iPad vs. iPad Pro vs. iPad Mini 4: Which iPad is right for you?


by Scott Stein April 4, 2017 4:15 AM PDT @jetscott

Apple's new iPad is cheaper, faster and brighter

But it also misses out on forward-looking tablet features like stylus support and quad speakers.

by Dan Ackerman




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Apple's newest iPad is a very slight update to the older iPad Air 2, now available at a very affordable price.

When it released the new iPad, the company killed off the Air 2 and Mini 2, leaving just four models in the line. It's a perfect time, then, to ask the perennial question: Which iPad -- if any -- is right for you?

The first question: Do you even need to upgrade?

Here's the good news: If you already have an iPad Pro (12.9-inch or 9.7-inch), iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4, you almost certainly don't need to upgrade. Three of those four models are still in the lineup, either unchanged or (as of September 2016) with more storage. And the just-announced "new iPad" is basically an updated Air 2, which it replaces.

If you have an older iPad, or if you're thinking of taking the plunge for the first time, what you choose depends on what you need.

Budget pick: Go with the new iPad

The iPad Mini 2, a popular low-end iPad for families and kids, has disappeared. In its place at the budget $269 price point is... nothing. The iPad Mini 4 remains -- it's more expensive but has more storage (128GB).

The most affordable Apple tablet is now the new 9.7-inch iPad. It's basically the innards of the now-discontinued iPad Air 2 in the body of original iPad Air. It's just a few grams heavier and a bit thicker than the Air 2 (it won't fit with older Air 2 accessories), with a high-res Retina screen that lacks the anti-reflective coating found on that earlier model. But it does have a nice speed bump in the form of an A9 processor: In our hands-on benchmarks, the new iPad delivered a bit more speed than the Air 2's A8.

At $329, £339 or AU$469 for the 32GB model, the new iPad is simply a great deal for the average user who doesn't need the step-up features of the iPad Pro, which costs nearly twice as much. If you use your iPad as a camera or plan on downloading a huge number of videos, apps or music, step up to the 128GB model, which is $429, £429 or AU$599.

iPad 2017: Read the CNET reviewPower users: Get a 9.7-inch Pro

The iPad Pro is in a strange place. The 9.7-inch Pro was my favorite Apple product of last year, and is a fantastic tablet. It's fast, it supports the pressure-sensitive Pencil, and works with an array of good keyboard cases. Its display, with its impressive color gamut, anti-glare and TrueTone ambient-adjusting color temperature, is flat-out amazing. But, the Pro is now a full year old, and there's no hint of when Apple will update it again.

Do you get one now? For power users who will appreciate the screen, the Pencil support, the improved speed and the quad-speaker audio, it's an upgrade worth paying for. That's especially true if it's on sale: The 9.7 Pro can occasionally be found at a discount -- including a recent 25 percent off sale at Target. Keep in mind that a rumored 10.5-inch model could pop up at some point, but that may not be until 2018.

The 12.9-inch Pro is a year and a half old, and to me that places it out of range. The cameras are older, the larger display lacks anti-glare and the improved color range and TrueTone color adjustments (which Pros would want) of the 9.7-inch Pro. Even if you want the jumbo screen, it's tough to justify paying for the most expensive iPad when it doesn't have the top specs. Hold off: I wouldn't be surprised if it gets an upgrade sooner or later.

Read the iPad Pro 9.7-inchRead the iPad Pro 12.9-inch reviewRumor roundup: What we know about the 'iPad Pro 2'What about the Mini 4?

The iPad Mini 4 feels like an afterthought. Apple increased the storage on the single option available, offering 128GB for $399, £419 or AU$779. But it also has tradeoffs: The A8 processor sometimes feels sluggish when multitasking in Split View or playing some advanced games. The size is still great as a reader and travel tablet, but the Mini 4 feels like a specialty device now, not a consideration for most people or even kids. It's too expensive, and it's strange that a smaller-capacity version wasn't made available for a little less. I would skip this one and opt for the new 9.7-inch iPad instead, unless you love the smaller size or can find it on sale.

Read the iPad Mini 4 reviewOther things to keep in mind

An Air 2 on fire sale is still a great deal. If you happen to see an iPad Air 2 on sale somewhere, it's more than 16GB and it ends up being less expensive than the newest 9.7-inch iPad, get it. It's just a tad slower than the new iPad and still faster than the Mini 4.

The cellular iPads are overkill for most people. You can tether with your phone for wireless using the Wi-Fi model. The LTE models are expensive upcharges. (Unless someone else is footing the bill, in which case, be my guest.)

Look out for discounts and shop beyond the Apple Store. As mentioned above, you can sometimes find decent discounts on iPads, but it nearly always involves shopping outside the official Apple Store. Major retailers such as Target, Staples, Walmart, Best Buy and even stores such as Toys R Us periodically offer decent to good iPad pricing, sometimes with trade-in offers. (Amazon isn't an official Apple retail partner, so it's generally not the best place to buy new iPads.) If you don't need to buy an iPad right now, keep your eyes open for deals.

For younger kids and tight budgets, you can't beat Amazon's Fire tablet. While Amazon offers a dirt-cheap $50 Fire tablet, the better option is the $90 Fire HD 8. However, the dedicated kids' version of the 7-incher includes an unbeatable two-year "no questions asked" replacement guarantee. So you can get three Fire tablets -- two Kids Edition and one 8-inch "adult" version -- for less than the price of a new iPad. Just don't expect access to your iTunes library or Apple-specific apps.

Read the Amazon Fire HD 8 reviewSee the Fire Tablet Kids Edition at Amazon

Don't like iOS? You have plenty of other options. Beyond the Amazon tablets listed above, there are a plethora of Android tablets, Chromebooks (some of which now run Android apps, too) and touchscreen Windows devices. Depending on your price threshold and feature needs (entertainment versus work, gaming versus must-have apps), you have dozens of iPad alternatives to choose from.

Best tablets you can buy right nowCNET's tablet buying guideBest laptops you can buy right nowCNET's laptop buying guide

CNET Review

Apple iPad 2017 (9.7-inch) Apple's new entry-level model gets a faster processor, but not much else.


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