The Used iPad Guide: How to And What Model to Buy

Is that used iPad is really worth it?

Woman downloading software on iPad
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Buying a used iPad is a great way to save a bit of money, but similar to buying a used car, there are a few things you need to know in order for the process to go smoothly. You'll also want to make sure you get a good deal on the iPad, which means picking out a model that isn't obsolete and making sure you don't pay too much for the iPad.

Where Should You Buy Your Used iPad?

If you have a friend, a relative or a friend-of-a-friend that is selling their iPad, you have this part solved. Buying from someone you know can certainly reduce the stress of the exchange. You'll still want to make sure you are buying the right iPad for a good price and to review what to do during and after the exchange.

  • Refurbished from Apple. A refurbished iPad is one that was returned to Apple and repaired. If you buy a refurbished unit directly from Apple, you can save money and still retain the same one-year warranty as a new one. However, you may not save as much money as buying a used iPad.
  • Buy from eBay. One great thing about eBay is that there exists a layer between you and the buyer. This lets you rely on eBay if the item you receive isn't the same as the description. However, you should be aware of any shipping costs.
  • Buy from Amazon. Yes, Amazon has a used marketplace. If you search for an iPad, you can see both new and used prices. The used price is the cheapest overall cost, which combines both the cost of the iPad and any shipping costs.
  • Buy from Craigslist. The Internet version of a classified ads section of the paper, you can buy and sell almost anything on Craigslist. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when you buy on Craigslist. If you are thinking about buying an iPad from Craigslist, you should read our Craigslist guide, which goes over specifics about the Craigslist process.

    Which iPad Should You Buy?

    While it is important to decide on a the best place to buy the used iPad, the most important part of the process is making sure you buy the right iPad. You don't want to get stuck with an iPad that is extremely limited within a couple of years, and if you are buying a used iPad, you want to make sure you get a good deal on it.

    In terms of price, we'll use the 16 GB storage model as a baseline for comparison. Apple increments the price by $100 for each jump in storage.

    • Don't Buy: The original iPad. Just don't. The original iPad is more of a glorified paperweight these days.
    • Skip the iPad 2, iPad 3 and Original iPad Mini: These iPads are all considered obsolete, which means they are no longer supported by updates to the operating system and new apps will not work on them.  In terms of processing speed, they are all identical. The iPad 3 has faster graphics to support the Retina Display, but will perform similar to an iPad 2. Unless you are paying less than $50 and mainly want a way to browse the web, your money is better spent on a newer iPad.
    • The iPad 4: The iPad 4 is also obsolete. As above, proceed with caution. It will be best used as a web browser and an eBook reader. If you find one cheap enough and your needs are minimal, it may be worth it, but as the earlier iPads, it no longer supports new apps or app updates to older apps.
    • The iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3 and iPad Mini 4. This series of iPad models basically represents the iPad Air and iPad Air 2, with the 7.9-inch iPad Mini models mimicking their bigger brother in terms of features and processing power. The iPad Mini 4 is the equivalent of an iPad Air 2, while the Mini 2 and Mini 3 are essentially the same as an iPad Air. With the newest iPad available for just $329 brand new from Apple, look for a deep discount on these older models. But while they won't support the Apple Pencil or the smart keyboard, they'll do just about anything any other iPad can do.
    • The First Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. These are likely the best deals you can find. The first models of the iPad Pro are still wicked fast and will enjoy support from Apple and developers for years to come, so while they will be more expensive than older models, they will have much higher longevity.
    • The 2017 "5th Generation" iPad. If you can't afford an iPad Pro model, the 2017 version of the 9.7-inch iPad is your next best bet. It is new enough to enjoy a long lifespan, at least in terms of tablets, and it will be cheaper than the iPad Pro models.
    • Read more about the different iPad models

    What to Do During the Exchange

    The most important thing to do when buying a used iPad is to make sure the iPad is reset to factory default settings. This restores the iPad to what it was like when it was still in the box. This process also turns off features like Find My iPad, which is very important to have turned off before taking possession of the iPad.

    When an iPad is reset, it will start out at the "Hello" screen and take you through the process of setting it up, which includes logging into your Apple ID account and restoring from an iCloud backup if this isn't your first iPad.

    Before resetting the iPad, you can take the opportunity to make sure the iPad appears to be in good working order. This includes checking the screen for any cracks and the case for any dents. A small dent in the outer casing of the iPad isn't a big deal, but any crack on the screen should be a nonstarter. We do not recommend buying an iPad with a cracked screen, even if it is only a small crack outside of the normal display. A crack tends to lead to a bigger crack, and most people may be surprised on how quickly that small crack turned into a shattered screen.

    You should launch a few apps, including the Notes app, which will give you an opportunity to use the on-screen keyboard. If you have Wi-Fi access, you should also open the Safari web browser and navigate to several websites like Google and Yahoo.

    After you've checked everything out, you should reset the iPad. Even if the iPad was restored to factory default when you picked it up, you should reset it again before the purchase is complete. It doesn't take long to reset and it can be worth the hassle in knowing that all of the important switches like Find My iPad are turned off when you take possession.

    Not quite sure on the iPad model? When buying from Craigslist, I recommend checking the model number to make sure it matches with the iPad model you are buying. If the person you are buying from seems uncertain of the model, or if you are simply uncertain of the person you are buying it from, double-checking the model number can be a good idea. You can find the iPad's model number by opening the settings app, navigating to "General" and choosing "About". You can compare the model number against the official list of models.

    After You Buy the iPad

    As important as it is to turn off Find My iPad when you are buying a used iPad, it may be just as important to turn it back on again after you take possession. You should be asked to do so during the setup process, but if you didn't turn it on, I recommend going to settings and flipping the Find My iPad switch. Find My iPad doesn't just locate the iPad if it is missing, it also allows you to put it in lost mode or even reset it remotely.

    What you should do next: The First 10 Things to Do With Your iPad
    Load it up with apps: The Best FREE Apps for the iPad
    Don't forget games: The Best iPad Games of All Time