Preparing for student life can be exciting and stressful. To make things easier, it’s good to know that you have the right tech to help you write your essays, take notes in lessons, and be able to kick back with Netflix and games when all the work is done. The iPad has evolved in recent years to something that can now act as a laptop replacement for many students, with accessories like the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil making it one of the most versatile devices you can buy.
Choosing one can be tricky though, as Apple currently offers a wide range of models with different prices and features. No problem, here’s our guide to buying an iPad for your student days.
Plus, if you buy an iPad (or a Mac) from Apple and you are a student you might be able to get a free gift, such as a pair of AirPods or vouchers, while a “Back To Uni” event is running (usually June to September in the US, from July to October in the UK).
Since we expect that students are likely to be looking to save money where they can, we’d suggest that the 10.2in iPad (9th Gen) is the closest you can get to a bargain iPad – especially once you apply the student discount (more on how to get a student discount from Apple here). True, it has suffered the same price increases around the world that Apple has recently applied (except in the US), making it not quite the bargain it used to be. But, if you want an iPad to cover the basics, it remains the most afforable option.
While this is the cheapest iPad, it still has enough performance and features to make it an excellent choice for many students. Apple upgraded the device in 2021, adding the powerful A13 that previously powered the iPhone 11 range, plus there were significant improvements to the front-facing camera which now has an Ultra-Wide lens and support for Centre Stage.
It can happily run the the Microsoft Office apps for iPad, plus there are various productivity apps from Apple that will make note-taking and working on assignments a doddle. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and you have a very workable laptop that should cope with most coursework demands. Support for Apple Pencil (Gen 1) means you can annotate documents, sketch, and of course practice your handwriting.
The iPad 10.2in (9th gen) is a great iPad if your demands aren’t too onerous. It will handle academic life with ease, and provides plenty of entertainment for when the lessons are over. One word of caution though. The base model only comes with 64GB of storage, which in this day and age seems pretty mean of Apple. With that in mind we’d recommend opting for the 256GB version as it would be more practical, albeit more expensive.
If the most important factor to you is portability there’s one iPad in particular that you might want to consider.
The iPad mini, updated in September 2021 with an A15 Bionic and a brand new design, is the smallest and lightest iPad you can buy. It weighs in at 293g, while the 10.2in iPad is 487g and the iPad Air is 461g. Of course the low weight is a result of the iPad itself being smaller, thanks to the 8.3in display and Apple getting rid of the Home button and relocating Touch ID in the Power button on the top edge. The result is a compact but powerful device that doesn’t feel too small. We think that this screen size is perfect for reading books or taking notes (especially with an Apple Pencil) so it may well be ideal for you if that’s what how you intend to use the iPad.
Don’t let the diminutive form fool you though, as the mini boasts an A15 Bionic chip, the same as the iPhone 13 Pro Max, so there’s no shortage of power on tap. Connectivity is top-notch too, with support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 and LTE 5G networks available, depending on the model you choose.
The front-facing camera is an Ultra-Wide lens, so it can track you and keep you in the centre of the frame on video-calls thanks to Centre Stage, while the 12Mp Wide camera on the back can capture great photos and videos that could be used in presentations or for more media-based assignments.
There are two storage options available – 64GB and 256GB – and as with the 10.2in iPad we’d recommend the larger of the two as it allows you to store more apps, downloading music and movies, plus all those photos and videos.
One disadvantage is that the mini only works with Bluetooth keyboards, rather than Apple’s range of iPad-specific keyboards – but whether that is a disadvantage is debatable. It will probably save you money.
Prices start at $499/£569 for the 64GB model, with the 256GB option raising the cost to $649/£749. This is an increase over the previous generation, and the recent price bump outside the US doesn’t help, but you do get some serious up-to-date tech in the new iPad mini.
The newest kid on the block is the recently unveiled iPad 10.9-inch (10th Gen) which features the same design approach as on the iPad mini and iPad Air. This means you don’t have the traditional Home button, as it’s been replaced with swipe gestures and the Face ID sensor has been embedded in the power button on the top edge. This makes room for a larger display than on its predecessor, the iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen), which Apple has kept in its cataglogue for those who want a cheaper device that’s still equipped with a Home button.
On the new iPad there’s a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina Display which, like all the other devices that are called iPad (rather than mini, Air or Pro) is unlaminated. This means there’s a slight air-gap between the galss and digitiser beneath. You probably won’t notice it at all, but if you intend to use the Apple Pencil for notes (Gen 1 is support) then you may experience slight delays in the tracking. One welcome addition is that the front facing camera is located on the longer end of the panel, meaning it offers a true landscape view that’s centrally located. No more awkward side views from the portrait positioned cameras that appear on all the other iPads. That new Landscape 12Mp Ultra Wide camera has a f/2.4 aperture that delivers a 122-degree view, it’s also compatible with the Centre-Stage feature that keeps you in the centre of the frame even if you move about while on FaceTime calls. Apple bestows its new iPad with the same 12Mp f/1.8 rear camera as on the iPad Air, so you can get some great shots and shoot video 4K video at 60fps. If your course requires any kind of video content, then either the front or back optics of the new iPad should prove more that sufficient – plus you can call home and look good doing so.
An A14 Bionic processor is at the heart of the new iPad, which is the same chip that powered the iPhone 12 devices (including the Pros). So, there’s more than enough power for word processing, note-taking, coding and most other education apps, not to mention gaming and entertainment duties. The switch from a Lightning port to USB-C also opens up the ability to use various peripherals and even power an external display if you want the iPad to become more like a fully-fledged computer.
As with all the other iPads on this list, Apple kits out the base-line model with 64GB, which remains a paltry amount and needs to be increased in the next year or so if Apple wants to keep charging its high prices. With this in mind, we’d recommend you opt for the 256GB version, although it does push the price from $449/£499 (64GB) to $599/£679 (256GB), but the extra space will serve you better in the long run.
There are four colours to choose from (Blue, Yellow, Silver and Pink) so you should be able to find one that suits your personality, and for extra functionality you could invest in the new two-piece Magic Keyboard Folio, although the $249/£279 price tag does seem very high. Of course, a standard bluetooth keyboard will get you the same results for a lot less money. As mentioned above, the new iPad supports the first generation Apple Pencil, but as the charging port is now USB-C you’ll need an adaptor from Apple if you’ve alreadt bought the Pencil. Otherwise, the dongle in now included in the box when you buy a new Apple Pencil (1st Gen).
As you can see, there are a few caveats (mainly around the increased price), but with its modern design, solid processor and larger display, the new 10.9-inch iPad (10th Gen) is a great all-rounder that would prove a wise investment for those heading off to pursue their studies.
Yes, the iPad Pro range includes the most powerful iPads available, but for what a typical student needs they are overpriced and overpowered. We think the iPad Air, last updated in March 2022, with its 10.9in display, modern design, light weight (461g), great cameras and hugely powerful processor is a great choice for students.
Unfortunately it’s not as cheap as it once was, especially outside the US, with the updated format and construction methods bringing the costs up to $599/£669 for the 64GB model and $749/£849 for the 256GB variant (which is the one we’d recommend).
Because of the price increase it’s no longer our top choice iPad for students, but if you can afford it then it really is worth the investment.
There are lots of things that the iPad Air has going for it. The design allows for a bigger screen and slimmer bezels, as the Home button is replaced by Touch ID embedded in the Power button on the side of the chassis. There are plenty of colours to choose from, but the biggest feature of the 2022 model in the inclusion of the M1 processor. This is same chip that powered the previous generation iPad Pro models, not to mention several of the new Macs. In an iPad Air, it makes the device fly.
The camera is 12Mp Wide lens (also like on the iPad Pro), which can record video up to 4K/60fps, and as with other iPads on this list, the front-facing camera has been upgraded to the 12Mp Ultra-Wide that allows for Centre Stage. Unlike the iPad 10.9-inch (10th Gen) the camera isn’t on the longer side of the chassis, so you still have the slightly off-centre angle, but that’s about the only advantage the less expensive model has over the Air.
Essentially, the iPad Air is an iPad Pro for a cheaper price. The only major feature it’s missing is the 120Hz Pro-Motion screen refresh rate, but that’s hardly something most people will even notice.
We highly recommend the iPad Air for students who need premium performance and best iPad you can buy without the Pro name.
Before you go ahead and buy your iPad you may want to consider its suitability for your purpose.
As a student you probably have a few requirements:
Great apps for things like note taking, recording lectures and revision
Light enough to carry around all day
Keyboard and stylus support
Suitable for making video calls home
You might be wondering whether a tablet or a laptop would be better for those needs, and if you lean towards the latter, take a look at our guide to the best Macs for students.
We think, however, that an iPad is a great choice. It runs many of the apps you’ll find on a laptop, including Office apps like Word and PowerPoint and the Apple equivalents, and in some cases an iPad is actually more powerful than a laptop thanks to the super-fast processors Apple uses.
Another benefit is that you can have all the books you need for your course on your iPad and carry them with you to lectures and tutorials. You could even photograph pages from books in the library and use optical character recognition to save the text to your iPad.
Not only do you not need to lug all your books around with you, an iPad is far lighter than even the lightest laptop, so you won’t be getting backache from carrying it to lectures and the library.
With battery life of 10 hours – plenty for a day on campus – you aren’t going to need to find a space beside a plug socket in order to get though a day at uni.
Think that having an iPad will mean you have to type on an on-screen keyboard? No! You could sync any Bluetooth keyboard or plug in one of Apple’s own iPad keyboards and effectively turn your iPad into a laptop. There’s also the Apple Pencil, which could come in useful if you wanted to jot down some notes on your iPad screen in a lecture. See Best stylus for iPad.
And when you’ve finished studying there are loads of games, and apps for video calling your parents.
The next question you might want some reassurance on is whether the iPad is the best option for a student. There are a lot of other tablets available, many of which are cheaper than an iPad. So you might be thinking of saving some money.
We think if you do so you will regret it. There are many reasons why Apple’s iPads are so popular:
The App Store is heaving with great apps designed specifically for the iPad.
Many of those apps will be ideal for students: note taking apps, apps for converting handwriting to text, apps for recording lectures, timetable management, and of course video calling (so you can stay in touch with mum and dad).
There is an ecosystem of great accessories designed to work with the iPad.
Apple’s iPadOS is stable and easy to use, especially if you already have an iPhone.
If you’ve got a Mac you can use an iPad as a second screen, provided you are runing Big Sur or Catalina, or, when it lauches, Monteray.
How to get an iPad student discount
If you’re still thinking that the price of an iPad is a little more than you want to spend, here’s some good news: you don’t have to pay full price at all.