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How to Buy an iPad

A Buyer's Guide to the iPad


woamn making a photo with an iPad at the beach
Poncho/The Image Bank/Getty Images

iPad Air © Apple, Inc.

How to Buy an iPad

The iPad Family © Apple, Inc.

There are now four different iPads with two different sizes, the choice of mobile data or Wi-Fi only and four different storage models, bringing the total number of different iPad configurations to eighteen. Yes, eighteen. 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 2 vs iPad Mini vs iPad Air vs iPad Mini 2

Last year, Apple added a 7.9-inch iPad Mini to the mix.  This year, they've kept the original Mini at a reduced price ($299) and added a super-powered iPad Mini 2 for $399.  This is in addition to the entry-level priced iPad 2 ($399) and the full-sized iPad Air ($499).  

The original iPad Mini is basically a smaller iPad 2 with some of the better features of the newest iPads.  Unlike the iPad 2, it supports Siri and AirDrop, and while both have dual-facing cameras, the iPad Mini's are vastly superior to the cheap cameras that come with the iPad 2.  

The iPad Mini 2 is a major upgrade over the original Mini.  Not only does it get the Retina Display, but it is powered by the same A7 processor found in its bigger brother, the iPad Air.  Both the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Air are top-of-the-line tablets, with the main difference between them being screen size.

How to buy a cheap iPad

Which iPad is right for you?

First, we can scratch the iPad 2 off the list.  Even if you are deadset on buying a 9.7-inch iPad and want one for less than $499, you are far better off shopping Apple's refurbished iPads than going with the iPad 2.  

If you are mainly looking for the best price and you don't already have an iPad, the original iPad Mini is a good first tablet  If you mainly think you'll be using it for browsing the web, updating Facebook, watching movies, listening to music, reading books and playing casual games, you won't be disappointed in the Mini.  It can do all of that and more.   

The harder decision is between the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Air.  The Mini 2 is a fantastic 7.9-inch tablet, just as powerful as the Air and yet handles comfortably using a single hand to hold it.  This makes it a great around-the-house iPad.  But if you are planning on content creation -- writing documents in Pages, working your spreadsheets in Numbers, editing photos in iPhoto, etc. -- the iPad Air's bigger screen becomes a major asset.  

Read more on deciding which iPad is right for you.

How Much Storage Do 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.

Read more about 4G vs Wi-Fi

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 4G 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.

A comparison of the AT&T and Verizon data plans

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.

More Must-Have iPad Apps

Still undecided? The 16 GB 4G iPad Mini 2 offers the best combination of features. It allows you to connect to the Internet from anywhere you have 4G service. With home sharing, you don't need your entire collection of music and movies on your iPad, but the 16 GB storage 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.  And you will only pay $529 for it.

Need help with buying accessories for your iPad? The options for cases, keyboards, speakers and other fun accessories can seem daunting. Check out the best of the best in our iPad accessories guide.

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