Over the recent years I've been able to test various iPads and as I see myself increasingly recommending tablets to people, here is my written version of that.
What's special about this guide?
Nothing. I feel like this guide is more down to the essentials, but that's probably just bragging.
Whether you want to go paperless with all you notes, want a digital art device or want a larger companion than your phone: A tablet is probably a nice option to scratch that itch.
I do not have experience with every device, but I've owned a wide spectrum for multiple months. That leaves us with the following:
- iPad Pro 9.7" (1st Gen)
- iPad 2018
- iPad Pro 12.9" 2018
- iPad Mini 5 (2019)
So I've tried every size, but the 11" model. Also I can compare between cheaper and older iPad Pros (IPP) and the normal iPad 2018. I guess that covers pretty much all the bases.
A word on Android (and Windows)
Been there, done that. From Kindle Fire to Samsung Tab S to Surface Pro. While I loved some and hated others (mostly concerning drawing), they all fail when it comes to the actualy tablet usecase.
It never felt like the device I am using was a first class citizen. It was either an upscaled smartphone or a downscaled laptop. Never truly designed as a tablet and satisfying the expectations I had for such a device.
While there certainly are various cases where the iPad can be just as bad as the other ones, overall it is the only device where I feel like it exists as an individual product, rather than a gap closer.
Let's get our hands dirty.
First things first: get a very clear idea what you want to use the device for.
I can not stress that enough. Know what you want!
Then you're already half the way there.
Once you have a picture in mind, let's get going.
The guide is not really written in sequential order, so feel free to jump around.
If you want the best bang for your bucks get the 2018 iPad. You can get it on sale regularly and it is an amazing device. Considering you've got more money to spent or are ready to up your budget read on.
Keep in mind though, that you also need to get that amazing pencil (though you can get it on sale later) and I'd strongly recommend a PaperLike screen protector and a proper case.
In terms of storage I'd personally always go for the cheapest option, as you pay a hefty premium with Apple and with the cheapest iCloud Upgrade (0.99ct/month) all your backup and file storage needs are taken care off.
On buying used: Unless you buy through a third-party dealer I'd only buy from friends. Only then you can make sure the device was properly taken care of. iPads are not easy to check for damages and the difference between a 1st Gen IPP and the 2018 9.7" iPad was negligible to me. The older device always get's updates for a longer time though.
Don't need portability? 11" or 12,9".
Need maximal portability? 7.9".
Need both? 9.7" ( Or two devices).
Guess that was obvious, so here's some more insight.
I always hesitated to use the 12.9" on the go or even in shorter meetings, as the size is huge and the device feels very fragile. For university I'm pretty sure it'd be horrible, unless you've got plenty of desk space. The screen size is amazing though. So it's the perfect device for long evenings at home.
For roughly 90% of the use cases I'd recommend 9.7"-11". At that size you can very comfortably take notes and draw, but it's still very portable and sturdy.
You plan to use your iPad on the road? Don't even bother with 12.9".
7.9" is easy to always have by your side. It's not as pocketable as a smartphone, but very close. For taking notes it takes a different workflow though, where you work with a zoomed in part of the page. Once you get used to that it is really great. But larger sizes are always more comfortable.
In regards to drawing I can recommend the 7.9" iPad Mini only for sketching. Finishing work takes a lot of zooming in and out and it is a lot more pleasent to work with a bigger screen. Especially as you can rest your hands on the device then. If you only want one for sketching though: go for the iPad Mini. Want to do it all on the iPad? Get a bigger one or a second device.
Old vs New Style
The new 2018 IPP's come with smaller bezels, Face-ID and USB-C. That change is amazing and foreshadows a very bright future.
Is it a gamechanger though? Probably not.
Once the software catches up and you can fully utilize that USB-C port the IPP's might become much more relevant, but for now it's barely nice to have feature.
Face-ID is convenient and the design is a lot more modern, but the old-style devices are just as great.
You want the tablet not for it's charging port or Face-ID, but for the software, form factor and build quality.
Therefore, unless you see yourself using the USB-C port extensively or you lack fingers for Touch-ID ... don't break a sweat about it.
Summary and Examples
That's it already?!
Yes, sure is. As already stated, "Know what you want! Then you're already half the way there."
I did not talk about TrueMotion, Resolution, Pencil Generation, TrueTone, ... - that's simply because I feel they are not important. They devices are all great.
Being on the road 90% of the time you should probably get a 7.9" iPad Mini rather than a 12.9" iPad Pro. Even if you lose some fancy addons, such as TrueMotion.
Let's go into some common "I maybe should get a tablet" cases:
Student: You're broke, you want to take notes and you want some Netflix. Same as every other guide: get the 2018 iPad, it's great value and the right compromise.
Artist: You want this as your main device? 12.9" iPad Pro. Want it cheaper? Get an older version. Want to travel? Go smaller depending on how much you travel. That easy.
Musician: Sheet Music on the iPad is great. Invest into a bluetooth page turner and choose the sice based on available space. 9.7" probably works great. You can save a bunch by getting a older version without pencil, but would I recommend it? Certainly not.
Media Consumption: Probably quad speakers and large AMOLED. If you can spend that much money for a mobile movie device really dig in.
Photographer: You should probably get a laptop. Just want to satisfy your gear acquisition syndrome? Alright, go for the 2018 12.9" IPP with max storage. You can always sell it later for the next thing (tm).
My current setup
My usage profile:
- 60% Note Taking
- 20% Art / Design
- 20% D&D (Browser and Apps)
I want a device always with me - maybe even replace my phone later on - and a large device to do proper work with at home (as my only art device).
Therefore I've got a 12.9" IPP and a 7.9" iPad Mini.