How to Buy an iPad

A Buyer's Guide to the iPad

woamn making a photo with an iPad at the beach
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There are now five different iPads with three different sizes, the choice of mobile data or Wi-Fi only and multiple storage options.  This makes over twenty different configurations when shopping for a new iPad.  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 Air 2 vs iPad Air vs iPad Mini 4 vs iPad Mini 2 vs iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is the newest iPad in the lineup, and with a 12.9-inch screen, it's perhaps the ultimate iPad.  The Pro has the processing power of a laptop, so it's plenty fast.  And starting at $799, it's also the most expensive.  

The iPad Air 2 retails for $499, but many retailers are offering deals on it.  Apple is also keeping the iPad Air in production, which can be a good way to save a little cast.  The iPad Mini 4 is the newest Mini and generally sells for around $399.  And if you are looking for the cheapest iPad, the Mini 2 is essentially an iPad Air with a lower price tag.  

How to Buy a Cheap iPad

Which iPad is right for you?

The choice in iPad mainly comes down to size and price.  The iPad Pro sets a new bar, but the iPad Air 2 is enough tablet for most and the iPad Mini 2 is a great deal.

The iPad Pro is a beast.  And while it is targeted at the enterprise, it may be the ultimate family iPad.

 It has four speakers, one at each corner, so it sounds great and watching movies or playing games on that huge screen is wonderful.  

The iPad Air 2 is the top-of-the-line 9.7-inch tablet.  The upgraded back-facing camera is 8 MP, and this is the first major upgrade to the iPad's camera since the iPad 3 upgraded the iPad 2's pitiful excuse for cameras.

  Touch ID is also a nice addition.  

But if you are looking to reduce that $499 price tag, the iPad Mini 2 may be the iPad for you.  It is my best-reviewed iPad, mainly because it is an iPad Air packed into a 7.9-inch device.  This isn't a scaled-down version of the iPad Air.  It has the same generation processor and the beautiful Retina Display.  With a price tag of $299, it is by far the best deal of the bunch.

If you are set on getting the bigger iPad, but don't want to pay $499, the original iPad air isn't a bad deal.  It was a significant upgrade over the previous iPads and has a long life in front of it.  The iPads most will want to avoid are the original iPad Mini, whose cheap price tag doesn't cover the fact that it is slowing down, and the iPad Mini 3, which is just an overpriced iPad Mini 2.

And if the reduced price on the iPad Mini 2 or the iPad Air has caught your eye, you can get an even better deal by shopping Apple's refurbished iPads.  These iPads come with the same 1-year warranty as a new iPad, so you need not worry about getting one and having it break the next week.

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 storage on great apps and games and still not use the full 16 GB of the low-end model.

The biggest reasons to go with more than 16 GB of storage are high end games, which can easily surpass 1 GB these days, a very large photo collection, though you can use cloud storage such as Dropbox for these, or storing a lot of movies for when you travel.  

If you are going with the iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 3, the 64 GB model is hard to pass up.  Apple has scratched the 32 GB model from the lineup and put the 64 GB model in its place, which means you'll get a lot of extra elbow room for $100 more.  

Still undecided? Find out more about which iPad model is right for your storage needs

Do You Need 4G or Just Wi-Fi?

The 4G versions of the iPad don't just come with the ability to connect to a 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 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 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.

You also may be able to tether your iPad to your iPhone or Android smartphone, using the phone as a hot spot.  

Read more about 4G vs Wi-Fi

What Accessories Should You Buy?

Your iPad purchase isn't finished when you pick out your iPad model.  You'll also need to decide on accessories.  The one true "must-have" accessory you should buy is an iPad case.  Even if you are mainly using the iPad around the house, a case will keep a drop from turning into a cracked screen.   Read about more accessories you can get for your iPad.

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 32 GB iPad Mini 2 offers the best combination of features. It is powered by the 64-bit A7 chip, which set a new standard in mobile devices. With home sharing, you don't need your entire collection of music and movies on your iPad, but the 32 GB storage model does have plenty of space for movies, music, apps and games.

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