How to Buy an iPad

Compare the five iPad models to find the one that's right for you

woamn making a photo with an iPad at the beach
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Five iPad models in three sizes are listed on the Apple website, all of which are available in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular configurations and in a selection of colors. Throw in the different memory options, and you are presented with an overwhelming number of configurations when shopping for a new iPad. As intimidating as that might sound, it isn't hard to narrow your choices based on how you plan to use the iPad.

You just need to consider several options:

  • Model - pick from five models and price ranges
  • Size - choose a Retina display size from 7.9 inches to 12.9 inches
  • Memory - varies by model, but the range begins as 32 GB for all models and goes up to 256 GB on some models
  • Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + Celluar - decide whether you want cellular capability in addition to Wi-Fi
  • Color - a simple choice of silver, space gray, gold and rose gold, which varies among models
  • Power - do you need or want the most powerful processor on the market?

Current iPad Models

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad mini 2

12.9-inch iPad Pro and 9.7-inch iPad Pro 

The iPad Pro is the newest iPad in the lineup, and while the 12.9-inch version gets a lot of press, the 9.7-inch model is just as powerful and has a few bonuses over the largest iPad.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a beast. It you want power, the iPad Pro delivers it.

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 while you watch movies or play games. The huge screen means you won't miss your TV's big display, and it goes hand-in-hand with all the new multitasking features of the iPad.

The iPad Pro comes in two sizes: 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch. The smaller iPad Pro has an upgraded camera, and it is the only iPad that supports Live Photos. It has the best display on any iPad. It's also cheaper than its big brother by hundreds of dollars. Both sizes support the new Pencil accessory and the Smart Keyboard.

iPad Air 2

The iPad Air 2 is still in the lineup at a price that may make it the best deal.  Apple prices it the same as the iPad mini 4, and some retailers give discounts off that price. The iPad Air 2 supports the same multitasking features as the iPad Pro, sports an 8-megapixel back-facing camera and includes the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It has a 9.7-inch Retina display.

iPad mini 4 and iPad mini 2

For those who prefer the smaller form size of the iPad mini, Apple offers both the iPad mini 4 and the iPad mini 2, each with a 7.9-inch Retina display.  The iPad mini 4 uses the same processor as the iPad Air and it has an 8-megapixel iSight camera, which handles the new features of burst mode and timer mode, and it includes the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

If you are looking for a budget-friendly price tag, the iPad mini 2 may be the iPad for you. Although it doesn't have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, it's close to an iPad mini 4 in terms of processing power and features, although with a slower chip and smaller camera.

It's an excellent choice for a kid who might not put much strain on it. While it won't come close to the new iPad Pro series in terms of pure power, most people don't need that extra juice. This is the least expensive of the iPads, and it is an excellent entry-level choice.

Shop Apple's Refurbished Section

Apple offers a refurbished section on its website where you can find Apple's refurbished iPads. The selection changes daily, but if you find the model you want, you'll save a lot of money. Apple's refurbished iPads come with the same 1-year Apple warranty as new iPads, so you don't need to worry about getting one and having it break the next week.

If you want, you can also buy Apple Care for the refurbished iPad​.

Shopping for Used iPads

For the more adventurous, buying an iPad on Craigslist or another similar site may be the ticket to getting the best deal. However, this is buyer-beware territory, likely with no warranty or return policy. If you are buying used, it is best to stick to one of the iPad Air models, one of the iPad Pro lineup or any iPad mini that is not the original mini iPad.  

About Storage

Apple has bumped up the minimum storage on all its iPads to 32 GB from 16 GB.  Even better, the jump up to 128 GB from 32 GB is only $100 more. So how to decide between 32 GB and a higher storage model? If you are upgrading from an older iPad, this is an easy question.  If you never needed to delete stuff from your iPad to clear up space, you can probably go with the same storage model. If you have often needed to purge some stuff from your iPad to give it a more breathing room, go for a model with more memory this time around.

An iPad with 32 GB is big enough for many people, but not all. Here are reasons you may want to buy a model with more storage capacity.

  • If you are planning to completely replace your laptop and desktop computers with the iPad
  • If you plan on loading all your music onto the iPad to have access to it when you don't have data access. (Remember, you can stream music without using up storage space when you have a connection.)
  • If you plan on shooting a lot of video or storing a lot of movies (rather than streaming them) on the iPad, 32 GB will not be enough. 
  • The 32 GB model can hold about 10,000 photos shot with the camera on the newest iPad Pro.  But you wouldn't have much room for anything else. If you believe you may store over 4,000 photos on the iPad, you should upgrade to a model with more memory.  Of course, you can always store your photos in iCloud's Photos app.
  • Games can also use up a lot of storage space. If you play a lot of games—especially if you play "hardcore" games—the 32 GB model might not work for you.

Do You Need Wi-Fi + Cellular or Just Wi-Fi?

Every iPad comes with Wi-Fi capability. If you want your iPad to also be able to connect to cellular signals, you need to buy a Wi-Fi+Cellular model, which adds to the cost. The cellular models of the iPad require a cellular network plan, which varies among suppliers. They also contain an A-GPS chip, which allows for more accurate location services than the iPad with Wi-Fi only. 

If you have Wi-Fi in your home or place of business, getting on the internet won't be a problem. When you travel, many hotels come with free Wi-Fi, and it is easy to find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi access. The main areas where the cellular data connection comes in handy are in the car (unless your car is a mobile hot spot) and at places without Wi-Fi hotspots, like at a picnic or park. For families that are going to enjoy road trips, the cellular version provides a source of entertainment for kids. It also acts as a GPS device, which saves you from buying a dedicated GPS.

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 use the iPad only around the house, a case keeps a drop from turning into a cracked screen. All other accessories are optional depending on how you plan to use your ipad. Popular choices include the wireless keyboard and the new Apple Pencil. Just check to make sure the iPad model you bought supports the accessory. 

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