After you decide to buy an iPad, there is still a very important question, “Which iPad should I buy?”
With four iPad models on sale at Apple and other retailers at three different prices, this is a difficult decision, but it is pretty easy when you break it down into what the major differences are and how you plan to use the iPad.
Apple sells the iPad 2, iPad mini, iPad mini Retina and the iPad Air. The price of an iPad ranges from $299 to $499 for the base models and goes all the way up to $929 for a top of the line model with cellular connectivity. Some of the prices overlap which means if you are on a budget you will want to pick between size of the device, storage and 4G LTE connectivity to get the best iPad for your needs.
What Kind of iPad User Are You?
Finding the perfect iPad depends on what you will do with the iPad and whether you plan to take the iPad with you out of the house. The apps and activities you need as well as whether you have kids will also play into the decision. Here are some sample users.
The Movie Lover – If you love movies and plan to watch movies and TV shows on the iPad, the iPad Air is the best bet thanks to the high-resolution display that is larger than the iPad mini and iPad mini Retina. If you plan to buy or carry movies with you get at least a 32GB iPad Air, possibly larger as an HD movie can take up 4-5GB of space.
The App & Game Lover – If you love to play games and carry all kinds of apps with you the iPad Air or iPad mini with Retina are the top choices. The high resolution display will make apps look great and the new Apple A7 processor is fast enough to handle any games and apps you throw at it.
Parents – If you are buying an iPad to share with a kid in the house the iPad 2 is tempting, but the iPad mini at $299 is a better option for most users. This smaller iPad will better fit smaller hands and is portable enough to put in a small backpack for travel or stuff into your back pocket while loading a kid in the car. This may be a better choice than an iPod touch if you want a device for a child.
Mobile Professional – If you are a mobile professional that wants to supplement a laptop while on the go the iPad Air with 4G LTE or the iPad mini Retina with 4G LTE are good options. Both offer a high-resolution display that can act as a second monitor with cheap software and the 4G LTE connection can be used to act as a hotspot for your laptop and other gadgets that will last nearly 24 hours.
Replacing a Laptop – If you are an average user looking to get an iPad instead of a laptop for your basic web browsing the iPad Air is the top choice as it is capable of more than the iPad 2 and the larger screen makes it a better option to use for extended periods of typing especially when paired with an iPad Air keyboard. Not every website works on the iPad, such as those needing flash, so double-check your favorites before replacing a laptop with the iPad Air.
If you don’t fall into one of these groups, keep reading to figure out what the biggest differences are and how they can influence your buying decision.
iPad vs iPad mini
No matter which iPad models Apple is selling, the biggest question is which iPad do you want to buy to match your needs, the iPad or the iPad mini. Apple sells two versions of each, but the biggest question is do you need a 7.9-inch display or a 9.7-inch display.
The larger display is great for movies and games, but in our experience the iPad mini’s smaller display is also quite adept at showing movies and TV shows on the go. If you are able to own both, you would definitely not feel out-of-place watching a full length movie on the iPad mini, but would certainly opt for the iPad Air or iPad 2 while at home. The larger screen is also easier for working on documents on the iPad, though with a great keyboard the iPad mini is suitable.
The sections below will go into more detail, but overall anything you can do on a larger iPad screen can also be done on the iPad mini, though personal preference may push some users to a larger screen.
Portability is a huge factor for some users, especially for many users, and the iPad Air is much more portable than the iPad 2 and the iPad 4 it replaced, but still doesn’t compare with the small size of the iPad mini and iPad mini Retina. If portability is very important to you, look at one of the iPad mini models. If the iPad won’t leave home often or will always be in a purse or backpack when it does, the size is not as important.
The iPad Air and iPad mini Retina are the top of the line iPads and as such will deliver the best overall performance. The iPad Air is slightly faster than the iPad mini Retina, but most users won’t notice the difference. The iPad 2 and iPad mini are slower and users of the iPad 2 will notice this even during average day-to-day use.
The iPad mini feels slightly slower than the iPad mini with Retina display for the small tasks I do every day, but it is not unusable. For users who don’t need the latest technology or cutting edge performance the iPad mini will do nicely.
The iPad 2 however feels slow compared to the more modern iPads and is one that most users should look past in favor of a refurbished iPad 4, which can be found for as little as $379 and offers the added bonus of a Retina Display.
“Do I need a Retina display?” asks a reader email from an iPad shopper.
The iPad mini with Retina Display and iPad Air both offer this higher resolution display, as do the iPad 3 and iPad 4 which Apple sells refurbished. The Retina display is a 2,048 x 1,536 resolution display that packs a lot of pixels into a 19.7-inch or 7.9-inch display. Ultimately this translates into very sharp text and very nice looking photos and videos. You don’t need to be a gamer or power user to appreciate the higher resolution display.
At the same time, the smaller iPad mini that Apple sells for $299 without a Retina display still offers a good-looking screen that many users will not see any problem with. If you are upgrading from a Kindle Fire to an iPad mini, the screen will be a marked improvement. The iPad 2 display isn’t as bad as we see on cheap Android tablets, but it doesn’t compete with the Retina display.
Do You Need an Internet Connection Anywhere?
Once you pick the iPad you want to buy, you need to decide if you want to buy one with 4G LTE connectivity. This allows you to connect the iPad to the same towers as your cel phone to get an Internet connection anywhere there is coverage. Most plans include using the iPad as a personal hotspot, and thanks to the large battery it can last about 24 hours as a personal hotspot.
Many users who want this functionality simply don’t want to hassle with finding a WiFi hotspot to connect or don’t want to drain their smartphone battery by using it as a personal hotspot.
Other users who have an iPad but not a smartphone will like this feature for the cheap mobile connectivity. You can add the iPad to a family share plan or you can use it on a monthly basis for $15 to $20 a month. T-Mobile even offers a free 200MB of use per month free for as long as you own the T-Mobile iPad Air.
You cannot add this feature in later. As someone who owns both iPads I opted for larger storage on the iPad Air instead of 4G LTE and made sure to buy the iPad mini Retina with 4G LTE.
Which iPad Should I Buy?
When it comes down to figuring out which iPad you should buy, there are a lot of options out there. If you don’t specifically fit the use cases listed at the top of this article, here is a quick breakdown to help you based on the various iPad models. The list below ranks them in the order you should buy them based on usability and value to the owner over two years.
iPad Air – You can’t go wrong with the iPad Air’s large and beautiful Retina display or the blazing fast performance, plus years of software updates. The only thing some users may not like is the size.
iPad mini Retina – If you want a more portable iPad that delivers the power and Retina Display of a full size iPad, the iPad mini Retina is a sure fire pick. The price is right at $399, and if you are choosing between the iPad 2 and the iPad mini Retina, stop debating and buy the iPad mini Retina.
iPad mini – If you need to save cash the iPad mini is still a good option that delivers a good user experience and should see an update to a new version of iOS next year as well as the ability to run many of the latest apps, though it may not handle games as well as the newer iPads.
iPad 4 – If you want to save money and buy an older iPad, skip the iPad 2 and buy a refurbished iPad 4 for $20 less. This comes with a faster processor and a Retina Display, plus it uses the same Lightning cable as the new iPhones and should receive new software updates for slightly longer than the iPad 2.
iPad 2 – The iPad 2 is an iPad and yes it is better than a cheap Android tablet, but for most users looking at which iPad to buy, the iPad mini and a refurbished iPad 4 offer better value than the nearly three-year old iPad 2.
Without knowing exactly what you want to do with the iPad it’s tough to tell a user exactly which iPad they should buy, but with these use cases and a rundown of what each iPad is capable of if should be easier to answer the ever-present, “which iPad should I buy?” question.