Best iPad 2021

By Dasblog

If you’re thinking of buying a new iPad, we’ve just entered a bit of a state of limbo: Apple recently announced two new models, replacements for the iPad Mini and the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad, which may muddy your choice of which model in the iPad line you should buy. They’re slated to ship Sept. 24 and are available to preorder now; we’ll update this as we get a chance to test them.

The current 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models are powered by the company’s M1 processor, the chip found in its latest MacBooks as well as the new 24-inch iMac. Along with the new processors, the iPad Pros have a Liquid Retina XDR display on the 12.9-inch size, high-speed Thunderbolt USB-C port and optional 5G mobile wireless. The 11-inch version starts at $799 (£749, AU$1,199) while the 12.9-inch model price begins at $1,099 (£999, AU$1,649). They are available to buy now.

However, the Pro sits at the top of the iPad lineup, which now includes the 2021 ninth-gen 10.2-inch iPad, fourth-gen 10.5-inch iPad Air and sixth-gen 2021 8.3-inch iPad Mini rounding out the rest of Apple’s tablet options. You’ll also still be able to get previous models at reduced prices.

Also see: Best Apple iPad deals: Save $100 or more on previous-gen iPad Pro models

Regardless of which iPad you go with, though, all the current iPad models support the latest version of iPadOS (a special version of iOS specifically for iPads) and with either the first-generation Apple Pencil or second-generation Apple Pencil; and all but the Mini work with Apple’s Smart Keyboard, though you can use any Bluetooth keyboard instead. That’s good news for anyone who’s looking to do more than stream videos and music, look at web sites and play Apple Arcade games. Plus, all of the current iPad models support mouse and trackpad use for a more MacBook-like experience

Best iPad 2021

The new iPad Pro models come in two sizes. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPad 2021 vs. iPad Air 2020 vs. iPad Pro 2021 specs

iPad 2021 (10.2) iPad Air 2020 (10.9) iPad Pro 2021 (11) iPad Pro 2021 (12.9)
Display resolution 2,160×1,620-pixel resolution 2,360×1,640-pixel resolution 2,388×1,668-pixel resolution 2,732×2,048-pixel resolution
Pixel density (ppi) 264 ppi (Retina) 264 ppi (Liquid Retina True Tone) 264 ppi (Liquid Retina True Tone with ProMotion) 264 ppi (Liquid Retina XDR True Tone with ProMotion)
Rear camera 8-megapixel f2.4 12-megapixel f1.8 12-megapixel f1.8 wide, 10-megapixel f2.4 ultrawide 12-megapixel f1.8 wide, 10-megapixel f2.4 ultrawide
Video recording 1080p at 30fps 4K at 24, 30 or 60fps; 1080p slo-mo at 120 or 240fps 4K at 24, 30 or 60fps (wide); 60fps (ultrawide) 4K at 24, 30 or 60fps (wide); 60fps (ultrawide)
FaceTime front-facing camera 12-megapixel photos; 1080p video 7-megapixel photos; 1080p video 12-megapixel TrueDepth; 1080p video 12-megapixel TrueDepth; 1080p video
Processor A13 A14 M1 M1
Dimensions 9.8×6.8×0.29 inches 9.7x7x0.24 inches 9.7x7x0.23 inches 11×8.5×0.25 inches
Weight 1.07 lbs. (Wi-Fi); 1.09 lbs. (LTE) 1 lbs. (Wi-Fi); 1.01 lbs. (LTE) 1.03 lbs. (Wi-Fi); 1.04 lbs. (LTE) 1.5 lbs. (Wi-Fi); 1.51 lbs.(LTE)
Battery Up to 10 hours use over Wi-Fi; up to 9 hours over cellular Up to 10 hours use over Wi-Fi; up to 9 hours over cellular Up to 10 hours use over Wi-Fi; up to 9 hours over cellular Up to 10 hours use over Wi-Fi; up to 9 hours over cellular
Headphone jack Yes No No No
Connector port Lightning; Apple Smart Connector USB-C; Apple Smart Connector USB-C with Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 support USB-C with Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 support
Apple Pencil-compatibility Yes; first generation Yes; second generation Yes; second generation Yes; second generation
Unlock with Touch ID Touch ID Face ID Face ID
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0
SIM card support for cellular model Nano-SIM; eSIM Nano-SIM; eSIM Nano-SIM; eSIM; 5G support (sub-6 GHz and mmWave) Nano-SIM; eSIM; 5G support (sub-6 GHz and mmWave)
iPad Keyboard compatibility Smart Keyboard Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio
Audio Two-speaker Two-speaker Four-speaker Four-speaker
Capacity and price: Wi-Fi models $329 (32GB) / $479 (256GB) $599 (64GB) / $749 (256GB) $799 (128GB) / $899 (256GB) / $1,099 (512GB) / $1,499 (1TB) / $1,899 (2TB) $1,099 (128GB) / $1,199 (256GB) / $1,399 (512GB) / $1,799 (1TB) / $2,199 (2TB)
Capacity and price: LTE models $459 (32GB) / $609(128GB) $729 (64GB) / $879 (256GB) $999 (128GB) / $1,099 (256GB) / $1,299 (512GB) / $1,699 (1TB) / $2,099 (2TB) $1,299 (128GB) / $1,399 (256GB) / $1,599 (512GB) / $1,999 (1TB) / $2,399 (2TB)


Apple’s relatively small upgrades to its cheapest iPad will nevertheless probably help it retain its position as “a safe (but unexciting) budget bet” after we’ve had a chance to test it. The new entry-level model gains a couple of useful extras: more storage for $329 (64GB, rather than the ridiculously low 32GB of the last model), a faster A13 chip and better cameras (most importantly, a wider-angle higher-res front-facing Center Stage camera that tracks your face via digital pan and zoom). It still uses the first-gen Apple Pencil, which is fine for the money, and It’s still compatible with a range of keyboard cases. Its predecessors were often on sale for $299 or less and that should be true this holiday season as well. 

The 2020 model has the slower A12 bionic chip, but it’s also the last remaining full-size iPad with a headphone jack. Going back yet another generation to its seventh incarnation, it’s still likely a decent pick if you can find it for a pittance. It can handle the latest iPadOS just fine and should perform all the standard iPad tasks for some time. Regardless if you go with the old or new model we have one word of caution: The base 32GB of storage can fill up fast, so we recommend going with the 128GB version if possible. 

Read our iPad 2020 review.


Read more: The 30 best iPad games you need to play

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple recently released the update to its iPad Air with a supercharged new processor, the A14. The 2020 Air was the first Apple product to use this chip, and it goes without saying that it’s a considerable improvement over the A12 in the 2019 Air. 

The 2020 iPad Air gets a bigger 10.9-inch display but its slimmer bezels make it about the same size as the 2019 10.5-inch Air. Touch ID is embedded in the power button now, which should make unlocking easy. The newer iPad Air also supports Apple Pencil 2 now as well as Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Plus, it has better cameras, faster Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 and switches from a Lightning port to a more universal USB-C port. But with all the improvements, it starts at $100 more than the prior generation. We haven’t tested the new model yet, but this is a must-get iPad for anyone looking for something fancier than a regular iPad. 

The third-gen Air is still worth considering, however, especially if you can find it at a lower price now. The 2019 iPad Air is a lot like the 10.5-inch iPad Pro models from 2017. Starting at $499, it’s built around a 10.5-inch Retina display like the 2017 Pro but has an updated A12 Bionic processor like the one powering the iPhone XS. If you want better performance and more storage space — there are 64GB or 256GB options — you should consider stepping up the Air. Plus, while it’s larger than the entry-level iPad, it actually weighs a hair less.

Read our Apple iPad Air 2020 review.


Scott Stein/CNET

Whether you’re a digital artist or have waited years for an iPad that blurs the line between tablet and MacBook, the latest iPad Pro is what you want. The 11- and 12.9-inch Pros are nearly the same, save for their screen sizes and higher resolution and XDR technology in the 12.9-inch version. If you’re an intensive user of graphics apps like those in Adobe Creative Cloud, you’ll definitely appreciate the higher performance of the Pro.

If you’re considering the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, you’ll likely want to spring for the 12.9-inch version for the significant increase in workspace; if you’re a screen buff, you may also want it for the Liquid Retina XDR display. Also note that there’s a price jump when you get a 1TB or 2TB model because the RAM doubles from 8GB to 16GB for those who really need as much power as possible.

Along with the increased performance, these were the first iPads to offer support for 5G wireless, though now Apple has expanded the 5G option to other models in the line. They’re still not quite the MacBook replacement some crave, but they’re getting closer every year. 

Read our iPad Pro 2021 review.


Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

The 7.9-inch 2019 model has been superseded by a new 8.3-inch model, but you can still find the older version — just not from Apple. Given that the new model’s price starts at $100 more than the 2019 version at $499 you may still want to consider it if you simply want something small and don’t care about the substantial upgrades in addition to size: USB-C, the new A15 Bionic chip, optional 5G, the digital-zoom Center Stage camera of its bigger siblings, support for second-gen Pencils that attach magnetically and charge wirelessly, and more. But the new design also means it’ll need all-new cases and keyboard accessories, and you lose the headphone jack.

Given that the 2021 model remains the smallest in the line, we’ll probably continue to recommend it as the best option for commuters. The 7.9-inch iPad was relatively unchanged from its 2015, upgrading to a faster A12 processor and adding Apple Pencil support. We thought it a smart choice for those who want a smaller device for note-taking and sketching while also giving you better performance for games and more screen space than your phone for reading and videos (and you won’t be eating into your phone’s battery life, either). While its wide bezels make it look a bit dated compared to the rest of the lineup, at least the 2019 iPad Mini has Touch ID and a headphone jack to go along with them. 

Read our Apple iPad Mini 2019 review.


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