Which iPad you should buy: Black Friday 2018 edition

Apple’s latest iPad Pro models are here. But it doesn’t mean that’s what you should choose if you’re shopping for an Apple tablet this holiday season. There are actually five iPads you can choose from right now: the entry-level 9.7-inch iPad or the brand-new iPad Pro (in two sizes) are the topline choices, but the 2017 iPad Pro and the aging iPad Mini 4 are both still out there, too.

The big twist in the decision are the imminent Black Friday sales, which include some notable iPad discounts. So, with that in mind, let’s consider what to do if you’re thinking of getting an iPad right now.

First: Do you want a tablet, or a laptop?

Know that the iPad ecosystem has tons of fantastic apps, generally great performance, and iPads are really portable. But none of them have really made the leap to being a mini-MacBook just yet. Limits to iOS mean only two apps can be used side-by-side at once, and no iPad works with a mouse or trackpad. iPads can do a lot of things, and could very well be your everyday computer for watching video, web surfing, social media and email, but they may not replace your Mac or Windows PC’s full flexibility. If you want a touchscreen tablet that works as a more traditional computer, get a Microsoft Surface Pro 6 or Surface Go, or something similar.

Still want an iPad? Good let’s break down your choices.

(CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.)

It does the job: 2018 iPad.

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The best value pick by far: 9.7-inch iPad (2018)

The everyday entry-level 9.7-inch iPad released back in the spring, confusingly called “iPad,” now supports Apple’s excellent pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus and has a 2016-era A10 processor, which is good enough for most needs. It can handle multitasking, and it has lots of excellent accessories, including Bluetooth keyboard cases. Even better, it’s on sale for as low as $250 ($80 off the usual list price). It’s still the best choice for the average person, especially since the new iPad Pro, even at the bare minimum configuration, costs more than twice the price.

Best bet: get the one with 128GB of storage, which is $100 more but will last far better than the smallish 32GB in the base model. (Also, you’ll need to budget $70 for the Logitech Crayon or $100 for the first-gen Apple Pencil if you want to exercise your artistic sensibilities.)

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If you have the money and want to beta-test the future: 2018 iPad Pro

The newest Face ID-equipped iPad Pro models have crazy speed, lots of screen with small bezels, and support an improved Apple Pencil that magnetically charges from the side of the tablet. But the iPad Pro is more expensive, and climbs well past $1000 if you buy the new Pencil, a keyboard case, and go for 256GB storage, which I’d recommend over 64GB if you’re serious about this being an everyday computer. 128GB would have been an ideal storage size, but Apple doesn’t offer that config in the iPad Pro. It’s the best iPad, but limited use of USB-C and a lack of truly optimized apps that make the most of its new processor mean you might want to wait this out a bit, unless you’ve been dying to get an iPad Pro and know what its limitations are. Artists who are looking for serious image-processing power are the best match. (And remember: the cheaper iPad mentioned above can use the older Pencil stylus.)

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The big reasons to go Pro:

  • The Pro’s display has an up-to-120Hz display that’s smoother scrolling and has benefits for Pencil precision. The display’s more seamlessly connected to the glass, too, which helps for fine stylus work. (They’re mostly subtle differences.)
  • The new iPad’s got smaller bezels, and fits more screen in.
  • Better quad speakers and stereo sound, versus the tinnier entry-level iPad’s speakers.
  • New Pencil charges more easily and has added double-tap control.
  • The A12X processor is a lot faster.
  • The cameras are improved (and they shoot 4K video, and also do Portrait Mode for front-facing. It’s basically close to the iPhone XR).
  • USB-C connects to a wide(r) variety of accessories and chargers (but not everything)
  • A side Smart Connector allows things like Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover to attach without needing Bluetooth or separate charging.
  • Face ID

Big reasons against going Pro:

  • Expensive
  • No headphone jack
  • iOS 12 doesn’t make the most of its potential, and USB-C isn’t as flexible as you think
  • Doesn’t really stand in for being a laptop (no trackpad/mouse support)
  • Needs brand-new Pencil

See 11-inch iPad Pro at Target
See 12.9-inch iPad Pro at Target


The decision between 12.9 (left) and 11 (right) is largely about portability and price.

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12.9 or 11?

The two new iPad Pros come in two sizes that are more similar than they were a year ago. The 12.9-inch model is smaller, with the same size screen. The 11-inch keeps roughly the same dimensions as last year’s 10.5-inch Pro, but adds more screen to the body. The 12.9 still feels a bit too big, to me, and it’s also more expensive. I think the 11-inch version is a better bet for most folks, but obviously it’s a personal preference. (We only reviewed the 12.9-inch iPad Pro so far, but saw the 11-inch version at Apple’s event.)

Storage: 64GB too little, 256GB might be too much

Picking the right storage can get annoying. The base 64GB model of iPad Pro is “enough” for everyday needs, but if you’re thinking about doing any video or advanced photo editing, it’s likely to feel limiting… and iPads don’t have upgradable storage, and can’t use external drives (yet, anyway). 128GB would be nice, but instead Apple offers 64, 256, 512 and 1TB tiers. 256 is the best landing spot. Only go for more if you know for sure you’re a professional who needs that extra space for a particular reason.


You’re not just buying the iPad Pro, you’re buying all the accessories.

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Accessories: Save some room for a keyboard (and maybe a Pencil)

Apple’s new Pencil design upgrade is the nicest thing about the new iPads, and it’s not included in the box. It’s an extra $129, hardly cheap. Really, only artists and art-aspiring users should consider it, but you’ll probably want to check it out if you buy a Pro. Same goes for the keyboard options: Apple’s decent smart keyboard folio is one of the only new accessories to use the new Pro’s magnetic smart connector. But the case costs $180-200. (You could also pair a Bluetooth keyboard, but then it wouldn’t be as lap-friendly). And, also, the included USB-C charge cable in the iPad Pro box doesn’t work for video output. You’ll need a separate USB-C video output-level cable. Or, you might want to get a basic USB-C dongle to split out to HDMI and USB options.


The older 10.5-inch Pro (left) vs the new 11-inch (right).

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What about last year’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro?

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro from 2017 is still being sold, and still holds strong. It has the same speedier up-to-120Hz display tech as the new iPad Pro, too. That being said, $650 for that model vs. $799 for this year’s 11-inch version doesn’t seem like enough of a discount for a device with an older processor and not as nice a design, plus no USB-C support. The step-up 256GB version costs the same $799 as the 64GB new iPad Pro 11-inch. If there’s a sale, however, this is a tempting one to go for.

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The iPad Mini 4 feels too old to be a great value.

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iPad Mini 4: Skip

The iPad Mini 4 is the last of the smaller iPad Mini models that Apple sells, and its tinier Kindle-like design is tempting. But the price and feature set don’t make sense: an older A8 processor holds it back at times, and its $399 price for 128GB of storage is more than the sale price of the newer 128GB 9.7-inch iPad. Get that newer, larger entry-level iPad instead. Even if the Mini 4 goes on sale, think twice: it’s likely that Apple could update the Mini next year, according to reports (and the larger iPad is better for kids and works better with keyboard cases, in our opinion.)

Cellular? I’d also skip it, unless you need it

No doubt, using LTE on a tablet is great. I wouldn’t pay $130 (or $150 on the newest iPad Pros) for the opportunity to pay an extra monthly fee for it. Instead, you can easily tether your phone for free. Pros might consider it if someone else is footing the bill, or if this is your main connected device. Up to you. I added cellular on the go to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and it was fast and easy to set up. I loved the convenience. I didn’t love the price.


Amazon Fire HD 8: a fraction of the price of an iPad, it’s just fine for kids.

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For kids: Also consider a Fire tablet (or Chromebook)

The iPad’s a great family choice, and a pretty nice gift for kids. But it’s still really expensive. Amazon‘s Fire tablets are ridiculously affordable, and perfectly good for reading, watching movies, playing games, and doing plenty of things — the Fire HD 8, in particular. They’re not as good as iPads, especially not for things like writing or creating art, but you can get a Fire tablet for as low as $30 during this Black Friday week. To be clear, don’t buy these until the sale kicks in on Thursday, Nov. 22. 

See the Fire HD 8 at Amazon

Kid-optimized versions cost a bit more. And at least Amazon has pretty robust parental controls for kid accounts, more so even than Apple. In our review of last year’s Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition tablet, we pointed out that it comes with a one-year subscription of Free Time Unlimited, “a Netflix-like subscription service chock full of kid-appropriate e-books, videos and games.” After one year, it’s $3 a month, but offers a lot of kid-friendly content.

See the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition at Amazon

Chromebooks aren’t the same thing as tablets, but at $300 or less they’re a great choice for kids looking to use a laptop at home (and some, like the Asus Chromebook Flip, can transform into tablet-like devices just fine).

See Asus Chromebook Flip at Amazon


For most people looking for a basic iPad: get the 2018 9.7-inch model.

Best kid iPad? If iOS compatibility is a must-have, get the 2018 9.7-inch model (or the 2017 model on sale). Otherwise, opt for the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition (for younger kids) or a Chromebook (for older kids).

Best iPad at any price? The 11-inch new iPad Pro is very nice, and more portable than the reduced-size 12.9-inch. If you’re paying this much for an iPad, consider the 256GB model (but I wish there was a 128GB, which would be the ideal size).

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