Apple may not have invented the tablet but it's certainly the iPad that's made them famous.
First unveiled in 2010, Apple's iPad family has grown significantly since the original 9.7-inch model first appeared on the scene and started to change the way we thought about portable computing. There are now four models to choose from – the standard iPad, iPad Air, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini – each with its own set of strengths (and a few minor weaknesses), so whether you're after a great screen for watching films and TV on the go, or something super-powerful with more creative potential, then Apple has you covered.
We'd consider all four models to be among the best tablets around, so deciding which Apple tablet you should buy is a particularly tough job – and that's where we come in.
Whatever your needs, there's an iPad for you. Let's work out which one.
The quick list
The latest iPad is a well-rounded and versatile tablet that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.
It’s hugely expensive but the latest iPad Pro 12.9 is a glorious way to watch movies on the move.
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The best iPad overall
This is the 10th generation of iPad, which makes us feel a bit old. To see its trusty tablet into double digits, Apple has given it its biggest makeover yet. Gone is the monochromatic shell in favour of bright hues and squared-off edges.
It's a success. The 'all-screen' design brings it in line with the classy-looking iPad Air, with smoothed-off flat edges and narrow bezels. The new colours (among them yellow and pink) add a sense of fun without cheapening the device, and the screen has been enlarged, from 10.2 inches to 10.9. The front-facing camera is now better positioned for video calls in landscape, too.
Other improvements include the adoption of USB-C for charging and data transfers, and a higher screen resolution (to go with the larger size).
Performance is as reliable as ever, with richer, bolder colours than the previous generation iPad, with plenty of dark detail to enjoy. The sound is a big improvement too, with clear vocals and ample bass weight. It's a little pricier than previous models, but still worth every penny.
Read the full Apple iPad (2022) review
The best premium iPad
Apple’s biggest and most expensive iPad is also its most impressive. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re looking for the best picture quality it’s definitely the one for you.
Its 12.9-inch Mini LED display has a resolution of 2732 x 2048, which works out at 264 pixels per inch, and a full-screen brightness of 1000 nits. On paper that means it’s a bit like having a flagship TV that’ll fit in your bag – and the reality isn’t far off either.
The iPad Pro’s picture is exceptionally sharp and detailed, colours are supremely well-judged and delicately shaded, contrast is superb and blacks are both super-deep and insightful. Motion is also expertly handled, colours are luscious, and while highlights aren’t quite as bright as they could be, there’s plenty of detail within them.
Audio isn’t quite as impressive – we’d always recommend using a pair of headphones rather than the built-in speakers – but they project clearly with a decent level of detail and easily decipherable dialogue.
If you’re willing to fork out for the latest top-end tech, Apple’s iPad Pro 12.9 is in a class of its own.
Read the full Apple iPad Pro 12.9 review
The best mid-range iPad
The latest iPad Air was the first Apple tablet to feature the firm's own M1 processor. That's a big deal, as the chip is also found in some of Apple's blazingly fast laptops. The intention is clearly to make the Air a sort of iPad Pro Lite that will satisfy the creative types for whom the full-fat Pro models are expensive overkill. But what about us AV nerds?
Nothing has changed in terms of audio visual specs, but that's no bad thing. The fourth-gen iPad Air that came before it scored a perfect five out of five in our review, so we're more than happy for this model to perform the same.
The image is supremely authentic and natural, with an unquestionable colour balance, oodles of detail and crisp definition. Motion is handled adeptly without any hint of active processing and blacks, while not OLED-inky, are plenty deep enough and packed with detail. There’s a satisfying HDR punch too, and plenty of dramatic contrast.
There are some improvements with SDR and standard HDR, the new model's picture is notably better looking though.
In the sound department, it's more of the same. Though again, you won't hear any complaints from us.
Read the full Apple iPad Air (2022) review
The best small iPad
Be honest: do you really need all that screen space? If you're gaming, or only ever using your tablet at home, then fair enough. But for most people, who want to a device a little bigger than their phone but without taking up too much space in their bag, the iPad Mini is the ideal companion.
The 2021 iPad Mini has a slightly bigger screen than its predecessor, yet manages to stay nicely portable. In fact, it will fit in some jacket pockets, thanks to its shrunken bezel, allowing more screen real estate in a miniature footprint. But not only is the screen bigger, it's better too – the 500 nit LCD panel is less prone to light leakage than its predecessor, giving images more pop and punch.
And it sounds better as well. The dynamic expression has really come on – partnered with the great sense of timing, it makes for quite a listen. Apple has put speakers on both ends of the tablet – a first for the Mini – which gives films a suitably cinematic scale when watching without headphones.
Talking of headphones, it lacks a 3.5mm jack, so you'll have to use either wireless headphones, those that connect via USB-C, or you'll need an adapter. But that's the case with most portable devices, and not many pack such impressive abilities into such a small package.
Read the full Apple iPad Mini 6 (2021) review
How to choose the best iPad for you
Do you go for the standard iPad? The thinner, lighter iPad Air? The big pocket-sized iPad Mini? Or do you spend big on an iPad Pro 12.9 with all the bells and whistles, and stunning cinematic potential?
Before you start browsing, think about what you want to do with an iPad. If you'll be taking it out and about, the Mini might be the best iPad for you, as it's smaller and more portable than its siblings.
Of course, you'll find bigger screens on other iPads in Apple's family, so the Mini might not be the best option for watching films and playing games for long periods. In that case, maybe the standard iPad or iPad Air might be preferable.
And, closely related to this is battery life. If children will be using them while you're out and about, you might need an iPad with enough juice to last a long-haul flight.
If you want to use your iPad for creative work (such as illustration, design, animation or music-making), the more powerful iPad Pro might be right for you. It also comes with the Apple Pencil, a stylus that's great for drawing and annotating.
And when you eventually decide to take the plunge, why not consider partnering your new iPad with a pair of wireless headphones? Come to think of it, the Apple AirPods Max might be a particularly impressive match.
How we test the best iPads
There might only be four products in Apple's iPad range but deciding which ones we'd recommend is harder than it sounds. Thankfully, here at What Hi-Fi? we have years of expertise and plenty of resources to ensure that we can rigorously test these options so we can recommend them to you with confidence.
Thanks to our dedicated testing rooms in Bath and Reading, alongside our knowledgeable and experienced team, we can conduct thorough tests to explore what these devices can do. Our main area of focus is picture and sound, meaning that these tablets all must excel at delivering a quality AV experience; but features, cameras, battery life and software are all also key factors when it comes to testing these tablets.
In order to combat any personal preference or bias, each product we review is given a group consensus before any verdict is made. This step in the process also ensures that we haven't missed anything during the initial testing phase, as well as approaching the performance from different viewpoints to get a more holistic view of the device overall.
Our Best Buys are a collection of products that we believe provide the best experience at their price points, and ones that we would recommend you buy with peace of mind, knowing they have the What Hi-Fi? seal of approval.
You can check out our full range of Best Buys if you're looking of more approved tech recommendations.
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