Apple's 2021 iPad lineup: Which should you choose?

With a robust lineup and some fantastic next-gen features in the latest models, there's never been a better time to buy an iPad. Learn about your Apple tablet options here.

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Image: Apple

The leaves are changing colors, pumpkins are appearing on porches and holiday plans are starting to brew, which means it's also time to start thinking about gift giving — and also maybe getting a new iPad for yourself. 

Shopping for a new iPad in 2021 can be tough, though: There are four different models to choose from (not to mention the two sizes of the iPad Pro), each with its own set of features and reasons to pick it. Five isn't a lot of options, but it can be too many choices, which could lead to a bit of paralysis if you're unsure which is right for you or a loved one. 

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This guide to the 2021 iPad lineup should hopefully shed some light on the who's who of Apple's tablet lineup, but we're taking a different approach with this one. Because there's only four different iPad models I'm going to run through the full series instead of picking a few top items to feature. Take a look, and hopefully you'll find the right iPad with the right features to match your needs.

The M1 iPad Pro

Best for: Professional users, graphics designers, 3D artists, developers, those who need a laptop alternative with a similar level of performance.

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The iPad Pro, paired with a Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil

Apple

Apple has been subtly blurring the line between mobile and desktop/laptop computing for years, as anyone who owns a Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and other Apple ecosystem devices can attest. The iPad Pro with an Apple Silicon M1 is just the latest iteration of that blurring.

The 2021 iPad Pro runs an Apple Silicon M1 system-on-a-chip, supports 5G, comes in 11" and 12.9" models and with an optional Magic Keyboard case and Apple Pencil it becomes a serious contender for replacing a laptop. 

Pro users thinking about ditching the MacBook for an M1 iPad Pro shouldn't leap before they look, though: You're restricted to iOS/iPadOS App Store apps, so be sure that your essential tools are available for the iPad Pro before buying one. For everybody else, the iPad Pro is the top-of-the-line option, so if you want to go big on your iPad purchase this is the one to pick.

The iPad Pro is available now, with the 11" model starting at $799, and the 12.9" starting at $1,099. 

The iPad Air

Best for: Those that want the iPad Pro experience without the price, students, home tablet users, professionals who work in roles without intensive hardware needs who want a laptop alternative.

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The 2020 iPad Air, a Pro in everything but internals.

Image: Apple


At 10.9", the iPad Air is smaller than the smallest iPad Pro, but in many ways mimics its design and feature set. Like the Pro, the fourth-gen iPad Air has an optional Magic Keyboard case and Apple Pencil support, and like the Pro it also sports Apple's new squared-off design style. 

Don't think that the iPad Air is a full-blown iPad Pro alternative, though: It can't match up in terms of hardware performance, and is outfitted with a previous-gen A14 chip. It also reduces its cost by skimping on some of the more cutting-edge features of the Pro as well: There's no Face ID, only Touch ID on the power button, and it only supports LTE, not 5G.

That said, the iPad Air is still a good machine, and makes a perfectly good laptop replacement for those that don't need the processing power of the iPad Pro.

The iPad Air is available now, starting at $599. 

The iPad

Best for: Children and younger users, those on a budget, older people who just want a basic tablet, businesses looking for a fleet of affordable (but not poor quality) tablets, people looking for an entry-level Apple tablet experience.

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The 2021 iPad, Apple's entry-level tablet offering.

Image: Apple


There's not a lot to say about the standard iPad, which Apple has rebranded as the entry-level, affordable model of the four. It still has a home button, is designed more like a previous-generation iPad, only has an A13 chip, and honestly isn't terribly exciting to those who get giddy at cutting-edge technology and new product models.

But let's not sell the standard iPad short: It's still a new device that's been designed to work with the operating systems and apps of today, and it's a perfect device for those that want a tablet made by Apple that doesn't break the bank. The iPad supports Apple Pencil, has its own Smart Keyboard folio, and did I mention it's only $329?

You can buy the 2021 iPad for the aforementioned price now.

The iPad Mini

Best for: Those that like small computers, people who want the iPad Pro experience in a smaller form factor, design professionals who are always on the go, frequent travelers.

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The redesigned iPad Mini is a pocket-sized tablet that doesn't skimp on power.

Apple


I'll admit it, when Apple unveiled the new iPad Mini in September I got unreasonably excited. It's an 8.3" device that has the same material design as the new iPhones and iPad Pro, it supports Apple Pencil, it has the newest A15 Bionic processor, and it supports 5G. 

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The new iPad Mini is the device for people who want an in-betweener that is larger than a phone but not as monstrous as a laptop, all without completely sacrificing their ability to work. You'll have to sacrifice some ability, though: There's no keyboard folio for the Mini, at least not from Apple. 

If you're someone who does a lot of typing in their day-to-day life and wants an iPad to use as a work device, this probably isn't the one for you. Design pros or those who can otherwise use an Apple Pencil to jot notes, make sketches, or compose emails will find it to be an ideal size to use like a digital notepad. 

The new iPad Mini is available now, starting at $499.

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