This year Apple is offering more choices of iPads than ever before, making the decision of which one to get increasingly challenging. No fewer than 40 different models of the latest generation iPads are available, which doesn’t even count the previous generation iPads that Apple still sells.
Whether you’re buying one for yourself or as a gift for someone special, deciding which iPad to get involves weighing many factors. Find out which features are most important for you and which are worth stretching your budget to get.
The latest generation iPad comes in two sizes, the iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display. The only differences between the two are size and price.
The iPad Air maintains the 9.7″ screen size of previous generations but has been slimmed down with a lighter weight and slimmer bezel than its predecessors. The iPad Air also comes with A7 and M7 co-processors, making this most generation of iPad faster than previous models.
The iPad Mini with Retina Display has the same specs as the Air, increasing its speed and adding Retina Display as improvements from the first generation Mini.
Here is a comparison chart between the two size iPads:
The smaller Mini will give you more convenience than the Air but be sure you’re willing to sacrifice screen real estate for the added portability. Visiting a store to see the different sizes and feel the weight in your hands will help you decide whether to opt for the larger Air or the smaller Mini.
Both the iPad Air and the Mini with Retina Display come in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular Data and storage sizes ranging from 16GB to 128GB models. The Air is priced $100 more than the Mini with Retina Display for each model:
Storage Space – How Much Do You Need?
In deciding which iPad to get, storage space is one of the most important factors. You can’t expand the storage space of the iPad with an SD card, what you buy is what you get.
Except not really.
The operating system takes up some space on the iPad so you’ll end up with only 12 or 13GB of free space when you take your shiny new 16GB iPad out of the box. Load a few apps, shoot some video, take some pictures, download some music and suddenly your new iPad is nearly full.
Decide what you’re going to be using your iPad for to gauge how much space you’ll need. If you’ll be loading a lot of interactive textbooks, gaming apps or videos, opt for more space. HD videos downloaded to your iPad can use up several GB’s of space. Interactive textbooks can top out at 3GB so if you have a semester’s worth of books on your iPad, you’ll need plenty of storage.
Even without heavy duty storage needs, you may find yourself running out of room if you choose a 16GB model. iPad apps tend to be larger than iPhone apps, with some apps requiring over a GB of space. iPad apps tend to be larger than iPhone apps, with some apps requiring over 1GB of space.
If you’re upgrading from a previous model, see how much free space you have on your iPad. Go to
Settings => General => About => Available
and see how much free space you have. If you have less than 20% space available, you should consider getting more storage space on your next iPad.
If this is your first iPad or iDevice, you have a limited budget, you don’t have a lot of apps, don’t want music on your device and don’t need to have all of your photos with you, 16GB may be your best option.
Making the Most of Your iPad Space
You may be able to make the most of space on your iPad by deleting apps you don’t use. You can see how much space each app is using by going to
Settings => General => Usage => Storage
and see which apps are space hogs. If they’re your favorites, then keep them. If you’ve never used them or can’t even remember downloading them to your device, then delete them.
You can also see how much space is taken up by your music, photos, and videos. Do you really need your music on your iPad? When was the last time you listened to music using your iPad? Could you get by with using iTunes Radio, Pandora or Spotify instead?
Wi-Fi Only vs. Wi-Fi + Cellular Data
Both the iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display come as either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular Data. As with storage space, you can’t add cellular data later if you purchase a Wi-Fi only model. Adding cellular data capabilities adds $100 to the cost of an iPad, plus the cost of the data.
If you need cellular data on your iPad, be sure to compare the cost and coverage before you buy. Here is a chart of cellular data pricing in the US:
Note that T-Mobile USA is offering 200MB of free data per month for the life of your tablet with the purchase of an iPad from them, which should be enough data to check emails when you’re away from Wi-Fi. If you have a cell phone “Share Everything” plan with AT&T or Verizon, you may be able to add your iPad to your plan for $10/month.
Check with your carrier to see what your cellular data charges would be for your iPad and whether a contract is required.
Also be sure to check the coverage map for your carrier. What seems like a great deal for cellular data may not seem so great if you can’t get coverage where you need it.
Newer vs. Older Models
The iPad 2 is still being sold new at $399 and last year’s iPad Mini is also being sold new at $299.
The iPad 2 is nearly three year old technology, released in March 2011. For the same $399 price of the 16GB iPad 2 you could buy this year’s iPad Mini with Retina Display or for an extra $100 you could get this year’s iPad Air. If you don’t have the extra $100 and need a larger screen size, you may be tempted to get by with an iPad 2. While the iPad 2 can run iOS 7, the chances of it being upgradeable to future versions of iOS are unclear. Better to invest in more recent technology.
The decision between the iPad Mini vs. the iPad Mini with Retina Display is a closer call. If you can see the two models side-by-side, you can compare the sharpness of the screens to see if the difference is worth an extra $100 to you. Remember also that the iPad Mini with Retina Display has a faster processor and will probably have a longer life span before obsolescence.
Both the iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display come in Silver/White and Space Gray/Black. Some people prefer the white frame for their tablets while others like a black frame. If you don’t care, you can research which color is best for resale to help you decide. Or check which one is available in the configuration you want.
If you’re buying an iPad with Wi-Fi only, your buying choices in the US are numerous. Many major retailers are offering the iPad, some with discounts and promotions to lower the price. Shop around for the model you want and keep an eye out for stores offering gift cards or sale prices on iPads.
If you’re buying an iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular Data, your shopping choices are limited to carriers and Apple. Talk to your carrier about whether you can buy an iPad from them without purchasing a new data plan.
I was unable to purchase an iPad Air with cellular from AT&T because I wanted to transfer my grandfathered unlimited data plan from an older iPad. I was informed by AT&T that I could only purchase my iPad from Apple, which I did and then I was able to transfer my unlimited data plan to my iPad Air.
If you are purchasing an iPad as a Christmas gift, be sure to check out the iPad order deadlines at the Apple Store website. As of this writing the deadlines are:
If you missed the shipping deadline, check with stores to see if they have the model you want in stock.
Who Shouldn’t Get the iPad
The iPad isn’t for everyone. Because the iPad has magnets for a Smart Cover, people with pacemakers should stay away from iPads.
See, iPad User Device Guide, page 124:
“iPad contains radios that emit electromagnetic fields. These electromagnetic
fields may interfere with pacemakers or other medical devices. If you wear a pacemaker, maintain
at least 6 inches (approximately 15 cm) of separation between your pacemaker and iPad. If you
suspect iPad is interfering with your pacemaker or any other medical device, stop using iPad and
consult your physician for information specific to your medical device. iPad has magnets along
the left edge of the device and on the right side of the front glass, which may interfere with
pacemakers, defibrillators, or other medical devices. The iPad Smart Cover and iPad Smart Case
also contain magnets. Maintain at least 6 inches (approximately 15 cm) of separation between
your pacemaker or defibrillator and iPad, the iPad Smart Cover, or the iPad Smart Case.”
Buying an iPad is an investment in a device you may use daily for years to come so consider all of the factors before making your decision. Decide on your budget then weigh features such as screen size, storage space and age of the model. Think about whether you’ll need cellular data or if you’ll only need Wi-Fi. Shop around to see which stores have the best deals and which have the model you want in stock.
Most importantly, enjoy your new iPad!
Are you considering getting an iPad for yourself or someone else? What factors matter the most to you? Will your iPad be an upgrade from a previous model or your first iPad? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below!