What’s the Best iPad, and Should You Purchase One?

I remember my first iPad. As soon as Apple announced the device I just had to have it. I had dreamed of a touchscreen tablet since my first episode of Star Trek. Sure, the iPhone had been released a few years earlier, but somehow the iPad felt different and special, like the future had finally arrived…

That first iPad was pretty basic... it didn't even have a camera if you can imagine that. But it still felt magical. It had so much potential that I was happy to shell out my hard-earned money to step into the 21st century.

And I wasn’t alone. Tons of people purchased that first iPad, but before long most people would shelve that iPad, stick it in a drawer, or use it only occasionally to read a book or go online... and just like that the iPad’s infinite potential went belly up.

It was a rare misstep by Apple. It was a brand-new device, but it operated like the much more convenient handheld iPhone. Sure, it had a bigger screen, but it lacked basic computer functions like multitasking and a filing system to easily store your documents and data. It would take almost a decade, and 9 software updates before the iPad finally got some love. In 2019 Apple released the first iPad OS, which began to add new iPad-only functionality and finally began to differentiate it from the iPhone.

With the release of iPad OS, the iPad became its own device, gaining capability that would allow it to almost replace a laptop rather than just being a large-screen iPhone. But by then most people had given up on their iPads, set them aside or lost them, and were using their iPhones (with their ever-increasing screen sizes) almost exclusively.

It's a shame because the iPad is an amazing device if you use it as it was intended. It's meant to be more than a phone, different from a computer and one of the most personal devices that Apple has ever created.

So that begs the question… What is the iPad good for, and DO YOU NEED ONE?

It's a complicated question because almost everyone uses their iPhones and their computers in a similar manner, but everyone who truly uses an iPad uses it a little differently.

Some people use it to read books, some people use it for recipes in their kitchen, some people just use it as a portable screen for watching movies in bed, some people use it for travel and basic internet functions, some people use it for games, some people use it as a camera, some people use it for music, some people use it to create art, some people read the news on it, and the list goes on and on.

One of the questions I get asked all the time is whether an iPad can fully replace a computer. With its light weight, its long battery life, the ability to add a keyboard and even a trackpad to it, isn't it just as good as a laptop?

And for people who need basic Internet connectivity, who only do basic web searches, check e-mail, and use a handful of apps it probably is. But if you consider yourself a power user when it comes to a computer, the iPad can't hope to replace that.

But that's OK, the iPad was never meant to replace a laptop. The iPad was meant to be an additional component of the Apple ecosystem with functions and capabilities that are all its own.

There are some things the iPad is just better at, and we'll start there. If you’re an artist or like to journal, draw, or sketch the iPad is amazing when paired with the Apple Pencil. It means that you've got a journal, a sketchpad, a way to create blueprints, an easy way to do digital art, and a way to get your ideas down on “paper” without having to make a run to the stationary store every two weeks for another notebook or a fresh ream of paper.

One of my favorite uses of the iPad is to journal on it. I use an app called Notability that allows me to take notes, journal, draw and create easily. My son is an artist, and he loves using his iPad with the Pencil and apps like Procreate or Photoshop to create amazing digital art.

If you like watching videos, movies, and TV shows and don't have a television screen in every room of your house, the iPad is a great way to do that. It's light, and it's long-lasting battery means that you and your wife can sit in bed and watch Netflix or HBO or YouTube easily. If your wife goes to sleep before you, simply put on your AirPods and you can lie by her side, watch your show and never worry about waking her up.

If you love music, but don't have speakers all around your house, and don't like the tinny sound of playing music through your iPhone, the iPad’s powerful speakers are a perfect fit. Just set up your iPad wherever you want, click play, and rock out to your favorite tunes.

If you're an avid reader the iPad (and especially the iPad mini) are a great way to consume your favorite author’s latest opus, or even flip through any fashion, news or technology magazine without ever having to go to the newsstand.

Or maybe you travel a lot for work, and take your laptop with you, but need additional screen real estate. Most iPads can be used as a secondary screen for a laptop, allowing you to easily travel with two screens.

In my opinion the real problem with the iPad happens when you want to create content rather than just consuming it. Yes, you can use Apple’s Pages, or Microsoft Word, or any other word processing app on the iPad, and with an external keyboard it's a pretty good writing solution, but not being able to easily multitask, and not having a mouse or trackpad can slow down even the most prolific writer. 

Sure, you can use garage band or other apps to create music, and even plug instruments into the iPad... but without a proper audio interface like you might have on a computer the process can be frustrating and stilted. 

Sure, you can do video editing with iMovie, LumaFusion, or other apps... but the small screen makes it difficult to really edit videos properly.

Which is all my way of saying no, for most people an iPad can't really replace a laptop... but that doesn't make the iPad unnecessary, provided you harness it’s vast capabilities, and use it the way it was intended.

So now you may be saying to yourself I get it Dylan, and I'm ready to get an iPad, but which one is right for me?

The choice can seem overwhelming and complicated.  As of the writing of this article Apple sells 4 different iPad models, in 4 different sizes, and with a huge number of options and capabilities.  All iPads can be purchased with just Wi-Fi or for a little extra you can get cellular capabilities which allow you to connect to the internet practically anywhere. 

To help simplify this chaos I’ll go through the differences of each model.

First there’s the base model which is just called the iPad* (9th gen).  It starts at $329 for 64Gb but can be upgraded to 256GB.  Its screen is 10.2”, it has a home button with Touch ID, and uses the standard lightning cord to charge and connect.  It works with the Apple Pencil 1, but unfortunately does not support the far superior Pencil 2.  It has a slower processor, but it is still a great starter iPad. 

Next is the iPad Air, which is a little lighter than the standard iPad (1.02lbs vs 1.07lbs) and starts at $599 for 64GB but can be upgraded to 256GB, and comes in 5 colors.  It doesn’t have a home button or Face ID.  It’s got Touch ID built into its power button, has a 10.9” screen, uses the new USB-C cord (that all new Apple laptops use), and works with the Apple Pencil 2.  It also has a better screen, a better camera, and the latest Apple M1 processor.  If you can afford it, this is a big step up from the standard iPad for just a little more money.

And now let’s talk about the iPad Pro. This is the flagship model, and the price reflects it.  It comes in two sizes, 11” ($799) and 12.9” ($1,099) and has storage options from 128GB all the way to a full 1TB.  As you would expect from this top-of-the-line device it has the best screen and camera of any iPad, the latest M1 processor, and has Face ID (and no home button) built in.  It works with the Apple Pencil 2, has 4 speakers (as opposed to 2 with every other model), and uses the new USB-C cord but supports the highest transfer and charging rates with Thunderbolt 4 capabilities.  It’s a powerhouse, and clearly the best machine they make but it comes with a pretty hefty price tag.

And lastly the iPad mini.  This is ideal for book reading since it measures in at a comfortable 8.3” and a minimal weight of 0.65lbs.  It comes in 4 colors, starts at $499 for 64GB and can be upgraded to 256GB.  It supports the Apple Pencil 2, has Touch ID built into the power button (no home button), and uses the USB-C charger.  For its size it’s a remarkable iPad with a lot of capabilities at a great price.

For full comparison of all the iPad models check out this Apple webpage: https://www.apple.com/ipad/compare/

Now that you understand the different models you might still need to know what model I recommend, so here goes…

  • If price is your main concern, go for the standard iPad
  • If you plan on using mostly for watching videos go for the 12.9” iPad Pro.
  • If you need the best bang for the buck go for the iPad Air.
  • If portability and a small size are your needs go for the iPad mini.
  • And if you want the best of the best go for one of the iPad Pro models.

Like all technology purchases, it's a very personal, but with these this information in hand I'm sure you'll make the right choice.

And if you have additional questions just email me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to help you out.

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