iPad Pro vs iPad, 2017: Which model is the best for you?


 Apple has several iPads. You, potential iPad shopper, have choices to make. 

So, what should you do? Long story short: there are now four iPads in Apple’s current lineup. There’s a budget 9.7-inch iPad, 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros — all three of which were introduced in 2017 — and one older iPad Mini 4 ($344.95 at Amazon.com) that just keeps hanging on. 

After using them for months, here are some go-to recommendations on which one to buy, and why.

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  • The 9.7-inch 2017 iPad is a near-universal recommendation for almost anyone who wants a tablet. 
  • The 10.5-inch 2017 iPad Pro is the best overall iPad, and the best option for artists and power users.
  • The 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 2015-era iPad Mini 4 are at both extremes of the size spectrum, and only for those who are willing to live with the compromises therein.
  • If you have an iPad Air 2 or — especially — a 2016 9.7-inch iPad Pro, there’s no imperative to upgrade.
  • There are plenty of good non-iPad tablets to consider too, including kid-friendly models as low as $50 to $80.
  • In the US, Black Friday weekend looks to be the best pricing we’ve seen all year on iPads, including the 9.7-inch for $80 off and the 10.5-inch Pro for up to $125 off.
  • It’s a great time to buy, but don’t be surprised or shocked if 2018 iPads debut in 3, 6 or 9 months, possibly with iPhone X-style Face ID sensors.

Need more specifics? Read on!

Editors’ note: This story has been updated from the earlier version published in June with holiday shopping considerations and thoughts on iOS 11.


Everyday iPad: the 9.7-inch model is a great one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPad (9.7-inch): Good for anyone

This is Apple’s entry-level iPad. Weirdly, it’s just called “iPad.” It replaces the iPad Air 2, which was great but old. The new iPad is less expensive and more powerful, but has a slightly less impressive display (same resolution, but it’s more reflective, meaning it’s more prone to glare).

It’s a really great device, though, especially for the price. This is the basic “get an iPad” iPad. And, with this iPad frequently going on sale throughout the year, it’s as good a budget iPad pick as we’ve ever seen. Yes, its processor is aging. Yes, it’s not as fast as an iPad Pro. But at the right price — under $280 — this can’t be beat. And, it runs iOS 11 just fine.

Get it if you’re:

  • On a budget.
  • Buying for an older kid.
  • Just using a tablet for everyday things like email, websurfing and games.
  • Don’t need a fancy stylus for drawing or marking up documents (you can still buy a cheap one that’s not a Pencil).

Bigger screen, faster processor, the best iPad: the 10.5-inch Pro will cost you, though.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPad Pro (10.5-inch): The best model, but not worth the spend for some

The Pro iPads are one and the same as far as tech specs: the 2017 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch models have the same processors, storage, cameras, and everything else. You’re just shopping for screen size and resolution.

These iPad Pros have more powerful processors (superfast A10X chips) than the 9.7-inch iPad, more RAM (which means more apps can be open at once, for faster switching), better cameras (iPhone 7-level on front and back), better antireflective displays with better color quality and faster refresh rates, and most importantly, they support a fantastic pressure-sensitive (and separately sold, at $99) Pencil stylus. They also have a Smart Connector, which is a magnetic side port for snapping on keyboard accessories that don’t need recharging.

The 10.5-inch model replaces 2016’s 9.7-inch Pro, which was great. If you have that 2016 iPad Pro, you really don’t need this new 2017 model. The new version has a slightly bigger screen in about the same size body as its predecessor. But, it’s nearly twice the price to start ($649) as the basic iPad.

To be clear, this is the best iPad. But only video and photo professionals are likely to need its step-up features. However: if you find this iPad on sale for any significant savings, it’s worth considering.

Get it if you’re:

  • Someone with money who wants the best thing.
  • An artist who can afford it.
  • Looking for the best display.

The larger iPad Pro has upgraded specs and looks great, but it’s big and expensive.

Ariel Nunez/CNET

iPad Pro (12.9-inch): The mega-iPad

This model has a giant 13-inch screen that has more pixels, but also feels like a laptop screen detached from its keyboard base. It’s better used as a tabletop iPad, or a bigger tool for artists. One notable advantage of the 12.9-inch model is that its split-screen apps show two nearly full-sized apps side by side with less of the squishing of the 9.7 and 10.5-inch models.

The 2017 version offers some significant upgrades over the older 2015 model: a faster A10X processor, better cameras, and a significantly improved anti-glare, TrueTone color-adjusting display with a faster refresh rate. If you love this size and you use it every day, it’s well worth considering an upgrade now. But, you have to ask yourself: do you really need an iPad this big, and do you have the money to spend for it?

Get if you:

  • Are an artist who can afford a $1,000-ish iPad (what you’ll pay for a storage bump plus the Pencil).
  • Care about having a big, movie-watching super-screen iPad
  • Are a hardcore split-screen app lover

You’re fine skipping the Mini 4 right now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPad Mini 4: The aging, smaller option

Apple still sells the iPad Mini 4, which is now the oldest iPad in current rotation. It’s got a smaller screen 7.9-inch, which used to feel more helpful before phones became megasize.

The Mini 4 has an older A8 processor and can’t handle split-screen as well as the other iPads. Its battery life isn’t quite as good, either. It’s a nice option as a portable reading tablet, but it’s not the bargain that the now-discontinued iPad Mini 2 ($321.97 at Amazon.com) used to be. (For better or worse, Apple only sells the 128GB version of this tablet, which keeps the price somewhat inflated.) It would be a great tablet — if you can find it on a steep sale. 

I don’t like this iPad because its older processor just doesn’t perform as well, and it’s still not a value pick. Get only if you’re desperate for a smaller iPad for travel, or if you love the size.

Otherwise, get the 9.7-inch iPad. (You’ll be happier.)


Care about Pencil? Get a Pro. Don’t need Pencil? Maybe you don’t need a Pro.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other considerations

How much storage? Apple increased the base storage for the iPad Pro models to 64GB, which is great for everyday use. The leap beyond that goes right to 256GB, and then a whopping 512GB. If you’re concerned about storage, 256GB is safe (but excessive). 512GB is only for people who have extreme photo-storing and video-editing needs: professional photo editors and video editors. The entry-level 9.7-inch iPad starts at 32GB, which is fine for basic use. But going up to 128GB costs $100 more, and isn’t a bad idea if you’re planning on downloading lots of movies or larger files.

Do you want a tablet that can be a no-compromise laptop? Get a Microsoft Surface Pro or other Windows tablet. They’re more versatile with keyboard/trackpad accessories and work like “normal” computers. But, keep in mind that iPads are more versatile than you might realize, and there are tons of solutions for nearly every need in terms of apps. You just have to get used to living without a traditional laptop trackpad.

The cellular iPads 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 footing the bill, in which case, be my guest.)

Look out for discounts and shop beyond the Apple Store. As mentioned above, you can find decent discounts on iPads throughout the year, and especially during the holidays. But it nearly always involves shopping outside the official Apple Store. Major retailers such as Target, Staples, Walmart, Best Buy and even stores such as 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.) In short: don’t expect to get a good deal at the Apple Store.

For younger kids and tight budgets, you can’t beat Amazon’s Fire tablet. While Amazon offers a dirt-cheap (and upgraded for 2017) $50 Fire tablet, the better option is the $80 Fire HD 8. However, the dedicated kids’ versions of the 7-incher and 8-incher include an unbeatable two-year “no questions asked” replacement guarantee. And for the Black Friday sales period, they’re all considerably discounted — even the 10-inch Fire tablet is 33 perecent off, or just $99.

Don’t like iOS? You have plenty of other options. Beyond the Amazon tablets listed above, there are a plethora of Android tablets, Chromebooks (some of which now run Android apps, too) and touchscreen Windows devices. Depending on your price threshold and feature needs (entertainment versus work, gaming versus must-have apps), you have dozens of iPad alternatives to choose from. And if you purchased a lot of movies on iTunes, you can now access many (though not all) of them through Amazon, Vudu or Google Play at no extra charge thanks to the new Movies Anywhere app.

How much should you care about the iPad Pro’s ProMotion display? Apple’s newest displays can refresh at up to 120Hz, twice that of regular iPads (or almost any other phone or computer screen). It makes things look really smooth, and for games it could be great — and, it makes the Pencil stylus work with lower latency. But for most people, unless you’re ready to pay up for the privilege, it’s not needed. But the total package of ProMotion and Apple’s color-improved Pro displays (and their antireflective surface) adds up to a big display upgrade. It’s like spending up for a better-quality monitor. Check one out for yourself.

What about Pencil? The pressure-sensitive Pencil is Apple’s best iPad accessory — it’s one of the best art tools out there. But if you’re a casual art-curious person, regular iPads work with non-fancy basic styli, too. However, if you’re getting an iPad Pro, you’d better budget in getting a Pencil.

What’s the deal with keyboards? Apple’s iPad Pro Smart Connector enables some accessories with fast, responsive keyboards, but it’s really not needed. Great Bluetooth keyboards work with regular iPads and offer similar function. One thing all iPad keyboards lack is a trackpad, so editing becomes a bigger challenge.

Does iOS 11 have some extra advantages with iPad Pros? You can do a few more things with this year’s Pro lineup and iOS 11: multitasking is smoother, and the Pencil can be used to take instant notes and mark up documents quickly with new embedded tools. The best way to use multitasking on an iPad is with the Pro line. But the entry-level iPad does enough (it can use the new app dock, split-screen apps and the centralized Files app for storing files) that you’ll be just fine.

Should I wait? It’s a great time to get an iPad, particularly the iPad Pro. But, keep in mind that the iPad Pros were released back in June, and the 9.7-inch iPad in March. As we mentioned above, next-generation iPad Pros could add Face ID, which would be more useful on a tablet than Touch ID and a home button. Does that matter to you? Wait it out. Otherwise, it’s a fine time to shop.

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