Update: This article is now obsolete – with a new iPad comes a new version of this comparison for 2016.
We're breaking down the following five iPads:
- iPad Pro
- iPad Air 2
- iPad mini 4
- iPad Air
- iPad mini 2
Though you'll still see the iPad mini 3 and other older models floating around at some retailers, these five are the only ones that Apple and its authorized third-party retailers will be selling for (presumably) the next year.
In each category, you'll see two rows of images, ordered as they are in the list above.
The enormous iPad Pro towers over the other four, measuring 28 percent taller and 30 percent wider than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2.
We found this first-generation iPad Pro to be something of a miss: a tablet that huge only makes sense if it doubles as a great laptop, but the Pro can only replace a laptop for (more or less) the same people who could already use an iPad Air as a laptop.
The iPad mini 4 is the lightest iPad yet, finally bringing the combination of ultra-light and ultra-thin build with strong performance and Retina Display to the iPad mini form factor. Unfortunately interest in such a device has diminished over the last few years, as phablets and 2-in-1 tablets have grown in popularity.
The iPad Pro may look heavy by comparison, but it's very light for its size.
No surprises here: aluminum unibody designs are par for the course with current iOS devices.
Apple only makes its own keyboard accessory for the iPad Pro, but there are plenty of third-party options for all the other models.
The big difference is that the keyboards for iPads Air and Minis require a Bluetooth connection. iPad Pro keyboards use the tablet's Smart Connector port (similar to how a Surface keyboard snaps on) to make keyboard and iPad play nicely together.
Apart from iOS' limitations as a laptop OS, the biggest reason we weren't fans of the iPad Pro in laptop mode is that it has no trackpad – requiring you to repeatedly reach out towards the screen.
There are third-party styluses you can use with all the iPads, but Apple's own Pencil naturally has better integration with iOS (it's a great fit for the Notes app, for example), it can charge in the iPad Pro's Lightning port and even detects tilt – for shading like you'd do on a real pencil. The Apple Pencil's biggest drawback is that it only works with the iPad Pro.
Some of the better third-party alternatives, which you can use with the Air and Mini models as well, include styluses from Wacom, Adonit and Fifty Three.
The Apple Pencil is sold separately from the iPad Pro, for US$99.
The three newest models add a gold option to the space gray and silver colors that you can buy for all five iPads.
The iPad Pro's screen is close to being as big as two iPad Air displays and not too far off from being as big as three iPad mini screens.
If you don't have any need for a giganto-tablet, then the two 9.7-inch iPad Airs will hit the sweet spot for the most people. If you already own a large-screened smartphone, then you may find the iPad mini to be a bit of a redundant device, but the Air provides a much larger window into your content without venturing into the Pro's absurdly large territory.
Apple has finally phased out all non-Retina iPads. Though the iPad mini has the highest pixel density, you'll likely hold the smaller tablet closer to your eyes, which may make the effective sharpness pretty similar.
Going by that logic, you'll hold the iPad Pro the farthest from your eyes, giving it the best perceived sharpness.
Anti-reflective display coating
Starting with the iPad Air 2, Apple started putting anti-glare coatings on its iPad displays. It doesn't completely eliminate reflections, but it does noticeably cut down on them.
Though the iPad mini 4 is a 2015 device, it uses Apple's 2014 system-on-a-chip. That makes the iPad Pro the most powerful one in this pack by a wide margin.
Though we found the all-around experience of using the iPad Pro to be far from "Pro," its raw power is one area where nobody is denying its merits. Its benchmarks are equivalent to a desktop-class processor.
The iPad Pro also doubles the RAM of its closest iPad competitors – and quadruples the mere 1 GB found in the two 2013 models.
That sneaky Apple, putting a mere 32 GB in the entry-level iPad Pro (not much for a "Pro"-level machine designed to replace a laptop for some) then quadrupling that for "only" $150 extra. Perhaps Apple is hoping you'll come for the $799 iPad Pro, but walk out with the $949 one.
Apple estimates the same 10 hours of video use over Wi-Fi (and 9 hours over LTE) for all five iPads.
The three newest iPads have the same cameras on both sides. You'll see a downgrade in rear camera image quality if you go with either of the 2013 models (second row).
Apple still sells all of these models in both Wi-Fi only and more expensive Wi-Fi + LTE options. If you want a cellular-enabled iPad Pro, though, you're limited to the 128 GB storage tier.
The iPad Pro gives you the best audio experience, with an extra pair of stereo speakers, all of which adjust their audio to the tablet's orientation.
It's iOS 9 across the board.
Apple divides its split-screen multitasking into three sub-features: Slide Over, Picture in Picture and Split View. All five iPads support Slide Over, which lets you swipe from the right side of the screen to view a second app next to your primary one. They also all support Picture in Picture, where you can float a little video box (from places like streaming apps or FaceTime video calls) while using other apps.
Only the first three iPads in this group (Pro, Air 2 and Mini 4) support Split View, which is an extension of Slide Over (and similar to Windows' Snap feature). Here you can actively use both apps at the same time and slide the multitasking bar towards the middle of the screen so that both apps get (nearly) equal real estate. Of course this makes the most sense on the huge iPad Pro screen, though it works nicely on the Air 2 as well. It's a bit cramped, but still functional, on the Mini 4.
Only the iPad Pro and iPad mini 4 released this year, though the Mini 4 is basically an iPad Air 2 in miniature form. The last two tablets are two years old and clinging to life as today's budget options.
Prices correspond to size and age, with the huge (and brand new) iPad Pro starting at a hefty $799 (not including keyboard or Pencil). We've seen lots of discounts on the iPad Air and Mini series of late, though, so unless you crave that gigantic display, your money will go farther with something like the iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4.
For more, you can read Gizmag's individual reviews of today's iPads:
If you want to cast your net wider, to include smartphones, laptops and 2-in-1s, you can check out Gizmag's top mobile devices of 2015.
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