The Best iPad for Construction: Equipped for Success

by Alexander Fraser

Tablets have been around for some time now. To me, they haven’t become as mainstream as they are in this day and age. 

If you’ve used a modern-day tablet lately, they can offer so much as a productivity device. 

I use an iPad for work and personal use, and I can’t imagine working without one. 

But that’s not why you’re here. You want to know what is the best iPad for construction. 

Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to integrate the iPad into my daily workflow. I have learned to utilize the tool to increase productivity and streamline construction processes. 

With the industry continuously improving, new applications are coming out that are revolutionizing how we work. 

I am excited to see what the future holds for us with technology and construction. 

To determine which tablet you should get for construction, click here.

If you want to jump straight to the iPad model rankings, click here.

What Role Do Tablets Have in the Construction Industry? 

For one, gone are the days of having to worry about lugging around a large set of drawings. Pulling up the sheets you are looking for has never been more accessible with tablets. 

Also, in construction, there are various documents that you need to refer to in addition to the drawings. A central hub (your tablet) for accessing all these files will make you more efficient in the field. 

When you start to add accessories to your tablets, that further increases your production capability. 

A handful of tablets on the market today allow you to use a keyboard and stylus with the device. 

With a keyboard, you almost turn the tablet into a laptop replacement. While there are some limitations, you can get a lot done from the tablet. 

The stylus is handy because it allows you to take handwritten notes and mark up floor plans or MEP plans.

It is not a good time if you’ve ever had to create redlines by hand on a full-size set of drawings. It is inefficient, and when you make a mistake, it is hard to correct. 

We also have software that makes markup collaboration between the field and office much nicer. 

One program that I use regularly is a mobile application called PlanGrid. It allows the entire team to upload the documents necessary for the field to complete their job. They can mark the drawings, fill out reports, and photograph the job site. 

Deciding on Which iPad to get for Construction 

The answer to this is “It depends.” I know that’s probably not the answer you hoped to hear, but it comes down to a few factors. 

  1. Is your work more in the field or office? 
  2. Do you value portability over screen real estate?
  3. How do you want to use the device? 

Based on how you answer these questions, this can provide you with some guidance on which iPad to purchase. 

The Best iPad for Working in the Office

As project managers, most of our work is in the office. So, I use the iPad Pro 12.9” 5th Generation. 

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This iPad is Equipped with the Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil

This iPad has an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio. It also has cellular and includes 128GB of storage.

I use this setup because I sometimes use the device as a replacement laptop. This is the best way to check emails when I’m away from the office. 

With the help of OneDrive, I can easily view documents from the iPad that were uploaded from a desktop. I use this method before going to a job site instead of printing several documents. 

Since I use the iPad more like a laptop, I felt the best choice was the 12.9” screen. I want to fit as much information on a single screen as possible. 

This size is still very usable as a tablet too. But it can be more cumbersome when bringing it out into the field. 

You may wonder, “Why use the iPad when you can use desktop computers in the office instead?” 

I still use the device quite often to take handwritten notes and mark up submittals and drawings. Some tasks are better off written by hand. The iPad has the versatility in acting as your sketch pad or document viewer when needed. 

For the office personnel (i.e., project manager), you would be best suited with the 12.9” iPad Pro. 

While this option has a higher price range, this tool can be a solid investment. It may take some time to learn to use the operating system. Once you get it down, you can determine how to improve your workflow. 

In the image below, you can see the iPad’s price with the accessories I use. 

ipad pro pricing with apple pencil and smart keyboard folio

I will say that the iPad for the office is not for everyone. At my company, most project management and project engineers have iPads. While they bring it to the field, they rarely see any use in the office. 

Thankfully we have multiple options to choose from when it comes to iPad. That way, you don’t feel like you’re wasting money. 

The Best iPad for construction… Period

My overall recommendation is the iPad Air for the construction industry. 

The main reason this is my overall pick comes down to two things. 

  1. Portability
  2. Versatility

The iPad Air has a 10.9” display and weighs only one pound. 

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This iPad is equipped with the Logitech Combo Touch and Apple Pencil

If you’re in the field and have to hold up a tablet all day, the less weight, the better. 

It has all the same capabilities as the 12.9” iPad Pro, with the main difference being the screen size and display. Also the processor you’ll get a slightly slower, but this has more power than you’ll need. 

Add some accessories, and you turn this into a laptop replacement. 

But when you look at this option, the Air is a cheap tablet compared to the Pro model. So with the savings, you can purchase the accessories to make it a laptop replacement. 

The only downside is the storage capacity. 

With the Apple iPad Pro models (12.9” and 11”), you start with 128 GB. Whereas the iPad Air starts at 64 GB. 

If you work on big multi-million dollar construction projects, that storage space will be filled in a single project. You can manage the storage after a while, but that can be a pain. 

So, the best choice is to go with the 256 GB Apple iPad Air. The thing I dislike about this is for $50 more, and you can get yourself the 11” iPad Pro. 

price of ipad pro vs ipad air

The “pro” model has benefits, like a 120 Hz refresh rate and a slightly better processor. But for construction, I would value storage space over these features. 

Accessories for the iPad Air

It would be best if you got some protection for the iPad because you’ll be bringing this device into the field. I suggest purchasing the Otterbox case

The case protects not only the body of the iPad but also the screen, It provides a built-in screen protector. 

I worry less about placing the iPad down when I have this rugged protection. 

The downside of this case is that it removes the ability to attach a keyboard. You can still use Bluetooth keyboards,but to use accessories like the Smart Keyboard Folio, you’ll need to remove the case. 

The next must-have accessory is the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil. The device allows you to create handwritten markups on documents. 

I use this accessory daily with my iPad. It’s great for taking notes and marking up drawings or construction documents. 

Whenever I review a submittal, I will use the Apple Pencil to mark up any issues. This tool is also excellent for redlining or reviewing shop drawings or as-built drawings

I can’t express how much this tool adds to the experience and productivity of the iPad. 

The biggest downside here is the price point. At $120, it can be hard to justify spending this much on an accessory. 

There are alternatives and third-party devices, but the OEM Apple products are the best. 

Also, the Apple Pencil is the only one that charges from the iPad. The third-party devices require that you plug these in separately to charge them. 

So, to conclude, we covered the iPad Air with the Otterbox Case and Apple Pencil. With these three items, you’ll notice an improved quality of life. Once you learn how to use these tools effectively, your job will get a bit easier. 

At this point, you must be wondering, “Well, surely there are more than 3 iPad models.” You’re right; there is, and we will rank them all and discuss the pros and cons now. 

iPads for Construction Ranked

Here’s a list of the best tablets that Apple has to offer. 

#1 The iPad Air

At number one, we have the iPad Air!

It combines both portability and performance while saving you some money. It is ideal for walking around while in the field and jotting quick notes. 

The Air uses a 10.9” screen, and you have 64 or 256 GB of internal storage options. 

You can purchase the device with cellular, which is mainly for convenience. If you don’t want to switch the hotspot on your phone on/off constantly, this might be for you. 

Paired with an Apple Pencil, you have the ultimate productivity machine. 

You’ll charge this device with a USB-C cable. You can also transfer files as needed with the USB-C port. 

The device is rated to have 10 hours of battery life on a single charge while browsing the internet. 

The only downside of this device would be the screen size. Only during times where you need the extra screen for multitasking.

The iPad has unique multitasking features. Having two iPad apps open at once is a game changer. 

When you perform this function, it makes you wish you had a bigger screen. You won’t find yourself using this all the time. For that reason, it’s not necessary to purchase the 12.9” iPad Pro. 

You’ll also get a decent camera for documenting the progress on the job site. 

#2 iPad Pro 11.” 

The 11” iPad Pro offers all the same features as the iPad Air and more. I don’t think the added features are necessary for construction, but this is just my opinion. 

Here are some extra features you can get with the iPad Pro. 

  1. Faster processor 
  2. Better display and refresh rate
  3. Additional ultra-wide camera (great for capturing an image on a work site)
  4. Face ID vs. Touch ID
  5. Additional Speakers

Again, while these are nice, they aren’t necessary. I suggest saving the $50, getting the 256 GB iPad Air, and putting that money toward a stylus. 

#3 iPad (9th & 10th Generation) 

Next on the list, we have the standard iPad. I bet you’re surprised this came before the 12.9” pro model, but I have my reasons. 

The biggest one, and what I’ve touched on numerous times here, is portability. They use the same form factor as the 10.9” Air and 11” Pro. Making it easy to lug around on the job site. 

These iPads are third on the list because they don’t support the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil. The ability to use a pencil is one of the most significant features of a tablet!

You can use the 1st generation pencil but must charge it using the iPad. Also, it does not magnetically attach to the iPad like the 2nd Generation. Without purchasing another accessory hold it, there’s a chance you might lose the pencil. 

I’ve seen the 9th Generation used by a general contractor on the job site. It was my introduction to tablets on the construction site. 

I watched this person go through their file management application and open the drawings on their iPad. We needed to coordinate conflicting work, and the tablet had everything he needed. 

It was pretty amazing how easy he made it seem. 

This was on a big 100+ million dollar project. With the sheer number of documents they needed to access, it only made sense to use tablets. 

With the introduction of the 10th generation iPad, Apple added a case and keyboard accessory. You can now turn the iPad into a laptop replacement. 

These new accessories are costly. You might as well go with the Air if you spend that money. 

A base model iPad will still work well and has its place in construction. I feel the lack of 2nd generation Apple Pencil is an inconvenience which puts this model in the #3 position. 

#4 iPad Pro 12.9.” 

I know, the top of the line model is near the bottom of the ranking. What’s up with that? 

It comes back to portability. The 12.9” Pro model is the least portable of all the iPads. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 12.9” Pro and use it as my primary device at home. It just does not suit the construction industry well. 

ipad pro 12.9, best ipad for construction, magic keyboard, apple pencil
My personal iPad Pro 12.9″. I use this with the Apple Magic Keyboard and Pencil

I don’t enjoy holding the device while walking around the job site. If I don’t need to have it on me, I would prefer to leave it back in the office. 

Whereas the iPad Air was not that bad to walk around with. I had no issue carrying it around at any site visit. 

Enough bashing on the 12.9”. Let’s cover some of the features that this model has. 

Like the 11” Pro, you will get the following specs: 

  1. 120 Hz refresh rate
  2. Two cameras
    1. 12MP Wire
    2. 10MP Ultra Wide
  3. Face ID

In addition, you will have a display capable of increased brightness from 600 nits on the 11″ Pro to 1600 nits on the 12.9″. 

I find the 12.9″ model useful because I spend most of my time in the office. Paired with the smart keyboard folio, I can set it down and use it more like a laptop than a tablet. 

I use it to take meeting notes, discuss construction drawings, and view certain documents. I try to eliminate the use of paper by using the iPad instead. 

#5 iPad mini (5th Generation)

The last up on this list is the iPad mini. 

iPad Mini, best construction ipad, great portability, smallest ipad
The iPad Mini with the Smartfolio attached

Why? Because the screen size is a limitation here. 

The mini has the smallest screen at 8.3”. So, when you want to view the construction drawings, you will spend more time navigating the interface. That would be very inefficient. 

Also, consider that this device can still perform multitasking. You won’t be able to use this feature since everything is so small. 

Sure, this device will offer you the most excellent portability, but you sacrifice too much screen real estate. 

iPad Mini, best construction ipad, great portability, smallest ipad
Attempting to view floor plans on the iPad Mini can be a challenge.

The battery life, processor, and rear camera are exemplary. It will perform most, if not all, tasks you throw at it. You also have the 2nd generation Apple pencil support. 

Yet this is not the overall best device for your job site. 

The mini can be a great mobile device for reading, watching videos, or taking handwritten notes. But in construction, you want the most information on a single screen while maintaining portability. You won’t get that with the mini. 

Other Tablets in Construction

Numerous tablet brands are out on the market but run on the Android operating system (OS).

While some people swear by Android devices, I find the iPad OS more straightforward due to its simplicity. You may lose some flexibility with the OS, but I’ll trade that for ease of use. 

Think about this; you have construction workers who have used paper for most of their life. He won’t want to switch to using a device, especially if it is too difficult to adopt. 

Conclusion

If you get a new tablet, get the iPad Air with 256 GB of storage and cellular capabilities. Pair this with the Apple Pencil and Otterbox case; you’ll be ready to tackle any job. 

Tablets are fantastic devices, and construction apps are advancing rapidly. They make our jobs more manageable, so I love using the iPad. 

Before you go, consider checking out my article on what it means to be a project engineer in construction. You’ll then understand why having an iPad on you is essential to help with your work. 

Thank you for reading. 

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