iPad Buyers’ Guide

The new 10.2″ screened entry-level iPad, with optional extra – keypad and pencil.

Apple’s single model iPad, first released in 2010, has expanded to a confusing mix of four different families, with differing models over time within those families, and different options for each model.

In addition, it is hard to be sure, when seeing discounted iPads on sale, if you’re buying a current model or an older model iPad.

This page gives you the key information you need to be able to identify the iPads being offered for sale and make a decision accordingly.

History of Past Models

Perhaps the most common trap is to be enticed to buy a discounted iPad that is actually not a current model.  You’ll see a headline such as “New 8th Generation iPad, now only $xyz!”.  But, as the table below tells you, the 8th generation of iPad is not the current generation.  You’re being offered a “new old-stock” product, not a truly new current model.  So you always need to confirm whether the iPad is truly new or just new old-stock.

iPads don’t directly show what “generation” they are.  Instead, they have a model number, which you can then decode to understand which generation and configuration it is, with the help of the tables below.  This is now shown in the Settings > General > About option, too.

You’ll note each iPad typically has at least two models.  In its simplest form, one model is for the Wi-Fi only version, and the other model is for the option with GPS and cellular data added.  This extra GPS and cellular connectivity option used to cost $130, and more recently, is being charged at up to $200.

When there is more than one model number for the cellular/GPS equipped iPad, that indicates different sets of frequency bands supported.  You can search for details of the model number on Apple’s support site for information on which models have which bands.

The other option offered is for different storage capacities, and this is probably self-explanatory.  You can see the capacity of an iPad in its Settings menu.

Original iPad Family

Original/standard iPads typically have 9.7″ or 10.2″ screens.  All have the command button at the bottom.  The screen pixel density doubled with the release of the iPad 4, from 132 to 264 ppi.

Product Models Screen Released Retired Configurations
Original iPad A1219
A1337 (GSM)
9.7″ 2010 3/2011 16/32/64GB
iPad 2 A1395
A1396 (GSM)
A1397 (CDMA)
9.7″ 2011 3/2014 16/32/64GB
iPad 3 A1416
A1430 (cellular)
A1403 (Verizon)
9.7″ 2012 10/2014 16/32/64GB
iPad 4
first retina display
A1458
A1459 (cellular)
A1460 (cellular MM)
9.7″ 2012 10/2012 16/32/64/128GB
iPad 5 A1822
A1823 (cellular)
9.7″ 2017 3/2018 32/128GB
iPad 6 A1893
A1954 (cellular)
9.7″ 2018 9/2019 32/128GB
iPad 7 A2197
A2200  (cellular)
A2198 (cellular)
10.2″ 2019 9/2020 32/128GB
iPad 8 A2270
A2428 (cellular)
A2429 (cellular)
A2430 (cellular)
10.2″ 2020 9/2021 32/128GB
iPad 9 A2602
A2604 (cellular)
A2603 (Nth Am cellular)
A2605 (China cellular)
10.2″ 2021 64/256GB

Mini iPad Family

Mini iPads had 7.9″ screens up until 2021, when the screen grew to 8.3″.  The pixel density has always been 326 ppi.  The new larger screened 6th generation unit no longer has a command button.

Product Models Screen Released Retired Configurations
Original Mini A1432
A1454 (cellular)
A1455 (cellular MM)
7.9″ 2012 6/2015 16/32/64GB
Mini 2 A1489
A1490 (cellular)
A1491 (cellular)
7.9″ 2013
2013
2104
3/2017 16/32/64/128GB
Mini 3 A1599
A1600 (cellular)
7.9″ 2014 9/2015 16/64/128GB
Mini 4 A1538
A1550 (cellular)
7.9″ 2015 3/2019 16/32/64/128GB
Mini 5 A2133
A2124,6 (cellular)
A2125 (China cellular)
7.9″ 2019 9/2021 64/256GB
Mini 6
– no button
A2567
A2568 (cellular)
A2569 (China cellular)
8.3″ 2021 64/256GB

iPad Air Family

iPad Airs have grown in size – first 9.7″, then 10.5″, and now 10.9″.  They have always had a 264 ppi, and lost the command button with the release of the 4th generation in 2020.

Product Models Screen Released Retired Configurations
Air A1474
A1475 (cellular)
A1476 (cellular – LTE)
9.7″ 2013
2013
2014
3/2016 16/32/64/128GB
Air 2 A1566
A1567 (cellular)
9.7″ 2014 3/2017 16/32/64/128GB
Air 3 A2152
A2123,2153 (cellular)
A2154 (China cellular)
10.5″ 2019 9/2020 64/256GB
Air 4
– no button
A2316
A2324 (cellular)
A2325 (cellular)
A2072 (cellular)
10.9″ 2020 64/256GB

iPad Pro Family

iPad Pro units have essentially two members in the family.  One has consistently had a 12.9″ screen, the other has had a screen starting at 9.7″, then growing to 10.5″, and now at 11″.  The pixel density has always been 264 ppi, and the command button was removed in 2018.

Product Models Screen Released Retired Configurations
Pro 9.7″ A1673
A1674,5 cellular
9.7″ 2016 6/2017 32/128/256GB
Pro 10.5″ A1701
A1709 (cellular)
A1852 (China cellular)
10.5″ 2017 11/2018 64/256/512GB
Pro 11″
– no button
A1980
A2013, A1934 (cellular)
A1979 (China cellular)
11″ 2018 3/2020 64/256/512GB 1TB
Pro 11″ 2nd Gen A2228
A2068,2230 (cellular)
A2231 (China cellular)
11″ 2020 4/2021 64/256/512GB 1TB
Pro 11″ 3rd Gen A2377
A2459 (cellular)
A2301 (5G)
A2460 (China cellular)
11″ 2021 128/256/512GB 1/2TB
Pro 12.9″ 1st Gen A1584
A1652 (cellular)
12.9″ 2015 6/2017 32/128/256GB
Pro 12.9″ 2nd Gen A1670
A1671 (cellular)
A1821 (China cellular)
12.9″ 2017 11/2018 64/256/512GB
Pro 12.9″ 3rd Gen
– no button
A1876
A1895,2014 (cellular)
A1983 (China cellular)
12.9″ 2018 3/2020 64/256/512GB 1TB
Pro 12.9″ 4th Gen A2229
A2069,2232 (cellular)
A2233 (China cellular)
12.9″ 2020 4/2021 64/256/512GB 1TB
Pro 12.9″ 5th Gen A2378
A2461 (cellular)
A2379 (5G)
A2462 (China cellular
12.9″ 2021 64/256/512GB 1/2TB

 

Current Models and List Pricing

The next table shows you how much a full-priced, undiscounted, current model iPad sells for.  This gives you a reference point to establish the respective value of the different current models, the implied cost of the extra features of different models, and, most of all, a tool to figure out the value/savings being offered when discounted iPads are offered.

Product Screen Memory Price
(Wi-Fi)
Price
(GPS/cellular)
iPad 9 10.2″ 64 $329 $459
256 $479 $609
iPad Mini 6 8.3″ 64 $499 $649
256 $649 $799
iPad Air 4 10.9″ 64 $599 $729
256 $749 $879
iPad Pro 11″ 3rd Gen 11″ 128 $799 $999
256 $899 $1099
512 $1099 $1299
1TB $1499 $1699
2TB $1899 $2099
iPad Pro 12.9″ 5th Gen 12.9″ 128 $1099 $1299
256 $1199 $1399
512 $1399 $1599
1TB $1799 $1999
2TB $2199 $2399

What to Look For in an iPad

There are several factors to consider when choosing a tablet.

Size

The new thin bezeled 11″ and 12.9″ iPads with an older 9.7″ iPad on the right.

The first factor is the most obvious one – size.  In some cases, some screen sizes will be either too big or too small.  The light weight and convenient portability of the 8.3″ screen on the Mini iPad is great; on the other hand, we’re totally in love with the huge screen on the 12.9″ iPad, but it is much larger than most other iPads (1.7″ wider and 1.3″ longer than the regular 10.2″ screen iPads).

Additionally, if you were to get the 12.9″ model, you might need to get a different “personal carry-on item” in which to carry it when flying anywhere.

The three mid-size screened tablets are all similar in overall size (see the table above) but have impactful differences in screen size (please see the supporter-only table below).

What size screen do you need, and what size screen would you like?  (Yes, two different questions!)  We would suggest that most of the time, and even though it is lovely, there’s little need for the largest 12.9″ screen.

If you are a salesman and want to use a tablet for client presentations, then definitely you should get the 12.9″ screen version.  If you know you’ll want to regularly watch movies with a friend/companion, maybe again consider the 12.9″ screen.  If you want to use the tablet for speech notes, you’ll find the larger size screen easier to read.  Some musicians now use a tablet to display sheet music, and in that case, again you should get the 12.9″ screen.  Vloggers can use an iPod screen as part of a telepromter/auto-cue type setup, and bigger text is helpful there, too.

But for most other and ordinary personal applications, while the biggest screen would be nice, remember that it is going to be bigger, bulkier, and harder to carry around, as well as, ahem, several hundreds of dollars more expensive.  But if you’re not intending to travel with it much, and see it primarily as a unit to have at home, maybe this isn’t such a concern.  (Can you tell we’re desperately trying to rationalize our own desire to buy one?  But see, also, the discussion on the cost of this huge screened monster of a tablet, which we’ve left discreetly to the last part of this section.)

If you want to use your device primarily to watch video, then again you’re probably in a situation where size is important, in the sense of bigger being better.  There’s also a subtle added advantage of the 10.9″ and 11″ screen units when it comes to watching video that is a result of its different aspect ratio.  For the new video standard (1080 x 1920 ie 1:1.78 ratio – sometimes also expressed as 16:9) you’ll use more of the 11″ unit’s screen with less wasted space in the form of blank bars above and below the picture than on the otherwise almost identically sized 10.5″ unit’s screen.

The size of a standard video picture on the 11″ screen would be 3.2 MP (ie 46 sq in) compared to 2.78 MP (40 sq in) on the 10.5″ screen.  You’re getting 15% more picture size on a unit that, due to its thinner bezel and different screen dimensions, has a physical size only 2% larger.  But you’re also paying $150 more for that benefit.

If you just wish to read books and listen to music, the 8.3″ unit would be plenty large enough.  But, with video, you would have only 27 sq in of viewing area, little more than half that of the 11″ unit.  (In case you are wondering how it is that going from 8.3″ to 11″ of screen diagonal has such a large impact on-screen size, remember these are diagonal measurements.  In simplistic terms, the screen area varies in line with the square of the diagonal, so small increases in screen diagonal make for large increases in actual screen size.)

Weight

While it is true the larger sized units weigh more than the smaller sized units, we don’t think this is very relevant.  Even the largest 12.9″ unit weighs no more than an original iPad (which was 1.5lb/680gm), and people were delighted at how “light” that was at the time.

Battery Life

Apple seems to have a target battery run-time of about 10 hours for all its iPads.  We surmise that when the battery starts to offer more than 10 hours life, they simply reduce the battery size to save on space and weight (and cost).

There’s not a lot of battery life variation in these units, and if you absolutely must have the longest possible life, the easiest way to do this is to buy an external battery pack to supplement the built-in battery.

GPS and Wireless Data

One of Apple’s annoying quirks is that they always charge extra for a bundled combination of both GPS and wireless data capabilities to be added to their iPads.  If you want either, you used to always pay another $130 to get both capabilities added to your unit.  This cost has been rising and now for some models (see table above) is either $150 or $200; for no apparent reason other than simply because they can.

Don’t automatically add this.  Do you actually need GPS or wireless data?  It depends on what you plan to use the tablet for.  If you want to use it as a large screen map display/navigator, then you definitely must have GPS and probably wireless data, too.  If you want to be able to access websites, email, and other online services everywhere, then you definitely will want wireless data.  The base units of course have regular Wi-Fi.

But if you take the point of view that, in reality, you’re never going to place such a huge device on your car dashboard for navigation, and that you have a phone with you that you can either use to directly access email and internet services, or which you can use to create a personal hotspot and share the phone’s internet access with your tablet, then you can do without this extra cost.

Note also that if you add wireless data to your iPad, you’ll also have to pay your wireless service provider a monthly fee for a new line of service.  This could be $10 – $20 or more a month, possibly even more than that, depending on how much data you use.

The best way to get data on your iPad is through Google Fi.  This wonderful service makes no monthly charge for tablet connectivity, and only charges for the data you use on it.  For us, that means that some months, we incur no charges at all, while having the potential to use the wireless data any time we wish.  We review Google Fi here.

Storage Capacity

This is a big issue, although it has become easier nowadays, because all iPads now come with a minimum of 64GB, up from the earlier much more constraining 16GB entry point.

How much capacity should your unit have?  The answer to that depends on what you wish to use your tablet for, and so as to have the most open-ended use of the unit into the future, it is always best to choose more storage than you think you’ll need.

Many Android tablets allow you to add micro-SD cards to greatly expand the total storage of the tablet, making this a less important issue, but Apple doesn’t do that.  They prefer to charge way over the odds for extra built-in storage and, if you estimate your needs incorrectly, to either benefit from having sold you a larger unit than you need, or forcing you to buy a new unit with more storage.

The really big consumer of space is video.  Streaming video from the internet requires no space, but if you want to download and store video to watch offline, subsequently you’ll find that each hour of video uses anywhere from half a GB to 2 GB of storage.  Ten two-hour movies could end up requiring 30GB or more.

Note that these days both Amazon and Netflix allow you to download video and store it on a tablet, and then to watch it, off-line, later.  This is a great feature, and we recommend you take advantage of it.  We find it very helpful when on flights or when in a hotel room with slow internet meaning we can’t stream movies directly.

Stored music doesn’t require as much space – even if you use high quality FLAC encoding, you can probably get about 2 hours of music per GB, and lower quality MP3 type music files give you many more hours per GB.  But if you like to have an extensive library of music with you, that can add up (we have over 100GB of music as our ‘core’ library that we like to keep on hand).

Books are much less demanding of space.  If it is just text, even a large book will rarely exceed 10 MB, and even with some illustrations, you’re probably still below 100MB.

Most apps and games are in the order of 10MB – 100MB each.  A notable exception would be GPS programs that keep downloaded map files with them – those can use up several GB of space for the map data.  You might think a better choice is to use GPS programs that download data from the internet as needed, but those can be heavy users of wireless data, and don’t work at all when out of range of a cellular data signal.

Email and internet browsing usually require very little storage space.

We have 32GB tablets that we struggle with because of their limited capacity.  It is easy to fill 64GB too (we have over 60GB of movies alone on our Android tablets).  You could probably get by with “only” 64GB, but you should probably consider the next step up from 64GB if you want to have lots of flexibility for the future.

Special Applications and Uses

Apple has rather ridiculously tried to sell its new 11″ and 12.9″ “Pro” units as being potential replacements for laptops.  This is a nonsensical claim, because they still run the same touch-screen based operating system, identical to all iPads and iPhones.  Many of the things we take for granted on a regular computer are totally impossible on an iPad.

This article skewers Apple soundly when it comes to the claim that an iPad can be used for any sort of business purpose.  This second article is more gentle, but ends up with the same conclusion.  One of the key points to keep in mind is that for a “business” type computing resource, you’ll want to buy a keyboard and mouse or stylus, too, and that can add another $300+ to the price of the iPad.  A 512GB 12.9″ screened iPad Pro with keyboard and stylus would cost you $1,800, or $2,000 if you wanted cellular connectivity and GPS.  For much less money, you could get a laptop with a much larger screen, more memory, more storage, and more flexibility.

Maybe you have some other special application or purpose that demands a higher end iPad.  But for most people, when you want to start using a computing device for “real” business type work where productivity is important, you are very much better advised to get a comparably priced (or, more likely, less expensive) and massively better laptop.

Other non-Apple Tablet Alternatives

If your main purpose in getting a tablet is for “media consumption” – watching video, listening to music, and reading books, perhaps with some game playing, internet browsing and email included, then any modern tablet will allow you to do all these things pretty much as well as an Apple iPad.

In particular, we want to point you to the two low-price leaders – the Amazon Fire tablets with either 8″ or 10.1″ screens.  We have both (and the earlier 7″ screen Fire too).  We like the units, we really like that we can add micro-SD cards to them, and we absolutely love their pricing.

The Fire HD 8 is usually $90, and the Fire HD 10 is usually $150 – those links will also reveal any specials or lower-priced refurbished units.  We suggest you add a 128GB Micro-SD card (priced around $20) or even a larger 200 – 256GB card ($25 – $40) to whichever unit you select.  These days, there are even 512GB and 1TB cards too.

The Fire HD 8 is arguably better than the 8.3″ screened iPad because its screen has a more efficient aspect ratio for watching video than the iPad.  The Fire HD 10 has 41.3″ of screen area for regular video, giving you a slightly larger video image than on Apple’s much more expensive 10.5″ screened unit.

The Fire HD 10 is only slightly larger than the HD 8, but has a much higher resolution screen, a more powerful processor, and twice the amount of built-in storage.  The video is distinctively larger and clearer.  As long as you’re happy with the slightly larger size (10.3″ x 6.3″ compared to 8.4″ x 5.0″) it is by far the better choice.

When we upgraded from the 7″ Fire 7 to the 8″ Fire HD 8, we were amazed at the improvement in viewing experience, and we were similarly amazed again at the jump in experience from the Fire HD 8 to the Fire HD 10.

Accessories

In addition to the inevitable range of protective covers (and we recommend you buy one – either an Apple official cover, or a third-party after-market cover that will cost very much less and work just as well), plus chargers, cables, and adapters, there are two distinctive accessories being offered.

The first is a keyboard, and the second is a stylus (termed a “pencil” by Apple).  Both are expensive.  The keyboard ranges in price from $159 – $299.  The stylus is $99 or $129.

We suggest you buy neither.  If you want to type a lot of text, perhaps you should have a laptop instead.  If you do want a keyboard, get a third-party one such as shown here.  You’ll spend massively less money for something that is close to identical in functionality.

The stylus is an interesting idea, but unless you are a graphic artist, the chances are you’ll end up losing it somewhere and not even realizing it has been lost for many months (that’s what happened to our daughter, who went from desperately “needing” a stylus to losing it, all within a few weeks).  It is possible to get much less expensive third party styluses (styli?) too.

Which (If Any) Model Should You Buy?

Although there are almost too many choices here (in total, 32 different combinations of screen, memory, and GPS/data), it is easy to slim your choices down to three primary choices, and a few secondary choices.

Also considered in this section is whether you should choose an iPad at all, or possibly instead choose a much more affordable Android tablet from companies such as Amazon.

Note that the balance of this section is offered to our kind and generous Travel Insider Supporters.  If you’d like to access this, and understand whether you should be paying as little as $329 or as much as $2399 for an Apple iPad (or potentially a quarter or even less for an Android tablet), and why, please consider joining us as a Supporter too.  Instant access to this and other premium content is granted as soon as you’ve joined.

But, as a quick “sneak peek” into the detailed discussion and explanation that follows, many/most people might find the $80 bargain priced Amazon Fire HD 8 or the $150 bargain priced Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet to be an extreme good value and a better choice than any of the Apple iPad choices.

If you’re a contributor, you should make sure you’re logged in to the website, and when you are, you’ll see the purple text and balance of the newsletter below on the website.  If you’re not logged in, or reading this via email, you need to log in on the website first.

Items below include a discussion and tables about iPad screen size issues, cost considerations, discounts, and should you consider new old-stock, reconditioned, and used units as well as new units.

SUPPORTER ONLY CONTENT

……….

Summary

Beware of “discounts” on iPads, and don’t be drawn in to buying “too much” when choosing an iPad.

For most people, the current regular 9th generation iPad with 64GB of storage and without wireless/GPS, costing a reasonably fair and moderate $329, is a good and suitable choice.

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