The Best iPad

Before this year’s WWDC, and especially before the iPad Cheap was revealed, Apple’s lineup of iPads was super confusing. Which was the “best” depending very much on which iPad features you valued more than others, but it wasn’t clear at all if you went down the lineup.

New readers may notice that I round the prices of each iPad up because they are deceptively priced a dollar lower than the actual pre-tax cost. Apple is nice enough to not do the penny-lower scam ($1.99) that almost everyone else does with their pricing, It would be good if Apple would also drop this bullshit that a $399 object is closer to $300 than $400, so I’ve gone ahead and fixed that for you.

Here were your options if you were trying to pick out an iPad in January:

  • iPad Air 2 at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128 GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 2 at 7.9″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A8 processor
    • 1GB RAM
    • 32GB ($270)  wifi only
    • 32GB ($400) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

There were other differences between the 9.7″ and 12.9 inch iPads that made the 12.9″ seem outdated as well. It was that true tone and wide color gamut that made the 9.7″ preferable in many respects to the 12.9. Except the 12.9″ also had twice as much memory as the 9.7″. Then, in March, Apple introduced the new iPad Cheap and eliminated the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, and a few memory configurations, from the lineup. This made the situation a little less confusing for the non-Pro models but was the first to do away with the notion that a bigger screen is more expensive.

Here’s the iPad lineup on March 31st:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

Anyone that bought a 12.9″ iPad Pro would have ended up with something missing features unless they waited until June for WWDC 2017 when the 9.7″ iPad Pro was discontinued in favor of an upgraded 10.5″ iPad Pro and the 12.9″ finally got display technology feature parity.

Here’s the roster of iPads today, post-WWDC:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($800) 256GB ($900) wifi only 512GB ($1100)
    • 64GB ($930) 256GB ($1030) and 512GB ($1230) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($650) 256GB ($750) 512GB ($950) wifi only
    • 64GB ($780) 256GB ($880) 512GB ($1080) with cellular

All of the 32GB options were dismissed in the Pro line. Apple added 64GB and 512GB options to replace 32GB and 128GB, respectively. Prices were raised for the 10.5″ memory storage tiers versus the old 9.7″ iPad Pro. The final Pro storage tier jump goes from $100 to $200.

The 9.7″ iPad Pro also had half the RAM of the 10.5″ and 12.9″ models. The 12.9″ also had USB 3.0 transfer speeds over the lightning connector if you had the right adapter. The 10.5″ finally got that feature as well as the fast charging option from the 29 watt power adapter that is designed for USB-C MacBook laptops.

Both Pro’s also got upgraded A10X processors and that new ProMotion display technology that should be familiar to any gamer as Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s Freesync variable framerate technologies to reduce tearing in games. Tearing is when you’re playing a game with fast motion and you see the image split with a horizontal line for a very brief period of time because the computer couldn’t render the game fast enough. In Apple’s case these variable framerates now mean that movies look better in motion, animations throughout the operating system and apps are smoother and clearer, and drawing with Apple’s Pencil stylus can now get the display up to 120Hz, which should be super responsive. Apple is typically not very interested in appealing to game players or developers, and it still isn’t clear to me yet if there is any benefit to games with Apple’s ProMotion variable framerate solution.

If a regular person had been trying to figure out which iPad to purchase, and was trying to follow along with the news, they might have been extremely confused until after WWDC.

At this point it should be clear that the Pro line is “the best” in terms of computing power and display technology, and if you’re interested in replacing a laptop then you know to get a Pro.

One final issue that might put someone over the edge to the Pro is that both models have four speakers instead of the two on the iPad Cheap and Mini. Otherwise, it’s not as confusing anymore to pick a model of iPad out unless you’re interested in the iPad Cheap or the Mini 4. The Mini hasn’t been updated with new technology since 2015.

The good news, for almost every iPad that can run it, is that iOS 11 is going to be a huge update with big multitasking features for anyone trying to get work done.

I’m increasingly curious about how those new features will translate to my old 2nd generation iPad Mini, I suspect the answer will be almost not at all since it didn’t receive many of the split-view features that newer iPads have.

Author: Jack Slater

A Philadelphian exiled to Hawaii. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I’m @TimeDoctor, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs AT zacharyjackslater dot com

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