In this column, I’ll answer a question I encounter at least once a month: “Which tablet is best for interpreting?” After sharing why I’m a big iPad fan, I’ll give you a rundown of all the options on the market. Here’s the good news. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get an excellent iPad to use for interpreting!
Choose Your Platform
When choosing a tablet, you’re probably wondering whether to opt for an iPad, Android, or Windows device.
Android tablets come in many shapes and sizes from various manufacturers but lack powerful tablet-specific applications. (In my opinion, Samsung is probably your best bet.)
Microsoft’s ﬁrst “tablet PCs” never really took off, but the current touch-optimized Surface devices are pretty swell. They’ll run Windows apps (which is great if you also translate with a computer-assisted translation tool), and the built-in kickstand, optional fold-away keyboard, and Surface pen are extremely useful accessories.
My hands-down favorite tablet is the iPad. It’s polished, easy to use, and offers countless high-quality apps. And the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard pair seamlessly with your iPad and offer an all-around stellar experience.
Let’s review some key factors to consider when choosing your iPad.
The Right Size
Apple currently offers four models: the 8.3″ iPad Mini (starting price: $499), the 10.2″ standard iPad ($329+), the 10.9″ iPad Air ($599+), and the 12.9″ top-of-the-line iPad Pro ($1,099+). Simply put, the iPad Pro is about the size of a large sheet of paper, while the iPad and iPad Air are closer to a notepad you would use for consecutive interpreting, and the iPad Mini is even smaller.
In my opinion, the Mini is fine for consecutive, on-the-go interpreting but simply too small as an interpreting all-rounder. It’s just big enough for note-taking and can be held comfortably with one hand (maybe using a case with a hand loop). But as soon as you want to split your screen to simultaneously see your notes, glossary, fact sheet, or reference documents, the Mini will likely be too small.
The large iPad Pro, on the other hand, comes with a huge screen, but it’s really intended to be used at a desk and will be too big for a cramped mobile booth. So, for most interpreters, we’ve already narrowed the choice to the mid-sized options: the 10.2″ iPad or 10.9″ iPad Air.
Is Wi-Fi Enough?
When purchasing an iPad, you’ll need to choose between Wi-Fi-only and cellular models. The cellular model isn’t cheap. In addition to a higher initial cost ($130 to $200 more), you’ll also need a monthly cellular internet (or pay-as-you-go) plan.
This one is an easy call: you don’t need cellular. Since you can set up a personal hotspot on your phone and connect to it when you’re on the go, there’s no need to pay extra!
iPads offer a range of features, such as the camera, connectivity, and display. But to be completely honest, if you’re buying a new iPad primarily for interpreting, these features don’t matter all that much.
For starters, all iPad cameras feature at least an 8 megapixel sensor, which is more than enough for our purposes. (We’re not professional photographers or videographers.) Also, although iPads come with either a USB-C connector or Apple’s proprietary Lightning port, it’s easy enough to buy the right cables and adapters for your tablet. Finally, displays across the entire iPad lineup deliver a crisp, clear image. In short, the main features on all iPads are sufficiently robust for interpreters!
You can never have enough storage, and if you use your tablet for other purposes, like storing lots of movies or photos, you’ve probably run out of memory before. I always recommend splurging here. Get as much storage as you can afford and don’t go below 128 GB of capacity. Your future self will thank you.
A stylus unlocks the ability to take consecutive notes and annotate speeches, presentations, and other documents. Although you can purchase inexpensive non-Apple keyboards and styluses, I strongly recommend you pick up an Apple Pencil and Apple keyboard. Both pair seamlessly with your device and offer an all-around excellent experience.
While the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129) offers more bells and whistles—wireless charging, a magnet to attach to your iPad, nicer handling, and a programmable virtual button—the first-generation Pencil ($99) also works well. Since each iPad only supports one of the two options, just pick the stylus that pairs with your device.
Sure, you can enter text by tapping away on the screen or by dictating, but ultimately a keyboard is still the quickest way to type a long email, fire off an online search, or control your device with keyboard shortcuts. A keyboard will also free up screen real estate since it makes the software keyboard obsolete!
Here, too, choose the keyboard that goes with your device. The standard iPad works with the Smart Keyboard ($159), while the iPad Air and Pro pair with either the Smart Keyboard Folio ($179-$199) or Magic Keyboard ($299-$349). All Apple keyboards now feature the Smart Connector, which is better and more reliable than a Bluetooth keyboard. (Note that there’s currently no Apple keyboard specifically designed for the Mini.)
Which iPad for Interpreting?
Until a few years ago, I always recommended the iPad Pro, which was the only model that worked with an Apple Pencil. But that setup cost a pretty penny. Thankfully, the 10.2″ iPad now offers all the features most interpreters need. It’s the perfect balance of size, weight, and features, while still coming in at a reasonable price point ($479 for 256 GB). Pick up the Apple Pencil ($99) and Smart Keyboard ($159) for a best-in-class experience.
Although the iPad Air also ticks all my boxes for size and weight, it’s significantly more expensive ($649 for 256 GB), plus you’ll need to purchase a slightly more expensive Pencil and Keyboard. And the benefits are limited: a slightly larger screen, slightly thinner and lighter device, and a more powerful processor. The 10.2″ iPad offers much better value and will do just about everything the average interpreter needs. Unless you’re planning to edit a ton of videos on your tablet, you don’t need the Pro or Air.
In short, if you’re in the market for a new iPad, pick up the 10.2″ iPad with an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, and, if possible, 256 GB of storage. You’ll get the best form factor and most bang for your buck, without breaking the bank!
Josh Goldsmith is a translator and interpreter accredited by the United Nations and European Union working from Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Catalan into English. A passionate educator, he splits his time between interpreting, researching, and teaching language professionals to make the most of technology. He is the founder and chief educational officer of techforword. He shares tips about technology, translation, and interpreting through conferences and workshops, academic articles, as co-host of the Innovation in Translation and Innovation in Interpreting Summits, and at techforword insiders, the online community for tech-savvy language professionals. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Note: Apple updates its tablet range once a year. All prices reflect the Apple retail price in USD at the time of this writing.