A comparison of iPad models for college and university students
So you’re considering an iPad for college?
There’s the original iPad, iPad Pro, the iPad Air… and each comes in varying specs, sizes, and price points. With so many choices, which is the best iPad for students?
The best pick for you will primarily depend on how you want to use it at school. Will it be a replacement for your laptop or more of a portable secondary device?
To find the one most well suited for you, let’s compare the most current iPad models available:
Read more: Check out our guide to Best Way to Study.
The iPad (9th gen) — Best value on a student budget
Screen Size: 10.2”
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Price: Starting at 329 USD
Chip: A13 Bionic
This is Apple’s original iPad, a great entry-level machine that covers all your basics.
For everything from taking notes, streaming videos, reading, and acting as a second screen, you’ll find this iPad more than up to the task. While it’s no M1, the iPad’s A13 Bionic chip is still powerful enough to support note taking and drawing apps, like GoodNotes or Procreate, without a problem. You can also depend on it to stream lectures.
If you’re a very avid notetaker though, one of the downsides is that this model doesn’t support the Apple Pencil 2. Because the first Apple Pencil shares a charging port with your iPad (you stick the Apple Pencil into the lightning spot), it’s a little clunkier, and you can only charge one at a time.
That being said, it’s still going to perform perfectly well for all your basic studying needs, and is the best price point for the student on a budget.
You should choose the original iPad for college if:
- You’ll be using a laptop or desktop as your main work machine, but want a secondary device to support your studies.
- You’re looking for an iPad primarily to read notes or watch lectures, and don’t need the Apple Pencil most of the time
- You’re looking for the best bang for your buck
iPad Air (5th gen) — Best “does it all” iPad for college students
Screen Size: 10.9”
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Price: Starting at $599 USD for 64GB
The iPad Air in the past few months has quickly risen to the top of the food chain. Sporting an M1 chip, it has a desktop level processing power, and is compatible with the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2.
This makes the iPad Air almost on par with the iPad Pro, and certainly as powerful (if not more) than your average laptop.
That means the iPad Air is going to remain dependable when performing even the most intensive tasks you’d typically reserve for your computer, like editing 4k video, or even gaming.
The iPad Air also offers the most comfortable note-taking experience: the 10.9” screen feels familiar in size to a normal piece of paper, and the Apple Pencil 2 conveniently attaches magnetically (and is pretty much always charged).
You should choose the iPad Air for college if:
- You’re looking for an all-in-one iPad that’s strong enough to replace your laptop as your primary device
- You plan to take intensive notes and prefer the convenience of the Apple Pencil 2
iPad Pro (5th gen) — Best for professionals or hardcore Apple fanatics
Screen Size: 12.9”
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Price: $799 USD for 11” at 128GB
The iPad Pro is the amalgamation of all Apple’s latest technology, and is the most powerful of all the iPad models. There is no other iPad that supports up to 2TB of memory or a RAM of up to 8GB.
That being said, for the average student, you may not be able to make the use of all these additional upgrades. In fact, the iPad Pro base model doesn’t actually differ too far from the iPad Air.
iPad Pro vs. iPad Air: What does the iPad Pro have that iPad Air doesn’t?
- Four speaker audio
- ProMotion display — some animations feel smoother. For example, unlocking the screen, flipping between screens, opening apps.
- Much more memory (up to 2TB) and higher RAM (up to 8GB)
- Larger screen
- LiDAR — enhances augmented reality apps
So, is the iPad Pro good for college? Sure. It will do everything you need it to do. But for the average student’s budget and daily use cases — note taking, reading, video calls, watching lectures (and Netflix) — we think the extra bells and whistles aren’t worth the price.
You should choose the iPad Pro for college if:
- You require the top-notch memory and processing power options the iPad Pro offers, and plan to use it as your primary device (e.g. you study digital media, computer science, etc.)
- You want a larger screen
- You don’t use cloud storage and therefore want your iPad to have enough
iPad Mini — Portable second screen
Screen Size: 7.9”
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Price: $399 USD for 64GB
The iPad Mini is small, lightweight, and powerful. Often compared to the Kindle, its size makes it comfortable as a reader.
We’ve learned from our user interviews that this model is especially popular with medical students, who happen to be on their feet and need to take notes on the go, especially when working in wards. (Bonus: It fits in a lab coat pocket!)
While the iPad Mini should be more than up to the task of more memory intensive activities — like working in spreadsheets or designing presentations for example — the smaller screen size might not be the ideal experience.
You should choose the iPad Mini for college if:
- You’re looking for a more portable study companion, but are still going to be using a laptop or desktop computer as your main work machine
- You’re looking for a comfortable device to read books
So which iPad is the best for students?
Overall, we think the iPad Air at 64GB is a solid choice for college. It’s more affordable than the iPad Pro, yet offers a comparable performance for all your studying, research, and note-taking needs. Plus, it can support pretty much any intensive task too with ease, such as working in large spreadsheets or even video editing, so you don’t necessarily have to have a laptop with you to get most of your work done.
That being said, our second choice for students is the original iPad. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and especially if you’re on a student budget, we’re confident the original iPad at 128GB should be plenty sufficient. Despite having a slightly clunkier Apple Pencil experience, it’s still a popular model amongst GoodNotes users.
Read more: Check out our guide to Digital Planner stickers.
Want to take better study notes on the iPad?
Join millions of students using GoodNotes to take handwritten and typed notes on the iPad.
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