A tablet computer might seem like a luxury - after all, some people think they are just for watching movies on - but for a student they can make a lot of sense.
The current crop of iPads is powerful enough to replace a laptop, especially thanks to the improvements to iPadOS coming with version 17. You can use them for drawing and painting thanks to the Apple Pencil. Attach a Bluetooth mouse and iPad keyboard - or get one of the best iPad docks - and you have an office machine for bashing out essays and reports. You can run image editing, vector art and even page layout apps on them. They’re capable games machines for downtime, video calling works brilliantly on them thanks to the larger screen and excellent cameras, you can use them as a book or magazine, and yes, you can watch videos on them.
This way, having one of the best iPads means you can replace several different devices with one, saving you money as well as reducing the clutter in those somewhat compact student flats. Apple’s tablets may not be the cheapest on the market - by a long way - but their flexibility means you won’t be spending elsewhere. They last a long time too: the same tablet you got when you arrived fresh-faced at university could still be in your bag when you graduate.
And don't forget that in may countries (including the US and the UK) that there is a generous Apple Student discount scheme on most iPads bought direct from Apple.
All iPads naturally feature a touchscreen, and come in both Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 5G flavours, so you can maintain your internet connection even when not in the library. And now that Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are available for iPad, along with Serif’s Affinity suite and some Adobe apps too, there's very little your laptop can do that a tablet can’t.
These are the best iPads for students on sale right now…
Apple’s basic iPad has reached its tenth generation since its launch in 2010, and has gained an extra inch in screen diagonal over its 9.7in predecessors. This makes it a more useful size for getting things done on, rivalling the 11in MacBook Air of old in terms of screen space.
Its A14 Bionic chip comes from the iPhone 12, so is lagging a bit behind the extreme cutting edge, but it still provides plenty of processing oomph for office documents, a little light photo editing, games and media consumption.
The iPad 9th Gen may be cheaper, but the larger screen of the iPad 10th Gen marks it out as the best choice for students.
Read our full Apple iPad (10th Gen, 2022) review
Rather like a laptop that forgot its keyboard, the 12.9in iPad Pro is the best of Apple’s tablets. The M2 chip in this model is the same one you find in MacBooks, meaning there's more than enough computing power on offer for photo and video editing, games, or whatever else you want to do with it.
The iPad Pro also makes the best of iPadOS, which allows you to connect an external monitor and extend your desktop onto it just like you would with any other computer. Hook up an external keyboard and mouse, and you can use it just like you would with a laptop, before sliding the tablet into your bag to take with you. The USB port on the bottom of the tablet is a Thunderbolt port on the Pro, meaning you can use adapters to connect it to just about anything.
The battery life is immense, and despite the powerful components it’s completely silent in operation. It may be expensive, especially if you go for the models with the most storage, but in its ability to do the job of several different gadgets, it’s almost a bargain.
The 9th Gen iPad, from 2021, is still on sale as we write, and represents the best value in the whole iPad range. Its A13 Bionic chipset, also seen in the iPhone 11 and iPhone SE (2020), is outclassed by Apple’s M-series chips, but can still give a good account of itself if things like reading, streaming, and word processing are what you’re interested in.
With an A-series chip and a Lightning port in place of the USB Type-C seen on the rest of the range (plus a home button too), you’re not going to be connecting this tablet up to external monitors as easily, but with the right stand, and a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, it can still be pressed into service for writing essays.
With a price point that’s in the same area as Android tablet devices like the OnePlus Pad and Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite, however, it’s up against some strict competition and is perhaps best for die-hard Apple fans who don’t want to shell out any more cash.
Apple’s smallest iPad isn’t really that small - with its 8.3in screen it will dwarf any smartphone, and is just the right size as a reading tablet.
However, with a newer processor than the 10th-gen iPad above, it’s perfect for games too, and with 10 hours of battery life in constant use you’ll be able to use it all day.
The mini is perhaps best looked at as a companion device for a laptop, rather than a full replacement. Its position right between larger tablets and larger smartphones means it’s often overlooked, but it remains a supremely useful device.
The iPad Air used to trade on being the thinnest and lightest iPad imaginable. These days, while lighter than the 10th-gen iPad above, it’s not markedly so, and the Air occupies an awkward middle ground in the lineup. What it does have, however, is the M1 chipset, making it as powerful as a 2021 iPad Pro but decidedly less expensive.
At about half the price of a 12.9-inch M2 iPad pro, then, it looks like a good deal for students. The Air is eminently portable, ferociously powerful, and capable of all the iPadOS tricks involving external monitors, though the USB port in the base is USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) with DisplayPort rather than Thunderbolt. This last point probably doesn’t matter unless you can see yourself connecting it to external SSD drives that can take advantage of faster transfer rates.
Read our full iPad Air (2022) review
It may give up two inches of screen diagonal to its larger sibling at the top of this list, and not have the mini-LED backlighting that makes the 12.9in Pro’s screen so lovely to look at, but the 11in iPad Pro is still a top-notch tablet for getting work done on.
It wasn’t too long ago that Apple was selling MacBooks with 11in screens, and coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or one of the best iPad docks, you’ve got a supremely portable work machine.