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There were other differences between the 9.7″ and 12.9 inch iPads that made the 12.9″ seem outdated as well.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.

The New iPad Cheap

Photo via Apple

If you want to buy an iPad today, which is the best one to get?

If you want to replace a laptop, there’s the 12.9″ iPad Pro, that’s the one that hasn’t been updated since 2015. It has really outdated cameras front and back. The 12.9″ also has the largest screen, but it is missing features like true tone and the wide color gamut from the 9.7″ iPad Pro.

If you want to go small, there’s the 4th generation iPad Mini. Like it’s giant brother, the Mini hasn’t been updated in two years and has an A8 chip in it. I’ve got the 2nd generation Mini with an A7, so I don’t feel like that A8 would be an upgrade. At least it’s extremely portable, perfect for reading a virtual book or getting a little bit more work done than on an iPhone.

Maybe you’re looking for something sized in-between 12.9″ Pro and the 7.9″ Mini. Well that choice just got more confusing, too. Apple introduced a new 9.7″ iPad today.

Neither an Air nor a Pro, this model is slightly thicker than the last Air model (that it replaces) and the 9.7″ Pro (that isn’t going away). It will also have a brand-new outdated processor when it ships with an A9 system-on-a-chip next week. That’s two-bumps older than the iPhone 7‘s processor, and one step better than the iPad Air 2. The iPad Pro’s both have A9x chips which are a step up.

The new iPad display is going to be a bit worse off than the iPad Pros and the iPad Air 2, as well. Still missing true tone and other features, it is at least a little bit brighter than the old Air 2.

What else? The Pro models are still the only ones with the smart connector for accessories like keyboards (so they don’t need to do a bluetooth pairing dance) and support for Apple’s stylus, the Pencil.

So what on earth could justify this half-step model of iPad?

The price.

The new iPad minus Air and minus Pro is now $329 for the 32GB 9.7 inch base-model. That’s $70 less than yesterday’s base model of iPad Air 2.

To get 128GB on the new iPad you have to go up to $429. Yesterday’s 128GB iPad Air 2 was $499.

It gets more expensive if you’re interested in cellular data connectivity. On the new iPad, it’s $459 for cellular data and 32GB of storage, or $559 for a 128GB cellular iPad.

The 4th generation Pad Mini was also updated today with more storage (128GB vs 32GB) for the same $399 price it had yesterday. Yesterday you could get a 32GB gen 2 Mini (the first one with a retina screen) for $269. That option is gone.

One thing this price shuffling does is open up Apple to possibly update the iPad Mini later this year or next and charge more for a truly updated version of it than the new 9.7 iPad. It used to be that the price scaled down with the size of the device, this feels like Apple is telling us that was a mistake and is changing to meet the demand people have for smaller iPads.

This is the most confusing time to buy an iPad unless you are reasonably price sensitive, in which case it is now the best time to buy an iPad.

Pre-orders go up on Friday with general availability next week.

Goodbye iPad Air, hello iPad Cheap.