Which iPad is for me?

Apple’s new iPad is out this friday, and many people are asking “Which one should I get?”    I know I’ve been asked that more than a few times already just since last Tuesday.  The questions is actually rather straight forward.  You just have to ask yourself a few questions.

You might think that it’s just one question: “What am I going to use it for?” and that’s is indeed part of it.  But there’s more nuance to this question and the iPad that you might think.  If you have decided that you want an iPad, you need to decide both why you want one and how you will use it.

This post is a bit long, but probably doesn’t hurt to ask yourself some questions before spending $399-$829+ dollars on a device.  But for the impatient, a decision flow chart on deciding what size and generation iPad is on the left, and if you should get Wi-Fi only model on the right.  It might oversimplify the process a bit, but should help.

“Is this going to be an eBook only reading device?”
I’ll get this one out of the way right off the bat.  If the answer to this question is yes, then you can stop reading this post after this paragraph.  You don’t want a iPad.  Yes I know I’m a Apple fanboy, but if your sole purpose of getting a mobile tablet is to read books, this isn’t the device for you.  You want a Kindle, which goes from $79-$379.  Any of the e-ink screens will work.  The reason is e-ink will give you a better reading experience more similar to an actual book and has a battery that last a ridiculous long time.  The cheaper ones are a 6″ screen about the size of a paperback and very light (great for long reading sessions), and if you want a larger size it’s available up to the same 9.7 inch screen.

Now if you’re answer is “no” or “well not just ebooks,” then read on.  The Kindle doesn’t handle other media very well if at all, and the Kindle Fire which can, doesn’t have an e-ink screen so looses most of the benefit of having the screen.  If you start asking questions about the new e-Texbooks… well that’s iPad only so the Kindle is out for that too.  There are also plenty of other “iPad competitors” out there, but for me the only one that makes sense is the e-ink Kindles, and even then only for the above reason.

“Do you have WiFi in your home?”
This might seem like an odd question.  But with more and more people using the iPad as their only computing device, or in some cases their first computing device, many users won’t have WiFi at home.  The iPad is pretty much useless without some sort of internet connection.  Mail, surfing the web, even getting content onto it originally typically requires some sort of internet connection.

Luckily even if you don’t have internet at home, you have options:

  • Yes – If you do have wireless internet access at home, any of the iPads will work… continue on.
  • No, but I have internet – In this case you’re best bet is to go out and buy a WiFi router.  Apple has a few starting from $99 that are pretty simple, and there are many out there even cheaper.  Then continue on…
  • No, nor do I have internet – You have a few decisions to make at this point.  If you have LTE, or other “4G” networks in your area (full explanation here) then you’ll want to get one of the WiFi + 4G models.  They cost $130 more than their non 4G counter parts, and you will need to buy a month to month plan for your data, but it will allow you to get online and use it to the full ability.  Curious about coverage?  View the AT&T coverage map or View the Verizon Wireless coverage map.  If you have Verizon 4G in your area you can even use the HotSpot feature to allow other WiFi devices in your home to get online.  You also have Mobile HotSpot devices you can buy which will do the same thing that are available to you.  If you have 3G networks in your area, either the iPad 3rd Generation or iPad 2 will cell models will work.  You might also want to see if 4G will be coming to your area any time soon.  If so you might want to invest in the new iPad, so it will be available once it does.  If you don’t have a either as a strong network… you’ll need to decided if you want to only use it at places like Starbucks, or plop down money for a home internet connection.
“Do you want to go online while away from home?”
So we’ve cleared up  if you “need” one of the cellular models.  But what about if you want one?  If you are the type of person that wants to check their email or surf online while on the road, you’ll probably want to get one of the cell versions.  Want to access files that aren’t cached when you war at home via DropBox or something in the iCloud?  Again you are going to want to get something beyond just Wifi.  Streaming movies online via Netflix or SlingBox?  Yup you guessed it.  Yes, it cost more up front, but the ability to turn on and off your data plans is nice, and avoids you having to try to find some hotspot to connect to.

All you need to decide is which carrier to use.  If either AT&T or Verizon don’t have good coverage in your area, or where you will be using this, then it’s a simple answer.  If you have both, perhaps one has better “4G” coverage.  If so I’d go with that one.  If they are pretty much the same, then you might want to stay with whatever your cellphone uses (for simplify of billing) or perhaps choose the opposite to insure you’ll always have some coverage if one network fails.  And then there’s always you older iPad cell users that have grandfathered unlimited plans.  If you’re lucky enough to have one… definitely stick with it.

“Do you have/consume a lot of media?”
Are you the type of person that has a huge Music, Movie, or Picture library that you want to bring with you?

  • Yes, Music – Take a look at your library.  Do you want/need all of it or some of it?  All that music will take up space.  The larger the library you want to bring with you the larger the storage you’ll need.  The iPad 2 only comes in a 16GB size, which might be enough for a selection of your library.  Otherwise you’ll be looking at the 32GB or perhaps even the 64GB models that the new iPad offers.  If you aren’t set on having your music with you at all times, perhaps looking into streaming services, or Apple’s iTunes Match.  Just remember that streaming or downloading will require an internet connection.  Which you don’t have while on the road.
  • Yes, Movies/TV – This is a two parter.  First is: Do you have a lot of movies you’ll want to carry with you?  If so ignore any of the 16GB models and only concentrate on the larger 2 models of the new iPad.  Video takes up a lot of space and once you see HD content, it will take up even more.  If you are planning on streaming movies only (netflix, sling box) then you don’t have to worry as much about the hard drive, and go with a 16GB model.  The new iPad offers a high def screen, so if you’re watching high end video, the new iPad is the way to go.  Lower quality videos on the iPad 2 is just fine though (such as 720p video or web/podcast video).
  • Yes, Pictures – Get the 64GB new iPad.  Yes I know I went on about choice above…. but between the new high retina screen and the quantity and size of photos these days… you’ll need the space and want the extra screen quality. Getting anything smaller will result in you haven’t no space to store all your pictures you’ll be taking thought the years.  Add to that Apple’s new iPhoto app… no brainer with the new retina screen.  If you can manage to find a 64GB iPad 2 it perhaps might be worth it, but Apple doesn’t sell one.  Makes deciding if a retina screen is a nessesity sorta irrelevant, although you’ll probably miss the extra quality if you do.

“Do you plan on taking a lot of pictures or movies with the iPad?”
In the same venue of already having the media, if you are planning to take a lot of media you’re also going to want the new iPad over the iPad2.  Not just because you can have a bigger hard drive to store it all, the new iPad has 2 things that put it above the older model.  The new iPad rear camera has a 5 megapixle camera verses the iPad 2’s 0.8 megapixle.  Much better.  Also the new iPad has the ability to record at 1080 HD vs the iPad 2’s 720HD.  If you are planing to do video or pictures on the iPad, the new iPad is the way to go.

“Do you need a retina screen?”
Let’s assume, that you’re looking at getting either a iPad 2 or the entry level iPad (new).  No 4G in your area so that’s irrelevant.  Is the retina screen something worth spending the extra $100 on?

  • I’m a high end gamer – Yes, Yes, definitely Yes…  The retina screen will make your games that look good now on a iPad2, look even better on the iPad (new).  And although the processor itself hasn’t gotten an update (still 1Ghz) they’ve quadrupled the graphic cores which will help make your game looks smooth and gorgeous.
  • I’m a casual gamer – Errr…. probably not.  Yes the retina screen will make everything look better, yes You won’t be able to see the pixels… but how much clearer do you need your crops or playing cards to look like?  My advice for the casual gamer is not worry about the retina screen.
  • I have a ton of photos – In case you skipped the “Photos” part above… short version yes.  Retina screen will make a world of difference.
  • I’m going to read a lot of books/comics/textbooks – This is a bit more conjecture as I haven’t seen them in person, but the retina screen should make reading a lot more enjoyable than the lower quality iPad2.  Apple has a great interactive picture showing the difference between text on the iPad 2 and the new iPad.  Check it out and see the difference.  Same goes for textbooks and (once they update their comic apps) any book with graphics.  It will be like having the printed page in front of you. (assuming you are holding it at 15″ recommended by Apple).
  • Other – The retina screen will make things look “better”…. but you probably won’t notice it after a while.  If you’re only buying the new iPad for the retina screen it’s probably not the best choice.  Save your money or buy an Apple TV instead.

“How much are you thinking of spending?”
The lowest prices iPad you can buy new is $399.  That will get you a 16GB iPad2.  The new iPad goes for $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB.  Adding the cell and GPS options (either 3G or 4G models) adds another $130 on top of that.  And that doesn’t include whatever your monthly data plan is.  You can find sometimes refurbished version on the Apple Website, and they are as good as new, so that’s a way to save some money.  Try to avoid third party sellers selling used iPads, as they likely don’t come with any warranty.  Speaking of warranty you can also buy AppleCare+ for iPad.  This coverage to two years from the original purchase date and adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage (just a $50 service fee for replacement for physical damage).  Something to think of since AppleCare+ must be bought within 30 days of your iPad purchase.  AppleCare+ costs $99.

Nuance things to consider:

  • GPS – Not all the models of the iPad come with GPS.  Yes they all are location aware, but any version of the iPad without a cell chip in it (whether you are paying for a plan or not) can only use WiFi triangulation to figure out roughly where it is.  To get real GPS you need an iPad that can use cellular services. So if you plan on using a turn by turn program such as TomTom, GPS Navigation 2 or even Glympse while out and about, you’ll need one of the more expensive models.
  • Dictation – Although both iPads lack the power of Siri (that would be Apple’s personal assistant you see in all the commercials) the new iPad does have at least one of it’s features: Dictation.  With this a microphone icon appears to the left of the spacebar.  Pressing it will allow you to speak anything you’d like to type, anywhere you could normally type something.  This does require internet access to use, so be sure that’s available before speaking your mind.

I know that is a lot to take in.  So I decided to make some decision flow charts to help out.  Any other questions?  Leave them in the comments below.

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About Tasel

Sometimes writer on things technology, Disney, MineCraft, and food.
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