadOS still makes multitasking and other computer-y tasks more convoluted than they’d be on a MacBook. This latest iteration is only a minor upgrade over the last-gen model too. Nevertheless, as a tablet, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is deeply powerful.

Pros
  • Best display of any iPad
  • Best performance of any iPad
  • 128GB of base storage
  • Face ID
  • More advanced camera system than iPad Air
Cons
  • Expensive, and more iPad than most people need
  • iPadOS still has issues when used for work
  • Front-facing camera in awkward location, like most iPads
$1,078 at Amazon

FAQs

The 10th-generation iPad rests outside on top of a stack of books, on a wooden desktop, with its screen active, displaying a colorful home screen with various iPadOS widgets and apps.

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

How long do iPads typically last?

If history is any indication, expect Apple to update your iPad to the latest version of iPadOS for at least five years, if not longer. The new iPadOS 17 update, for example, is available on iPad Pros dating back to 2017 and other iPads dating back to 2018. How long your iPad’s hardware will last depends on which model you buy and how well you maintain it (if you’re particularly clumsy, consider an iPad case). A more powerful iPad Pro will feel fast for a longer time than an entry-level iPad, but each model should remain at least serviceable until Apple stops updating it, at minimum.

What’s the difference between the iPad and the iPad Air?

Compared to the 10th-gen iPad, the 5th-gen iPad Air runs on a stronger M1 chip (instead of the A14 Bionic) and has twice as much RAM (8GB instead of 4GB). Having an M-series SoC gives the Air access to certain iPadOS features such as Stage Manager. Its display supports a wider P3 color gamut, has an anti-reflective coating and is fully laminated. Being laminated means there’s no “air gap” between the display and the glass covering it, so it feels more like you’re directly touching what’s on screen instead of interacting with an image below the glass.

The Air also works with Apple’s latest Pencil stylus, Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Its USB-C port supports data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps (the iPad’s goes up to 480 Mbps). Although the two tablets look very similar, the Air is marginally lighter (1.02 pounds instead of 1.05 pounds) and thinner (0.24 inches instead of 0.28 inches).

The 10th-gen iPad is less expensive than the iPad Air, with an MSRP starting at $449 instead of $599. It’s the only iPad with a front-facing camera along the long edge of the tablet, which can be a more natural position for video calls. It also supports Bluetooth 5.2, whereas the Air uses Bluetooth 5.0. It works with the first-gen and USB-C Apple Pencils – which are more convoluted to charge – and a unique keyboard accessory called the Magic Keyboard Folio.

Apple also sells the 9th-gen iPad, as we detail above. That one uses a more dated design language with larger bezels, a Home button and a Lightning port, but it starts at $329.

How do I take a screenshot on an iPad?

As we note in our screenshot how-to guide, you can take a screenshot on your iPad by pressing the top button and either volume button at the same time. If you have an older iPad with a Home button, simultaneously press the top button and the Home button instead.

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