Which iPad should you buy? Hands-on with the iPad 7, iPad mini 5, iPad Air 3, and iPad Pro (2020)

With the release of the new iPad Pro for 2020 and last year’s update to the entry-level iPad, it’s time to take another look at the entire iPad lineup to determine which iPad is best.

The iPad that’s best for me, isn’t necessarily the iPad that’s best for you, and vice versa. In this hands-on video, we discuss which iPad you should buy in 2020.

Not a whole lot has changed in the iPad landscape since we last considered this question. Apple still has the best tablet lineup on the market, and it continues to dominate with solid entry-level, mid-range, and pro offerings.

All iPads that Apple sells now support either the first-generation Apple Pencil or second-generation Pencil (iPad Pro only). And all models, sans iPad mini, support at least one of Apple’s official keyboard add-ons.

The biggest thing that’s changed since we last considered this question actually has very little to do with hardware, and everything to do with software. As we previously covered, the iPad now has its own dedicated operating system thanks to iPadOS 13, and now there’s even mouse and trackpad support built right into iPadOS.

Video walkthrough: Which iPad should you buy?

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iPad (2019)

The biggest hardware change in the iPad lineup came with the 2019 release of the baseline iPad. Not only did the device get larger, going from a 9.7-inch display to a 10.2-inch display, but in now features built-in Smart Connector support, allowing users to attach a Smart Keyboard for the very first time.

Like its predecessor, the iPad 7 still starts at a low $329 price, but can often be found on sale for even less. The iPad 7 ships with the same A10 Fusion chip as the sixth-generation iPad, so performance is more or less the same as before.

Of course, like all of the baseline iPad models, this iPad continues to omit a laminated digitizer, which produces a slight air gap in the display. This, coupled with the lack of an anti-reflective coating, makes on-screen content feel as if it’s slightly beneath the surface, and produces more glare than Apple’s higher-end tablet offerings.

With that said, the seventh-generation iPad is still a remarkable value. It feels like one of the best deals in all of tech, especially if you can catch it on sale. At this point, the entry-level iPad has achieved parity with the original iPad Pro from 2015 in terms of available peripherals, thanks to its Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support.

And speaking of keyboard support, iPadOS 13.4’s new advance mouse and trackpad functionality doesn’t just apply to the pro-level iPad. It applies to any iPad, including the iPad 7, that’s compatible with iPadOS 13.4.

Thanks to cursor support, you can now turn your iPad into a laptop-like device with external keyboards like the Logitech Combo Touch that we recently reviewed. The Combo Touch keyboard features a built-in trackpad to navigate around iPadOS without needing to touch the display.

Having mouse cursor support is a bonafide game-changer for the iPad as a product line, and instantly increases the value and usefulness of even the entry-level model.

  • Priced from: $329
  • Who should buy it? Students, those on a budget, people new to tablets, probably most people to be honest.
  • Who should avoid it? Those wanting higher-end specs, a better screen, and better reading experience.
  • Read and watch the full iPad 2019 review

iPad mini 5

Nothing has changed for the iPad mini since the release of the 5th-generation version back in 2019. With the A12 Bionic chip, it shares with its larger sibling, the iPad Air 3, the iPad mini provides a premium experience in a tiny package.

With just a 7.9-inch display and the same resolution as the 10.2-inch iPad, it provides the best PPI rating (326) in the entire iPad lineup. The iPad mini also supports P3-wide color, and True Tone to set the screen white point based on ambient lighting. The result is a gorgeous and compact display experience, which is enhanced thanks to the laminated digitizer. App icons and graphics seem to almost float on top of the display they’re so brilliant and sharp.

Although it includes Apple Pencil support, there is no Smart Connector support for the iPad mini, because there’s not a Smart Keyboard that is small enough to work with the pint-sized tablet.

Yet, advanced cursor support comes to the iPad mini just like it comes to every other iPad that can run iPadOS 13.4. You can easily pair an external Bluetooth keyboard like the Magic Keyboard, along with the Magic Trackpad, to achieve a somewhat Mac-like experience with regard to cursor navigation, keyboard shortcuts, and the like.

One of my favorite things about the iPad mini is how good it is for handheld typing. But with the addition of the detachable keyboard in iPadOS 13, easy typing is no longer an iPad mini exclusive.

  • Priced from: $399
  • Who should buy it? Those that want the most portable iPad, or want a cheaper iPad with premium display characteristics.
  • Who should avoid it? Those that like to multitask and/or use a Smart Keyboard accessory.
  • Read and watch the full iPad mini 5 review

iPad Air 3

The iPad Air 3 is basically a larger iPad mini 5 with a Smart Connector for pairing it with a Smart Keyboard. The iPad Air 3, which features a 10.5-inch screen, is more or less what the iPad Pro used to look like before it took on its latest form factor in 2018.

The iPad Air 3 features a display that’s only 0.3-inches larger than the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad, but the display is much nicer, with the exact same characteristics as its little brother, the iPad mini 5. Like the mini, the iPad Air 3 features a laminated display, so content pops off the surface while the screen produces significantly less glare.

As its name indicates, the iPad Air is the lightest full-sized tablet in Apple’s iPad lineup, although it’s still not quite as thin as the iPad Pro. Both from a price and feature perspective, it’s the tablet that fits squarely in the middle of Apple’s iPad lineup, but feels decidedly more premium than a midrange device.

  • Priced from: $499
  • Who should buy it? Digital artists. Those who want Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil support. People who need a tablet computer that’s significantly more powerful than Apple’s entry-level offering. Anyone who needs power-user features, but doesn’t want to spend $300 more on an iPad Pro.
  • Who should avoid it? Casual iPad users who have no interest in so-called power-user features. Those who only use their iPads to briefly check email and the web.
  • Read and watch the full iPad Air 3 review

iPad Pro 2020

Although the 2020 iPad Pro didn’t change much from the 2018 iteration, Apple’s highest-end iPad did gain a new LiDAR scanner, which holds tons of promise for future AR applications.

The 2020 edition also boasts a new dual camera module, which features a 12MP wide angle camera and a 10MP ultra-wide camera. The cameras on the iPad Pro, although still not as good as what you’ll find on Apple’s flagship smartphones, are among the best in the lineup for both photos and videos.

To tell the truth, Apple didn’t need to change much to help the iPad Pro retain its crown as the best tablet that money can buy. With an impeccable nearly all-screen design, Face ID unlock, and USB-C connectivity for connecting all sorts of peripherals, the iPad Pro has been in no danger of relinquishing the title of the world’s most complete tablet.

The iPad Pro-exclusive ProMotion display delivers refresh rates up to 120Hz for fluid scrolling. I find that this makes a noticeable difference when browsing the web and reading text. Even some games are able to take advantage of higher refresh rates, as does the Apple Pencil, which enjoys lower latency as a result.

Then there’s the quad-speaker system, which acoustically places the iPad Pro in a class of its own for music-making and content consumption. Combined with the large display found on the 12.9-inch model, it’s the best way to consume content on a tablet, bar none.

But the real exciting feature for both the 2018 and 2020 versions is the release of the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. This keyboard accessory, coupled with the new iPadOS 13.4 software, brings real laptop-like functionality to the iPad Pro, and it’s glorious. It’s the reason why I called the Magic Keyboard the best iPad accessory ever.

Although keyboard/trackpad options exist for lesser iPad models, see our review of Logitech’s Combo Touch keyboard for proof of that, the Magic Trackpad for iPad Pro is on a whole different level. Not only is its keyboard great to type on, but the trackpad provides the sort of precision and response that’s usually restricted to a traditional laptop.

The bottom line is that if you’re looking to boost productivity and the versatility of your iPad, there’s simply no better way to do it than with the iPad Pro / Magic Trackpad combination.

  • Priced from: $799
  • Who should buy it? Serious artists, multitaskers, and laptop-replacers. Those who need the largest screen, the best display quality, the most storage space, the best speakers, the most peripheral options, and the fastest processors. This tablet is the best of the best and has significant room for growth to boot. And it has the best camera performance of any iPad that Apple currently sells.
  • Who should avoid it? Those on a budget, or those who want a better iPad than the entry-level model, but don’t require all of the bells and whistles of the top-tier Pro model.
  • Read and watch the full iPad Pro review / iPad Pro (2020) top features/impressions 

9to5Mac’s Take – Which iPad should you buy?

The iPad has come a long way since the first version was released 10 years ago. It took a while for the product line to come into its own, but I can truly say that there’s an iPad for everyone when looking at the lineup today.

And the great thing about the iPad is that all of them are good and work largely the same. Some of the higher-end models have more bells and whistles, but at the end of the day, they’re all cut from the same cloth.

Which iPad SHould you buy

If you’re a student, or someone just starting out with a tablet, then the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad makes for a great option and I believe that it’s the best value in tech when you can catch it on sale. If you’re a business person, or a creative pro looking for a potential laptop replacement, then the iPad Pro, in either its 11- or 12.9-inch flavor are amazing options, especially when paired with the Magic Keyboard.

And don’t forget the two midrange models — the more niche iPad mini, which appeals to those who value small size over everything, and the iPad Air 3, which has pro-like qualities in a more affordable, lighter, but decidedly less fancy package.

Indeed, there is an iPad for everyone. Which one have you found that works best for your needs? Sound off down below in the comments section with your thoughts and observations.

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Jeff produces videos, walkthroughs, how-tos, written tutorials and reviews. He takes pride in being able to explain things in a simple, clear and concise manner.