Apple's Increasingly Labyrinthine iPad Lineup

Library patron using an ipad

The following is an excerpt from Advisorator, a biweekly personal tech advice newsletter for libraries from journalist Jared Newman.

iPads for Every Budget, But …

In late March, Apple added two new tablets to its lineup, occupying a middle ground between the $329 entry-level iPad and the $799-and-up iPad Pro. While it's nice to have an iPad for every budget, the expanded lineup also complicates the decision process when you're looking to buy one of Apple's new tablets. Here's a quick overview to help you out.

iPad Air vs. Basic iPad vs. iPad Pro

For $499, the new iPad Air looks a lot like Apple's old iPad Pro from 2017. It has the same 10.5-inch screen, supports the same snap-on keyboard cover, has a TouchID fingerprint reader, and even works with the first-generation Apple Pencil for drawing and handwriting. It actually has a faster processor than the old iPad Pro, but the screen is a little less responsive — in technical terms, it has a 60-Hz refresh rate, instead of 120-Hz. The camera takes lower-quality pictures — 8 megapixels instead of 12 megapixels. And it has four speakers instead of two, which means no stereo effect when you hold the tablet in landscape mode.

If you're just looking to play games, watch movies, read books, and maybe do some light web browsing or emailing, Apple's basic $329 iPad will still be just fine. It even supports the same Apple Pencil, and it has frequently been on sale for less than the list price.

The iPad Air makes more sense if you aspire to use your tablet like a laptop — especially with the attachable keyboard — but you'd rather not spend another $300 on the latest iPad Pro. The iPad Pro, meanwhile, is better for folks who've fully committed to laptop replacement and for artists who want to clip the newer Apple Pencil to the side of the tablet for easy access and charging. With the old Apple Pencil, you have to jury-rig your own connector.

iPad Mini

Alongside the iPad Air, Apple also announced a new iPad Mini for $399, with a much faster processor and original Apple Pencil support. In terms of performance, it's nearly identical to the new Air, but with a 7.8-inch screen and no keyboard cover support.

I've always had affection for Apple's littlest iPad — here's a 2013 piece I wrote imploring folks to choose it over the larger version — because it's great for reading, playing games, and thumb typing. That remains true today, though I think tablets in general have become harder to justify for media consumption as our phones have gotten bigger and more powerful. That explains why Apple has increasingly pitched the iPad as a laptop replacement.

The Handy iPad Purchase Decision Flowchart

One more related tidbit: The $70 Logitech Crayon stylus now works with all the iPads that Apple currently sells. It's not pressure-sensitive like the Apple Pencil, but it otherwise works the same way and costs $30 less.

If you still can't decide, I've put together an iPad purchase decision flowchart (PDF) to point you in the right direction.

About the Author

Jared NewmanWant to help your staff and patrons become more tech-savvy? Get in touch with Jared about distributing Advisorator to your library, or visit the Advisorator website to check out some full sample issues.