I’ll admit that I’ve never been much of an iPad person—web browsing, e-mail checking, and general time wasting are usually activities reserved for my phone. I also own a seven-year-old laptop that I use for writing (and as a landing place for stickers). Until recently, the thought of toting a tablet around—tapping away in front of the TV or thumbing through Twitter on the train—seemed absurd to me.
So, what changed? I suppose I’ve started paying more attention to situations where something like an iPad would come in handy. Another possibility is that I’m getting old, and staring at the tiny type on my tiny smartphone screen is taking a toll.
In any event, perhaps you find yourself in a similar headspace: Apple just announced new iPads, and you’re not sure whether or not they—or any of the other iPads—are worth it.
Let’s talk it out!
What are iPads good for?
Despite what you may have heard, iPads are more than just candy-crushing contraptions. They may not be as mobile or as versatile as your smartphone, but don’t get it twisted: There are certain situations where an iPad is arguably more useful than a smartphone or a laptop.
I asked some of my iPad-owning friends, family members, and coworkers about these specific use cases, and here’s just a sampling of what I’ve gathered.
iPads are fantastic for reading books, magazines, and comics.
One of my coworkers won't stop singing the iPad's praises when it comes to its functionality as an e-reader. Apps like the Kindle App make it quick and easy to access libraries of books and periodicals, and countless magazine and newspaper companies offer their latest issues in first-party apps, often on a subscription basis.
Since e-readers are mainly single-use devices with limited hardware demands, you won't enjoy nearly the same amount of battery life that something like a Kindle offers. That said, you'll also be investing in a device that does more than contemporary e-readers could ever hope to do. And while you'll obviously pay more for an iPad than even the best Kindle you can buy, the return on investment comes in the form of the iPad's versatility.
As a comics enthusiast, our Editor in Chief Dave Kender often extols the virtues of an iPad as a comics reader, since it's difficult to soak in the beauty of a comic's artwork and to follow the text on a small-sized smartphone screen. Armed with the official Marvel app, Dave can access just about every Marvel comic book ever written—end then enjoy it from an adequately-sized display.
If you follow recipes from a screen, an iPad is easier to manage in the kitchen than a phone.
A few weeks ago, it dawned on me just how tired I am of following recipes on the tiny screen of my iPhone SE. Unfortunately, even if I were to upgrade to a substantially bigger smartphone, I've been to this rodeo before—following a recipe on even a big-screen smartphone is an absolute headache.
Consider the iPad: It's big, robust display standing proud against your kitchen's backsplash. Perhaps you've affixed it to a stand for easy viewing. In any event, no squinting is needed for a recipe of this size, and you won't find yourself reaching into your pocket or shuffling your phone around on the countertop.
Illustrators, designers, and artists can use an iPad with the Apple Pencil.
In the world of tablets, styluses are nothing new. But when Apple finally got around to designing a stylus, it pulled no punches—for the most part, people love the Pencil.
It's not without its issues, however: Some users decry the Pencil's delicate design and others aren't thrilled with the amount of charge time it requires. Still, the artists, doodlers, and designers in my life that I've spoken to generally don't regret dropping the cash for Apple's official stylus. Just make sure you, ahem, take note of which iPads are compatible with Apple Pencil.
Should I get an iPad instead of a laptop?
When deciding whether you’re better suited for a tablet or a laptop, it’s important to consider what you’re planning on doing with your device.
For example, if you’re like me, your tech-based recreational activities (or techcreational activities, as I like to call them) consist moslty of tasks that an iPad can handle with aplomb—we’re talkin’ basic web browsing, Face Timing with friends and family, and the occasional mobile game. Given that most laptops (especially Macs) are priced much higher than a mid-tier iPad, the choice for me is simple.
But, crucially, everyone is different; my techcreational activities may not resemble yours. If you do a fair amount of word processing in your downtime, typing away on the iPad display will almost certainly feel like a chore. Sure, there are iPad keyboards you can buy, but you’ll likely miss the experience of a sturdy, dedicated keyboard fixed to a laptop—especially if you do a lot of lap-writing in settings where there aren’t surfaces to plant your device.
For folks who rely on Windows software, the iPad is a non-starter, since it runs iOS and its apps are limited to what you can find in Apple’s App Store.
Which iPad should I get?
This, my friends, is the $64,000 question.
Unfortunately, sifting through the ranks of various iPads can be intimidating, even for someone like me, who follows tech for a living. The confusion stems not just from the fact that there are several models on sale, but also because the product names and designations are similar.
And then there's the fact that Apple continues to sell old iPads well into the life cycle of the newest iPads, and whenever new iPads are announced, the likelihood of the old models coming down in price goes up.
While we haven't had the opportunity to test and review the myriad iPad models currently occupying the shelves, I can say that the 9.7-inch iPad from 2018 is the one I would—and probably will—purchase with my hard-earned dollarydoos.
Its display is as big as I'll ever need from a tablet, its hardware—though not as robust as the iPad pro—is good enough for any task I'd throw at it, and the 32GB base model is currently on sale at Amazon for about $250. Did I mention it's also compatible with the first generation Apple Pencil? Righteous!
If you're in the market for an iPad, make sure you do research beyond the chart above. Each model is not created equal.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.