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Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

Best iPads Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best iPads you can buy in 2021.

Apple may not have been the first with the tablet idea but it's certainly the iPad that's made tablets famous. Whether you're after a great screen for watching films and TV on the go or something more powerful with creative potential, then Apple's got you covered. The iPads really are some of the best tablets around but deciding which Apple tablet you should buy is a much tougher decision.

Do you go for the standard iPad (2020)? The older seventh-gen model? The smaller iPad Mini (2019)? The iPad Air (2019)? Do you spend big on an iPad Pro with all the bells and whistles or should you bide your time for the recently announced 11in and 12.9in iPad Pros?

We're here to help you decide.

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 if you want to use it 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?

Whatever your needs, there's an iPad for you. Let's work out which one.

Apple's new iPad Pro ships this month. The 12.9in model has a Mini LED screen, which should be less susceptible to burn-in than OLED. The two new models should also perform on a par with Apple's M1 MacBooks. Very interesting.

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Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iPad (2020)

The 8th generation iPad is more of the same, but better.


Display: 10.2in | Resolution: 2160 x 1620 (264ppi) | Processor: A12 Bionic | Front camera: 1.2MP | Rear camera: 8MP | RAM: 3GB | OS: iPadOS 14 | Storage: 32GB / 128GB | Dimensions (WHD): 25 x 17.4 x 0.7cm | Weight: 490g

Reasons to Buy

Excellent, decent-sized screen
Useful iPadOS 14 features
Keyboard support

Reasons to Avoid

Few upgrades
Limited stereo speakers

Not only does the most recent iPad model look identical to its predecessor, it has nigh on the same specs, too. There's the same 10.2in retina display, same 8MP rear and 1.2MP front camera array, and more or less the same specifications – 3GB RAM, 32GB and 128GB storage options, and a 10-hour battery life. Even the Silver, Gold and Space Grey finishes carry over.

So what is new? Apple has upgraded the processor – inside you'll find the A12 Bionic, which is the same chip powering the iPhone XS, 2019 iPad Air and fifth-generation iPad Mini. It's not the newest Apple chip, but still delivers a 40 per cent speed boost on the previous iPad with twice the graphics performance. Despite that, the new iPad has a cheaper launch price than its predecessor.

The screen isn't drastically better than the 7th Gen's, but it doesn't need to be. It still does a fine job of rendering images, with a punchy yet natural colour palette, sharply defined detail, and sleek smoothness. And the audio is still typically Apple, being neutrally toned, detailed and dynamic, but with a touch more clarity.

Not a huge improvement on the 7th Gen, then, but a nice update to keep the iPad at the top of the tablet pile.

Read the full Apple iPad (2020) review

Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

(Image credit: Apple)

2. iPad Air (2019)

As an all-rounder, this is one of the best iPads available.


Display: 10.5in | Resolution: 2224 x 1668 (264ppi) | Processor: A12 Bionic | Front camera: 7MP | Rear camera: 8MP | RAM: 3GB | OS: iOS13 | Storage: 64GB / 256GB | Dimensions (WHD): 25.1 x 17.4 x 0.6cm | Weight: 456g

Reasons to Buy

Awesome video
Bassy audio

Reasons to Avoid

Awkward speaker placement
Lower ppi than iPad Mini

On paper, the iPad Air is a tricky sell: the standard iPad is cheaper, the iPad Mini is smaller and the iPad Pro is arguably the choice of professionals. It's not even the thinnest iPad available. So why is it so high in our list?

Because it's a beautifully well-thought out device. And looked at the right way, all its negatives are actually selling points: its screen is better than the entry-level model; it's bigger than the Mini and cheaper than the Pro.

And that screen. It's HDR-compatible and utterly stunning. Worried that its pixel density is a little lower than the iPad Mini? Don't, as the display itself is a lot bigger. It depends on personal preference, but in our view, the Air is the better device for content consumption.

The speakers could be better placed (our hands tended to block one when watching in landscape orientation), but they have plenty of oomph. And when connected to a quality pair of wireless headphones (which is likely to be the most common usage), it sounds superb.

If you want a device for consuming content rather than creating it, and are happy with the size, the Air is nigh on the perfect tablet.

Read the full iPad Air (2019) review

Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

(Image credit: Apple)

3. iPad Mini (2019)

The best small tablet in Apple's arsenal.


Display: 7.9in | Resolution: 2048x1536 | Processor: A12 Bionic | Front camera: 7MP | Rear camera: 8MP | Operating system: iOS | Storage: 64/256GB | Dimensions (HWD): 20.3x13.5x0.6cm | Weight: 300g

Reasons to Buy

Bright, punchy, vibrant
Good dark detail
Crisp audio

Reasons to Avoid

Could have deeper blacks
Awkward speaker placement

The diddiest member of the iPad family proves that small can be mighty. It has the highest pixel-per-inch density of any Apple tablet, making images look even sharper than its siblings'. And it has a couple of features that are missing from other models, most notably HDR video.

These two attributes make it a formidable portable cinema. At 7.9in, the screen is 21 per cent bigger, more cinematic and more immersive than the biggest iPhone, the 12 Pro Max (6.7in). That's like going from a 55in to a 65in TV. And the image quality is excellent, delivering bright and punchy pictures with distinctive highlights and plenty of detail in the shadows.

Inside is the A12 Bionic chip, which also powers the iPhone XS and XR. That gives it plenty of power for web browsing and gaming. Storage options? 64GB and 256GB, with no other choice. The front-facing camera has been given a big boost over the previous model, but the rear lens remains unchanged.

Add in brilliant sound, with bags of dynamism and detail, and you have a fantastic tablet for those on the move. If that's you, this should be top of your shopping list.

Read the full Apple iPad Mini (2019) review

Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iPad 7th Generation

The low price means compromises, but it's still an excellent tablet.


Display: 10.2in | Resolution: 2160x1620 | Processor: A10 Fusion | Front camera: 1.2MP | Rear camera: 8MP | Operating system: iOS 13 | Storage: 64/256GB | Dimensions (HWD): 25 x 17.4 x 0.75cm | Weight: 483g

Reasons to Buy

Detailed video, natural movement
Dynamic sonics

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks HDR
Bettered for black levels
Awkward speaker placement

As the smallest tablet in the iPad family, you might expect the Mini to be the cheapest slate Apple makes. But you'd be wrong. That honour actually goes to the seventh-gen iPad, which is still available at some retailers, though not Apple itself.

It's missing some tech compared to the Mini such as HDR support, but it does have the Smart Connector, which can be used to connect to Apple's Smart Keyboard. This is something neither the previous iPad nor the current Mini can do.

The 10.2in screen has a pixel density of 264ppi, which is lower than the iPad Mini. It also lacks the laminate layer, anti-reflective coating, True Tone (which automatically adjusts colours and brightness to match ambient lighting) and wide colour support of other tablets. It keeps the A10 Fusion chip of the previous model, which is fine, but not as zippy as Apple's newer chips.

Despite these drawbacks, you still get Apple's trademark natural colour balance, with excellent detail, definition and motion. The iPad Mini pips it with a little more punch and deeper blacks but it's still a good watch. And audio performance is strong, with a weight, solidity and dynamic variation that outdoes the Mini.

It might be Apple's least impressive tablet, but this older iPad is far from underwhelming.

Read the full Apple iPad 7th Generation review

Best iPads 2021: big, small, budget and premium

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple iPad Pro 10.5in

A big screen and stacks of power make this the best iPad for creative professionals.


Display: 10.5in | Resolution: 2224x1668 | Processor: A10X Fusion | Front camera: 7MP | Rear camera: 12MP | Operating system: iOS | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Dimensions (HWD): 25x17.4x0.6cm | Weight: 469g

Reasons to Buy

Beefy sound
Stellar display
Unequalled performance

Reasons to Avoid

Overkill for media consumption

If you're making content (think movies, music, illustrations and animation) you'll want an iPad Pro. The other iPads are great machines for consuming content (i.e. watching movies and listening to music), but this thing is built for creatives.

As such, it's a bit over-powered if all you want is to watch movies and play the odd game. But when has too much power ever been a bad thing (budget allowing, of course)? It's like using a Bentley to do the weekly shop – completely unnecessary, but quite a lot of fun, we imagine.

After all, it's a belter of a device for content consumption. The screen is crazy sharp and bright, and at this size (10.5in), films look an absolute treat. It sounds pretty great too, balancing dialogue with the soundtrack nicely and automatically adjusting for the best audio depending whether it's in portrait or landscape mode.

Sure, you probably don't need one. But if you can afford it, why wouldn't you?

Read the full Apple iPad Pro 10.5in review

What Hi-Fi?

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