How to Choose which iPad is Right For You

The Definitive iPad Buying Guide

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You’ve decided to buy yourself an iPad, and now you have to decide which model to get.  The iPad Mini, iPad 2, or the iPad 4?* Which iPad do you need?

Okay, that’s a trick question.  You don’t need any iPad.  iPads do not do anything that you can’t already do with a laptop or smartphone. They just do many things better and more conveniently.  The iPad is a toy.  Now, let’s go toy shopping.

Mini vs Maxi: Get the Mini

The first question is whether you should buy an iPad Mini, or either of the two full-sized iPads (which after owning a Mini, I now consider “Maxis”)

If you plan on taking the iPad out and about, get the Mini.  Period.  The Mini is smaller, thinner and half the weight of the original-sized iPads.  The Mini is so small and light, I take it everywhere.  I can stick it in the pocket of my sweatshirt or coat.

In fact, as the picture below shows, my Mini is smaller than my small spiral notebook.  You will use the Mini more than you will use any other iPad because it will always be next to you.

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Exception 1: iPad Theater

If you mainly want an iPad for watching TV and movies, consider one of the Maxi sized iPads.  If you plan on carrying your iPad around town to watch video, I still recommend the Mini because the convenience is so great.

But if you plan on watching movies around your home, one of the Maxis isn’t a bad idea.  The difference in screen size between the Mini and Maxis is noticeable.  Wide screen movies get really, really small on the Mini. “Dark Knight Rises” on my Mini looked like it was being projected onto a belt. Then again, if I really cared about the gorgeous cinematography of a big budget epic, I would have watched it on my 60” plasma TV!

Dark Knight Rises on the Mini.  That's a lot of wasted space!

Dark Knight Rises on the Mini.  That's a lot of wasted space!

Exception 2: You Really Want A Retina Display

Not only is the screen of the iPad 4 bigger than the mini, it also has twice as many pixels per inch as the iPad 2.  If this is important to you, get the iPad 4. I can’t tell the difference.  Maybe you can.  Just remember, no pixel resolution is going to make Here Comes The Boom a funnier movie.

Exception 3: Processor Intensive Tasks

The iPad 4 uses Apple’s new A6 processor, which is really, really fast, which makes a difference with processor-intensive tasks.  If you’re not a huge nerd like me, you’re probably wondering, what might I do on an iPad that is processor intensive?  The answer is “not much.”  A few tasks that come to mind include:

  1. Editing video
  2. Retouching very large photos
  3. Drawing/sketching/painting
  4. Handwriting notes (with a stylus)
  5. Graphic intensive games (driving games, fighting games, etc)

If you fit into one or more of these categories, you’re really going to enjoy the brute force power of the iPad 4.  (Also, the larger screen size will likely be appreciated with these tasks.)  If you’re not going to spend appreciable time doing any of the above, get the Mini.

iPad 2 vs iPad 4

If you don’t want to get a Mini, you next need to decide on the iPad 2 vs. the iPad 4.  The iPad 4 has a higher resolution screen and faster processor (both discussed above), and better cameras, but you’re paying $100 more for it.  ($399 for the iPad 2 vs. $499 for the iPad 4.)  I say, spend the money.  If you’re already in for four hundred bucks, spend an extra hundred to get the top of the line model.  That said, if you'd rather put that hundred towards other luxuries like rent, you'll be fine with the iPad 2, as long as you're not going to use the iPad for one of the five tasks listed in the previous section.

Other Options: Hard Drive

All the iPads come standard with a 16GB hard drive. You’d only need a larger drive if you plan on shooting a lot of video, or you think you need your 3000-song iTunes library at your fingertips 24/7, or your Photo Stream is longer than the Mississippi, and every photo is too precious to archive.  Basically, if you think you need a larger drive, you probably qualify for the TLC series Hoarders.  The problem is in your head, not in your iPad.  Just get the 16GB version.

Other Options: Cellular Data

If you buy a base model of any iPad, you’ll only be able to connect to the Internet via WiFi.  No WiFi = no email, no web surfing, no Pandora, etc.  Getting an iPad with cellular data means you’re plugged in to the Net at all times.  But this convenience does not come cheaply.  You’ll be spending an additional $130 for the iPad, and at least $10 a month for a data plan.  So, is it worth it? 

In my opinion, if you’re getting the Mini, spend the $460 for the model with cellular data.  You’re buying an iPad for convenience, not need, so why not be as comfortable as possible?  The convenience will change your life.

If you’re buying the iPad 4, don’t get the cellular data.  You’d be looking at a $630 price tag, and should you really be spending that kind of scratch on a toy???

Go Buy an iPad Now

The final questions are always “Is this the right time to buy? Aren’t the new models coming out soon?”  Yes, new models are always on their way.  New BMW models also come out every year, but if you want a new car in March, you don’t wait until December to buy one.   My rule of thumb: if the rumor mill is predicting new models within 90 days, be cautious and wait.  If not, buy.  For always updated insight of when to buy and not buy, check out the awesome Mac Buyers Guide on macrumors.com.  Every gadget is going to become obsolete eventually.  Toys don’t bring anyone joy when they are sitting on the store shelf.

I hope this helps.  If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments!

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* The fourth generation iPad is technically called “iPad with Retina Display.”  For ease of conversation, I’m referring to the device by its nerd-nickname, “iPad 4.”

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