Buying guide: Find the best iPad for your needs

Apple offers five iPad models. If you're confused about which one is right for you, this quick review of each model's strengths should help.

Macbook Air 11-inch and iPad Pro
Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

Selecting an iPad was easier when there were only a few models from which to choose. Now there are five models, including the new iPad Pro, which may replace many users' laptop computers.

iPad Pro

Mated with Apple's new Smart Keyboard, the iPad Pro packs quite a punch in a portable package, measuring 12" high by 8.6" wide by .27" deep and weighing 1.57 pounds. With a 12.9" Retina display supporting 2732 x 2048 resolution and 264 pixels per inch, the iPad Pro's display is impressive and doesn't suffer many compromises. Powered by the A9X chip 64-bit architecture, the iPad Pro is up to 1.8 times faster than the iPad Air 2, meaning even demanding applications will run faster on the new platform.

The model delivers 8MP photos, 1080p video recording, 3x video zoom, and 720p FaceTime video and can run for 10 hours performing common tasks. From $799 for the 32 GB Wi-Fi model all the way to the $1,079 128 GB Wi-Fi+Cellular model, the iPad Pro is well suited to meet the needs of mobile digital photographers, marketers, advertising professionals, sales staff, and executives seeking a permanent laptop or desktop computer replacement.

iPad Air 2

The iPad Air 2, with a smaller profile, is a smart choice for road warriors seeking a temporary laptop replacement. The model is also a good fit for students, and it complements a desktop computer well.

At 18% thinner than the previous iPad Air, the iPad Air 2 weighs less than a pound and measures 9.4" high by 6.6" wide by just .24" deep. Powered by an A8X chip, the unit's 9.7" 2048 x 1536 display boasts 264 pixels per inch. The iPad Air 2 is 40% faster than the iPad Air and boasts graphics up to 2.5 times its predecessor.

Like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2 can perform common tasks for up to 10 hours and supports 1080p video recording, 8MP photos, and 720p FaceTime video and possesses a 3x video zoom. The unit's also more budget friendly, with 16 GB Wi-Fi models starting at $499 and scaling all the way to a 128 GB Wi-Fi+Cellular model for $829.

iPad Air

The original iPad Air is powered by an A7 CPU and provides decent performance at even friendlier prices. Well-matched for the same users as the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air offers measurable cost savings, with the 16 GB Wi-Fi model costing just $399 and the 16 GB Wi-Fi+Cellular version running $529.

Weighing just a pound and only slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2, the model is slower than the iPad Air 2 and only boasts a 5MP camera; otherwise, the iPad Air measures up well, delivering up to 10-hour performance, a 3x video zoom, 1080HD video, and 720p HD FaceTime video.

iPad Mini 4

Users seeking to deploy an initial tablet, businesses seeking to supplement desktop and laptop computers, and professionals placing the highest priority on a thin and light profile should consider the iPad Mini 4. It's 18% thinner than the previous iPad Mini and weighs just .65 pounds. The iPad Mini 4, at 8" high by 5.3" wide by .24" deep, still delivers 2048 x 1536 resolution and 326 pixels per inch on its 7.9" display.

The smaller model delivers quality video and supports 1080HD video recording, 720p FaceTime video, and 8MP photos. Powered by Apple's A8 chip, it's 30% faster than the previous iPad Mini, and it provides up to 10-hour performance, as Apple claims for all its iPads.

The Mini's smaller size helps reduce costs when compared to larger display models. iPad Mini 4 Wi-Fi models start at $399 for the 16 GB model and ramp up to $729 for the 128 GB Wi-Fi+Cellular version.

iPad Mini 2

Starting at $269 for 16 GB Wi-Fi models, and ranging to $449 for 32 GB Wi-Fi+Cellular versions, the iPad Mini 2 packs a 7.9" display powered by an A7 CPU. Delivering 5MP photos, 1080HD video, and 720p FaceTime video, as well as a 3x video zoom like other iPad models, the 7.8" high, 5.3" wide, .29" deep iPad weighs just .75 pounds.

Students seeking an entry-level tablet, business professionals seeking a budget-friendly thin-and-light tablet, and programmers seeking iOS tablets for testing and development will be well-served by the iPad Mini 2's combination of portability, performance, and cost efficiency. While the unit's too small to reasonably replace a laptop, it can supplement a laptop or a desktop and provides a cost-effective alternative to relying only on an iPhone for reading and editing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and email on the go.

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