Which iPad should you buy this Black Friday?

A comparison of all the existing iPad models
(Image credit: Apple)

On the lookout for student tablet, but not sure which iPad you should buy this Black Friday? Fear not, we've put together this helpful guide with rundowns of what each model does best and who they might suit, along with links to where you can find the best deals.

The iPad’s initial promise was a slate of glass that can transform into anything the user desires it to be, but that’s become more and more nebulous since it debuted. That’s in no small part down to the addition of new product lines that run the gamut from the base iPad at $329 (opens in new tab), all the way to the iPad Pro’s latest incarnation which will set you back $1,099 (opens in new tab) for the larger screen size. 

It's hard to know which model is best for you - do you need the Pro to watch Netflix and take notes in lectures? Probably not, but the extra power is mighty handy if you want to do some photo editing on the go. Factor in a complex web of accessories (which Apple Pencil is supported on each device, and which keyboard works with each again?) and you’ve got a potential minefield that has many folks undoubtedly facing a fair amount of confusion ahead of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season.

Thankfully, this guide should help you cut through the marketing terms to analyze which iPad is right for you, factoring in real-world performance and the value proposition of each. 

If you want to see how Apple's tablets shape up against other brands, our guide to the best tablets for students has you covered, and we also have a best MacBooks for students guide to help you complete your Apple tech collection.

Black Friday iPad deals

, now $999 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

2022 Apple iPad Pro M2 (Wi-Fi, 128GB) - Space Gray: Was $1099, now $999 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Save $100 on Apple's most powerful iPad. This powerhouse tablet can handle video and image editing, along with other intensive tasks like gaming (though you'll be too busy studying for that, right?)

, now $549 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

iPad Air M1 64GB - was $599, now $549 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

The iPad Air M1 features the same chip found in many Apple laptops, and offers the best value in the iPad range.

, now $426 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

iPad (Tenth Generation) 64GB - was $449, now $426 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

The latest iPad is a great tablet, but its close proximity to the iPad Air M1 makes it tough to recommend if you can spend a little more. 

, now $269.99 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)

iPad (Ninth Generation) 64GB - was $329.99, now $269.99 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)

Save $70: The classic iPad is the cheapest way to start using iPadOS thanks to this Black Friday saving at Best Buy.

, now $399 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

2021 Apple iPad Mini (Wi-Fi, 64GB) - Space Gray: Was $499, now $399 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Save $100 on this ultra portable iPad that's perfect for students who need to take notes digitally without lugging a huge tablet around.

iPad Air - the best iPad for most people

iPad Air M1

(Image credit: Apple)
The best iPad for most people

Specifications

Price: Starts at $599
Screen size: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display
Storage options: 64 GB or 256 GB
Chip: Apple M1
Supported accessories: Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), Magic Keyboard, and Smart Keyboard Folio

Reasons to buy

+
Reasonable price for what you get
+
M1 chip will support all of iPadOS 16
+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Extras, like keyboard and pencil, are very pricey

The iPad Air M1 is the cheapest way to get an iPad with an M-series chip, which is the same as you’d find in many of Apple’s computers. It’s a powerful chip, and while there’s an argument that it can’t do a great deal more than A-series options, Apple has started to fork the road and put more M1 and M2 features into iPads.

At the moment, those revolve around external display support – only M1 and M2 iPads can show off additional apps on your display, and they support dragging and dropping to a bigger screen, too.

Outside of that, the M1 iPad is lightning fast for general tablet use, and still supports the (very expensive) Magic Keyboard (opens in new tab) if you want a more laptop-like experience. It’s also great for artists because it supports the second-generation Apple Pencil (opens in new tab), which can be charged by magnetically attaching it to the side of the tablet.

iPad Pro M2 - the most powerful iPad

iPad Pro M2

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad Pro M2

The most powerful iPad ever - powerhouse for power users

Specifications

Price: Starts at $799 ($1,099 for 12.9-inch version)
Screen size: 11-inch or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage options: 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB
Chip: Apple M2
Supported accessories: Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), Magic Keyboard, and Smart Keyboard Folio

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful display
+
Laptop level performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Need to fork out more money for extras, like a keyboard

If the M1 is a very powerful chip, then the M2 feels even more like overkill in a tablet. Sure, there are plenty of demanding apps that are hungry for the extra utility on offer, but unless you’re using a video editing app, or using the M-series specific reference mode for color adjustments (a feature exclusive to the 12.9-inch model, no less), there’s very little the iPad Pro M2 (or the prior iPad Pro M1 version) can do that the Air M1 can’t.

It does have some small “nice to have” touches, like a variable refresh rate Apple calls ProMotion, Face ID unlocking, and the USB-C port is much faster. However, the high price of admission, particularly for the larger tablet, makes it a tough device to recommend for all but the most hardcore of tablet users.

iPad Mini - the most portable iPad

iPad Mini

(Image credit: Apple)
For those that want a note-taking device

Specifications

Price: Starts at $499
Screen size: 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display
Storage options: 64 GB or 256 GB
Chip: Apple A15 Bionic Chip
Supported accessories: Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), Bluetooth keyboards

Reasons to buy

+
Ideal for students
+
Great display
+
Apple Pencil support

Reasons to avoid

-
Won’t get every iPadOS feature
-
Sadly no official keyboard

The iPad Mini may look smaller, but don’t be fooled – it’s a very capable device, and Apple has priced it as such. It’s running with the Apple A15 Bionic chip, which is the same found in the (still) very fast iPhone 13 line-up and Apple’s current iPhone 14 devices.

The smaller footprint means there’s not an official Apple keyboard made for the iPad Mini, but it can connect to any Bluetooth option you have. It can also use the Apple Pencil (Second Generation) (opens in new tab) which makes it an ideal note-taking device that can fit in your back pocket. Perfect for those looking for the best tablets for students.

There’s even room for USB-C for more universal connectivity, as well as Touch ID support for fingerprint unlocking built into the lock button.

iPad (10th gen) - the best mid-range iPad

iPad 10th Gen

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad (10th Generation)

The latest and most colorful iPad

Specifications

Price: Starts at $444
Screen size: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display
Storage options: 64 GB or 256 GB
Chip: Apple A14 Bionic
Supported accessories: Apple Pencil (1st Generation), Magic Keyboard Folio

Reasons to buy

+
Sleek design
+
Fast performance
+
Compatible with Apple Pencil...

Reasons to avoid

-
... but requires an adaptor for the accessory
-
High price tag for entry-level model

The latest iPad exists in a weird spot, because while it lacks a suffix like Air or Pro, it’s priced considerably higher than its prior generation counterpart. That makes it tougher to recommend than the 9th generation version (which we’ll come to in a moment).

It’s not a bad tablet though, with a 10.9-inch display that matches the iPad Air’s, and up to 256 GB. Apple even made a new keyboard attachment for it, the Magic Keyboard Folio (opens in new tab), but it bizarrely still works with the first generation of Apple Pencil (opens in new tab) which needs to be jammed into the charging port. The trouble is that because the iPad now has a USB-C connector, it requires an adapter.

That means if you’re looking for a tablet you can make notes or draw on, we’d opt for the iPad Air instead.

iPad (9th Gen) - the best cheap iPad

iPad 9th Gen

(Image credit: Apple)
Best bang for your buck

Specifications

Price: Starts at $329
Screen size: 10.2-inch Retina display
Storage options: 64 GB or 256 GB versions
Chip: A13 Bionic
Supported accessories: Apple Pencil (1st Generation), Smart Keyboard

Reasons to buy

+
Amazing value for money
+
Great for casual users
+
Solid performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Won’t get some iPadOS 16 features
-
Design a bit dated

The 9th generation iPad may not be long for this world now that its successor is here, but it still has a lot to offer despite its “classic” design.

It may look a little old-fashioned with its squarer corners and home button, but the A13 Bionic chip is still plenty capable, and can be found in the iPhone 11 line-up which still doesn’t feel sluggish in everyday use.

It’s got a slower Lightning connector, but since it still uses the first generation of Apple Pencil, it at least doesn’t require an adapter. It’s also the cheapest iPad by a distance, maintaining Apple’s tradition of having a tablet available for under $350.

Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games at Dexerto.com. He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.