Buying an iPad should be simple. You just buy whatever’s new, right? If only. Apple sells four main iPad models, each with its own strengths. In addition, a growing number of older iPads are floating around the eBays of the world. Since all these devices look pretty much the same, it’s important to know what you’re buying and what you should pay for it. This guide covers the best iPads available right now, the important differences between models, and every old model that exists (including the ones you shouldn’t buy at any price).

Be sure to check out all our buying guides, including the Best iPad Accessories, Best iPhones, Best iPhone 13 Cases and Accessories, Best Tablets, and Best MacBooks.

Updated January 2022: We’ve fixed links and tweaked prices, and mentioned upcoming iPads. 

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  • ipad mini with pencil

    Photograph: Apple

    Best for Most People

    Apple iPad (2021, 9th Gen)

    The 9th-generation iPad is the best tablet for most people (8/10, WIRED Recommends), and it’s the most affordable iPad. It has the same shape and size, so all current accessories will still work, including the first-generation Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. It retains the Home button and thick borders around the 10.2-inch screen.

    The A13 Bionic chip, which debuted on the iPhone 11, delivers a small boost in performance, but the rest of the new features are very welcome improvements. It has 64 gigabytes of storage instead of a paltry 32. The screen now has True Tone, which adjusts the color temperature of the display to match the ambient lighting around you so that it looks more natural. But the real highlight is the front camera, which goes from the awful 1.2-megapixel sensor to 12 megapixels and supports Center Stage, the iPad Pro feature that moves the camera around during video calls so you always stay in the frame. The camera placement is still a bit awkward, though.

    This is the only iPad without a fully laminated display, which means there’s an air gap between the screen and the glass. It just means interacting with the slate doesn’t feel as precise as with other iPads, which is especially noticeable with the Pencil.

  • Photograph: Apple 

    Best for Portability

    Apple iPad Mini (2021, 6th Gen)

    The iPad Mini, on the other hand, looks like no iPad Mini that came before (8/10, WIRED Recommends). Apple’s 2021 refresh mimics the design of the iPad Pro, with slimmer bezels around the 8.3-inch screen. It’s a little shorter than its predecessor, and its compact size makes it the best slate to take with you everywhere. You might even be able to fit it in your cargo pants. It loses the Home button, but it doesn’t adopt Face ID—like the iPad Air, Touch ID is baked into the Sleep/Wake key. It also has sub-6 5G connectivity and, best of all, a USB-C charging port, so you can recharge it with your MacBook charger or connect other accessories.

    With the latest A15 Bionic processor, it can handle pretty much every intensive app and game out there. It has improved cameras on the front and back (plus Center Stage on the selfie cam) and second-generation Apple Pencil support, so the stylus magnetically attaches to the edge and charges simultaneously. It won’t roll off the desk!

  • Photograph: Apple 

    Best for Getting Work Done

    Apple iPad Air (2020, 4th Gen)

    Apple’s fourth-generation iPad Air (7/10, WIRED Recommends) will make you wonder whether there’s any need to shell out for the iPad Pro. Its speed and performance are similar—it uses the A14 Bionic chip like the iPhone 12 range. It also looks exactly like the Pro, with uniform, slim edges around its 10.9-inch screen. Its size makes it a good machine for getting some work (or schoolwork) done. You get many of the same features, including support for the second-gen Apple Pencil (Amazon), which magnetically attaches to the edge for automatic charging and pairing, as well as a USB-C port. 

    It has no Home button, but like on the new Mini, Apple has integrated Touch ID into the power button, so you can still use your fingerprint to unlock the slate or to authenticate purchases. WIRED’s Lauren Goode reviewed this model and said Touch ID occasionally takes a few tries to work, but it’s fast when it does register. She also noticed the screen’s backlight bleeding at the edges, which some buyers have complained about. If you notice this problem, you may want to ask Apple for a replacement.

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