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The best iPad: the top tablet for your specific needs

Best iPad
(Image credit: Apple)

If you're after a new tablet then the best iPad is probably what you're looking for. Originally launched in 2010, the Apple iPad has achieved the sort of brand ubiquity that the majority of companies can only dream of; just as Hoover became the shorthand for vacuum cleaners, when anyone goes shopping for a tablet, what they're usually after is an iPad.

Today, though, it's a little less easy than that. With four distinct ranges of iPad to choose from with assorted features and capabilities, it can be tricky to decide which one's right for you. And while the iPad used to be a useful accessory to have around but not really any good for doing actual work on, some of today's models can be an essential tool for designers. You just need to ensure that you pick the best iPad for your needs.

To help you make the right decision, we've got our hands on the full range of iPads currently available and picked out the ones best suited for various requirements. So whether you need an all-round powerhouse that's essentially a surrogate laptop, a handy device for drawing and sketching, or merely a tablet for playing games and watching movies, we've got you covered.

Speaking of covered, don't forget to check our guide to the best iPad cases so that your new tablet's well-protected. And if you'd rather not pay full price for your iPad, we're tracking all the best Black Friday iPad deals to help you save.

The best iPads in 2021

Best iPad: 2021 iPad Pro 12.9

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for professional work.

Specifications
Processor: M1
Display: 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR, 2732x2048
Storage: 128GB to 2TB
Camera: 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras
Reasons to buy
+Hugely powerful+Lots of storage options+Amazing screen
Reasons to avoid
-Needs Magic Keyboard for serious work

If you're serious about getting the best iPad for work then there's really only one choice. The latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro is an absolute creative powerhouse with an M1 processor, laptop-size screen and storage options up to 2TB. And if you go the full hog and pair it with a Magic Keyboard or Smart Keyboard Folio, what you effectively have is a super-slimline laptop with plenty of capability. 

It'll tear through demanding apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator or their Affinity counterparts, and all your business needs will be taken care of through Apple's own bundled apps. And at the end of the working day it's still an iPad, ideal for chilling on the sofa. Sorted!

Best iPad: iPad (9th generation)

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for gaming and great value.

Specifications
Processor: A13 Bionic
Display: 10.2-inch Retina, 2160x1620
Storage: 64GB to 256GB
Camera: 8MP Wide camera
Reasons to buy
+Nice and cheap+Perfect for games+Perfectly capable
Reasons to avoid
-The least powerful option

The basic iPad is looking a little underpowered compared with the rest of the range right now, but it's still a decent tablet and a strong all-rounder, and if you're after the best iPad for playing games, you can't go far wrong with it. It'll cope happily with all the popular games (although it could struggle with the latest heavyweight 3D titles), and you'll be spoilt for choice with thousands of options available on the App Store.

Best iPad: iPad mini 6

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for note-taking.

Specifications
Processor: A15 Bionic
Display: 8.3-inch Liquid Retina, 2266x1488
Storage: 64GB to 256GB
Camera: 12MP Wide camera
Reasons to buy
+Impressive power+Upgraded display
Reasons to avoid
-Too small for some-Surprisingly expensive

Just when we were suspecting that the iPad mini was on its last legs, this comes along. The new iPad mini 6 is properly impressive, outperforming the 2020 iPad Air and leaving the basic iPad standing – for now at least. 

It's great for drawing, sketching and painting if you can cope with the small display, and with iPadOS 15 it's also a fantastic device for note-taking. With an Apple Pencil you can take notes by hand, and the iPad uses smart OCR software to convert your handwriting into text. (You could use your finger or an ordinary stylus, but the lack of palm rejection means adopting an unnatural writing position; it's fun to try but we wouldn't recommend it for any length of time.)

Best iPad: 2021 iPad Pro 11

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for drawing.

Specifications
Processor: M1
Display: 11-inch Liquid Retina, 2388x1668
Storage: 128GB to 2TB
Camera: 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras
Reasons to buy
+Plenty of power+Great display+Excellent drawing capabilities
Reasons to avoid
-Premium pricing

Nearly every current model except for the vanilla iPad is compatible with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, so they're all ideal for drawing, right? Well, yes, but some iPads are more ideal than others. For the smoothest, most fluid drawing experience you're going to need an iPad Pro, because of its 120Hz display. Other models refresh at 60Hz, which is fine for most things, but it means a tiny but noticeable delay in seeing the results of your Pencil strokes. 

So if drawing and painting is your priority, we'd recommend the 11-inch iPad Pro for super-smooth strokes without the additional cost of the 12.9-inch model (although if you don't mind paying extra then you'll love that extra-large display).

Best iPad: iPad Air 2020

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for watching films.

Specifications
Processor: A14 Bionic
Display: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina, 2360x1640
Storage: 64GB to 256GB
Camera: 12MP Wide camera
Reasons to buy
+Great display+Impressive sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Not the best battery life

The 2020 iPad Air is fantastic choice if you want something that's almost an iPad Pro, and its 10.9-inch P3 wide colour display makes it just the thing if you want the best iPad for watching films. It's lovely and bright, and the Air's anti-reflective coating means you won't be bothered by unwanted reflections. 

While you can hook up a pair of AirPods Pro or Max to enjoy spatial audio with Dolby Atmos on supported video, the iPad Air 2020 punches out pretty decent sound without the need for headphones, with two-speaker audio in landscape mode. Our only real criticism of the latest Air is that the battery life isn't quite all that; we've learned to live with it, though.

Best iPad: iPad mini 5

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPad for kids.

Specifications
Processor: A12 Bionic
Display: 7.9-inch Retina, 2048x1536
Storage: 64GB to 256GB
Camera: 8MP Wide camera
Reasons to buy
+Perfect for youngsters+Great quality+Top value
Reasons to avoid
-Showing its age

Need the perfect iPad for small hands? While the new iPad mini 6 seems the obvious choice, it feels a bit pricey as an option for kids. We'd instead opt for 2019's iPad mini 5, which can be had at a much more reasonable price (especially if you can find a refurb) and which is still a thoroughly capable little tablet. 

It'll run all the creative apps and games that kids will love, it has a great-quality camera for them to take snaps with, and with the money you save you could also invest in a first-gen Apple Pencil to get them drawing and sketching.

Best iPad: 2020 iPad Pro 12.9

(Image credit: Apple)

Still an impressively powerful iPad.

Specifications
Processor: A12Z Bionic
Display: 12.9-inch Liquid Retina
Storage: 128GB to 1TB
Camera: 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras
Reasons to buy
+Still a top performer+Bargains available
Reasons to avoid
-No M1 power

Those 2021 M1 iPad Pros are pretty irresistible, but you're going to pay for the privilege of owning one. If you're happy to put up with not quite as much power and still get that 12.9-inch iPad Pro experience, then there are some decent savings to be found on last year's model if you look around. 

The screen isn't quite as nice, storage only goes up to 1TB, the front-facing camera is just a little less capable and the cellular version doesn't do 5G, but unless you were planning to push its capabilities to the absolute limit then we very much doubt that you'd notice the difference.

Best iPad: 2020 iPad Pro 11

(Image credit: Apple)

08. iPad Pro 11-inch (2020)

Almost as good as this year's model.

Specifications
Processor: A12Z Bionic
Display: 11-inch Liquid Retina
Storage: 128GB to 1TB
Camera: 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras
Reasons to buy
+Same display as 2021 model+Excellent performance+Deals available
Reasons to avoid
-No M1

The same rules as above apply with the 2020 11-inch iPad Pro; in fact, there's even less to differentiate between the two in this case. As with the 12.9-inchers, there's the lack of M1 power, no 5G capability, a lesser front-facing camera and storage options only go up to 1TB, but everything else – including the screen technology – is largely identical. And again if you shop around you should be able to find it at a pretty sweet discount.

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Jim McCauley

Jim McCauley is a writer, cat-wrangler and occasional street performer who's written for a multitude of publications over the past quarter of a century, including Creative Bloq, T3, PC Gamer and a whole load of long-dead print magazines.