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

Let's make sense of Apple's tablet lineup.

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Sussing out the best iPad for you can be a little more daunting than it needs to be. With the most recent refresh to its iPad lineup, Apple now sells three 11-inch tablets and two 13-inch slates, each with key differences in terms of features, specs and accessory support. (The aging iPad mini is still hanging around, too.) With the new AI (or “Apple Intelligence”) features set to arrive in the next major iPadOS update, some of these differences will become even more stark. If you’re looking to buy a new Apple tablet but aren’t sure which to get, let us help. We’ve tested just about every iPad ever made, including all of the models on sale today — below, we’ve broken down which ones should fit your priorities best.

Screen size: 11 inches or 13 inches | Display resolution: 2360 x 1640 (11-inch), 2732 x 2048 (13-inch) | Storage: Up to 1TB | RAM: 8GB | Weight: 1.02 pounds (11-inch), 1.36 pounds (13-inch) | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 12MP

Read our full Apple iPad Air M2 review

Our advice for most people shopping for an iPad has become more straightforward after Apple’s latest updates: Just get an iPad Air. Yes, it costs more than the entry-level iPad, and yes, the gulf between it and the iPad Pro has expanded. But no iPad strikes a better balance between price, performance and features. It’s Apple’s “just right” tablet — advanced enough to be a pleasure every day but not eye-wateringly expensive.

The new iPad Air earned a score of 91 in our review. It starts at $599 for an 11-inch model or $799 for a new variant with a 13-inch display. Outside of a higher brightness rating on the 13-inch model (600 nits versus 500 nits), the two are virtually identical, so which one is best simply depends on what screen size you prefer. Most will probably spring for the 11-inch version given that it’s cheaper and much easier to hold. But the added screen real estate on the 13-inch version is great if you typically use your iPad with a keyboard case, or just want more room for movies, games or work.

Both models are much pricier than the base iPad, but the Air’s upgrades justify the premium. It runs on Apple’s M2 system-on-a-chip (SoC), which is the same silicon found in last-gen iPad Pros and MacBooks. It’s overkill for web browsing, video streaming and other basic tasks, but it means performance should rarely, if ever, be an issue.

It also makes the Air more futureproof, as a growing number of iPadOS features are exclusive to M-series chips. All of the new AI-based tools Apple plans to roll out later this year, for instance, will not be accessible on the entry-level model or iPad mini. The Stage Manager multitasking mode isn’t supported on lower-cost iPads either, nor are the ports of demanding video games like Death Stranding and the Resident Evil 4 remake. The M2 Air also has a healthy 8GB of RAM and 128GB of base storage, both of which are double the amount in the standard iPad.

The iPad Air’s 60Hz LCD display isn’t as vibrant or smooth in motion as the fancy 120Hz OLED panel on the new iPad Pro, but it’s still bright, sharp and relatively accurate. It’s also a step up from the 10th-gen iPad, mainly because it’s fully laminated, which means there’s no visible gap between the display and the front glass.

The iPad Air has had virtually the same square-edged design for three generations now, but it remains sturdy, elegant and reasonably comfortable. It still offers a solid 10-ish hours of battery life, a USB-C port and a Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into its power button (but no Face ID). With this model, Apple has moved the front-facing camera to the tablet’s long edge, which is a much more natural position for FaceTime calls in landscape mode.

Unlike the 10th-gen iPad, the Air works with the Pencil Pro, Apple’s most featured stylus. It does not work with the company’s new aluminum keyboard case, but the older Magic Keyboard it does support is excellent in its own right. (It’s not compatible with the older second-gen Pencil, though — yes, the stylus situation is messy.) These accessories add a good bit to the Air’s bottom line, but for digital artists or frequent typers, they’re there.

The M2 iPad Air is mostly a spec bump, so there’s no pressing need to upgrade if you’re coming from the 2022 or possibly the 2020 version. But if your iPad is slowing down, you’re buying your first Apple table or you want a 13-inch iPad without totally torching your savings account, the Air should be the first model you consider.

Pros
  • Powerful M2 chip
  • More base storage than before
  • Front camera is finally on the landscape edge
  • Apple Pencil Pro offers some smart new features
Cons
  • Basic 60Hz refresh rate
  • Uses old Magic Keyboard
  • No Face ID
$569 at Amazon
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$599 at Adorama$599 at Walmart

Screen size: 10.9 inches | Display resolution: 2360 x 1640 | Storage: Up to 256GB | RAM: 4GB | Weight: 1.05 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 8MP

Read our full Apple iPad (10th generation) review

The 10th-gen iPad had been an awkward middle child since it arrived in October 2022 — neither as powerful as the iPad Air nor as cheap as the older 9th-gen iPad. But now that Apple has slashed its list price by $100 and axed its predecessor (RIP headphone jack), it makes far more sense for those who want a modern iPad for as cheap as possible.

The base iPad looks very similar to the iPad Air from a distance. It’s only marginally thicker and heavier, while its 11-inch panel is just as sharp and can get just as bright. Battery life comes in at the same 10 hours, and there’s still a USB-C port and Touch ID sensor. The cameras are nearly the same, too, with its selfie cam located on the long edge. Most importantly, it gets you (nearly) all the conveniences of iPadOS for $250 less.

This iPad runs on Apple’s A14 Bionic, the same chip used in the iPhone 12, and includes 4GB of memory. This combo won’t hold up as well as the Air years down the road, but it’s more than quick enough for the everyday things most people do with an iPad, be it streaming Netflix, sending emails, playing Apple Arcade games or even editing photos in Lightroom.

The 10th-gen iPad has a worse display than the Air, with no lamination, no support for the wider P3 color space and no anti-reflective coating to help fight glare. For its new price, though, it’s perfectly solid. A bigger issue might be storage: The base model has a meager 64GB, and stepping up to a 256GB model sets you back another $150.

There are other minor downgrades. The USB-C port is technically slower in terms of data transfer speeds, topping out at 480 Mbps instead of 10 Gbps. It supports Wi-Fi 6 but not Wi-Fi 6E. It’s not compatible with the new Apple Pencil Pro, just the lesser USB-C Pencil that lacks pressure sensitivity and ancient first-gen model. It also doesn’t work with the same Magic Keyboards; instead, it uses its own Surface-like accessory called the Magic Keyboard Folio, which has a function row but isn’t as stable on your lap.

As of this writing, those looking for the most value should consider a last-gen iPad Air while it’s still available at a discount. That one has technically been discontinued, so we can’t make it a formal top pick, but it remains a better piece of hardware. But if that’s not an option, or you just want to save some cash, the 10th-gen iPad is still a strong bargain.

Pros
  • Much less expensive than the iPad Air and iPad Pro
  • Modern design
  • Optional keyboard folio has a trackpad and function keys
  • Landscape-oriented front-facing camera
  • USB-C charging
  • Solid battery life
Cons
  • Screen isn’t the best
  • No M-series chip
  • Keyboard folio is extremely expensive
  • First-gen Apple Pencil charging is even more ridiculous
$329 at Amazon
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$329 at Groupon$334 at Walmart
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

Read our full iPad mini review

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 keeps the mini from reaching complete feature parity with the iPad Air and iPad Pro.

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
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$479 at Walmart$499 at Adorama

Screen size: 11 inches or 13 inches | Display resolution: 2420 x 1668 (11-inch), 2752 x 2064 (13-inch) | Storage: Up to 2TB | RAM: Up to 16GB | Weight: 0.98 pounds (11-inch), 1.28 pounds (13-inch) | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Front camera: 12MP | Back camera: 12MP

Read our full Apple iPad Pro (M4) review

The latest iPad Pro is more tablet than most people need, full stop. But if you have cash to burn, are determined to use an iPad as your main mobile computer or just want the most technically impressive iPad possible, this is it.

We gave the new iPad Pro a score of 84 in our review. Like the iPad Air, it comes in 11- and 13-inch models: The former starts at $999, while the latter starts at $1,299. That’s prohibitively expensive for most people, but for the money you get a number of premium, if inessential, upgrades over Apple’s other tablets.

The most significant of these is the Pro’s “tandem OLED” panel. Compared to the LCD screen on the iPad Air, this produces richer colors and deeper, more uniform black tones. Gaming and scrolling web pages look more fluid thanks to its faster 120Hz refresh rate. It can also get significantly brighter, reaching up to 1,000 nits in SDR and up to 1,600 nits with HDR highlights.

This is where the “tandem” part comes in. Essentially, Apple is stacking two OLED panels on top of one another to improve peak brightness, which is often a (relative) weakness of traditional OLED displays. It’s a breakthrough, but all you really need to know is that this screen is an absolute delight — one of the best we’ve seen on any consumer device, let alone a tablet. For watching movies or editing media, you really can’t do better. And unlike the previous-gen Pros, this display tech is used on both the 11- and 13-inch models, so which size is best merely comes down to personal preference.

The Pro’s design is broadly similar to that of the iPad Air, but slightly thinner and lighter. The difference isn’t huge on paper, but the Pro’s slimmed-down frames make them just that little bit easier to hold. This is particularly meaningful with the 13-inch model. We’ll still have to see if it has any effect on the tablets’ long-term durability, but both models feel sturdy on the whole.

The other headline upgrade is Apple’s new M4 SoC, which is only available with the new Pros at the moment. If the M2 is overkill for the vast majority of casual and pro-level iPad tasks, then the M4 is mega-kill; it easily chewed through just about anything we threw at it. But it should be even more futureproof, and it may save a few seconds here and there if your work involves high-res media editing, heavy use of machine learning and the like.

Beyond that, the base iPad Pro has 256GB of storage, which is twice as much as the iPad Air. It also supports more advanced features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing on its GPU, which could aid lighting in future games, and a faster neural engine, which should help with the AI features Apple has planned for the months and years ahead.

If you really want to max things out, note that the 1TB and 2TB configurations have twice as much RAM (16GB) and use a technically more powerful version of the M4 with an extra performance core unlocked. Jumping to one of those SKUs costs a minimum of $1,599, though — and that’s before you add any accessories. Those looking to use the iPad Pro as a (very expensive) media consumption device don’t need this; if you work with memory-hungry apps or need the absolute best, just note it’ll cost you.

The iPad Pro is the only iPad with Face ID, which remains a bit more convenient than reaching for a fingerprint scanner. It’s the only one with a Thunderbolt USB-C port, which is technically faster for transferring large files. It sounds more robust than the Air, with four built-in speakers instead of two. Its camera system isn't that different, but it includes a flash for more easily scanning documents, and it can record video in Apple's ProRes format. Its front camera is on the long edge, too. As for accessories, the Pro alone can use Apple’s latest Magic Keyboard, which itself is wildly expensive but has a more premium aluminum finish, a more spacious trackpad and a row of function keys. It also supports the Pencil Pro stylus (but not the second-gen Pencil).

If most of these features sound niche to you, well, yeah, that’s the idea. Unless you're willing to pay for that terrific OLED display, the iPad Air gets close enough for a much more palatable price. And though the iPad Pro is a class-leading tablet, it is ultimately still an iPad. Certain creative professionals can use it just fine as a laptop replacement, but for most, iPadOS still makes multitasking and other computer-y tasks more convoluted than they’d be on a MacBook. Judging by the features Apple has announced the next big iPadOS update, that’s not changing anytime soon. (The buzziest addition there? A new calculator app.) That said, the Pro is a wonderful iPad — fast, slim and luxurious. And expensive.

Pros
  • One of the best displays we’ve ever seen
  • M4 chip is extremely powerful
  • Thinner and lighter than before, making it easier to hold
  • Front camera is now on the landscape edge
  • Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil Pro include significant new features
Cons
  • Prohibitively expensive
  • Not backwards compatible with old accessories, and new ones are still pricey
$945 at Amazon
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$999 at Adorama$999 at Staples

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 forthcoming iPadOS 18 update, for example, will be available on iPad Pros dating back to 2018 and other iPads dating back to 2019. 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.

Compared to the 10th-gen iPad, the iPad Air runs on a stronger M2 chip (instead of the A14 Bionic) and has twice as much RAM (8GB instead of 4GB) and default storage (128GB instead of 64GB). It’s also available in two screen sizes, 11 and 13 inches, while the 10th-gen iPad is only available with the former. The M-series SoC gives the Air better long-term performance, plus 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. The latter 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 the newer Pencil Pro stylus and a more comfortable Magic Keyboard, and its USB-C port supports faster data transfer speeds.

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Starting at $349, the 10th-gen iPad is $250 less expensive than the iPad Air. It has a similarly elegant design with flat edges, thin bezels, USB-C port, and a Touch ID reader. Battery life is rated at the same 10 hours, and both devices have their front-facing camera on their long edge, which is a more natural position for video calls. The cheaper iPad 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.

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.

June 2024: We’ve touched up this guide to reflect some of the new iPadOS features Apple announced at WWDC this week, though our picks remain the same.

May 2024: After reviewing Apple’s newest crop of iPads, we’ve overhauled our guide with new recommendations. The iPad Air M2 is now our top pick, while the 10th-gen iPad and iPad Pro M4 slot into our budget and power user spots, respectively. You can check out our reviews of the new iPad Air and iPad Pro for more on those devices.