There are now two different sizes, three different memory models, two different data network models and a Wi-Fi only version of the iPad and an entry-level iPad, bringing the total number of different iPad configurations to nineteen. Yes, nineteen. But don't worry, as intimidating as that number might sound, it isn't too hard to narrow your choices in buying an iPad down to a more reasonable number based on how you will be using the iPad.
The iPad 4 vs iPad Mini
The iPad now comes in two sizes: the 7.9-inch iPad Mini and the 9.7-inch iPad 4. It also comes in two radically different price tags, with the iPad 4 starting at $499 and the iPad Mini priced at $319 for the lowest end model.
The iPad Mini has the same processor and screen resolution as the iPad 2, but improves upon the second generation iPad's dual-facing cameras (the iPad Mini sports the same cameras as the iPad 4) and uses 4G LTE for data connectivity. The 7.9-inch display is slightly larger than other 7-inch tablets, though significantly smaller than the full-sized iPad.
So what do you get for the extra $170 spent on the 9.7-inch iPad 4? A Retina Display, for one. The 2,048 x 1,536 resolution display features 264 pixels-per-inch (PPI), and according to Apple, the display is so clear that the human eye cannot differentiate one pixel from the next. The iPad 4 also sports Apple's newest processor, which is several times faster than the iPad Mini. This represents a significant boost in both graphics and firepower.
The iPad 2 vs Refurbished iPad 3
For those wanting the full-sized iPad but hoping to save a buck, the iPad 2 is a solid choice. It can do everything the iPad Mini can do, though it won't take quite as good photos. The iPad 2 only comes in one model: the 16 GB Wi-Fi model, but it's $100 cheaper than an iPad 4 and only $70 more expensive than the iPad Mini.
But the best deal comes from the refurbished iPad 3. If you don't mind refurbished units -- and buying refurbished from Apple still grants you a one-year warranty -- you can snag an 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad 3 for cheaper than the iPad 2. And because the iPad 3 has the Retina Display, a faster graphics processor and better dual-facing cameras, you are getting more for less.
Which iPad is right for you?
The iPad Mini is a great choice for those most interested in watching movies, listening to music, reading books and playing casual games. It will run all the same apps the full-sized iPad will run and comes with most of the same features, including access to Siri. But for those who want to do more, especially those interested in using the iPad for productivity or most interested in non-casual gaming, the full-sized iPad is just right.
Bargain hunters will love the deals available for the iPad 3, but those interested in an iPad 2 should use caution. If you can't find or don't want a refurbished iPad 3, the iPad Mini actually has everything the iPad 2 has and more. It's also cheaper. So the iPad 2 is only the best buy for those who really want that larger screen.
How Much StorageDo You Need?
The last thing you want to do is get stuck with an iPad with too little storage. But due to great features like Home Sharing, you actually don't need near as much Flash memory as you might think, especially if you are mainly going to use the iPad in the home. The ability to stream music and movies to your iPad from your PC means you can use most of your iPad's memory on great apps and games and still not use the full 16 GB of the low-end model.
For those that are going to be traveling more often, especially those who want to take a few movies along with them, the 32 GB model is a perfect upgrade. It has enough storage for around 20 feature length movies, which should be enough to keep you entertained.
Still undecided? Find out more about which iPad model is right for your memory needs
Do You Need 3G/4G or Just Wi-Fi?
The 3G and 4G versions of the iPad doesn't just come with the ability to connect to a 3G/4G network. They also contain an A-GPS chip, which allows for more accurate location services than the iPad with Wi-Fi only. They also cost $130 more.
Is it worth it?
Most hotels come with free Wi-Fi, and it is easy to find a Starbucks or other coffee shop with Wi-Fi access, so getting on the Internet without 3G/4G won't always be a problem. The main areas where the data connection comes in handy are in the car and at places without Wi-Fi hotspots, like at a picnic or at a park.
For families that are going to enjoy road trips, the 3G/4G version is great as a source of entertainment for kids. It can also act as a GPS device, thus saving you from buying a dedicated GPS.
For the price, it is well worth it. But if you know you are mainly just going to use it at home -- and many of us fit into that category -- the Wi-Fi version is perfectly fine.
Verizon vs AT&T
There is no clear winner between the two data networks. While AT&T is a little cheaper, Verizon's plan is better for those who'll consume more than a minimal amount of data. Verizon also has a larger coverage area for 3G service.
But the biggest deciding factor will be how well each network's service is in your particular area. After all, it doesn't matter how good Verizon's network is 1,000 miles away if it is spotty in your home town.
Must-Have iPad Apps
Once you decide on the right model, you'll want to load it up with some of the great apps available for the iPad. Here's a few you'll want to move to the top of your download list:
iBooks. The iPad makes a great eReader, and Apple's iBooks is the best app for it on the market. The iPad also supports Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook.
Pandora. A great way to turn on the music without using up a lot of memory on your iPad.
IMDB. For couch potatoes, IMDB is the best app ever invented.
Still undecided? The 16GB 3G iPad offers the best combination of features. It allows you to connect to the Internet from anywhere you have 3G service. With home sharing, you don't need your entire collection of music and movies on your iPad, but the 16 GB model does have enough for thousands of songs or up to 10 movies. You'll also have plenty of space for apps, which don't tend to take up nearly as much space.