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The best iPads for kids in 2021

Included in this guide:

iPad 2021
(Image credit: Future)

The best iPads for kids are versatile enough to keep up with a child's imagination and affordable enough that repairing or replacing one won't break your budget. Finding the right one for your needs can be tricky because every kid is different, and there's more iPads to choose from than ever.  

Once upon a time, if you wanted an Apple tablet you bought the iPad, in whatever color and storage allotment looked good to you. But these days there's a smorgasbord of iPad models available, from the pint-sized iPad mini to the svelte iPad Air. 

The new 2021 iPad and iPad mini are two of the latest additions to this list, and we really love the former as a kid's first iPad because it's the cheapest iPad you can buy, yet still delivers the full iPad experience.

With that in mind, here's our roundup of the best iPads you can buy for kids right now.

What are the best iPads for kids?

The iPad is synonymous with tablets for a reason: when you buy the basic iPad, you're guaranteed to get a versatile device that's equally good for creating or consuming content. The iPad 2021 is Apple's best entry-level iPad yet, delivering great performance, a vibrant display, and an improved ultrawide front-facing camera with support for Apple's Center Stage, which is a nice perk for kids who are still spending a lot of time on video calls for remote learning. The entry-level iPad 2021 is also the cheapest iPad you can buy, which is why we recommend it as the best overall iPad for kids.

If you can afford to spend a bit more, the iPad mini 6 is another great iPad for kids because the screen looks great, its A14 Bionic chip delivers more than enough power for the latest apps and games, and it has more than enough battery to last through a long plane ride or a full day at school. Plus, it's the smallest iPad you can buy, making it easier for small hands to hold.

The best iPads for kids you can buy today

iPad 2021 on a table next to 1st gen Apple Pencil (not included)

(Image credit: Future)

1. Apple iPad 2021

An excellent all-around iPad for kids

Specifications
CPU: A13 Bionic
Camera Resolution: 8MP (rear), 12MP (front)
Display: 10.2 inches, 2160 x 1620 pixels
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Ports: Lightning, Headphone
Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 1.07 pounds
Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with optional LTE
Reasons to buy
+Bright screen+Improved front-facing camera+Good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Dated design with big bezels-Nowhere to store Apple Pencil

The 9th Gen iPad 2021 offers minor but meaningful improvements over its predecessors, and despite being the cheapest iPad it's just as well-built and versatile as its pricier siblings. The iPad 2021 offers a great screen, good sound and battery life, and even faster performance than before. If the kid you're buying this for participates in a lot of video calls, you'll be impressed by how much clearer they look on this iPad vs the previous models, as Apple's upgraded the 1.2MP front-facing camera to a 12MP sensor. And that lens is smarter than ever thanks to Center Stage, Apple's new trick to keep you in the frame when you move around on video calls.

The iPad 2021's A13 Bionic chip delivers excellent performance, which is great since iPadOS 15 is getting smarter and features like LiveText (which lets you copy and paste text out of images) are improved with a faster processor. Aside from that, the new iPad is very similar to the previous model, meaning it doesn't support the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil or Apple's Magic Keyboard, and it still charges via Lightning cable. However, it's also the only iPad to still sport a wired headphone jack, which gives a child the option of plugging in a pair of headphones for private listening — and that sounds ideal for long plane trips or car rides.

Read our full iPad 2021 review.

The iPad mini 2021 with a Spider-Man comic open

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

2. iPad mini 6 2021

The smallest, most portable iPad

Specifications
CPU: A15 Bionic
Camera Resolution: 12MP (front and rear)
Display: 8.3-inch (2266 x 1488 pixels) Liquid Retina
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Ports: USB-C
Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.3 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 0.7 pound
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6, optional 5G (Sub-6)
Reasons to buy
+Super-portable, light design+Speedy A15 Bionic processor+Sharp and bright display
Reasons to avoid
-No Magic Keyboard or headphone jack-Pricey

The iPad mini 2021 offers the full iPad experience in a lightweight, portable design that's small enough to fit comfortably in even the tiniest hands. Unlike the base iPad, the iPad mini 2021 sports the thin bezels and flat-edged design of the iPad Air, and it also offers support for the second gen Apple Pencil. Plus, its A15 Bionic processor is remarkably fast and its battery life is shockingly good for a tablet this small.

But, yes, we like the iPad mini 6 most for its size. Even young kids should have no trouble holding and carrying it around, but the screen is still big enough and bright enough to let you comfortably watch videos or read books. However, if you're buying an iPad so a kid can get some schoolwork done, you might want to consider a different model — none of Apple's detachable iPad keyboards are compatible with the iPad mini 6, so if you want a more comfortable typing experience than tapping on the on-screen keyboard you'll have to dive into the world of third-party Bluetooth keyboards.

Read our full Apple iPad mini 6 (2021) review.

iPad Air (2020) running a music app

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey/Tom's Guide)

3. iPad Air (2020)

The sweet spot between the iPad mini and iPad Pro

Specifications
CPU: A14 Bionic
Display: 10.9-inch (2360 x 1640 pixels) Liquid Retina
Storage: 64GB/256GB
Ports: USB-C
Dimensions: 9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 6, optional 4G LTE
Reasons to buy
+Elegant thin and light design+Super-fast A14 Bionic processor+Excellent webcam
Reasons to avoid
-No Face ID-No headphone jack, either

Apple's iPad Air (2020) borrows a lot of what we like from the iPad Pro and delivers it at a more affordable price, making it a great choice if you can afford more than the iPad mini but don't want to splurge for a Pro. It's got the same super-thin bezels you'll recognize from the iPad mini and iPad Pro, as well as support for the Magic Keyboard, which turn it into a decent device for writing papers and getting work done. Plus, its A14 Bionic chip delivers more than enough power to handle demanding apps and multitasking. 

While the iPad Air isn't as portable as the iPad mini, or as big and beautiful as the iPad Pro, its 10+ hours of battery life will be enough to keep a child entertained all day long, and its screen is bright and colorful enough to make watching cartoons and YouTube videos a joy. It's also well-equipped for remote learning and Zoom calls thanks to its 7-megapixel webcam, which beat the Logitech C920 in head-to-head image quality testing done for our review. We only wish the Magic Keyboard wasn't so expensive: attaching a keyboard to the iPad Air makes it much easier to get schoolwork done, but it's hard to feel great buying a keyboard for almost the same price as the entry-level iPad. 

Read our full iPad Air (2020) review.

iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) on a desk

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch)

The best iPad for older kids when money is no object

Specifications
CPU: M1
Camera Resolution: 12MP (rear, wide) 10MP (rear, ultra wide), 12MP True Depth (front)
Display: 11 inches (2388 x 1668 pixels)
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Ports: USB-C, Smart Connector
Dimensions: 9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches
Weight: 1 pound
Wi-Fi: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 with optional 5G
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic screen+Epic battery life+M1 processor is blazing-fast
Reasons to avoid
-12.9-inch iPad Pro's display is better-iPadOS feels limited with M1 power

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 may have the bigger, brighter screen, but with a starting price of $1,099 its far too expensive to recommend buying for any but the oldest and most responsible kids. The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 is still expensive ($799), but its a reasonable iPad to give an older kid who can be trusted to use it for creative work without abusing (or losing) it. 

It's worth the money, too, with a gorgeous screen and epic battery life (13 hours) as well as all the power of Apple's remarkable M1 chip, which is powerful enough to handle even the most demanding video and image editing apps. 

The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 is a great gift for kids who want to practice their digital art and video editing skills, but it also excels as an entertainment device. Its bright and colorful display is sharp, its four speakers provide much larger sound than you might expect from such a thin device, and if you're willing to pay extra the amazing (and optional) Magic Keyboard offers the simplest, smoothest iPad typing experience ever, making this a great device for typing up notes and papers.

Read our full iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review.

How to choose the best iPad for your kid

Still unsure which iPad is right for the kid(s) in question? Here are some important things to consider.

Screen size: Apple sells iPads in a variety of screen sizes ranging from 8 to 11 inches. If you expect your kid to be watching a lot of videos or playing games mostly at home, you'll want one of the larger models like the base iPad 2021 or the iPad Air. But if the kid in question will be toting the iPad around a fair bit, or has smaller hands, consider the iPad mini 6 — it has a screen that's just as good as its bigger siblings, but it's a bit smaller and easier to hold.

Budget: You can spend anywhere between $330 - $800+ on an iPad for kids, or more if you splurge on extras like an Apple Pencil or Magic Keyboard.  If you can afford the higher end of that spectrum, the $599 iPad Air or the $799 iPad Pro 11-inch are excellent tablets that will serve an older child well for years. If you have a smaller budget or don't want to trust a younger kid with such an expensive tablet, the base iPad ($329, or $299 with educator's discount) is a better choice because it offers all the capabilities of an iPad without the higher price tag of its siblings. 

Age: How old is the kid you're buying this iPad for? Obviously if it's for you and your family, buy whatever you like, but if you're getting a tablet for a specific child, we recommend you don't shell out for the high-end options unless the lucky kid you're giving it to can be trusted not to break or lose a $500+ tablet. The entry-level iPad 2021 is plenty good enough for kids ages 5-12, though if you want something smaller the iPad mini 2021 is also quite good — though it does cost $499. If this is for an older kid who can be trusted with an expensive device, the $599 iPad Air and $799 iPad Pro 11-inch should serve them well for years.

How we test iPads

First, we run as many benchmarks as that iPad will allow, to see how fast they are in ways that can be compared directly against competitors. We then use colorimeters and light meters to measure how colorful and bright these tablets’ screens can get. After that, we put them through our in-house battery test, which times how long it takes — while surfing the web with brightness at 150 nits — to drain a tablet of a charge.

After that, we do the same things you do — browse the web, watch YouTube, play games, compose emails — and then a lot more. We try and write some (or all) of our tablet reviews on the tablets we're testing, on an attachable keyboard if possible.

Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.