Although most college students will need a laptop for serious academic work, an iPad can be a welcome addition to any college student’s backpack. It can be easier to carry around campus than a laptop while still being useful for reading class assignments and taking notes. And, since all work and no play makes Joe College a dull boy, students will appreciate an iPad’s entertainment and communication capabilities. It’s a perfect graduation gift! So what’s an iPad good for, and which model should you consider?
First, any iPad makes an excellent ebook reader. Along with Apple’s bundled iBooks app, students can install various ebook-reading apps, including the free Kindle app. These apps are ideal for digital textbooks and other class materials since they can store thousands of pages of text and offer useful highlighting and note-taking tools.
For students who prefer handwritten notes or those in fields like fashion or architecture, an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil is a great note-taking tool that combines the best features of handwritten notes (which encourage better retention) with quick digital access. In a comic-style review for iMore, Serenity Caldwell called the Apple Pencil the “best stylus I’ve ever used.” Even better, iOS 11, due this fall, will bring handwriting recognition to the iPad’s built-in Notes app, so students will be able to search for text in their handwritten notes.
The iPad also works wonderfully for playing video. For a student, that could mean replaying a recorded lecture, relaxing with a favorite movie after a big test, and even calling home via Apple’s FaceTime app.
For a lot of modern-day college work, two screens are better than one. A student might work on a research paper on a MacBook while using the iPad to read reference materials or view a related video—or to chat with fellow students about a group project. With current Macs, it’s possible to copy and paste between an iPad and a Mac, making it easy to transfer information back and forth. Or, with special software like Duet or AirDisplay, an iPad can act as a second Mac screen.
It’s faster to type on a physical keyboard than on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. Many iPad-compatible keyboards are available, but for the iPad Pro, Apple’s Smart Keyboard doesn’t require fussing with Bluetooth and charges automatically without extra cables. It functions as a padded screen protector when not in use, but opens into a screen prop and keyboard, making the iPad look like a mini-laptop. For other iPad models, check out the Brydge Air Keyboard Case.
Which iPad should you buy? Here are your options:
- For an entry-level iPad that will work nicely for ebook reading and videos, try the iPad mini 4 ($399). Sized at 8.0 x 5.3 inches and weighing about two-thirds of a pound, it’s comfortable to hold for reading. It comes with 128 GB of storage, which is plenty for storing coursework plus photos and songs.
- If budget is more important, look at the 32 GB fifth-generation iPad ($329). It’s somewhat larger than the iPad mini 4 at 9.4 x 6.6 inches, and weighs just over a pound. It’s also faster and provides a much larger screen. Unfortunately, 32 GB of storage will fill up quickly.
- The 128 GB fifth-generation iPad ($429) could hit the sweet spot with the same size and weight as the 32 GB model but significantly more storage space.
- Our favorite iPad for a college student is the brand-new 10.5-inch iPad Pro ($649), which provides the fastest performance in a reasonably sized package: 9.8 x 6.8 inches and weighing about a pound. The base model has 64 GB of storage, but you can up that to 256 GB ($749) or 512 GB ($949). Unlike the non-Pro iPads, it can adjust the screen automatically based on ambient lighting, making it easier on your student’s eyes during late-night study sessions or in dimly lit lecture halls. It also has better cameras for scanning pages, recording movies, and FaceTime video calls. You can add an Apple Pencil ($99) and Smart Keyboard ($159) to any iPad Pro.
- The 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($799 for 64 GB) is a great device, but at 12.0 x 8.7 inches and 1.5 pounds, it’s larger than a MacBook, and if you add a Smart Keyboard, it’s heavier too. If you get more storage (256 GB for $899 or 512 GB for $1099) plus an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, it’s in the same price range as well.
If you’re looking for a graduation gift that’s both fun and practical for a college-bound student, look no further than an iPad. If you’re lucky, you may even get regular FaceTime calls from it.