The number of iPad generations to choose from is becoming increasingly confusing. With so many confusing iPad names, combining different sub-brands, years and generation numbers, it can be difficult to work out which model is right for you.
So in this article, we make it easier for you, by explaining the differences between the four main types of iPad – iPad Pro, iPad mini, iPad Air and basic iPad – and the different versions within each range through up to nine iPad generations that have been launched to date.
You'll find details here of every single iPad available to buy today. We'll give you all the relevant information for the ones we recommend, plus some key details for the very oldest iPads, which you might want to pick up second-hand if they're at a bargain price.
So whether you want to use an iPad for heavy-duty video editing, the occasional bit of light web surfing, or somewhere in between, you'll find the right device for your needs in our guide to iPad generations.
iPad generations: the different iPad Pro models
The iPad Pro line is, as the name suggests, aimed at professional content creators. The most powerful of iPads, these devices will give the best performance when it comes to resource-intensive tasks such as photo and video editing. By the same token, they may be overkill if all you want to do with an iPad is some light web surfing and streaming music and video.
If you want the best iPad overall, this is it. The iPad Pro (2021) 12.9 is the latest in the range, and it's the most powerful by a mile. That's because it's the first to house Apple's new M1 processor. Its 8-core CPU is 50% faster than the previous models, and the 8-core GPU delivers 40% faster graphics.
You also get up to 2TB in storage and support for 5G, so it's great for photographers on the go. The rear camera's pretty good too, featuring a 12MP ultra-wide front-facing camera with a 122º field of view, and an ISP and LIDAR scanner for extra low-light detail. That might not match up to the latest smartphone camera, but when it comes to iPads, this is the best in class today.
It's also worth noting that the front-facing selfie camera has the new Center Stage function, which tracks your movement when recording video, and follows you to keep you in the centre. The 2021 iPad Pro also supports the Magic Keyboard, which might make your life easier when photo editing, although bear in mind you'll need to buy this separately.
The latest version of the iPad Pro also comes in a more compact 11-inch version. That means the screen and overall is slightly smaller, it's lighter, and it's also cheaper.
Apart from that, the main difference between the two versions of the iPad Pro (2021) is the brightness. While the 12.9 inch version offers a maximum brightness of 1,600 nits, the 11-inch version only stretches to 600 nits. Otherwise, though, you get everything else on offer with the 12.9-inch version: the same speed and power thanks to the M1 chip, the same generous storage, and the same excellent cameras.
The iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) may not have the latest M1 chip, but it does have a A12Z Bionic chip that's still very fast. And so if you're not doing anything very heavy duty with your iPad, such as editing 8K video or massive RAW image files, you're unlikely to notice any difference between this and the 2021 version. Which makes the more affordable price of this slightly-old-but-still-kind-of-new iPad a very tempting buy.
This iPad also offers supports the Magic Keyboard and offers a very nice camera setup. On the rear you get 12MP wide and 10MP ultra-wide sensors , along wth ToF LiDAR scanner for depth, and support for video up to 4K at 60fps. On the front, there's a 7MP camera for calls and selfies.
The 2020 iPad Pro also comes in an 11-inch version, which is as you'd expect, smaller, lighter and more portable. That's literally the only difference: in terms of specs, the two iPads are otherwise the same. So the choice between them comes down to how much the extra screen space of the 12.9-inch version is worth to you, and whether it's worth paying the extra cost or not.
The 2018 iPad Pro, which comes in both 12.9 and 11 inch versions, is now looking a little old-fashioned. But if you spot one at a cheap price, it's definitely worth considering. While its A12X processor isn't quite as fast as the A12Z Bionic one in the 2020 iPad Pro, it's not far behind.
Another difference that might be more of a deal breaker is the rear camera; while it does have 12MP wide sensor, it lacks both an ultrawide and a LIDAR scanner. Other negatives to this iPad Pro are that you can't attach a Magic Keyboard, and the audio's not quite as good as later models. That said, if a good discount is to be had, those are compromises many will be willing to make.
iPad generations: Older iPad Pros
These older iPad Pro models are also still available.
- ipad Pro 12.9 inch, 2nd generation: 12MP Wide camera with Auto HDR and 4K video at 30 fps; 7MP FaceTime HD front camera with Auto HDR; 12.9-inch Retina display with ProMotion technology and True Tone
- iPad Pro 12.9 inch, 1st generation: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera with Auto HDR; 12.9‑inch Retina display
- ipad Pro 11 inch, 2nd generation: 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras with Smart HDR and 4K video at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps 7MP; TrueDepth front camera with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting and Smart HDR; 11‑inch Liquid Retina display with ProMotion technology and True Tone
- iPad Pro 11 inch, 1st generation: 12MP Wide camera with Smart HDR and 4K video at 30 fps or 60 fps 7MP; TrueDepth front camera with Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting and Smart HDR; 11‑inch Liquid Retina display with ProMotion technology and True Tone
- iPad Pro 10.5 inch: 12MP Wide camera with Auto HDR and 4K video at 30 fps; 7MP FaceTime HD front camera with Auto HDR; 10.5-inch Retina display with ProMotion technology and True Tone
- iPad Pro 9.7 inch: 12MP Wide camera with Auto HDR and 4K video at 30 fps; 5MP FaceTime HD front camera with Auto HDR; 9.7‑inch Retina display with True Tone
iPad generations: the different basic iPad models
As well as the iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini, Apple also offers a basic line that's just called 'iPad'. If you want to do a lot of work on your iPad, especially if that involves photo or video editing, we wouldn't recommend these particular devices. However, they are a lot cheaper than other iPad lines, and so if all you want to do is a bit of light web surfing, play music and stream video, they're a great value choice.
The basic iPad isn't as powerful as the iPad Air, iPad mini or iPad Pro. But the latest 2021 version is still pretty capable.
Most notably, it uses the A13 Bionic chip, making it 20% faster than the previous 8th-gen (2020) 10.2-inch iPad, and enabling machine learning features like Live Text, which can recognize text in a photo. It uses Apple's True Tone display technology to automatically adjust screen colours to react to the ambient lighting in your physical space. And it starts at 64GB storage, double that of the previous version.
On the rear there's an 8MP camera, which is the same as the previous iPad, but the ultra-wide 12MP front camera is the range's best to date, capable of recording video in Full HD and supporting the Center Stage video feature.
The 2020 version of the iPad 10.2 is cheaper than the latest one, so what are you losing? There are two main differences that really matter. Firstly, the front-facing camera is a lot poorer, slumping from 12MP to just 1.2MP, and not supporting Center Stage. And secondly, the A12 Bionic chip is not as fast as the more zippy A13 Bionic Chip in the current version.
We're talking degrees, though, rather than a massive slowdown. And so as long as you're not bothered about using the front camera much, this older model is still worth considering if the price is right.
Now this 2019 version of the basic iPad is ageing, you should be able to pick one up for a cheap price. But what will you be getting? Well, it's actually not that different from the 2020 model. The dimensions are exactly the same. The screen resolution is exactly the same. And the front and rear cameras are exactly the same, too.
The main difference between the 2019 and 2020 iPads comes with the processor. The A10 Fusion chip in this older model isn't quite as fast, so if speed and responsiveness are important to you, this might be a saving too far. If you can live with waiting the odd second or two for stuff to load though, you might prefer to save the money as there should be some pretty good discounts out there right now.
iPad generations: Older iPads
These older iPad models are also still available.
- iPad 6th generation: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera with HDR; 9.7‑inch Retina display
- iPad 5th generation: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera with HDR; 9.7‑inch Retina display
iPad generations: the different iPad mini models
While the iPad mini is smaller than the basic iPad line, it's not cheaper but actually more expensive. That's because this line has a more powerful processor and more sophisticated display. So if you want a high-end iPad, but in a compact and portable form, these are the ones to go for.
If you do a lot of travelling, and like to travel light, a standard iPad can be too bit big and bulky. So the iPad Mini is a great choice, combining a compact size and light weight with impressive specs.
This latest version comes with Apple's A15 Bionic processor, which also powers the iPhone 13, so it's a fast worker. It's got a lovely 8.3 inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone, and supports 5G (unless you opt for the Wi-Fi only version).
The cameras are pretty great too. On the rear, you'll find a 12MP wide camera with Smart HDR 3 that supports 4K video at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps. And on the front there's a 12MP ultra wide camera with Centre Stage and Smart HDR 3.
The 2019 iPad mini is worth considering, either if you want to save money or you want a slightly smaller device.
This compact iPad, which sports a 7.9 inch Retina display with True Tone, has a slightly slower processor, in the form of the A12 Bionic chip. It's also a step down in terms of cameras, featuring an 8MP Wide camera with Auto HDR and 1080p HD video on the rear and a 7MP FaceTime HD front camera with Auto HDR on the front.
But although this isn't quite as high-end as the 2021 iPad mini, these are quite impressive specs overall. And so if it were considerably cheaper than the latter, you wouldn't want to dismiss it.
iPad generations: older iPad Minis
These older iPad mini models are also still available.
- iPad mini 4: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera with HDR; 9.7‑inch Retina display
- iPad mini 3: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera with HDR; 9.7‑inch Retina display
iPad generations: the different iPad Air models
The iPad Air line offers a sweet spot between the iPad Pro and the basic iPad in terms of price and performance. It's cheaper than the former, but more capable than the latter, which means that if you use an iPad regularly, but not for anything particularly resource-intensive, it will probably offer you the best value overall.
The iPad Air provides more power than a basic iPad, but at a lower price than an iPad Pro. And with the very latest version of the iPad Air, you're getting a hefty amount of power indeed.
Powered by Apple's A14 chipset, which is also used in the iPhone 12, it's pretty darned fast. You get a sophisticated Liquid Retina IPS LCD display, 10.9 inches in diameter, with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 and up to 500 nits of brightness; a smidge below the 600 nits on the iPad Pro 11-inch (2021). There's a 12MP wide camera on the rear, and a 7MP camera on the front supporting HDR.
Yes, the iPad Pro 2021 is a cut above in all these respects, but we're not sure a lot of people will notice in practice, making this an excellent choice when it comes to value.
The 2019 iPad Air is cheaper than the latest version, so what are the main differences? Firstly, the display is smaller, at 10.5 inches in diameter, and the resolution is a little lower, at 2224 x 1668. You're dropping down from the A14 Bionic chip to the A12 Bionic chip. And you're going from a 12MP rear camera to an 8MP one.
In most other respects, though, they're pretty similar. And so if you can find this model at a bargain price, you shouldn't rule it out.
These older iPad Air models are also still available.
- iPad Air 2: 8MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera; 9.7‑inch Retina display
- iPad Air 1st generation: 5MP Wide camera with HDR and 1080p HD video; 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera; 9.7‑inch Retina display
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