iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad Mini: Which one is best?

Apple's three-strong range has plenty to offer. Find out which one is best for you


Alongside a smartphone range boasting two generations of iPhone 6 devices and the newly released iPhone SE, Apple has a healthy range of tablets on offer in 2016, ranging from smaller, cheaper devices to brand new flagship models.

The tech giant most recently added to its tablet line-up in March, with a new entry for its iPad Pro line-up. Two more models come in with different specs and different prices.

So how do the trio of tablets compare?

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iPad Pro

There are now two of Apple's flagship tablet to choose from. It was originally introduced in September 2015, sporting a 12.9ins display, but Apple has since introduced a secondary device, making use of a smaller, iPad Air-aping 9.7ins screen size.

The Pro is the company's offering for power-hungry consumers, fitted with its latest A9X processor and very much sold as being a tablet that can replace your laptop – the new Smart Connector is the giveaway here, letting you attach accessories such as the Smart Keyboard. Priced at £139 for the 12.9ins tablet and £129 for the 9.7ins device, it mates to the tablet to offer a laptop-rivalling experience.

The Pro iPads have another exclusive accessory – the Apple Pencil. This £79 stylus can be used to draw on the tablet's pressure-sensitive display and MacWorld says it's a "home run". Both the iPad Pro and the stylus were developed with each other specifically in mind and it shows.

Both tablets make use of a quad-speaker system, with a module positioned at each corner. There are one or two hardware differences between the two sizes, though.

On the 12.9ins device, you'll get an eight-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.5-megapixel front-facing selfie sensor. In contrast, the smaller tablet gets the same camera hardware as the iPhone 6S – a 12-megapixel iSight capable of 4K video recording as well as a 5MP front-facing snapper.

The different display sizes make for different display performances, too, and again, the smaller and newer Pro offering gets additional features – it's a true-tone display, using sensors to measure ambient light and shift the screen's colour balance accordingly.

Both tablets are available with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB storage options. Prices for the 9.7ins iPad Pro start from £499, with the 12.9ins tablet kicking off at £679.

Trusted Reviews are particularly smitten with the design of the iPad Pro line-up, as well as the performance and user experience. However, while it "comes close to emulating the form and function of a laptop", it doesn't quite replace it. The site recommends that the 9.7ins iPad Pro is the one to pluck for, but the larger device, with its 4GB RAM, is better for power-users and those intent on making use of the Apple Pencil.

iPad Air 2

The Air 2 is Apple's mid-range tablet and could, according to some, soon be culled, after Apple offered its iPad Pro with the exact same screen size.

Introduced in 2014, Air 2 starts at £349, for which buyers will get what Alphr says is "still a great tablet" and one slimmer, lighter and more powerful than the original iPad Air – it's now just 0.24ins thick and weights 16.5oz.

Powering the Air 2 is Apple's A8X chipset mated to 2GB RAM. Up front, it's a 9.7ins display with a pixel density of 264ppi, topped off with a laminated anti-glare coating.

Camera hardware takes the form of an 8MP iSight sensor capable of recording video in 1080p HD, combined with a 1.2MP FaceTime camera on the front of the device, though 720p is as high as the recording resolution goes.

Topping it off is a fingerprint scanner for Touch ID capabilities, along with an NFC chip for Apple Pay compatibility.

Pocket Lint says the Air 2 is the choice for those wanting a larger display but without the premium price tag of the Pro series.

"You don't get the latest and greatest specs within this 9.7-inch size, but you do save yourself £150" over the iPad Pro of the same size, the site adds.

iPad Mini 4 and 2

Apple smallest tablets are the "Mini" offerings, making use of a 7.9ins display.

While the Mini 4 is the most recent and up-to-date of the range, the company still sells Mini 2 devices as new, offering the cheapest way into brand new iPad ownership, with prices starting at £219 for 16GB models.

The Mini 2 is still a great device, but lacks some of the newest features, such as Touch ID and Apple Pay capabilities, and makes do with older hardware. It is powered by an Apple A7 chip and the cameras aren't as accomplished as on the newest Mini.

For £100 more, the Mini 4 comes with a slightly different, thinner and lighter form factor, as well as different internals. It's the same 7.9ins display with 326ppi, but with the addition of an anti-glare coating. Touch ID and Apple Pay abilities are included and the main camera hardware is nudged up to an 8MP sensor with a burst setting and a slow-motion recording function. Prices start at £319 for the 16GB model, while 64Gb and 128GB options are available, too.

After the lukewarm and discontinued iPad Mini 3, the Mini 4 is a "return to form and the best small tablet", argues Expert Reviews.

The Mini is perfect for those looking for a tablet they can "sling in a small bag, handbag, or a (large) jacket pocket", Alphr says, and is definitely the tablet you should pluck for if portability is key. However, phablet users may not find them too compelling – if you have a Plus-sized iPhone with a 5.5ins display, the Mini's 7.9ins screen may not be big enough to warrant buying one.

Should I buy a refurbished iPad?

A cheaper way to get your hands on one of Apple's tablets is to buy one second-hand – and you can get one through the company if you're after added peace of mind.

While buying a refurbished machine means you won't get some of the latest tablets – the iPad Pro isn't available yet on Apple's official second-hand site – you can buy the Air 2 and the Mini 2, as well as older models, with big discounts.

If you're fine with not buying new and Apple has what you want in stock, getting hold of an officially refurbished iPad makes sense as they are practically good as new, says MacWorld.

In order for a second-hand tablet to get the company's seal of approval, it undergoes a thorough inspection process and is wiped and cleaned so it looks brand new. It also gets a new battery.

Apple then runs diagnostics to identify any weak or broken components and replaces them with new ones.

Finally, it gets a new serial number before being repacked with all the protective plastic, documentation and cables of a brand new iPad. There's even a one-year warranty to top it off.

An iPad Air 2 16GB wi-fi model costs £299, a saving of £50, and the higher the spec, the more money you'll save. A range-topping iPad Air 2 with 64GB and cellular chip built in is £439 – that's £90 off the price of a new one.

It also means the cheapest iPad you can buy through Apple is down to £189. That's for a refurbished iPad Mini 2 16GB.

Other products, such as Macs, MacBooks, and iPods, but not iPhones, can also be bought through the company's official service.

What iPads are coming up?

Of course, newer tablets could be on the horizon. Rumours of Apple introducing an iPad Air 3 are never far away, despite numerous no-shows at the last handful of keynote events, which have led some to believe the line could be axed altogether.

The first and second generation iPad Air tablets were unveiled in October 2013 and 2014 respectively, but the expected iPad Air 3 in October 2015 didn't arrive. The failure of one to appear at the company's March 2016 event and this month's Worldwide Developers Conference has left Macworld believing that a late summer unveil, possibly alongside the iPhone 7 in September, is now on the cards.

The site adds the Air 3 will be thinner and more powerful and could possibly boast a Smart Connector, placing it closer to the iPad Pro.

However, Macworld says the Air 3 may not be the only new iPad to emerge this year. It thinks it's completely possible for Apple to unveil an iPad Mini 5 this autumn, also thinner and more powerful than its predecessor, with, perhaps, an all-new look. Rumours for this are very thin on the ground, though.

If you're tempted to pick up an iPad Pro, it may be best to wait a while, as new leaks indicate that Apple could be introducing an iPad Pro 2, or at least a refreshed version of the current tablet this year.Apple announced the iPad Pro line late 2015, kicking things off with the larger 12.9ins device. Since then, it has introduced a smaller version of the tablet boasting Apple's regular 9.7ins screen too – though the smaller of the two tablets has some exclusive features with a True Tone display and 12-megapixel iSight camera.As Know Your Mobile points out, alleged photographs of a new 12.9ins iPad Pro have been posted on the web, with some suggestions that it could go on sale this year.

It's hard to believe that it could be an all new product, but a consensus is now forming that Apple could re-release the large iPad Pro with the smaller device's exclusive additions as soon as this September, so if you're in the market for Apple's biggest, most expensive tablet, it's probably worth hanging around until the end of the year to see if you can get more for your money.

A fresh rumour from respected Apple leaker Ming-Chi Kuo, reported in MacRumors, suggests we won't be getting any new iPads until 2017, although "revolutionary" new tablets could be just around the corner.

According to Kuo, three tablets are coming next year. An iPad Pro 2 with a 12.9ins display is on the way along with a 10.5ins version of Apple's flagship iPad, while a "low cost" 9.7ins iPad of sorts is also expected.

However, the iPad Mini could be dropped as the tech giant may find sales have been eaten up by the Plus-sized iPhones.

Finally, a revolutionary tablet making use of OLED display technology is on the cards. Not much is known about it, but it looks set to arrive a year after the much-hyped 2017 iPhone, which is also said to contain revolutionary tech, OLED display and an all new design.

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