iPad Buying Guide


We all know that you want an iPad. You haven’t even touched one yet, but you have read every word published on the device since before it was announced on Wednesday’s event. You’ve been up all night dreaming about surfing the web, and looking at your address book in split view. You can’t wait to download iTunes movies and watch them on the gorgeous 9.7″ LED-backlit, glossy widescreen multi-touch display with fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.

In fact, you have been repeating that last sentence in your head all morning as you watch the keynote again after downloading the high-res podcast from iTunes. You are making a list of which iBooks you will buy from the iBookstore so you can decide which title will be the first to have it’s icon gracefully displayed on your faux wood electronic bookshelf.

You are going to buy an iPad. All that is left to decide is which one. This, unfortunately, could be a difficult decision.

What Are the Choices?

There are six variations on the iPad with various combinations of storage, with and without 3G support, ranging from $499 to $829.

Somewhere in that $330 spread is the perfect iPad for you.

Storage Capacity

You have three choices here: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. How do you decide how much you need?

iPhone apps are generally pretty small (a quick survey of the 400+ apps I have in my library indicates that they range from 56KB for single-purpose utilities to almost 200MB for some 3D games). It would take a lot of apps to fill up your iPad, even when you consider that the larger screen size will likely require iPad-specific games with larger graphic assets to fill that amazing screen from edge to edge with gaming goodness.

Email and all that doesn’t require a ton of onboard storage either, especially when you are using something like Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo, IMAP, Exchange or any other solution that keeps most of your archived messages on the server.

Music and movies are the big culprits here. If you want to carry around a lot of music and movies on the device, you will want the bigger capacity iPad. And, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll want to watch movies on this thing and show them off to your friends.

The real kicker is the pricing. It costs $100 to go from 16GB to 32GB ($6.25/GB) and $100 to go from 32GB to 64GB ($3.13/GB). The storage is actually getting cheaper as you buy more. Don’t be conservative here. Buy the biggest model you can afford.

To 3G or not to 3G? That is the Question

The 3G model offers nearly on-demand access to a wide-area network when you are out of range of Wi-Fi. In the United States, that access will cost you $14.99 for data transfer up to 250MB for the month, or $29.99 for unlimited data. With no contract required, you can sign up for these data contracts on the iPad itself only when you need it (no word yet if you can upgrade mid-month from 250MB to unlimited for the prorated difference). In addition, you also get access to AT&T hotspots as part of your subscription.

But Why Would You Want 3G?

Adding the 3G support to the iPad will cost an extra $130 on top of whatever size model you choose. I think the biggest reason to splash out for 3G is that this model includes support for assisted GPS. You won’t get GPS at all on the Wi-Fi model. The mapping application demonstrated during the iPad introduction (shown at 22:35) looks absolutely stunning andis  a huge improvement over the iPhone. The speed on the new A4 processor in the iPad really takes the Maps app to the next level.

The only other reason to get the 3G model is to plan ahead for the possibility that you might need to use the iPad while not near Wi-Fi. If you’re taking this thing out to client meetings, conferences with sketchy Wi-Fi, or Apple press events filled to capacity, you will love having a wide-area network option available.

You might consider using a MiFi or other mobile hotspot to provide connectivity for your iPad while out and about, but those solutions all require long-term contracts. If you already have a MiFi or similar device, then just use that. If you don’t, the 3G model at least offers the opportunity to get online when you need it.

Other Considerations

iPhone Users: If you have an iPhone, the iPad 3G might not be necessary. If you are really in a pinch where you can’t use Wi-Fi, you can rely on your iPhone until you get back into range of an access point.

Upgradeitis: It seems obvious that there will be a new iPad next year. Who knows, it might even have a camera. If you think you might upgrade next year, consider what you need for the next 12 months. I think the two models that will have the highest resale demand in 2011 will be the low-end $499 device because of the price point and the $829 64GB 3G model because it will still be appealing to a power user that is looking for a used iPad to save a little money over next year’s high-end model.

What Am I Buying?

I was leaning towards the $829 3G model because I know I will love the iPad but now I’m pretty sure I’ll get the $499 Wi-Fi model. I want an iPad, but I already have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone. If the iPad proves indispensable, I will sell the original iPad once iPad 2.0 comes out and buy the biggest and baddest model then.

Tell Us Which Model You Will Buy

Here’s your chance to weigh in. Vote in the poll to tell everyone which iPad you’re planning on buying.

[polldaddy poll=2609804]

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