There are a certain lot of people out there who buy every single Apple product released. Yet the majority of them are more discerning. They’re feeding their necessities or desires. Either they haven’t gotten their first iPad yet and are wondering whether it’s worth it to pay more for the new iPad or pay less for the iPad 2. Or perhaps they already have the first or second generation iPad and want to know whether it’s worth it for them to upgrade.
I actually fall somewhere in the middle of those groups. I don’t always buy the first Apple product released, but I do get around to buying them all eventually. I just bought an iPad 2 last summer. It’s not a “toy” for me, but used instead for almost every other thing whenever I don’t feel like carrying around a laptop. I would thought I’d keep it for a few years, but I’m already finding the capacity isn’t enough. For the past few months, I’ve known I’d be buying the next generation whenever it’s released. I’m selling my second generation to my friend who is in the market for two of them – for himself and his wife, and knows the second generation will be enough for his wife to play her nightly Solitaire on, but wonders if he needs the third generation for himself.
“Should I buy the new iPad 3 now? Which new iPad should I get? So many iPad configurations, how do I choose?“
So, I presented to him the following new iPad 3 buying guide and Q&A to help him through the decision making. My friend found them useful. Hope they could be as helpful to you too.
Should I get an iPad 3 if I already have an iPad 1 or 2?
If you’re looking to justify an upgrade, the Retina screen alone is going to be a huge improvement for the tasks that people do most on iPads just like how we detailed in our iPad full review: reading and web browsing. It’s also going to be very significant if you like viewing photos on your iPad.
The other big difference in day-to-day use will likely be the extra RAM, especially if you browse the web a lot in Safari: the RAM upgrade will allow the new iPad to hold more pages in memory before it kicks them out and requires you to reload them. And having more memory for multitasking means that fewer apps will need to manually rebuild their states on launch, so switching between apps will be faster in practice.
And if you’re coming from an iPad 1, the new iPad is noticeably thinner and lighter, and much faster. These are major improvements that you’ll notice almost every day.
However, if those things aren’t of great importance to you, you might want to save the money and hold on to the iPad you have. It isn’t any less adequate today than it was yesterday.
Should I skip this one and wait for the next iPad?
You can argue that there might be another better one coming out within the next 8-12 months… but that’s always going to be the case.
Therefore… No, you shouldn’t. Nobody outside of Apple knows what the next iPad will be like, but it probably won’t come for another full year, and it will probably be a more incremental update (think iPhone 4 to 4S: faster, better camera, with Siri thrown into mix, but hardly anything to persuade the iPhone 4 owners to upgrade) compared to this update with the Retina screen.
If you prefer to skip generations, I bet it will make good sense to buy this one and skip the next one.
Should I wait for an inevitable price drop several months later?
No. Unlike a lot of other electronics, the retail price of any given Apple product will probably never change over its lifespan. Therefore, the best time to buy an Apple product is right when it’s released or updated.
That is, until the next iPad.
Should I get the iPad 2, which now costs only $399?
Probably not, unless the price difference is very important to you and it will mainly be used in ways that won’t benefit from the Retina screen, such as movie-watching or casual games.
But the truth is, almost everything you do on the iPad will benefit greatly from the improved screen. Trust me, the extra $100 will be well-spent.
4G or not?
All iPads have Wi-Fi, but 4G costs $129 extra on each model. There are two complicating factors:
- Wi-Fi-only iPads don’t have GPS, and the GPS on 4G iPads works even without an active data plan. So if you ever want any kind of location-based feature, even offline mapping, it’s much more useful with the 4G iPad.On the other hand, you might find, as I have, that mapping, both offline and online, is easier to just do on the iPhone.
- Both AT&T and Verizon iPhones support the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, which apparently works very well. For about the same price as the cheapest iPad data plans, you can just make your iPhone’s connection sharable to any Wi-Fi device, including a Wi-Fi-only iPad, negating the need for the 4G iPad. If you also own a laptop, this is a compelling feature — it replaces a standalone MiFi at a much lower monthly cost.There’s a drawback to this method: your iPhone needs to be charged, on, and nearby, and the Wi-Fi hotspot feature needs to be on, whenever you want to use data on your iPad outside. If you get a 4G iPad with its own data plan, it’s always on and ready to go, just like an iPhone.
It’s not doing any harm, except the higher purchase price, to get 4G “just in case” you ever need it. But if you’re a gadget nut and plan to buy every iPad, you really only need to consider whether you’ll need it in the next year, not whether you’ll “ever” need it.
A 4G iPad may also have a more useful life after you’re done with it. If you want to give it to a friend or relative who’s starting from technology-zero and doesn’t have an internet connection, a 4G iPad can remove the need for a home broadband connection and crappy Wi-Fi routers that die every 8 months.
If you get 4G, there’s no contract, and you don’t need to buy a data plan: it simply gives you the option to get one, month-to-month, whenever you want, for $15-30/month (see “AT&T or Verizon” below).
I went Wi-Fi-only on my iPad 2 and regretted it, so I upgraded to 3G quickly later. In practice, I found that I brought the 3G-enabled iPad more places and used it more because it was always internet-connected. This greatly improved the value of the iPad for me. If you see yourself taking the iPad outside of your house very often, it’s definitely worth considering the 4G option.
Note that all of this decision-making applies whether your area is covered by 4G LTE service or whether you only have 3G coverage. 4G just increases the data speeds, but I’ve found that data connectivity on an iPad is much more important than whether it’s 3 megabits or 15 megabits or 70 megabits.
What about a Wi-Fi iPad connected via my iPhone’s tethering plan?
It’s certainly an option if you have a tethering data plan for your iPhone.
I used my iPad 2 with tethering for a few months. It wasn’t nearly as good as giving the iPad its own 3G service. With tethering, the iPad isn’t always connected. Getting and keeping it connected takes a bit of effort. Sure, it’s not a lot, but that friction adds up and just made me use it a lot less.
And most importantly, I never wanted to drain my iPhone’s battery faster just to keep my iPad connected.
Tethering can be a good substitute for direct 4G iPad connectivity if you already need a tethering plan (probably for a laptop) and rarely need to connect your iPad away from Wi-Fi. But if you’re going to be using your iPad over a cellular network on a regular basis, it’s better to get a 4G iPad with its own plan.
For 4G, AT&T or Verizon?
If you go with 4G in the U.S., you have to choose the AT&T or Verizon model. There are minor plan-pricing differences:
- AT&T offers the cheapest plan at $15/month, but only for 250 MB, which isn’t enough for frequent use away from Wi-Fi.
- Verizon’s cheapest plan is $20/month and offers a much more generous 1 GB, which should cover most people’s needs.
- To get comfortable headroom with AT&T, you need to upgrade to the $30/month 3 GB plan, which is 50% more data than Verizon’s $30 2 GB plan. (Confusing, I know.)
- Both carriers offer $50 5 GB plans, but very few people are likely to need that much data on their iPads.
- Currently, only Verizon offers tethering (the iPad as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other devices).
It’s very easy to activate, change, and deactivate the plans right in the iPad’s Settings app at any time, so don’t worry too much about which plan to select. Up front, you only need to choose a carrier.
The basic rule here is that AT&T is faster when it has great reception and coverage, but its coverage and quality is inconsistent and its speeds are often terrible in big cities, while Verizon is generally more reliable in most regions despite lower top speeds.
Pick the one that covers your area best. If they both cover very well, I recommend AT&T: its data speeds, at least on 3G, tend to be faster in practice. Verizon has more 4G LTE coverage, but it still isn’t as widespread as 3G. If AT&T sucks in your area, go with Verizon, and vice versa. I couldn’t stress enough that, most of the time, a reliable connectivity is more important than a higher speed but hit-or-miss connection.
Previously, with the iPad 2, only the AT&T model had a micro-SIM slot for roaming worldwide. With the new iPad, both the AT&T and Verizon models have the micro-SIM slot, so international travelers don’t need to avoid Verizon anymore. 4G iPads purchased in the U.S. are carrier-unlocked outside of the U.S.
16, 32, or 64 GB?
Capacity is expensive — I really don’t think, for instance, that 64 GB is going to be worth the $200 premium to most users. And many people would find that the $129 for the 4G upgrade makes their iPad more “future-proof” than a $100 capacity bump.
This depends a lot on how you plan to use the iPad. If you’re primarily reading, browsing the web, checking email, and playing games, 16 GB is probably enough.
Most people don’t sync a lot of music to their iPads, but if you’re going to sync a bunch of movies or photos to it, I highly suggest getting at least 32 GB. Keep in mind that the new iPad has iPhoto which has the ability to handle nineteen-megapixel images, so if you plan to use that to hold and manage a large library, 32 or even 64 GB might be wise.
The new iPad can also capture 1080p video from its rear camera, much like the iPhone 4 and 4S. Holding up an iPad to shoot videos is going to be awkward for many people, but if you plan to shoot video, definitely choose 32 or 64 GB.
Even if you don’t plan to store a lot of media files on the iPad, you might still want to avoid the baseline 16GB model “thanks to” the Retina Display. To complement the ultra high-res display, apps will receive a significant size bump to include high-resolution artwork for filling up the new iPad’s 3 million pixels. It seems like space will be at more of a premium than before, and the 16GB iPad in particular is looking short on local storage even if you are not a power user.
For most people, 32 GB is probably the ideal choice. If you think you’ll need the 64 GB version, you should consider whether even that will be enough. If it won’t, and you’ll need to “edit” your collections to fit on the iPad anyway, consider whether editing them down to fit into 32 or 16 GB might be worthwhile.
If I were buying an iPad for someone else and I wasn’t sure how they’d end up using it, I’d choose 32 GB.
Black or white?
Just when you think after deciding to get a new iPad, figuring out your carrier, and choosing which storage capacity you wanted, you’d be done already.
Black is the safest option if you’re unsure. I suggest seeing them in person before choosing white. Some people find having a white faceplate very distracting when they’re watching videos or gaming. There’s a reason why movies are letterboxed with black bars, not white ones, and why most TVs are framed by black. Like I explained in the iPad review, you’re not supposed to notice the hardware while using it, and black will be easier to ignore than the white.
And others might be put off by the contrast between the white border and the black screen when the screen is off. Think “panda”.
In the end, this is mostly a personal preference. Keep in mind that it’s only the border around the screen — the back is brushed aluminum, and the case or cover is whatever color you want (and can always be changed later).
Still undecided? Just go with your heart
Case, Smart Cover, or other accessories?
The Smart Cover doesn’t protect the back of the iPad at all, but is extremely thin and light. It’s nice if you’re keeping the iPad at home, or if you carry it in a bag that already has a dedicated soft pocket for it.
Otherwise, cases are really a personal preference. Folio-style cases are very practical and protective, but they add a lot of bulk. I like semi-rigid slipcases, especially the WaterField iPad Smart Case, but this is really a matter of preference.
If this is your first iPad, don’t jump right in and order the dock or keyboard. They’re pricey, and you probably won’t need them. If you find that you need them after using the iPad for a little while, you can always get them later.
Apple now offers the $99 AppleCare+ plan, which gives you a second year of warranty coverage and nearly-complete coverage from accidental damage: if you break your iPad under AppleCare, you can get a new one for $49, twice.
You probably already have an opinion on extended warranties, and that’s fine. The new accidental-damage protection makes this a lot more attractive than before. Personally, I’ve stopped buying extended warranties on almost everything, with the rationale that if I ever actually need to repair something out of warranty and it costs me a much larger amount of money than I would have been spending on extended warranties, I’ll start buying them from that point forward.
Where to ensure best stock?
Whenever there’s a new iPhone or iPad launch, everyone thinks they know of a secret low-traffic AT&T store or Best Buy that will all but guarantee a short line and day-one availability. They’re usually wrong.
If you can’t preorder it for delivery during the launch window, your best bet is to go to an Apple retail store and wait on line. Get there 1-2 hours early for the best chance of getting one without having to camp out and wait all day.
Don’t bother going to Best Buy, AT&T or Verizon stores, or anywhere else — they won’t have nearly as much stock as Apple’s retail stores, if they even have any during the launch period.