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iPad Pro vs. iPad Air 2 vs. iPad Mini 2: Which iPad is right for you?

So many iPads: a big iPad Pro, a smaller iPad Pro, a discounted iPad Air 2 and two iPad Minis. Which one is best for you? Here's what we recommend.

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iPads come in a lot of flavors now: Small, bigger, bigger and better, and super-big. Yes, there are a full five models shoppers can now choose from, including models launched as long ago as October 2013 and as recently as March 2016.

Should you upgrade your old iPad? Should you buy a tablet at all? The answers vary from person to person. Owners of big-screen phones may find an iPad to be completely redundant and unnecessary, while an iPad can be a must-have companion for frequent air travelers. Some will find iPads playing second fiddle to a laptop, while others will snap on a keyboard case and find the old computer soon gathering dust.

With that wide appeal in mind, here's a quick and easy guide to figure out which iPad (or non-iPad, in some cases) is right for you.

The best all-around iPad you can buy right now is the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It has across-the-board improvements: better anti-glare display, louder quad speakers, better cameras and a much faster processor. It also can work with the Apple Pencil, offering superior pressure-sensitive stylus work. And its side smart connector works with keyboards. So does Bluetooth, but I have a funny feeling Apple has a lot more planned for that smart connector sometime soon. For a future-proofed iPad, this is the pick.


9.7 inch iPad Pro and iPad Air 2: nearly identical-looking, both support keyboard cases (but only the Pro has a side Smart Connector).

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want to consider writing on an iPad, start with at least an Air 2. The larger screen size, and more importantly, its compatibility with Bluetooth keyboard cases, make it a surprisingly good on-the-go note-taker and little writing machine. It's not a laptop, but it comes close to offering a lot of basic functions of one: split-screen email and apps, and picture-in-picture video. For its price -- I'd get the $499 64GB one -- it's a good deal, even if it is a year and a half old.

If you're really serious about graphics, art, design and have someone else footing the bill, consider the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Its display isn't as glare-resistant as the new 9.7-inch Pro, but it has a lot more pixels and workspace. It's more like a giant canvas. I think its biggest value is for digital artists who want to work with an iPad and want the largest canvas possible. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone else at its price, although its big screen is pretty great for movies and games.


12.9 inch iPad Pro vs 9.7 inch: a big difference.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You want a "no frills" portable iPad, or a "kids iPad"? Go with the Mini 2. The cheapest iPad you can buy gets you the basics, but with a sumptuous Retina screen. It lacks the fingerprint scanner, speed and multitasking options of newer iPads, but it's fine for the basics: Web browsing, emailing, e-books, Facebook, YouTube and working as a living-room "remote" for most smart-home gadgets. It's also a great backseat distraction for kids on longer car trips.

But for younger kids, you can't beat Amazon's Fire tablet. The Kids Edition of Amazon's baseline Fire tablet is an even better choice -- if you don't need access to an iTunes library, at least. $100 buys you the 7-inch "good enough" Fire tablet, which includes an unbeatable two-year "no questions asked" replacement guarantee. So you can get three Fire tablets -- two Kids Edition and one "adult" version for $50 -- for less than the price of an iPad Mini 2.

The iPad Mini 4 isn't a great deal unless you love the smaller size. It's a little more expensive, and you're caught in the middle. If you really care about extra features right now, get the iPad Air 2 (it might even cost about the same).

The cellular versions are overkill for most people. You can tether with your phone for wireless using the Wi-Fi model. The LTE models are expensive upcharges. (Unless someone else is getting you one, in which case, be my guest.)

64GB is plenty for most people. 128GB seems like a total luxury, even for my power usage. Exceptions include those who are using the onboard camera; those planning on importing lots of photos and videos for editing; or globetrotters who like to load up on movies, TV shows, music and podcasts to consume on the plane. I can't see the need for 256GB unless you're editing a whole movie on this thing. If you're using an iPad for basic Web browsing and apps and streaming, 32GB is fine, too.

Look out for discounts and shop beyond the Apple Store. You can sometimes find decent discounts on iPads, but it nearly always involves shopping outside the official Apple Store. Target, Staples, Walmart, Best Buy and even stores like Toys R Us periodically offer decent to good iPad pricing, sometimes with trade-in offers. (Amazon isn't an official Apple retail partner, so it's generally not the best place to buy new iPads.) If you don't need to buy an iPad right now, keep your eyes open for deals.