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Best iPads 2021 with 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 thinner, lighter iPad Air (2020)? Or do you spend big on an iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) with all the bells and whistles, and stunning cinematic potential?

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? Come to think of it, the Apple AirPods Max might be a particularly impressive match.

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

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Apple iPad Pro 12.9

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

Apple's latest iPad Pro is the pinnacle of portable cinema

Specifications
Display: 12.9in
Resolution: 2732 x 2048 (264ppi)
Processor: M1
Front camera: 12MP
Rear camera: 12MP + 10MP ultra wide on rear
RAM: 8GB / 16GB
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
Dimensions (WHD): 28 x 21 x 0.6cm
Weight: 682g
Reasons to buy
+Stunning picture quality+Great sound with headphones+Hugely powerful
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a tablet

Ever wanted an OLED or QLED TV that you could fit in a backpack? The new iPad Pro 12.9 is that – and plenty more. With its high-end laptop-derived processor, and new mini LED-lit display, this is a real game-changer for Apple's latest premium tablet.

Apple positions its iPad Pro models as productivity and creativity devices, and the new M1 chip takes this to the next level. This is the same chip that Apple has in its
MacBooks.

As for the screen, Apple calls it a Liquid Retina XDR display, with the ‘XDR’ standing for ‘eXtreme Dynamic Range’. This is the first mini-LED backlight in an iPad. There are 10,000 of the things, arranged into 2500 independent dimming zone. That makes for better contrast control with near-perfect blacks and brighter highlights, resulting in a supremely punchy image with great colour authenticity. HDR10HLG and Dolby Vision are all supported.

This tablet is right up there with that of the very best TVs you can buy. Of course, it's hugely expensive and not easy to justify for anyone who has no intention of taking advantage of its productivity potential, but it’s also the best tablet you can buy for watching movies on the move – a luxury, but an extremely persuasive one.

Read the full Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) review

Apple iPad Air (2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPad Air (2020)

This could be the best choice of iPad for most people

Specifications
Display: 10.9in
Resolution: 2360 x 1640 (264ppi)
Processor: A14 Bionic
Front camera: 7MP
Rear camera: 12MP
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Dimensions (WHD): 24.8 x 17.9 x 0.6cm
Weight: 458g
Reasons to buy
+Great picture and sound+Attractive design+Excellent user experience
Reasons to avoid
-Imperfect front-facing camera-Touch ID button is awkward-Not the cheapest tablet around

The iPad Air (2020) represents a major step up for Apple's all-rounder tablet. This fourth generation device boast a brand new design, complete with a new Touch ID sensor and speaker layout. There’s also a bigger screen, more powerful processor and improved main camera.

Although it can’t match the specs of the iPad Pro 2021, both in terms of processing power and storage, Apple still claims the Air is more than powerful enough to be able to edit 4K video on and it’s fully compatible with the Apple Pencil 2, which will come in handy for creative types.

The speakers have been repositioned at either end of the tablet to fire out proper stereo audio and that helps give it a more cinematic and immersive feel. The audio itself is more solid and defined too. There’s extra weight to dialogue and it never seems to muddy the clarity of what you’re hearing at normal volumes.

The screen is punchy and bright, but with a great level of subtlety when the scene demands. Blacks are deep and rich, and there’s a general sense of depth to the scene too. Although though the Pro is more capable still, this cheaper and very capable variant is all that most people will ever need.

Read the full Apple iPad Air (2020) review

Apple iPad (2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPad (2020)

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

Specifications
Display: 10.2in
Resolution: 2160 x 1620 (264ppi)
Processor: A12 Bionic
Front camera: 1.2MP
Rear camera: 8MP
RAM: 3GB
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

iPad Air (2019)

(Image credit: Apple)

4. iPad Air (2019)

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

Specifications
Display: 10.5in
Resolution: 2224 x 1668 (264ppi)
Processor: A12 Bionic
Front camera: 7MP
Rear camera: 8MP
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Dimensions (WHD): 25.1 x 17.4 x 0.6cm
Weight: 456g
Reasons to buy
+Awesome video+Bassy audio+HDR
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

iPad Mini (2019)

(Image credit: Apple)

5. iPad Mini (2019)

The best small tablet in Apple's arsenal.

Specifications
Display: 7.9in
Resolution: 2048x1536
Processor: A12 Bionic
Front camera: 7MP
Rear camera: 8MP
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

Apple iPad 7th Generation

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple iPad 7th Generation

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

Specifications
Display: 10.2in
Resolution: 2160x1620
Processor: A10 Fusion
Front camera: 1.2MP
Rear camera: 8MP
Storage: 64/256GB
Dimensions (HWD): 25 x 17.4 x 0.75cm
Weight: 483g
Reasons to buy
+Detailed video, natural movement+Dynamic sonics+Affordable
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

Apple iPad Pro 10.5in

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple iPad Pro 10.5in

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

Specifications
Display: 10.5in
Resolution: 2224x1668
Processor: A10X Fusion
Front camera: 7MP
Rear camera: 12MP
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Dimensions (HWD): 25x17.4x0.6cm
Weight: 469g
Reasons to buy
+Beefy sound+Stellar display+Unequalled performance
Reasons to avoid
-Price-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?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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