iPad Next

This summer I posted an article about my iPad collection. In it I discussed what my next possible iPad might be. At the time my iPad Air 2 was holding up well and I was eyeing a previous-generation 10.5″ iPad Pro once they went on sale after the next refresh. Since that time I’ve cracked the Air 2’s screen (a first for any of my iOS devices) and Apple has refreshed the iPad Pro. It’s time to upgrade. 

My main desires are Apple Pencil support, improved performance, and more storage. I’d also like to get a larger and improved screen with better speakers too. That leaves three options – a Sixth Generation 9.7″ iPad, a 10.5″ iPad Pro, and the new 11″ iPad Pro. 

The Contenders

The same exact form factor introduced with the iPad Air in 2013

Let’s start with the 9.7″ iPad. When the Pro series came out a few years ago this became Apple’s “entry-level” line. It has the same form factor, same screen technology, and same amount of memory as my Air 2, but it’s nearly twice as fast. It also supports the Apple Pencil. It has a lower-quality screen assembly that causes more glare, is a few millimeters thicker, and is a couple of ounces heavier than my Air 2. The price however, is extremely attractive – $429 for a 128 GB model ($329 with Best Buy’s Black Friday sale). Adding an Apple Pencil and a case bumps the total cost to $467.

An ever-so-slightly wider and shorter form factor makes room for a larger screen.

The 10.5″ iPad pro is a step up and adds a lot of great features not available on the standard iPad. Up until last week it was the “current” iPad Pro and has been praised in reviews. The screen is larger while maintaining similar case dimensions and includes numerous technologies that improve quality. It supports P3 Wide Color Gamut to display richer colors, includes True Tone sensors that adjust color to ensure images look accurate in any light, and Pro Motion dynamic refresh rate that ensures every swipe, animation, and drawing is smooth and fluid. It has twice the memory, better speakers, and is faster than the 9.7″ iPad. It works with the Apple Pencil as well. The 256 GB model starts at $799 ($674 with Best Buy’s Black Friday sale) and totals $842 with a Pencil and case.

Bye bye home button and hello bigger screen!

The brand-new 11″ iPad Pro introduces a completely new form factor define by its Liquid Retina display with rounded corners and thin bezels. It replaces TouchID with FaceID like the iPhone and includes USB-C instead of Lightning which allows it to connect to external monitors and directly to cameras. It is compatible with Apple’s new Pencil 2 which has a more ergonomic design, charges wirelessly, and magnetically attaches to the iPad so you don’t lose it. The new Pro is also extremely powerful, performing better in benchmarks than my 2016 MacBook Pro. All of that hotness comes at a steep price, with the 256 GB model, Pencil, and case totaling $1157.  

The Comparison

I’m a casual iPad user. I do all of my most intensive work – writing and photography – on a Mac because I’m more efficient with a keyboard, trackpad/mouse, and larger screen. I use my iPad for browsing the web, playing occasional games, watching streaming movies, and editing photos on occasion. I’d like to start using it for drawing and diagramming, hence the interest in the Apple Pencil. 

Compared strictly on price the 9.7″ iPad is perfect for me. At under $500 including accessories, it would the the least expensive iPad I’ve ever purchased. While it is certainly the most practical option, I also want meaningful improvements when I upgrade. A larger, higher-quality screen is a meaningful improvement. Louder, clearer speakers are a meaningful improvement. More memory and a more powerful CPU are a meaningful improvement. At $842 the 10.5″ Pro is nearly twice the price but it includes numerous meaningful improvements that I would enjoy. It’s tempting.

The 11″ iPad is beautiful and the new Apple Pencil looks awesome but I just can’t bring myself to spend $1200 on a tablet. Ironic, seeing as I spent nearly that amount on my phone last year… but that was… different. I can’t bring myself to spend that on an iPad no matter how nice it is. 

The Decision

That brings me to the final round. In summary, here’s what we have so far:

9.7″ iPad10.5″ iPad Pro11″ iPad Pro
2X faster than Air 2> 2X faster than Air 24X faster than Air 2
2 GB memory like Air 24 GB memory4 GB Memory
9.7″ screen10.5″ reduced-glare screen11″ reduced-glare rounded-edge screen
The same screen from 2013Bright, Wide Color, True Tone, Pro Motion screenBright, Wide Color, True Tone, Pro Motion
TouchIDTouchIDFaceID
2 speakers4 great speakers4 great speakers
128 GB storage256 GB storage256 GB storage
$467 (on sale) with case and Pencil$842 (on sale) with case and Pencil$1157 with case and Pencil

The 11″ iPad is out. The price difference between the 9.7″ iPad and the 10.5″ Pro is still a lot and causes hesitation, but I have an additional option to consider: eBay. I’ve seen numerous 256 GB Pros with Pencil and case go for under $600. That is tempting. It brings the price differential down to a more reasonable number and still results in an iPad that is cheaper than what I usually spend. There are quality issues to consider on eBay but I’m pretty experienced and they have solid protection for buyers so it’s worth a chance. 

I don’t want to spend $1200 on an iPad and I don’t need all of the features of the 11″ Pro. The screen of a 10.5″ Pro isn’t quite as big but it is just as bright, displays the same colors in the same way, and is just as fast. TouchID still works fine because I don’t use my iPad for every single thing I do all the time. I don’t import pictures onto my iPad or connect it to external monitors so USB-C isn’t that helpful to me. The Pencil 2 is nice, but its improvements are centered on its physical design, not how it interacts with the iPad. Drawing output will be exactly the same. 

A 10.5″ Pro on eBay it is. iPad upgrade, here I come!

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