By Rohan Naravane
It would be fair to say that Apple single-handedly made tablets relevant (and probably the only company that’s still keeping them relevant). Although tablets existed prior to the first iPad launch in 2010, none of them were category-creators like this giant touchscreen slab. Later, we saw several manufacturers try to take on the iPad with their own Android tablets, but soon they would realise that they were fighting a three-way battle.
Tablets originally were perceived as devices that sat in between the smartphone and a computer — great for content consumption, but not so much for creation or “real work”. But the smartphone started cannibalizing tablets as they grew bigger, making consumers question the need to buy a tablet. This sales graph tells the story of the rise and subsequent lull of the product category.
An advantage iPads have over other tablets is the number of big-screen-optimized apps available in the iOS App Store. Today, the iPad lineup is divided into two primary categories — the iPad and the iPad Pro, with four options to choose from — the iPad mini 4, iPad 2017, iPad Pro 10.5-inch and iPad Pro 12.9-inch. We’ll take a closer look at all four options, and help you decide which iPad is the best for you.
iPad 2017 or iPad mini 4
There are two entry-level iPads you can choose from today, the iPad (2017 model) and the iPad mini 4, which was launched in 2015. Before we compare the two, you should know upfront that the iPad mini 4 may be permanently discontinued in the near future. No wonder the only SKUs on sale are a 128GB Wi-Fi version for Rs. 33,800, and a 128 GB Wi-Fi + Cellular version for Rs. 44,500 (there used to be a 32GB iPad mini 4, but it’s not available anymore). The cheapest iPad you can buy today is the iPad 2017 32 GB Wi-Fi, which starts at Rs. 28,000.
To cite the physical differences between the two — the iPad 2017 has a bigger 9.7-inch display, while the iPad mini 4 has a smaller 7.9-inch display. The mini 4 is easier to hold in one hand for extended periods of time because of the 300 gram weight, compared to its 478 gram bigger cousin. The screen quality of the iPad mini 4 is better than the iPad 2017 because of an anti-reflective coating and the display being fully laminated — meaning there’s no gap between the protective glass and the screen, which blocks reflection more than non-laminated ones. These features will matter when you’re reading on an iPad outdoors or with a bright light source behind you. The iPad mini 4 display is also crisper at 326 PPI (the 2017 model is 264 PPI), but it’ll be hard to distinguish the difference — for typical users, both should be equally crisp.
Moving to the internals, the iPad 2017 is powered by Apple’s A9 chip, whereas the iPad mini 4 functions courtesy of the A8 chip. Apple officially states that the A9 is 1.6x faster than the A8 at CPU tasks, and is 1.8x faster at graphics rendering. For comparison, the A8 is the chip that powers the iPhone 6, and the A9 is the one on the iPhone 6s. And both these chips are slower than the A10 Fusion chip from last year’s iPhone 7. Putting an A9 chip on the 2017 model can be attributed to Apple keeping the component prices down, partly due to which it arrives at that Rs 28,000 price tag. If you ask us, we’d stick to the newer chip, as yearly software updates are typically built with more complexity, and the extra processing muscle will elongate the iPad’s usability years after its purchase.
Everything else about these two iPads is largely the same — same cameras, same Touch ID sensor, same two speaker output, etc. So which of these two is for whom? Well, if you’re looking for a compact, Kindle-like device, then you probably want to pick up the iPad mini 4 before it goes out of stock permanently. But if you’re okay with a larger form factor, we will recommend picking up the iPad 2017 for all practical purposes, since it has the faster chip, and a lower price tag thanks to the 32 GB variant. In terms of storage, 32 GB should be enough for basic usage, and buying the cellular variant only makes sense if you plan on using the iPad outdoors a lot (there’s a whopping Rs. 10,000 price difference between the Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + Cellular models). Remember, you can always use your smartphone to create a portable hotspot for the times when you need internet on the move.
iPad Pro 10.5-inch or iPad Pro 12.9-inch
Before we get to comparing these two iPad Pros, let’s talk about what you gain when you decide to buy an iPad Pro instead of a typical iPad. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro fits a bigger display in the same frame as the 9.7-inch screened iPad, thanks to narrower bezels. Not only are these iPad Pro displays fully laminated and bear an anti-reflective coating like the iPad mini 4, they support three additional display technologies. First is True Tone, which adjusts how the display looks depending on the ambient lightning. Next is a wider colour gamut (DCI-P3), which means the iPad Pro is capable of rendering a higher range of colours than the typical iPad’s sRGB colour space support.
Last, and certainly not the least, is ProMotion — a system that dynamically adjusts the display’s refresh rate up to 120 Hz (which is double the refresh rate of typical touchscreen displays like the one on the iPad 2017). This means the interface appears visibly faster, more responsive (for e.g, when sketching using the Apple Pencil) and scrolling animations appear smoother than ever. The refresh rate also scales down when appropriate (like when watching a 30 frames per second encoded video), to save battery life.
Next, both iPad Pros come with the Apple A10X chip, which is 2.5 times faster than the A9 in CPU tasks, and a whopping 4.3x faster at graphics. The Pro models also have a faster Touch ID fingerprint sensor than the iPad 2017. Separately-purchasable accessories like the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard work only with the iPad Pros. They also have better front-and-rear cameras than the iPad 2017 and also deliver a louder sound output, thanks to a quad-speaker setup.
So, what do you pay for all these privileges? The base iPad Pro 10.5-inch 64 GB Wi-Fi starts at Rs 50,800, which is around Rs 22,800 more than the iPad 2017 base model. Throw in a couple of thousands, and you’ll be able to buy two iPad 2017s for the price of one iPad Pro. We suppose it’s clear by now that if you’re in the market to buy a tablet for casual reading, entertainment, and some basic productivity, then the iPad 2017 should suffice.
The iPad Pros are intended for people to do the kind of professional work they’d typically do on computers. If you’re sold on the idea of using one instead of a computer, then these devices could be for you. You’ll have to ensure that all the apps you need are made for the iPad on the App Store. If you wish to sketch on the iPad using the Apple Pencil, factor in Rs 8,000 to buy one. Also, buying the Smart Keyboard accessory (sold for around Rs 15,000) may be essential if you’ll be typing a lot. Remember, the Smart Keyboard doesn’t have a trackpad like the Microsoft Surface Pro, so you’ll have to keep touching a vertically propped-up display to interact with the interface.
And finally, between the 12.9-inch and the 10.5-inch model, if you care about portability, the latter is going to be an ideal purchase. That’s because the 12.9-inch iPad is unwieldy, especially if you’re planning on using it single-handedly.
If you add up the cost of the iPad Pro and the accessories, it crosses into the territory of high-end laptops, including Apple’s own MacBook Air, the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. With the seasonal discounts, we believe buying a Mac rather than an iPad Pro may be a more practical decision for many.
We hope this guide helped you decide which iPad is the best one for you, or if you should buy one at all. If you have any specific questions, you may ask in the comments section below.
The author has been writing about technology since 2007. He’s often conflicted between what Apple and Google have to offer. You can find him rambling about tech on @r0han.