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Best iPads of 2021 | CNN Underscored

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CNN
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Apple’s iPad lineup consists of four different models, all of which offer a tablet experience unlike anything you can find anywhere else. Most recently, Apple updated both iPad Pro models with a faster processor and a better display technology for the 12.9-inch model.

Every iPad Apple offers has a slightly different design, different specifications and, of course, different pricing. There’s the iPad, the iPad Air, the iPad Mini and the iPad Pro — but which iPad does what, and is the high-end iPad Pro worth the money?

Truth be told, all iPads run the same software and have access to the same apps in the App Store. Heck, almost all of them will even work with Apple’s own keyboard accessory, and they all work with the Apple Pencil. But there are differences in the type of keyboard they’ll work with, and there are two different generations of the Apple Pencil, each one for specific iPad models.

So why not just get the least expensive model and call it a day? Well, screen size, overall capabilities and performance — that’s why. We’ll break down the differences between iPad models so you can choose the one that fits your needs.

8th-Generation iPad

Jacob Krol/CNN

8th-Generation iPad

The eighth-generation entry-level iPad arrived last September with its staple starting price of $329. We spent some time testing it when it launched and we have to admit we were impressed. In fact, so much so that when we pitted it against other top tablets on the market, it was our pick for the best tablet of 2021. The update includes improved performance in the iconic tablet design that Apple is yet to fully stray from.

If you’re upgrading from an older iPad model, you’ll be happy to know Apple increased the display size with last year’s base model, from 9.7 inches to 10.2 inches. The Touch ID fingerprint reader is still hidden in Apple’s tried-and-true home button.

The eighth-generation iPad’s performance improvement comes courtesy of Apple’s A12 Bionic processor. That’s the same chip that Apple used in the iPhone XS, so it’s a couple of years old, but it’s still no slouch. Combined with the performance gains of iPadOS 14, the iPad will have no issues while you triage your email, browse the web, game or watch your favorite creators on YouTube.

Apple’s base model iPad is the ideal tablet for someone who doesn’t necessarily want a laptop replacement or need something to do heavy photo or video editing. It’s more than enough for a young student or anyone who views the iPad more as an entertainment device.

That said, if you do want to sit down and write a school paper or a lengthy email, you can pick up the Smart Keyboard Cover for $159. Or, if you want an iPad to draw or sketch on, the first-generation Apple Pencil will work and is only $99.

The iPad with Wi-Fi starts at $329 for 32GB of storage or $429 for 128GB. Add another $130 to either price for an LTE model.

iPad Air

Jacob Krol/CNN

iPad Air

A once forgotten model, Apple updated and completely redesigned the fourth-generation iPad Air in late 2020. The Air sits comfortably in the middle of Apple’s tablet lineup, both in terms of price and capabilities, and it’s incredibly appealing for those exact reasons.

The new Air looks more like the iPad Pro, with flat edges, a spot to wirelessly charge the second-generation Apple Pencil and a USB-C port. It comes in five colors: Space Gray, silver, rose gold, green and Sky Blue.

The screen goes nearly edge to edge, lacking a home button. It also lacks Face ID, a feature that’s still reserved for the iPad Pro line. Instead, Apple has built its Touch ID fingerprint technology into the iPad Air’s sleep/wake button. It’s the first time we’ve seen Apple use Touch ID somewhere other than the home button, and it worked flawlessly in our testing.

Inside the Air is Apple’s A14 Bionic processor. It’s the same processor the iPhone 12 line uses, and it’s incredibly quick and powerful. Apps open fast, games are lag-free and multitasking is a breeze.

The Air is powerful enough to handle daily tasks like email and web browsing, but it also keeps pace with your photo and video editing needs.

If you’re looking for a tablet you can get some work done on that’s more powerful than the basic iPad and and not nearly as expensive as the iPad Pro, the iPad Air is a good fit.

The iPad Air with Wi-Fi starts at $599 for 64GB of storage or $749 for 256GB. For the same storage amounts but with LTE connectivity, you’re looking at $729 and $879, respectively.

iPad Mini

Apple

iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is essentially a smaller version of the base model iPad. It uses Apple’s A12 processor and comes with up to 256GB of storage and Apple Pencil support. There isn’t a Smart Keyboard Cover for the Mini, but you can connect any Bluetooth keyboard to the tablet for long-form typing.

Of course, as its name implies, the Mini is smaller than the rest of the iPad lineup, with a 7.9-inch Retina display.

The Mini is ideal for someone who’s constantly on the go and wants to have access in a portable form factor to the power an iPad affords and the App Store ecosystem. Pair the iPad Mini with an Apple Arcade subscription, and you have a compelling Nintendo Switch competitor for gaming.

The Wi-Fi version of the iPad Mini starts at $399 for 64GB of storage or $549 for 256GB. The Wi-Fi + LTE version will set you back $529 or $679 for the same storage amounts.

iPad Pro

Jacob Krol/CNN

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro line is designed for and targeted toward those who want the most powerful and capable tablet Apple has to offer, and the latest crop of the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros are no exception. In fact, we’d go so far as to say they’re overpowered. Apple included the same M1 Apple Silicon processor that’s found in the company’s latest Mac computers in the iPad Pro. Yes, that means that the MacBook Pro and the new iPad Pro use the same exact processor.

In addition to a new processor, you can now get either model with 8GB or 16GB of memory (up from a high of 6GB on the 2020 model), which translates into apps and Safari tabs staying open longer in the background, and better overall performance.

There’s now a USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port on the iPad Pro, adding better support for displays and faster data transfers to external storage devices.

And for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple unveiled a Mini LED screen it’s calling a Liquid Retina XDR display. That fancy marketing term translates into an improved picture overall, but it’s especially apparent when watching videos or looking at photos. Blacks are truer to life, and colors are more saturated yet still true to life.

The iPad Pro starts at $799 for an 11-inch screen or $1,099 for a 12.9-inch display. The Wi-Fi + 5G model is an extra $200. If you really want to go all out, the 12.9-inch model with 5G, 2TB of storage and 16GB of memory is $2,399.

The iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard and its dedicated trackpad can replace a laptop or, at the very least, be used in place of a laptop for most computing tasks.

The second-generation Apple Pencil will work with the new iPad Pro for taking notes or drawing.

You can order one of the new iPad Pro models right now, but deliveries are currently pushed back to the middle of July. It turns out the new iPad Pro, despite its high price tag, is popular.

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