How Much iPad Storage Do You Need?

Picking out the right iPad model for your storage needs

Two iPads showing storage capacities on each

Lifewire / Maddy Price

The amount of storage space is one of the hardest decisions to make when deciding on an iPad model. Most of the other decisions like going with a Mini, an Air or the absolutely huge iPad Pro can be made based on personal preferences, but it is difficult to judge just how much storage you'll need until you actually need that storage. And while it is always tempting to go with the higher storage model, do you really need the extra storage?

Apple did us a favor by expanding the storage of the entry-level iPad from 16 GB to 32 GB. While 16 GB was fine in the early days, apps now take up much more space, and with so many people now using their iPad to store photos and video, 16 GB just doesn't cut it anymore. But is 32 GB enough?

What to Think About When Deciding on an iPad Model

Here are the main questions you will want to ask yourself when picking out an iPad model: How much of my music do I want to put on the iPad? How many movies do I want on it? Do I want to store my entire photo collection on it? Am I going to travel a lot with it? And what type of games am I going to play on it?

Surprisingly, the number of apps you want to install on the iPad may be the least of your worries. While applications may take up the majority of storage space on your PC, most iPad apps are relatively small in comparison. For example, Netflix only takes up 75 megabytes (MB) of space, which means you could store 400 copies of Netflix on that 32 GB iPad.

But Netflix is one of the smaller apps, and as the iPad becomes more capable, apps have become larger. Productivity apps and cutting-edge games tend to take up the most space. For example, Microsoft Excel will take up around 440 MB of space without any actual spreadsheets stored on the iPad. And if you want Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, you will use up 1.5 GB of storage space before you create your first document. Games can also take up a lot of space. Even Angry Birds 2 takes up almost half a gigabyte of space, although most casual games will take up far less.

This is why anticipating how you will use the iPad is important in figuring out the right storage space model. And we haven't even talked about the photos, music, movies, and books you may want to store on the device. Luckily, there are ways to reduce the space taken up by many of these items.

Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes Match and Home Sharing

Do you remember when we used to buy our music on CDs? As someone who grew up in the age of cassette tapes, it is sometimes hard for us to imagine that many of the current generations have only known digital music. And the next generation may not even know that. Just as CDs were edged out by iTunes, digital music is being replaced by streaming subscriptions like Apple Music and Spotify.

The good news is that these services allow you to stream your music from the Internet, so you don't need to take up storage space to listen to your tunes. You can also use Pandora and other free streaming apps without a subscription. And between iTunes Match, which lets you stream your own music from the cloud, and Home Sharing, which lets you stream music and movies from your PC, it's easy to get by without loading up your iPad with music.

This is where storage space on your iPhone is a little different than the space you might use on your iPad. While it is tempting to download your favorite music to your iPhone so that there is no disruption if you drive through a dead spot in your coverage, you may mostly use your iPad when you are on Wi-Fi, freeing you from the need to download a bunch of music.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Etc.

The same thing can be said for movies. We've already mentioned that Home Sharing will let you stream from your PC to your iPad, but with so many subscription services for streaming movies and TV to your iPad, you may not even need to do that much. This is especially true on the eve of DVDs and Blu-Ray following the CD into the post-digital vacuum. Movies you buy on digital stores like iTunes or Amazon are also available to stream to your iPad without taking up space.

However, there is one big difference between music and movies: The average song takes up about 4 MB of space. The average movie takes up around 1.5 GB of space. This means if you are streaming over a 4G connection, you'll quickly run out of bandwidth even if you have a 6 GB or 10 GB data plan. So if you want to stream movies while on vacation or traveling for business, you'll either need enough space to download a few before your trip or you will need to stream them in your hotel room where you can (hopefully) sign onto the hotel's Wi-Fi network.

Expanding Storage on Your iPad

The iPad may not allow you to plug in a thumb drive or a micro SD card to expand your storage, but there are ways you can increase the amount of storage available to your iPad. The easiest way to expand storage is through the cloud. Dropbox is a popular solution that allows you to store up to 2 GB for free. This can also be increased for a subscription fee. While you can't store apps in cloud storage, you can store music, movies, photos, and other documents.

There are also external hard drives that include an iPad app to help expand your storage. These solutions work via Wi-Fi. Like cloud solutions, you cannot use the external drive to store apps, and it may not be a practical form of storage while outside of the house, but you can use these drives to store music, movies and other media files that can take up a lot of space.

You Will Want the 32 GB Model if...

The 32 GB model is perfect for most of us. It can hold a good chunk of your music, a large collection of photos and a vast array of apps and games. This model is great if you aren't going to load it up with hardcore games, download your entire photo collection or store a bunch of movies on it.

And the 32 GB model doesn't mean you need to skip productivity. You have plenty of room for the entire Microsoft Office suite and a healthy amount of storage for documents. It is also easy to use cloud storage along with Office and other productivity apps, so you don't need to store everything locally. This is especially useful when clearing out the archived document.

It is important to remember that photos and home videos can take up space as well. iCloud Photo Library allows you to store most of your photos in space, but if you want to use your iPad to edit the home videos you take on your iPad or iPhone, you will probably be in the market for an iPad with higher storage capacity.

You Will Want the 128 GB or 256 GB Model if...

The 128 GB model is only $100 more than the base price for the iPad, and when you consider it quadruples the available storage space, it is a pretty good deal. This is a great model if you want to download your entire photo collection, download your music, not worry about deleting old games to make room for new ones and -- especially -- keeping the video on your iPad. We can't always have a Wi-Fi connection, and unless you pay for an unlimited data plan, streaming a movie over 4G will quickly use up your allotted space. But with 128 GB, you can store several movies and still have most of your storage space dedicated to other uses.

Gamers may also want to go with a model with more storage space. The iPad has come a long way since the days of the original iPad and the iPad 2, and it is quickly becoming capable of console quality graphics. But this has a cost. While the 1 GB app was rare several years ago, it is becoming a lot more common among the more hardcore games on the App Store. Many games are even hitting the 2 GB mark. If you are planning on playing some of the best games available, you may burn through 32 GB quicker than you might think.

If you are buying a used or refurbished iPad, you may still have the option for a 64 GB model. This is a great choice for many people. It can hold several movies, a big music collection, your photos and lots of great games without using up that space.

I'm Still Unsure Which Model to Purchase...

Many people will be fine with the 32 GB model, especially those not into gaming who don't plan to load a lot of movies onto the iPad. But if you are unsure, the 128 GB iPad is only $100 more in price and will help future proof the iPad down the road.