With two new models, which iPad should you buy now? – CNET

Apple Event iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is Apple’s most-revamped iPad, but how does it compare to the others?


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This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple.

Apple announced two new iPads at the September iPhone 13 event: An improved entry-level 10.2-inch iPad and a revamped iPad Mini. One’s super-affordable. The other, not as much. And Apple already has an iPad Pro (in two sizes) and the iPad Air

Which should you buy, if any? We haven’t reviewed the newest iPads yet, but here’s some hopefully sanity-restoring shopping advice: When in doubt, go with that low-cost ninth-gen iPad. Here are my thoughts after digesting Apple’s latest event, now that all the iPads seem to be out of the bag for 2021.


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iPad 9th gen: A safe (but unexciting) budget bet

I’ve always appreciated the entry-level iPad for its affordable price. The new entry-level model gains a couple of useful extras: more storage for $329 (64GB, rather than the ridiculously low 32GB of the last model), a faster A13 chip and better cameras (most importantly, a wider-angle higher-res front-facing Center Stage camera that tracks your face via digital pan and zoom). It still uses the first-gen Apple Pencil, but I’m not sure that’s a big deal (the older Pencils work fine and cost less). It’s still compatible with a range of keyboard cases, too. It doesn’t have USB-C, but at this price, that seems expected for Apple. This is my main go-to recommendation right now, although I haven’t held it or reviewed it yet. Its predecessors were often on sale for $299 or less and that should be true this holiday season as well. 

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The entry-level iPad looks like any other entry-level iPad.


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The downsides to the entry-level iPad have mainly to do with the bezel-heavy older display (which adds TrueTone for adjusting color balance in different lighting conditions, but is still 10.2 inches and doesn’t support a wide color gamut like the iPad Air, Mini and Pro). It still has not-fantastic speakers (they’re functional on the eighth-gen model, but you’ll probably use headphones, right?) and the old circular Touch ID home button on the front (maybe you prefer it, but it takes up space where the display could be made larger, or the iPad made smaller). Apple says the ninth-gen iPad works with older cases for the eighth- and seventh-gen iPads, which is good news for finding deals or using what you already have.

The step-up model costs $479 ($50 more than last year), but has 256GB of storage, a bump-up from the eighth-gen model’s storage cap of 128GB. This matches the storage tiers of the iPad Mini and iPad Air.

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The new iPad Mini: USB-C, an iPad Pro- and Air-like design with optional 5G.


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iPad Mini: An expensive mini-tablet with possible upsides

The new iPad Mini is intriguing. It’s a smaller version of last year’s iPad Air and, starting at $499, it’s hardly super-affordable. But it has some interesting upsides. It has optional 5G, which only the iPad Pro had before. It also has that new digital-zoom Center Stage camera, like the iPad and iPad Pro. The larger 8.3-inch screen looks promising, but lacks Mini LED like the Pro models, or 120hz ProMotion. It works with second-gen Pencils, so you can magnetically snap a Pencil right onto the side, which is nice. But the new design means it’ll need all-new cases and keyboard accessories. The price could rack up based on 5G and storage, case and accessory upgrades, but this could also be considered a phablet-like iPhone alternative for a lot of people. Maybe it is? It’s the closest thing Apple has to such a product.)

I liked using the iPad Mini several years ago, but the smaller size also means it’s not as ideal for dual-app multitasking, something the iPad has been leaning on more in recent years. The new Mini should handle all the multitasking tricks, but it has less screen real estate per app than larger iPads… and a bit more than the previous Mini.

One downside for the Mini, if you use your iPad for text editing, could be its smaller display and lack of a smart connector. There aren’t any Apple-made keyboard accessories for the new Mini, and it may be harder to find a good keyboard case.

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The 2020 iPad Air still has advantages, but it’s already missing a few things that this year’s iPads have.


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Last year’s iPad Air: Suddenly aging badly

So the weird thing now is that the previously charming iPad Air, which seemed to split the difference between iPad and iPad Pro, now feels a little lost in the lineup. Starting at $550, the Air has an A14 processor (worse than the iPad Mini) and doesn’t even have the useful, digitally zooming Center Stage camera you get on the entry-level iPad. There’s also no 5G  support — which I wouldn’t recommend for most people anyway, but still.

The Air might be a good value on sale, but I’m concerned about its future. As features keep dribbling down to the entry iPad, this Air’s destiny could end up being like the older 2017 iPad Air: It might end up being absorbed into the entry iPad completely.

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The iPad Pros are stellar hardware, but also seriously expensive.


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The Pro: Power at a price

The M1 processor-equipped Pro has excellent speakers, microphones, a vivid Mini LED display and multiple rear cameras with Lidar for AR apps and 3D scanning. It’s also crazy fast. It’s a lovely piece of hardware if you can afford it. But the iPad Pro runs the same OS that every other iPad does, which means it’s not going to transform into a Mac. It’s limited by iPadOS, in many ways. If you’re hungry for its power or are a graphics or art pro with the budget for it, however, it’s got a reason for existing. But it’s not necessary otherwise, unless you have a lot of money to throw around on fun tablet toys.

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