Q. I read your article, Which Tablet Is Best for You? and I decided on getting an iPad. But there are so many different iPads that I’m really confused about which one to get. I don’t want to make the wrong choice and then wish I had gotten a different one. Which one do you recommend?
A. I can understand your confusion. At the Apple Store online, you can choose from 14 different models of iPads. If you consider colors and different carriers for data plans, you have a grand total of 54 different choices of iPads. No wonder you’re having a tough time making a decision!
Here are some steps you can take to make your decision:
New vs. Old iPad Models
Usually getting the newest model is the best with tech to make sure your device isn’t obsolete before your credit card statement arrives. But Apple introduced two new full-sized iPad models last year, so the third generation iPad model isn’t even a year old yet. If you need to save money or want to stick with the 30-pin dock connector, getting an iPad 3 may be the way to go for you. The Apple Store doesn’t offer the iPad 3 for sale, but you should be able to find it at retailers such as Best Buy in the US.
Buying an older model will save you money over buying the iPad 4, but you won’t be getting the latest technology.
Pros of buying an older model iPad
- Lower Price
- Older 30-pin dock connector (which is a pro if you have a lot of accessories and cords with this connector)
Cons of buying an older model iPad
- Lower value when you resell it
- 30-pin dock connector may not be available in future accessories
- Faster obsolescence
The iPad 2, available in the iTunes Store, will save you money, but doesn’t have Retina display or a faster processor. If you want to get an older model, check out the 3rd generation iPad models instead.
iPad Full Size vs. Mini
The Mini is more portable, being much smaller and lighter, than the full-sized iPad. In my review The iPad Mini: You May Not Want It…Until You Hold It, I explain that you may not think you want the Mini until you hold it in your hands. Yes, it’s that cool.
But cool only gets you so far. There are other considerations for choosing between sizes that are important (it’s up to you to decide how important cool is as a factor). The Mini screen is 7.9″ versus 9.7″ for the full-sized iPad. If you need extra screen real estate, then the smaller size of the Mini may be a deal-breaker.
The Mini also does not come with a Retina display screen. If you’ve become used to the clarity of Retina display on your iPhone, Mac or previous iPad, you may not be satisfied with the clarity of the iPad Mini screen.
Try to hold a Mini in your hands before making your purchase decision.
- Lower Price
- Portability – Smaller and Lighter
- Cooler than the Fonz in Fairbanks in February
- Smaller screen
- No Retina display
- Slower than the iPad 4
The iPad comes in Black or White. Some people like white, believing it distinguishes the tablet as being an iPad. Others prefer black so the frame disappears, like a TV screen frame. Still others prefer to get the same color as their phone or a different color from their phone.
If you don’t care about color, then finding an iPad with your other preferences will be easier.
The iPad and the iPad Mini both come in three sizes: 16, 32 or 64GB. You will want to put apps, books, photos, videos, and perhaps podcasts, music, and audiobooks on your iPad, all taking up storage space.
Apps are only getting bigger, with the average size of apps increasing 16% in a six month period last year. Game apps grew 42% in size during the same period. If you’re going to be using your iPad for digital textbooks, know that these textbooks often exceed 1 GB each.
Also know that you cannot expand storage space on your iPad. There is no slot for a memory card to add storage. You are stuck with what you buy. Each size increment increases the price of the device $100. If you consider that a 16GB SD memory card can cost under $14, you may think that paying $100 more for an iPad with greater storage is a bad deal. You’re right, but you will really need the extra storage space as you start to load apps and other content onto your iPad.
If you scrimp on storage space you will probably regret your decision at some point when you have to delete content to add new apps, photos, etc. I suggest 32GB be the minimum size that you consider getting.
Data + Wi-Fi vs. Wi-Fi Only
You will want your iPad to be able to connect to the Internet to access your email, Facebook, Twitter and other accounts. You will also want to be able to search the web and make the most of apps that require an Internet connection to work.
All iPads have the ability to connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi, but to be able to connect when you’re away from Wi-Fi using a data connection (as you connect to the Internet with your smartphone when you’re away from Wi-Fi), you must have an iPad that has Wi-Fi + Data. This feature adds $130 to the cost of your iPad and cannot be added later.
But that’s not all. In addition to paying $130 extra, you must purchase a data plan to actually use your Data feature. Data plans range from $14.99 to $50 per month in the US. Unlike your cell phone plan, you don’t need to commit to a contract to purchase a data plan. Check with your carrier to see if you can opt in and out of an iPad data plan without paying a change fee.
You don’t need to be with the same carrier for your iPad as you have for your smartphone. Some people like to have different carriers for their iPad so they maximize the chance that they will be able to connect to a carrier if they are in a remote location.
If your carrier for your smartphone plan has a shared data plan, you may not have to pay much more to add your iPad to your plan.
If you want to get an iPad with Data, do your research before you buy so you know which carrier you want to use for your iPad. iPads are specific to each carrier and aren’t interchangeable between carriers.
Use Your Smartphone as a Wi-Fi Router
If you get a Wi-Fi only iPad, you may not be totally out of luck if you are away from Wi-Fi and need to connect to the Internet. You may be able to use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi router. Your smartphone may be able to transform its cellular data connection into a Wi-Fi connection for your iPad. This nifty trick, called tethering, is explained here: Tethering Explained: How to Turn Your Phone Into Your Own Wifi Connection On The Go.
Tethering costs extra on your cell phone plan and isn’t available for all models of smartphones. Tethering connections are generally slower than data connections and can drain cell phone batteries quickly. But if you’re in a pinch, tethering your iPad to your smartphone may allow you to forgive yourself for not springing for an iPad that has Data capabilities.
Weighing the Factors
With all of those factors, how do you decide which is best for you? Some factors will be a matter of preference, some will be how you are going to use the device, others will be dictated by your budget.
How You Will Use Your iPad
- Storage Capacity
- Data + Wi-Fi vs. Wi-Fi Only
- Older vs. Newer Model iPad
- Storage Capacity
- Data + Wi-Fi vs. Wi-Fi Only
Most Important Splurges
If your budget is limited, you’ll need to decide which factors are the most important to you. Perhaps getting an iPad with Data isn’t important because you’re around Wi-Fi networks constantly. Perhaps you will load your iPad with videos, apps and other content that are space hogs. Perhaps you really want the larger and Retina display of the full-sized iPad.
Weigh these factors against your needs and budget. You won’t be able to change your iPad once you buy it, but if you find you made the wrong decision, then all is not lost. You should be able to resell your iPad on a site such as Gazelle or Glyde.
Buying an iPad is an investment that requires you make choices based on your budget, preferences and how you’ll be using the device. Consider your options carefully and research your choices before making your purchase. By educating yourself beforehand, you are more likely to be delighted with your decision for a long time to come.
If you have an iPad, did you research your choices before buying? Are there any choices you wish you had made differently? If you are considering buying an iPad, which factors are important to you? Let us know in the Comments section below.