The iPad 2 goes on sale this Friday and a lot of people are debating whether or not to buy one. Countless people have asked me whether they should buy one and which model they should get. In this guide I’ll try my best to lay out the reasons why you may or may not want an iPad 2 and which model will be best for your situation.
Between the original iPad, the new iPad 2, 3G options, color choices and refurbished models, there will be 30 iPad options to choose from come this Friday.
If you’re too lazy to read a bunch of advice or watch a bunch of videos, here’s the short version of what’s new with the iPad 2:
- 2 Cameras
- Same price
- White or black
- Better than the original, but not extraordinarily different.
Now the long version…
Should I Buy an iPad 2?
If you have to ask that question I’d suggest taking a deep breath and waiting until you can actually try the iPad 2 out yourself, read multiple reviews, talk to friends about their experiences with it.
Apple won’t give you a door prize for buying an iPad 2 on launch day and this Friday will likely be the worst day to buy one. Apple is kicking off iPad 2 sales at 5pm local time, which means Apple fanboys of all sorts will be lined up by the time you get there. Apple typically puts new products up for sale when doors open, which means only the truly dedicated Apple fans are there bright and early.
Whenever possible, I recommend trying out any mobile device before buying it. On Friday Apple will be in the business of taking payments and rushing customers out the door. You can forget about playing with an iPad 2 and having an Apple rep answer any of your concerns before asking which model you want and how you’d like to pay for it. Wait for a few days and you’ll get your chance to check out the iPad 2 thoroughly at an Apple store or elsewhere.
Only a few dozen reviewers have even had a chance to try out the iPad 2 so far. It can take several days to get a sense of what a device is like in the real world and nobody’s published a full review yet. The early iPad 2 review we published here was based on the experience of using an iPad 2 in a controlled environment and limited time with the device.
Apple typically sends a handful of devices to its favorite reviewers a few days ahead of a launch with the understanding that their reviews won’t be published until shortly before the device goes on sale. While these reviews are often of high quality, let’s just say that Apple’s wise enough to pick and choose reviewers that aren’t highly critical of their devices. If you want to get the real dirt on the iPad 2, wait to make your decision until there are several reviews published. You’ll likely find an iPad 2 review that covers your usage scenario and concerns.
Should I Upgrade to the iPad 2?
If you’re completely happy with your original iPad there’s no reason to rush to get the iPad 2. There are countless early adopter types that will be upgrading to the iPad 2, but they (myself included) buy new technology habitually. Don’t get caught up in the hype and buy just because everyone else seems to be picking up a new iPad. On the other hand, if you already have an iPad, upgrading to the iPad may be a matter of just $200 or so, assuming you can get a decent price selling it to a trade-in service like Gazelle.com or to a private party via Craigslist or eBay.
The original iPad is a very worthy device and it’s not going to kill you to use it for another year. Take stock of how you’re actually using your iPad today and think if there’s anything that you really wish you could do with it that you can’t already do. If you spends most of your time browsing the web, reading news articles and stalking your friends on Facebook, the original iPad will continue to serve you just fine. In fact, I spoke with the chief information officer of one of the world’s largest software companies last week and he said the original iPad suits his needs just fine.
If you’re the type of iPad user who’s always downloading the latest games and using graphically intensive applications you’ll probably want the new iPad 2. App developers are going to push the envelope with their new iPad apps and take advantage of the iPad 2’s improved performance.
Some people want to upgrade to the iPad 2 just for the new cameras. While the cameras are notable improvements, don’t get too excited about them unless you’re really looking forward to using it for FaceTime or putting together quick videos. The still images we’ve seen taken with the iPad 2 thus far look horrendous. You will be able to edit movies on the iPad 2, but most consumers will find it more convenient to shoot videos with their smartphones or point and shoot cameras.
The Hawaiian vacation video clips edited by Apple employees in their promo material was clearly shot with professional equipment by professional videographers using professional techniques. If you’re expecting anything approaching similar looking footage with the iPad’s camera you’ll be sorely disappointed.
A Cheap iPad 2 Alternative
Before I write about which iPad 2 you might want to buy, you should consider all of your options, including the original iPad, assuming you don’t already have one. Apple is selling the original iPad for just $399 new (16GB WiFi only) and just $349 refurbished, with a one-year warranty. The 3G version of the original iPad with 3G can be had for just $479, which is $150 cheaper than the cheapest iPad 2 with 3G.
If you’re on a budget or are confident your needs will be met with last year’s model, you’ll be scoring a lot of technology for your money. At $349, the refurbished iPad is now cheaper than a high-end Kindle or iPod Touch. If you wait until after the iPad 2 launches on Friday, you’ll probably be able to pick up a used iPad from a friend or stranger for somewhere around $250-$275.
Which iPad 2?
So you’ve decided the iPad 2 is for you? Congratulations, it’s time to decide which model you’re going to buy. There are a total of 18 iPad 2 models to choose from, but it’s pretty easy to narrow down your selection based on your needs and budget.
So what are the options? All iPads share virtually all of the same components and features. There are only three options you need to consider.
- iPad 2 Color: You’ll get to choose between white or black models. The back and sides of the iPad are metallic and most of the front of the iPad 2 is the display. That leaves a thin border around the display that is either white or black. It’s mostly a question of style, but I recommend the black version since it will do a better job of framing what’s on the iPad 2’s display. There’s a reason why Apple’s MacBook Pros and professional Cinema Displays have black bezels. Most content you’ll view on your iPad, such as web pages and email has a white background and you may find your eyes wandering past the display and onto the bezel from time to time. It’s not a deal breaker if you prefer white gadgets, but it’s something to pay attention to when you go check out the iPad 2 in person.
- iPad 2 Storage Capacity: The $499 (WiFi Only) and $629 (WiFi + 3G) models come with 16GB of storage capacity. That’s not a lot of room by today’s standards, but it may be enough if you stream most of your entertainment or don’t have a massive multimedia library. You’ll want to avoid the 16GB model if you don’t like having to sync your iPad with your laptop or shuffling files around. Some iPad users with the 16GB model complain that it’s just not enough room to download all the apps or movies they want. The 32GB tends to be the ‘just right’ model for most people, while the 64GB model is overkill for most iPad users. If you’re a movie buff or are constantly shooting and editing video, the 64GB version is probably for you. Video clips and movies take up space in a hurry.
- iPad 2 Wireless Options: The most affordable iPad 2 models come with WiFi only, which means you need to be in range of a network to get online. More and more people are carrying phones that act as wireless hotspots, making a WiFi only iPad 2 a very viable option if you want to avoid paying for the same Internet again. But if you’re looking for the most elegant mobile experience, nothing beats built-in 3G. For the first time, Apple’s offering Verizon compatible models in addition to AT&T models. You don’t have to activate the service at the time of purchase, but you do have to make up your mind about which network you want to go with. If your one of the many iPhone users disappointed with AT&T’s network, I recommend going the Verizon route. If you live in an area with excellent AT&T service then you might want to go with the AT&T since its 3G network does seem to offer faster upload/download speeds when a solid signal is available. You will of course want to take a close look at the pricing details if both AT&T and Verizon are viable options where you live.
iPad 2 Pricing
A good portion of iPad 2 buyers will be limited by how much money they have in their checking accounts or their available credit card limits. If you’re stretching your budget by buying an iPad, I suggest simply buying the 16GB WiFi-only version. You’ll get nearly the same experience as those with higher-capacity iPads and you won’t have to pay monthly fees for using AT&T or Verizon 3G services.
The number you’re most likely to hear repeated over and over again when talking about iPad pricing is $499. That’s the cost of a brand new iPad 2 with 16GB of storage and no 3G antenna, but things can get expensive in a hurry. Moving up to 32GB adds another $100 ($599) and going to 64GB adds $200 ($699). Adding 3G (AT&T or Verizon) adds another $130 to the price tag, which means the top model costs $829.
Unlike some mobile devices, the iPad 2 doesn’t benefit from wireless carriers’ subsidies. This means that you have to pay the full price fo the 3G versions, but the upside is that you won’t get locked into any long-term contracts.
Before you commit to buying one of the higher-end iPad 2’s, keep in mind that you’ll likely spend more money on the iPad 2 than just the initial purchase price. All of those apps and movie rentals really do add up over time and you’ll probably walk out the door with a case, such as the iPad 2 Smart Cover, which will set you back another $39. And if you want to plug your iPad into an HDTV you’ll need to spend another $39 to $69. And if you don’t already have an iPhone, you may end up springing for a headset with a built-in mic so you can chat comfortably with friends or just listen to your tunes. Some iPad 2 buyers will be walking out the door with over $1,000 worth of gear.
Another expense that pops up at the time of purchase is AppleCare, Apple’s extended service program. AppleCare is $79 for any iPad model and includes two years of phone support and a one-year extension to your warranty. Despite what some people think, AppleCare is not insurance, which means Apple won’t replace dropped or abused iPads. If you’re the type of person that needs some extra handholding with technology and you don’t have easy access to an Apple store, the extended phone support may be worth the $79 if you have the extra cash.
If you want to double your iPad’s warranty without investing in AppleCare, I suggest buying it on an American Express card or another high-quality credit card that offers extended purchase protection. With AMEX, warranties are automatically doubled. AMEX will pay up to $1,000 per purchase to make things right should your iPad 2 go on the fritz after the one-year mark. I’ve taken advantage of this benefit a couple of times and was very pleased with the service.