On the lookout for student tablet, but not sure which iPad you should buy this Black Friday? Fear not, we’ve put together this helpful guide with rundowns of what each model does best and who they might suit, along with links to where you can find the best deals.
The iPad’s initial promise was a slate of glass that can transform into anything the user desires it to be, but that’s become more and more nebulous since it debuted. That’s in no small part down to the addition of new product lines that run the gamut from the base iPad at $329 (opens in new tab), all the way to the iPad Pro’s latest incarnation which will set you back $1,099 (opens in new tab) for the larger screen size.
It’s hard to know which model is best for you – do you need the Pro to watch Netflix and take notes in lectures? Probably not, but the extra power is mighty handy if you want to do some photo editing on the go. Factor in a complex web of accessories (which Apple Pencil is supported on each device, and which keyboard works with each again?) and you’ve got a potential minefield that has many folks undoubtedly facing a fair amount of confusion ahead of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season.
Thankfully, this guide should help you cut through the marketing terms to analyze which iPad is right for you, factoring in real-world performance and the value proposition of each.
If you want to see how Apple’s tablets shape up against other brands, our guide to the best tablets for students has you covered, and we also have a best MacBooks for students guide to help you complete your Apple tech collection.
Black Friday iPad deals
iPad Air – the best iPad for most people
The iPad Air M1 is the cheapest way to get an iPad with an M-series chip, which is the same as you’d find in many of Apple’s computers. It’s a powerful chip, and while there’s an argument that it can’t do a great deal more than A-series options, Apple has started to fork the road and put more M1 and M2 features into iPads.
At the moment, those revolve around external display support – only M1 and M2 iPads can show off additional apps on your display, and they support dragging and dropping to a bigger screen, too.
Outside of that, the M1 iPad is lightning fast for general tablet use, and still supports the (very expensive) Magic Keyboard (opens in new tab) if you want a more laptop-like experience. It’s also great for artists because it supports the second-generation Apple Pencil (opens in new tab), which can be charged by magnetically attaching it to the side of the tablet.
iPad Pro M2 – the most powerful iPad
If the M1 is a very powerful chip, then the M2 feels even more like overkill in a tablet. Sure, there are plenty of demanding apps that are hungry for the extra utility on offer, but unless you’re using a video editing app, or using the M-series specific reference mode for color adjustments (a feature exclusive to the 12.9-inch model, no less), there’s very little the iPad Pro M2 (or the prior iPad Pro M1 version) can do that the Air M1 can’t.
It does have some small “nice to have” touches, like a variable refresh rate Apple calls ProMotion, Face ID unlocking, and the USB-C port is much faster. However, the high price of admission, particularly for the larger tablet, makes it a tough device to recommend for all but the most hardcore of tablet users.
iPad Mini – the most portable iPad
The iPad Mini may look smaller, but don’t be fooled – it’s a very capable device, and Apple has priced it as such. It’s running with the Apple A15 Bionic chip, which is the same found in the (still) very fast iPhone 13 line-up and Apple’s current iPhone 14 devices.
The smaller footprint means there’s not an official Apple keyboard made for the iPad Mini, but it can connect to any Bluetooth option you have. It can also use the Apple Pencil (Second Generation) (opens in new tab) which makes it an ideal note-taking device that can fit in your back pocket. Perfect for those looking for the best tablets for students.
There’s even room for USB-C for more universal connectivity, as well as Touch ID support for fingerprint unlocking built into the lock button.
iPad (10th gen) – the best mid-range iPad
The latest iPad exists in a weird spot, because while it lacks a suffix like Air or Pro, it’s priced considerably higher than its prior generation counterpart. That makes it tougher to recommend than the 9th generation version (which we’ll come to in a moment).
It’s not a bad tablet though, with a 10.9-inch display that matches the iPad Air’s, and up to 256 GB. Apple even made a new keyboard attachment for it, the Magic Keyboard Folio (opens in new tab), but it bizarrely still works with the first generation of Apple Pencil (opens in new tab) which needs to be jammed into the charging port. The trouble is that because the iPad now has a USB-C connector, it requires an adapter.
That means if you’re looking for a tablet you can make notes or draw on, we’d opt for the iPad Air instead.
iPad (9th Gen) – the best cheap iPad
The 9th generation iPad may not be long for this world now that its successor is here, but it still has a lot to offer despite its “classic” design.
It may look a little old-fashioned with its squarer corners and home button, but the A13 Bionic chip is still plenty capable, and can be found in the iPhone 11 line-up which still doesn’t feel sluggish in everyday use.
It’s got a slower Lightning connector, but since it still uses the first generation of Apple Pencil, it at least doesn’t require an adapter. It’s also the cheapest iPad by a distance, maintaining Apple’s tradition of having a tablet available for under $350.