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Which iPad should I buy?

Lex Friedman | Oct. 29, 2012
For a product not yet out of toddlerhood, the iPad sure comes in an awful lot of variations. With the new iPad mini and the fourth-generation iPad each unveiled this week, and with the iPad 2 still on sale, potential customers are faced with more iPad questions than ever: Should you get an iPad? If so, which model? And after you decide on a model, which size? And should you buy one with cellular connectivity?

If instead you prefer the smaller size, easier portability, and one-handed use of the iPad mini, it may well be the better option, so long as you won't begrudge its lack of a Retina display.

I know which iPad I want. Which size should I buy? Do I need the cellular option?

You can't upgrade your iPad's storage; you buy what you buy, and you don't get to cry. My advice is consistent: Buy as much storage as you can afford. The base model of each iPad comes with 16GB; the 32GB model is available for $100 more, and the 64GB model costs $200 more. In the case of the fourth-generation iPad, the costs are $499, $599, and $699 for 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB respectively. The iPad mini versions are $329, $429, and $529.

Apps are getting bigger and bigger. If you don't use iTunes Match, your music library can take up a lot of space, too. And if you sync your photos and movies to the iPad, now we're talking serious gigabytes. Quite simply, in my case 16GB is too confining on an iOS device these days. With iTunes Match and aggressive photo deletion (after syncing those photos to my Mac), I find that 32GB works fine for me right now. I only hope that Apple increases the iPad's base storage before even 32GB gets too tight.

Adding cellular data options to your iPad also adds $130 to its cost. A $499 16GB fourth-generation iPad costs $629 with a cellular option added on--and that's before you start paying for the data itself. Whether you want a cellular-equipped iPad will depend on how you intend to use it. I do just fine with my laptop and its Wi-Fi-only access to the Internet, so I've never been let down by a Wi-Fi-only iPad. My third-generation iPad has cellular connectivity, and I've never used the feature in the half-year I've owned the device.

But you might not be like me. If you want your iPad online wherever you are, remember that--as with storage--built-in cellular connectivity is a now-or-never option. If you'll ever want it, you need to buy an iPad that supports it.

Wrap it up for me, Lex: What's the final word?

In short, if you want an iPad and can afford an iPad, buy one. If you crave portability and don't sweat Retina displays--or if budget is a key concern--the iPad mini is your best option. Don't choose the iPad 2.

Purchase as much storage as you can afford, and get cellular connectivity only if you intend to use your device regularly while away from reliable Wi-Fi.


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