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Tablet toppers: the great iPad buying guide

When it comes to tablets, your choices are largely limited to the iPad. And other iPads. No, this is not to say that Android does not have any good tablets – Samsung has a few decent tablets in the market. Or that Windows does not either – the Surface range is primarily tablets, remember? No, it is just that in terms of an ecosystem and generally consistent performance and software updates, Apple’s tablets have always been in a zone of their own. But buying them is becoming an increasingly complicated process. Whereas in the early days of the tablet, it was mainly an issue of deciding whether to purchase the latest edition or an older one, today, the iPad portfolio is far wider and well, complicated, There are at the moment, four different new iPad models in the market with four different display sizes and different configurations as well. Add some of the older models that are still available and the tablet waters get even more muddled.

So which iPad should you go for? Here’s our effort at simplifying things:

iPad Pro (2019): The iPad Boss

Rs 71,900 onwards 

These are the jewels in Apple’s iPad crown –  available in 11-inch and 12.9-inch display variants – the kind of tablets that many claim will give notebooks a run for their money. And that is because these are powered by what some consider to be among the most powerful processors in the world: the A12X Bionic, which is a notch above the A12 that was seen in the iPhone XS last year (and also in other iPad models), and is capable of running just about everything you throw at it from office suite apps to video editors to even Adobe Photoshop, without a stutter. These tablets also have Liquid Retina displays with refresh rates of 120Hz (most other tablets have 60Hz), and these are not mere spec monsters – they can make a massive difference if you are looking to do some heavy-duty video editing, or use the Apple Pencil with it. Incidentally, the iPad Pro range is the only iPad with which the second-generation Apple Pencil works (and it charges wireless off the side of the iPad). The new iPad Pros are also the only Apple tablets to come with Face ID (no fingerprint scanner or home button) and a USB Type-C port. These iPads also come with four speakers and deliver staggeringly good sound. And the 12-megapixel rear camera and the 7-megapixel front-facing one are both capable of some very good photography, though the tablets are a little large for regular snapping duties. 

Top that off with the ten-hour or so battery life that is an iPad staple, and you can see why these are the powerhouses of the iPad stable. Perfect for those who are looking for a high-end notebook’s power and functionality (you can easily pair a Bluetooth keyboard with it or use Apple’s slightly pricey Smart Keyboard with it). Yes, it costs a bomb but it is easily one of the most powerful tablets out there. And unlike its Android and Windows counterparts, has apps and UI designed to make the most of its superb hardware. 

Perfect for: Those who want a tablet that can even step in for a notebook, no matter how hefty the task

iPad Air (2019): A Bridge between Pro and Basic

Rs 44,900 onwards

If you are one who feels that the iPad Pro is way too expensive, but still want a powerful enough tablet, the iPad Air is perhaps your best option. It comes with a 10.5-inch Retina display, albeit without the 120Hz refresh rate, and is slightly less bright. However, it packs in quite a decent punch in terms of processing muscle – it comes with the A12 Bionic processor, which is just a notch below the A12X on its Pro siblings. And its latest avatar comes with support for both the Apple Pencil (the first generation, so no wireless charging) and Apple’s Smart Keyboard, although we would simply recommend pairing it with a routine Bluetooth keyboard. Battery life is, of course, excellent and the stereo speakers deliver very good sound. And if you have not used an iPad Pro, you actually would not think you are missing out on much as the performance of the A12 is generally very smooth indeed.  Yes, the home button is still present (no Face ID), but the bezels are narrower than on the base iPad (about which you can read lower down the page), and the frame is surprisingly compact and slim. Photography is middling on the rear 8-megapixel camera, but the 7-megapixel front-facing camera takes some decent selfies and is super for video calls. We would call this the perfect iPad for those who want more than the basic iPad, but are wary of sinking in the really big bucks that the iPad Pro demands.

Perfect for: Those wanting a new iPad experience without wanting to go all the way to the Pro zone

iPad mini (2019): For those who want a pocketable tablet

Rs 34,900 onwards

This is the odd one out in the iPad line up. Because as its name indicates, it is small. In fact, the iPad mini is the smallest iPad ever, with a 7.9-inch display, and is perhaps the only that can be comfortably held in one hand, or slipped into an overcoat pocket. But do not be fooled by its size – it packs in some serious hardware muscle. The display is a Retina one and at 326ppi, has the highest pixel density of any iPad out there (yes, including the mighty Pro); the processor an A12 (same as the iPad Air); and there is support for the Apple Pencil as well, although there is no support for a Smart Keyboard (you can pair any Bluetooth keyboard with it, though). The size of the iPad mini makes it a great option for those who actually use the Apple Pencil to write more than sketch, as you literally can hold the tablet in one hand and scribble with the other. No, it does not give the sort of film viewing experience that the other iPads do, but it is definitely very useful for gaming and other tasks – that A12 chip runs apps very smoothly on it.  The cameras are the same as on the new iPad Air – 12-megapixel at the rear and 7-megapixel in the front – but thanks to its compact frame, there is a fair chance that this is the iPad you are most likely to use for photography. And of course, there is that legendary ten to eleven hours of battery life. Yes, the Apple Pencil would add to its price (taking it right into the range of the iPad Air), but this is the iPad for those who love a tablet that they can carry around easily and scribble on.

Perfect for: The ones who value one-handed tablet usage – yeah, there are some of those around – and want to carry their tablets in a pocket rather than in a bag

iPad (2019): Basic just got bigger

Rs 29,900 onwards

In terms of general specifications, the new iPad is pretty much everything its predecessor was, a retina display powered by an A10 processor, and a fingerprint scanner lodged in the home button, as well as support for the Apple Pencil (1st generation). Where it moves up a notch from the previous base iPad is in having a slightly larger display – 10.2 inches as against 9.7 – and also having support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard. The slightly larger display does make it handier for split-screen tasks and for running apps side by side, making it slightly more “productive.” The A10 chip is not the latest and greatest, but runs most routine tasks well and stutters very slightly only when playing high-end games maxed out. The 8-megapixel rear camera is all right for daytime snaps but the 1.2-megapixel front camera is best suited for video calls. The excellent battery life and great portability, however, make this perhaps the best tablet for anyone who wants the iPad experience on a budget. Yes, the iPad mini delivers a faster processor for just a little more, but believe me, the bigger display of the iPad makes it a much better option for those looking for a proper tablet experience. The A10 is a very able chip and runs iPad OS just fine. 

Perfect for: Those who want an all new iPad but at the lowest possible price, really

iPad Pro 10.5 (2017): the Pro on a budget 

Rs 54,900 onwards

Want the iPad Pad Pro experience but without incurring the expense of the latest and greatest? Well, the iPad Pro 10.5 is still around in stores. And while the processor on it is the slightly older A10X (better than the base iPad, but not quite as good as the A12 and A12X chips on the others), many people will feel that the magnificent 10.5-inch retina display with 120Hz refresh rate will more than compensate for it. Sound quality is also a notch above what we get on the new non-Pro iPads. And of course, this being an iPad Pro, you get support for the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. There is also a decent 12-megapixel rear camera and a rather super 7-megapixel front-facing snapper, which are similar to the ones seen on the new iPad Pro. Honestly, we would recommend going for the new iPad Air over this one, given the processing power it possesses, but we can see some gravitating to this one, simply because of the magnificent display. And that “Pro” moniker. 

Perfect for: Anyone seeking the iPad Pro experience, but without spending new iPad Pro bucks

iPad (2018): the budget iPad 

Rs 25,900 onwards

It has been in the market for more than a year and a half now, but when you consider what it offers, the previous generation of the iPad remains a decent proposition. It shares the same display resolution, cameras and the same processor (A10) as the new iPad, and yes, it also supports Apple Pencil (first generation), although there is no support for the Smart Keyboard (as we keep pointing out, you can pair any Bluetooth keyboard to it). The bezels seem kind of large, but on the bright side, you have the lowest price on an iPad, great battery life and generally very smooth performance. If you do not value the additional half-inch of display that the new iPad offers and are not a Smart Keyboard fan, this remains a terrific value for money tablet!

Perfect for: Anyone wanting an iPad for the least possible price!

Note: Prices may vary from dealer to dealer, especially in the case of older models.

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.