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 Mini 4 vs iPad Mini 2 vs iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is the newest iPad in the lineup, and while the 12.9-inch version gets a lot of press, there is also an iPad Air 2-sized version that is just as powerful and actually has a few bonuses over the biggest iPad.  

The iPad Air 2 is still in the lineup, and at $399, it may be the best deal.  Some retailers are even offering discounts on that low price.   For those who prefer the Mini, Apple has kept both the iPad Mini 4 and the iPad Mini 2 in production.  

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 while watching movies or playing games.

  The Pro comes in two sizes: 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch.  The smaller Pro has an upgraded camera that supports Live Photos and the best display on any iPad. It's also $200 cheaper.   But the 12.9-inch Pro may be the ultimate iPad for either business or the family.  The huge screen means you won't miss your TV's big display, and it goes hand-in-hand with all of the new multitasking features of the iPad.

 Both sizes support the new Pencil accessory and the Smart Keyboard.  

The iPad Air 2 might be the best deal in the lineup.  Apple has placed the same $399 price tag on it as is displayed on the iPad Mini 4, and some retailers are even giving discounts off that price.  The Air 2 supports the same multitasking features as the iPad Pro, sports a great 8 MP back-facing camera and includes the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.  

But if you are looking to reduce that $399 price tag, the iPad Mini 2 may be the iPad for you.  It's very close to an iPad Air in terms of processing power and features.  It's an excellent choice for a kid who might not put as much strain on it, and while it won't come close to the new Pro series in terms of pure power, many of us don't need that extra juice.  However, if the Mini 2 sounds right, it is important to price check the iPad Air 2 at several retailers.  Some may sell the Air 2 for close to the the price tag of a Mini 2, and the upgraded features are definitely worth a few extra bucks.

You can also shop Apple's refurbished iPads. These 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.

 For the more adventurous, buying an iPad on Craigslist may be the ticket to getting the best deal.  If 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.  

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.  There are a number of ways you can save some storage space on your iPad, and you can even use third-party cloud storage to help boost the storage capabilities of your iPad, but it is still important to choose the right storage size.

Apple has done some of the hard work for us.  As 16 GB has become a bit too cramped even for those looking for an entry-level price, Apple has bumped the minimum storage on an iPad up to 32 GB.   This gives everyone a lot more breathing room.  Perhaps even better, jumping up to a whopping 128 GB now only costs $100 more than the 32 GB model.  

So how to decide between 32 GB and a higher storage model?   If you are upgrading from an older iPad, this is can be an easy question.  If you've never needed to delete stuff from your iPad to clear up space, you can probably go with the same storage model.  Or you can simply check how much storage you've used on it.  If you have often needed to purge some stuff from your iPad to give it a little more breathing room, you should definitely go for the 128 GB model.  

But what if this is your first iPad?  Here are a few helpful questions:

If you are planning to completely replace your laptop and desktop PC with the iPad, go with the 128 GB model.  

Remembering that you can stream music without using up storage space, if you plan on loading all of your music onto the iPad to have access to it when you don't have data access, you may want to go with the 128 GB model.

If you plan on shooting a lot of video on the iPad, 32 GB will not be enough.  It can hold a lot of photos, but you can quickly run out of space shooting a ton of video.  This is also true of movies.  It's easy to stream movies from the cloud, especially when you consider a single movie can take up more than 2 GB of storage space.  But if you really do need to hold them locally, you will definitely need to go with the higher end storage model.

And speaking of photos, 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.  The iCloud Photo Library allows you to store your photos on the cloud and optimize the space left on your iPad, but if you want to keep them all local and you believe you may store over 4,000 photos on the iPad, you will want to upgrade to the 128 GB model. 

Games can also use up a lot of storage space.  It isn't uncommon for a game to take up 1 GB or more of space these days.  If you are the type that moves on to the next game and rarely goes back to older games, it might be easy enough to just purge old games from time to time.  But if you play a wide variety, and especially if you play "hardcore" games, the 128 GB model might be the best bang for your buck.

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:

Crackle.  It is a shame more people haven't heard about Crackle.  Similar to Netflix, Crackle allows you to stream moves and TV to your iPad.  And while it may not have as many movies as Netflix, it has one big advantage: it's free. 

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 Air 2 offers the best combination of features. It has plenty of power, supports all of the latest features excluding the ability to use Apple's Pencil -- but it does support other styluses -- and it is for sale at a bargain price.   

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