iPad (2021) vs iPad (2020): which Apple tablet is the best one for you?

With the iPad (2021) having just been announced, what everyone wants to know is how it stacks up against the iPad (2020). Should you spend the extra cash on the iPad (2021), or will the older iPad (2020) do the job? That’s what you’re wondering, right? 

© Provided by TechRadar iPad (2020) vs iPad (2021)

Both of these tablets are well-made devices for their prices, and more than capable for getting things done while you’re on the move, or at home. It’s safe to say the new iPad (2021) is rather more tempting, with some useful (if subtle) upgrades; then again, the iPad (2020) should prove cheaper to track down now that it’s been usurped by a newer model. 

If you’re struggling to decide which iPad is for you, we’re here to help out. We’ve looked at all the features and specs of both tablets, as well as their designs, to help you weigh up which slate is best for you before you hit that ‘buy’ button.

iPad (2021) vs iPad (2020) price and availability

The Wi-Fi only iPad (2021) starts at $329 / £319 / AU$499 for 64GB of storage. The price rises to $479 / £459 for 256GB – we’re still waiting on Australian pricing for this version, but that works out at around AU$650.

Alternatively, if you want to go the cellular route, expect to pay a bit more for the benefit of 4G connectivity while on the move. It will go on sale on September 24, but you can pre-order it now from the Apple website if you want to get ahead of the curve.

Buying the iPad (2020), which starts with just 32GB of storage and comes with Wi-Fi and cellular options, will be a trickier proposition now that Apple has discontinued the tablet and many retailers are already running low on stock. If you can find it on sale, it should be at a good discount compared to the latest iPad (2021) – we can’t see it being sold for its launch price of $329 / £329 / AU$499 for much longer.

Design

The iPad (2021) and iPad (2020) are virtually identical when it comes to their dimensions, with most of the changes being under the hood. According to Apple, the design has remained the same so that existing accessories will be compatible with the new tablet. 

Both tablets measure 250.6mm x 174.1mm x 7.5mm dimensions, while the Wi-Fi-only version of the new model weighs a smidgen less than the iPad (2020), at 487g compared to 490g. In regular use, you’ll never actually notice the difference here.

Apple has also played it safe in terms of color; Space Gray or Silver are your only two options, whether you choose the iPad (2021) or the iPad (2020). Still, either will blend into your home and with other gear nicely. 

With both devices, the top bezel houses the selfie camera, while the home button on the bottom offers a built-in Touch ID sensor. Apple isn’t reinventing the wheel with the iPad (2021) by any means – but more on the camera later. 

There are two speakers on both iPads and they’re functional if fairly unremarkable. 

Both iPads also support Lightning connections rather than the latest USB-C connectivity, again to ensure that the iPad 2021 remains compatible with all existing accessories. That includes the 1st Generation Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard for both iPad (2021) and iPad (2020). 

Display

Both the Apple iPad (2021) and iPad (2020) continue to utilize a 10.2-inch LCD display that offers 1620 x 2160 resolution. There is one big change for the iPad (2021), though. 

It now uses TrueTone technology, which means the display changes color slightly to fit into your location. That can be useful if you frequently use it outdoors, as it means the screen becomes brighter and easier to see, even in bright conditions. Both slates offer the same ppi of 264 as well as the same max brightness of 500 nits.

Both tablets also only offer 60Hz refresh rates with 120Hz refresh rate continuing to be reserved for the iPad Pro range. Still, at this price point, you won’t really miss the smooth browsing that you could enjoy on the much pricier slates out there. 

Camera and battery 

Rarely does anyone buy a tablet for the sake of the camera and that’s reflected in both the iPad (2021) and iPad (2020). While neither tablet is a complete slouch, nor are they designed for avid photographers. 

The iPad (2020) has an 8MP wide camera with ƒ/2.4 aperture, along with a digital zoom up to 5x and HDR for photos. 

Alternatively, the iPad (2021) provides the same camera but Apple promises improved autofocus to ensure better images are created. Otherwise, the rear cameras are very similar. 

Where things improve vastly for the iPad (2021) is its front camera. While the iPad (2020) had a positively paltry 1.2MP FaceTime HD front camera that looked incredibly dated, the iPad 2021 is designed with video calls and FaceTime sessions in mind. It now has a 12MP Ultra Wide rear camera promising an 122-degree field of view to capture a lot more of what you’re recording. 

The iPad (2021) also has Center Stage like the iPad Pro which allows the camera to ‘follow’ you around a room when taking video calls. If you take video calls often, you’ll appreciate this a lot.

When it comes to video recording, both tablets stick with 1080p at 30 fps, which is fine, if not awe-inspiring. 

Battery life is considered to be identical on both tablets. Expect up to 10 hours of browsing or watching video, with up to nine hours if you’re relying on the cellular connection.

Specs and features 

It’s the hardware under the hood that really separates the iPad (2021) and iPad (2020). The iPad (2021) uses the A13 Bionic chip, which promises to work 20% faster than the iPad (2020)’s older A12 Bionic chip. It’s not as fast as other iPads such as the iPad Air or iPad Pro, but it’s a big step forward for the standard iPad range. 

Of course, whether it’s worth spending the extra money on the 2021 iPad depends on how much that speed matters to you. It’s a big improvement, but if you’re only going to be using your iPad casually, it could still be worth going for the older model – especially if you can find a great discount.

The lowest storage option for the iPad (2020) is a frankly embarrassing 32GB, with the latest iPad (2021) starting at 64GB. Even then, you may want to consider upgrading to 128GB as it’s not possible to add to the storage after purchase. 

Both tablets run the latest iPadOS, with the iPad (2021) shipping with iPadOS 15 already installed. Apps are generally very well optimized, so speed shouldn’t be an issue here. 

If you’re keen to go with a cellular model, not much changes here, with both slates providing 4G/LTE rather than 5G. 

Takeaway

Both the iPad (2021) and iPad (2020) are respectable budget-friendly iPads. The differences between the two aren’t as huge as you might expect. 

Ultimately, making a decision between them comes down to how you plan on using your newly purchased tablet. If you regularly take video calls on your iPad, then the iPad (2021) is hugely appealing thanks to its far improved front camera. The iPad (2020)’s 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera just doesn’t cut it any more, and it’s successor’s 12MP Ultra Wide camera is a great addition. 

Other than that, it’s all down to speed. While the TrueTone feature of the iPad (2021)’s display is appealing, it’s probably not going to be a deal breaker when making a purchase, provided you can find the iPad (2020) for a good price. Instead, it’s the improved processor that may tempt you to opt for the latest model. 

Apple is pretty good at supporting apps and updates for a long time, but with an extra 20% of speed to play with (in theory), the iPad (2021) should last you a fair bit longer than the older model. 

If you do decide to go for an older iPad (2020), don’t forget that the iPad (2021) starts with 64GB of storage which may make even the best iPad (2020) deals less appealing

All in all, neither the iPad (2021) nor the iPad (2020) provide the ultimate iPad experience; that honor goes to the iPad Pro or the iPad Air depending on your budget. However, if you’re looking for a relatively ‘cheap’ iPad, either the iPad (2021) or its older sibling should do the job.

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