iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Which is the best iPad to buy in 2019?


Since Apple’s restructuring, which began back in 1997, the company’s product philosophy has been this — make only one product per category, but do it right. Since then, however, Apple’s portfolio has been growing. Slowly, sure, but steadily. So, while back in iPhone 4s days, we only had the choice between a white iPhone and a black iPhone, nowadays, we have plenty of phones, tablets, and computers to pick from. From super-compact, to gargantuan sizes, from less-powerful to bleeding-edge-of-hardware levels.

So, while back in the day we had a choice between “that new iPad or the one that came out last year”, now we have quite the choice. You’re out to purchase a new Apple tablet and feel a bit confused? No fear — here’s our comprehensive buying guide on Apple iPads for 2019, which will help you find the best slate for you or that special person you are buying it for. 

The “best” options

Balance between power, price,

accessories, and portability

iPad Pro 11-inch

Introduced towards the end of 2018, the iPad Pro 11-inch brings a lot of fresh stuff to the Apple tablet line. For one, we have a fresh new design, which gives us a thinner frame around the display, thus giving us more screen in the same form factor as the iPad Pro 10.5-inch before it. It’s also super-thin and light, while incredibly powerful thanks to the Apple A12X Bionic chip inside it.
The new iPad has a new Apple Pencil (sold separately), which will now stick to the tablet magnetically and charge wirelessly. The new Smart Keyboard (sold separately) also attaches to the tablet via snap-on magnets. Last, but most certainly not least, the new generation of iPad Pros comes with USB Type-C instead of the Apple-proprietary Lightning connector. In theory, this opens the door for use with a ton of 3rd party accessories without them needing to be adapted for Lighting connector use first. In practice, don’t hope to be able to connect external HDDs to it — you can’t.

The bad news is that the new iPad Pro 11-inch starts at $800 for the base, 64 GB model. That’s before you even go to add a $130 Apple Pencil 2 or a $180 Smart Keyboard. Yeah, that’s laptop-level money. But hey, check out our next entry!

iPad Pro 10.5

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

The iPad Pro 10.5 pretty much performs the best balancing act between price, size, hardware, and potential to accessorize. It has the most powerful hardware that is currently offered on iPads — the Apple A10X Fusion hexa-core chip and 4 GB of RAM — and despite the fact that it has a 10.5-inch screen, its thin bezels make it only a little bigger than the iPad 9.7 (a.k.a. the iPad Air form factor).

More good stuff — it has quad speakers that blaze out stereo sound and it’s compatible with the Apple Pencil as well as a Smart Keyboard, which can be added at a later date as a separate purchase to increase your productivity with the tablet.

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Unfortunately, while it’s not the most expensive iPad out there, it’s still rather pricey. The iPad Pro 10.5 starts at $649 for the 64 GB, Wi-Fi only model. If you want to add a cellular option to that, it’s an instant $130 increase. The pricing stops at $1,129 for a 512 GB model with cellular. If you are having a hard time making a decision, here is our suggestion for best options:

Our recommendation:

If you need connectivity on the go — spend $779 on the 64 GB + Cellular variant
If you think you will do OK without mobile Internet — spend $799 on the 256 GB Wi-Fi only model and enjoy tons of storage

iPad Air (2019)

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

This year, Apple revived a beloved classic — the iPad Air! Why is it a big deal, you ask? The Air line introduced super-thin and super-light iPads with the Air 2 being unbeatable in both of these categories for years to come. In fact, the Air 2 is still lighter than any iPad Apple has on sale (minus the mini 5, of course), but more on that later.

The 2019 redux of the iPad Air is the perfect middle-of-the-road solution. It supports both the Apple Pencil (gen 1) and a Smart Keyboard but stays cheaper by cutting some corners. It has the old form factor, so you get Touch ID and a home button instead of Face ID. It also lacks real stereo — the two speakers are situated on one side of the device — which is not fantastic, but hey… we’ll take it. The Air also sticks to the Lightning connector, which can be both a pro and a con. If you’ve been doing actual work on your iPad and spent money on accessories that work with the Lightning connector, you will probably feel more inclined to buy a 2019 iPad Air or a previous generation iPad Pro instead of the new USB C iPad Pros.

For the price of $500, you can get a Wi-Fi model with 64 GB, which is pretty good storage. But if you intend to keep this tablet for a long, long time, we suggest you squeeze out an extra $150 and buy the 256 GB model for $650. Four years from now, you’ll be glad you did.

I just want a tablet, give me something cheap

Alright, alright! So you don’t subscribe to the “Go Pro or go home!” ideology. The first thing you might want to look at is the iPad 9.7, which starts at $329 at the Apple Store. But we have another idea for you:

iPad Air 2

(second-hand or refurbished)

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

The iPad Air 2 is still relevant and it still runs pretty fast and snappy with iOS 12. And yes, it will get iOS 13 later this year, so it’s still not considered “obsolete”, at least not in 2019. It’s powered by the A8X chip — the beefed-up version of the iPhone 6 processor — and has 2 GB of RAM. Nowadays, it holds up quite good as a basic tablet — it’s fast, it runs all the apps you can find on the App Store, and it’s incredibly thin and light.

The iPad Air 2 also features an anti-glare coating on its display, while the contemporary budget iPad 9.7 does not, and it’s still a bit thinner and lighter than the current “cheap” iPad.

Also, you may have heard that the iPad 9.7 has stereo speakers, but that’s not entirely true. The iPad 9.7 does feature dual speakers, but they are both on one side — they occupy the grilles that can be found on the frame under the tablet’s home button, just like the iPad Air 2 has 2 speakers there. So, both tablets are comparable in terms of audio experience.

It’s still worth noting that the new low-tier iPad 9.7 does support an Apple Pencil, while the old Air 2 does not. Keep this in mind if you are after the stylus experience.

Now that we know that the hardware is still potent and that it has a couple of perks over the iPad 9.7, let’s talk about storage and pricing. The iPad Air 2 originally started selling with a lowest tier of 16 GB of storage, but after more than a year, Apple bumped the specs a bit, making the cheapest Air 2 have a 32 GB memory. So, the second-hand market may be a bit confused and garbled — just make sure you double-check what you are looking at.

Our recommendation:

In general, we can find refurbished iPad Air 2 units with 16 GB of memory starting at around $170. This is an insanely good deal for the kind of tablet you get, but be warned that this kind of storage will only be good if you hold back on the apps and games and use it primarily as a device for Internet browsing and media streaming.

The good news is that refurbished units with 32 GB or 64 GB of storage are now pretty popular on the market and will go for about $250. Old stock new units are also still available, but they start at about $320. At that price point, it’s probably better to go for the iPad 9.7 (6th gen), which is both newer and supports the Apple Pencil.

iPad Pro 9.7

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Since we opened the door for the “refurbished” discussion, let’s take a moment to remember the iPad Pro 9.7 — the original “small” Pro-line iPad, which had a run of only a year, before being replaced by the iPad Pro 10.5. It sports the iPad Air form-factor, the Apple A9X chip, 2 GB of RAM and its base tier has 32 GB of storage — not too shabby. A quick look on Amazon tells us that refurbished units start at about $370 for the 32 GB model, which is insane value for the buck. New old stock, if you find any, run for about $420 for the 32 GB variant. This is great bang-for-the-buck if you are looking for a production machine and don’t mind a slightly smaller display than the current iPad Pro 10.5. As with every Pro-line iPad, you can pair it with the Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard of its own, though, the latter might get harder and harder to track down for this specific model since it was a one-year run.

iPad 9.7

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Of course, you might feel uncomfortable buying refurbished or second hand — there’s nothing like having a shiny new device to unpack and have the 1st party warranty to give you a peace of mind. Apple’s budget iPad 9.7 now comes with support for the Apple Pencil (sold separately), so one can argue it now has some more value. But where there is a value offer, there are corners cut. In the case of the iPad 9.7 (2018) there is no anti-glare coating on the screen, and there’s no real stereo. Its two speakers are placed right next to each other, on the bottom side of the tablet. Also, this one is powered by the Apple A10 Fusion — the two-year-old chip, which originally shipped with the iPhone 7.

As compact as possible

iPad mini (2019)

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

Of course, there’s the iPad Mini for those that like to be able to hold the tablet with one hand and use it on the bed without dropping it on their face. The iPad mini (2019) is great for that. The tiny line has been ignored by Apple for way too long, but in 2019, it finally got an upgrade with an A12 Bionic chip and 3 GB of RAM. And hey, you can use an Apple Pencil on this one, too, although the canvas may be getting a bit small here. No Smart Keyboard, though.

It’s still a bit disappointing that it didn’t get a facelift. The mini’s design has very obviously aged. On the flip side, these thick bezels will definitely make it super easy to hold it with one hand no matter what position you are in.

The price is a bi-i-it steep, starting at $400 for the 64 GB Wi-Fi only model. So, we’d suggest going for this only if the small size is a top priority. Otherwise, just add $100 on top and get an iPad Air (2019) — it’s better looking and it supports the Smart Keyboard. Other than that and the size — the mini (2019) and Air (2019) are pretty much the same.

The biggest, baddest iPad

Specs | Review

iPads 2019 buying guide: choose the best iPad for you

   

Of course, we can’t go without mentioning the biggest guy in town. The iPad Pro 12.9 is as big as a MacBook Air and costs about the same. Yeah, it’s obviously a niche device meant either for the professionals out there, or the ones that take their tablet usage very, very seriously — Vainglory competitive players come to mind.

The iPad Pro 12.9 is powered by the Apple A12X Bionic octa-core chip and 4 GB of RAM and it’s a real beast — both in terms in productivity and size, measuring at 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches (280.4 x 214.9 x 5.8 mm) and weighing 24.41 oz (633 g). It starts at $999, but add an instant $129 to that if you want the Apple Pencil 2 to use on that large canvas.

Alright, so the iPad Pro 12.9 definitely stands in a weird niche. iOS holds it back from being a PC-style machine, but it’s still powerful and productive enough, with its own set of unique features and apps, which are not covered by the MacBook family of devices. If you are going for this one, you are probably well-aware of exactly what you are looking for, but still:

Our recommendation:

The 256 GB Wi-Fi model for $1,149 seems to be the best middle-of-the-road offering. Plenty of storage to play in and it’s still slightly cheaper than the newer MacBook Airs. Well… that’s before you add a $200 keyboard and a $130 Pencil in the mix. Just for comparison’s sake — a 13-inch MacBook Pro with 256 GB of storage is $1,499.





Preslav Kateliev

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