iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad vs iPad mini: what’s the difference?

“Just buy an iPad” is useless advice when there are six to choose from

iPads are the best tablets for most people. They have been around for well over a decade at this point, and the iPad family is a whole lot bigger than it was in the early days. 

There are six core models, before you start thinking about the bewildering different storage sizes and whether or not they allow you to add a mobile connection. Which storage size is right? Do you need 5G? And why does one of the iPads only allow you to connect with 4G? This needs explaining.

Apple's five main iPad tablets lined up alongside each other.Credit: Apple
Apple’s iPad line-up.

We’re going to take you through the process of choosing an iPad to help you figure it all out. Is a mini going to be a better fit for you than a Pro? And what’s the difference between an iPad 10th Generation and an Air?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in this article, alongside our observations from years of iPad and tablet use.

Apple’s range isn’t the only tablet offering on the market, however – and if you’re looking for a more affordable option, online retail giant Amazon has a range of low-cost alternatives. You can find out more about how the two tablet series differ in our iPad vs Fire tablet article.


Models overview

Apple’s current range

Price: from £899
Screen size: 11-inch
Screen resolution: 2388 x 1668
Chipset: Apple M2
Cameras: 12MP & 10MP rear, 12MP front
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
247 x 178 x 5.9mm 

Price: from £1,249
Screen size: 12.9-inch
Screen resolution: 2732 x 2048
Chipset: Apple M2
Cameras: 12MP & 10MP rear,  12MP front
Storage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
: 682g
Dimensions: 280 x 214 x 6.4mm

Price: from £669
Screen size: 10.9-inch
Screen resolution: 2360 x 1640
Chipset: Apple M1
Cameras: 12MP rear, 12MP front
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Dimensions: 247 x 178 x 6.1

Price: from £499
Screen size: 10.9-inch
Screen resolution: 2360 x 1640
Chipset: Apple A14 Bionic
Cameras: 12MP rear, 12MP front
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Weight: 477g
Dimensions: 248 x 179 x 7mm

Price: from £369
Screen size: 10.2-inch
Screen resolution: 2160 x 1620
Chipset: Apple A13 Bionic
Cameras: 8MP rear, 12MP front
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Weight: 487g
Dimensions: 150 x174 x 7.5mm

Price: from £569
Screen size: 8.3-inch
Screen resolution: 2266 x 1488
Chipset: Apple A15 Bionic
Cameras: 12MP rear, 12MP front
Storage: 64GB / 256GB
Weight: 293g
Dimensions: 195 x 134 x 6.3mm

Size and display

How big do you want your iPad?

Have a think about how you’ll use your tablet. A lot of folks don’t ever seriously consider the iPad mini, but if you want a tablet to use on the train, it’s probably the best option.

The mini is the smallest of the bunch with its 8.3-inch screen, and it’s roughly 1.5 times the weight of a phone. It’s perfect for use out in public, when you might not want a huge display sitting in your hands, attracting attention.

With its latest generation of tablets, Apple has increased the screen size of what you might think of as the “vanilla” iPad, from 10.2 inches to 10.9 inches, making the smaller iPad mini all the more important. However, the 9th Gen iPad 10.2 from 2021 is still part of the current line-up.

It has what we consider the classic iPad design, with a little Touch ID finger scanner below the screen and thicker borders than any of the newer models. A lower price is the top reason to buy this older model.

An iPad Mini being held aloft in one handCredit: Apple
The iPad Mini is Apple’s smallest tablet

The next three iPads in the range are very similar in size: the iPad 10.9, the Air and Pro 11.

Their displays are larger than those of the classic iPad blueprint, but the tablets themselves aren’t because Apple has trimmed down the blank space around the screen.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro sits right up at the top of the range. It’s ideal if you want a tablet that can also replace a laptop.

We love the large screen for watching movies, especially when away from home, and it makes for a brilliant canvas for the excellent array of creativity apps available — music creation and digital painting really shine here.

However, you lose much of the casual feel of the iPad or iPad mini, and at up to 685g in weight, you will definitely want to hold the Pro 12.9 with two hands.

Regardless of size, all iPad screens look fantastic. They are sharp, colourful and vibrant. Look closer and you will notice a few disparities, though.

The cheapest iPad 10.2 is the only one without a fully laminated display. This makes images appear slightly less close to the surface than the pricier models, and reduces contrast in a well-lit room just a touch.

Two iPad Pro 2022 tablets connected to keyboard docks on a black backgroundCredit: Apple
The iPad Pro (2022) tablets

Apple adds ProMotion in the Pro models, which makes the screen refresh at up to twice the normal rate. Fast motion, like scrolling screens of app icons, will look super-smooth here.

Only the iPad Pro 12.9 gets Apple’s latest display tech, though. Its advanced panel can get up to three times as bright as its siblings’, and offers higher contrast too.

This isn’t essential for a top tablet experience, but helps in direct sunlight or if you want to experience HDR movies at their full power.

Battery life

All iPads offer good battery life

Apple rates all of its iPads’ battery life the same. You get, officially, 10 hours of web surfing or video viewing per charge, or nine hours when using mobile data instead of Wi-Fi in the 4G/5G models.

The reality is not quite that simple, though. All iPads offer good battery life and Apple’s estimates are conservative when using moderate screen brightness, but some last longer than others.

The iPad 10.9 and 10.2 are the longest-lasting in most common scenarios. They are also the cheapest, so this may surprise some.

On the next rung down you’ll find the iPad Pro 11 and iPad mini, while the Air and Pro 12.9 last the shortest length of time between charges.

Apple iPad Air in six colours, in a fan formationCredit: Apple
The 5th Gen iPad Air

The iPad Air is perhaps the eyebrow-raiser here, as it looks quite similar to the iPad 10.9 and iPad Pro 11, but is a little less efficient.

We also find the iPad mini reassuringly long-lasting. Apple hasn’t sacrificed battery just to make a smaller tablet. 

All have a 20W charger included in the box, and for most models this will see them go from empty to full in around two and a half to three hours.

However, most of them will also benefit from a bump up to a 30W charger (available at an additional cost), which can cut as much as 30 minutes from the total charging time.

The two Pro models, the Air and the iPad 10th Gen can make good use of a more powerful adapter, but the iPad 9th Gen and iPad mini won’t see much benefit.

Video calling and cameras

From Facetime to Zoom, iPads are great for video

Almost all iPads have the same dual 12MP front and rear camera arrangement. They are of great quality for a tablet, and this stands out prominently in the more affordable iPads in particular.

However, there are some exceptions here. The iPad Pro tablets get a second ultra-wide camera on the back. This has a more “zoomed out” view, handy for capturing big objects without having to step back too far, or to shoot rooms filled with people.

Both Pro tablets can also blur out your background in videos, which looks great when video chatting.

However, if you also own a modern smartphone, chances are the camera on your mobile will be just as good, and likely better, than the camera on an iPad. Phones are also easier to wield, and or more portable, which tends to make them the better photography option.

Where the iPad cameras come into their own, however, is video calling.

You should seriously consider the base iPad 10th Gen if video calling will be one of your most common uses for a tablet. It is the only iPad with a camera arranged directly above the screen when the tablet is held on its side, in landscape.

All the others have a front camera that sits above the screen when held upright. We typically use a tablet on its side when video calling, and the iPad 10th Gen makes it look like you’re facing the right direction when you look at the screen, not off to the side, as the other do.

We don’t mind using an iPad mini upright for video calls, holding it like a phone, but the larger models just feel a little odd when used in this way. 


Plenty of power and packed with functionality

A woman in a coffee shop using an Apple iPad Pro with Magic KeyboardCredit: Apple

Let’s start with the base iPad and work our way up through the range in terms of other features. The iPad 9th Gen, with 10.2-inch screen, is the cheapest and oldest.

We still have a lot of time for it. Despite having a processor two generations behind the latest, it’s easily powerful enough to glide through 99% of tablet jobs.

And while its design is less efficient than the newer models, leaving more blank screen border, this leaves room for the charming Touch ID fingerprint scanner. You use this to secure your iPad while avoiding the use of a password or pin every time you pick the tablet up. 

The iPad 10th Gen is the step-up model. It’s around 20% more powerful, and has a larger screen despite a barely bigger footprint. The fingerprint scanner gets moved from the front to the top edge.

Screen quality and camera quality improve a bit too, and some folks like how the display now has rounded-off corners, not sharp ones.

Next up is the iPad mini. It’s smaller than the iPad 10th Gen, and more expensive to boot. However, it has a newer processor that brings another, roughly 20% performance increase over its larger sibling.

This is also the most affordable tablet that supports one of Apple’s popular iPad accessories, the second-gen Pencil stylus. The two cheaper options only support the older first-generation one.

What’s the difference between Apple Pencils?

The newer, 2nd Gen Apple Pencil has wireless charging and a virtual button, which lets you switch between a pencil and eraser quickly, for example. It also features a magnet, allowing you to stick it to the side of your iPad when not in use (and this is also how it charges).

The 1st Gen Apple Pencil doesn’t have a magnet, so it can’t cling to the tablet and will forever be seperate unless you buy an iPad case with a Pencil holder.

Charging the original Pencil is also more fiddly, as you have to remove the cap at the end of the stylus and plug it into the iPad’s lightning port. This results in an awkward protrusion from the tablet.

However, both are excellent when it comes to actually interacting with the screen, allowing you to write or draw with ease.

Things get much more serious when we head up to the Air. While it looks a lot like the cheaper iPad 10th Gen, it uses the same brains as one of Apple’s MacBook Air laptops.

It’s a chipset called the Apple M1 and is up to 40% more powerful than the already brilliant iPad mini.

Apple takes things further with its two Pro model. These both use the follow-up Apple M2 processor, which again is up to 40% punchier in some respects.

The iPad Pros are 2.5x to 4x more powerful than the cheapest iPad depending on which element you look at. It really does deserve a “wow”.

That sort of power isn’t needed for classic tablet duties, but is handy if you want to edit videos using iMovie or massive photos using Adobe Photoshop.

Apple’s Pro tablets also have excellent quad-speaker audio systems and smoother displays. We’ve already mentioned the 12.9-inch version’s key benefits — a much brighter, bigger screen.

Can an iPad replace a laptop too? For many folks it can, but you’ll ideally want to pair it up with one of Apple’s Magic Keyboards. Bespoke keyboard cases are available for all models bar the mini.

You should also think twice about using the cheapest iPad 9th Generation as a laptop-replacer as its Magic Keyboard does not have a mouse pad.

These Apple keyboard accessories do not come cheap, but are of excellent quality.


iPads come at a premium

If iPads have started to seem more expensive than they once were, you’re right. They are.

Inflation and general rising costs saw Apple increase the prices of existing models in October 2022.

This is one reason we are glad Apple has kept the iPad 9th Generation as a “current” model, even if it is £50 more expensive than it once was.

You will pay an additional £130 for the iPad 10th Generation. The somewhat lateral leap to an iPad mini is a further £70, bringing us to £569, while the Air costs £669, an additional £100. 

Bear in mind these entry-level prices only get you 64GB storage. This may not be enough for some of you, and as usual Apple’s 256GB upgrade is not cheap.

The iPad Pro 11 and 12.9 offer 128GB storage as standard, but they do start at an imposing £899 and £1249 respectively.

These prices do not include an Apple Pencil, which is a must-have for those who want to dabble in digital art. No case is included either.

Want to save some money? Check out Apple’s own refurbished models, which are excellent. However, check which generation they are from as Apple often sells older models here.

Time to choose

Which iPad is right for you?

The backs of four iPad 10.9 2022 tablets arrange in a fan, each in a different colour and a fifth in a keyboard dock.Credit: Apple
The iPad 10.9 (2022) tablet

The iPad 10th Generation is the best pick of these tablets for many people. It’s not too expensive, it has a more video-call-friendly camera arrangement, and it has enough power to run the best apps and games beautifully.

Some of you may be just as happy with the older, more affordable iPad 9th Generation, but it’s likely stop receiving software updates before the 10th Gen model thanks to its older “brain”.

An iPad mini is the obvious pick for use on public transport or while out and about. And the Pro lines are the best for those who also want their iPad to act like a PC.

We don’t think you need to go that high even if you do need a more laptop-like experience. What might be just as much of a pressing concern as the model you choose is the storage option.

Most start off with just 64GB storage, some of which is already taken up by the tablet’s core apps, which is a good amount for casual users.

Painful as the price of the 256GB iPad upgrade may look, it may be a more sensible move than jumping up to the next model.

Constantly running out of space gets annoying quick, so if you’re likely to download lots of apps, take numerous photos and plan on recording hours of video, have a think about how much space you are likely to need.  

And make sure you read our how to setup your iPad guide if you do decide to treat yourself to a new tablet.

Andrew Williams

Written by Andrew Williams he/him


Andrew Williams is a contributor to Saga Exceptional. Andrew has been a technology journalist for more than a decade, writing thousands of articles on consumer advice, how tech is made and how it affects our lives.

He has covered cameras and fitness tech, mobile phones, laptops, gaming and more. Andrew has written for many of largest tech publications including Wired, TechRadar, What Hi-Fi, T3, Stuff, Forbes and others.

When not writing about the latest tech, Andrew likes to head out for a run, often with a fitness tracker on test. And he picks up a paint brush when a tech detox is in order.

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