August 30, 2014

Which iPad is the Best Choice?

With 18 (!) models to choose from, which iPad is the best choice?

Apple may make their product lines easy to understand, with simple and consistent names, but there sure are a lot of iPad 2 models. Which iPad is the best choice? I picked the 32 GB Wi-Fi model personally, but I can see cases where others might prefer a 3G or base model. Let’s consider it.

The iPad 2 Model Lineup

There are no less than 18 different iPad 2 models:

16 GB 32 GB 64 GB
black white black white black white
Wi-Fi MC769LL/A MC979LL/A MC770LL/A MC980LL/A MC916LL/A MC981LL/A
3G (GSM) MC773LL/A MC982LL/A MC774LL/A MC983LL/A MC775LL/A MC984LL/A
3G (CDMA) MC755LL/A MC985LL/A MC763LL/A MC986LL/A MC764LL/A MC987LL/A

All of these are iPad 2′s, and selecting one comes down to four basic questions:

  1. How much storage do I want?
  2. Do I want black or white?
  3. Do I want Wi-Fi or 3G?
  4. If I pick 3G, do I want GSM (AT&T) or CDMA (Verizon)?

Let’s take these questions in turn.

How Much iPad Storage Is Enough?

I bought a first-generation iPad the day they came out, and it’s seen heavy usage in my house. It was a base model with just 16 GB of capacity, and that’s really put a crimp on the media we could carry around with us. It was plenty for apps, but not enough for music or (especially) movies.

The iPad capacity decision really comes down to a single question: Do I want to store movies on this thing?

If you intend to carry around much video, get more than 16 GB capacity. 32 GB is enough for a few movies and 64 is enough for a few more. Most buyers pick the largest capacity point (no doubt they want to carry around enough to be entertained wherever they go) and a good number pick the smallest (they must not want to watch stored video). I split the difference and bought a 32 GB iPad 2 and it’s been plenty for my use, and I’m a fairly heavy air traveler. But apparently the rest of the world doesn’t agree, since 32 GB is by far the least-common size!

One reason I didn’t go for 64 GB is a new feature in iOS 4.3: AirTunes. It’s now possible to stream video and audio to the iPad and iPad 2 from a computer running iTunes. Since my desktop acts as an iTunes server at home and my laptop contains over 100 GB of music and video, I didn’t feel that I needed as much capacity as in earlier iOS versions. If I want to watch something at home, I can always stream it.

I also purchased the iPad Camera Connection Kit, which makes it possible to watch movies from an SD card. But it’s really finicky, and I’ve never actually done it in practice.

Black or White?

I don’t really care as much about the color decision. It’s up to personal taste, really.

  • Black is more understated and traditional, and I feel that the black bezel “works better” when watching movies.
  • White is new and different, drawing attention that this is an iPad 2. I felt that the white border was distracting when reading and watching movies, though.

I chose black.

Wi-Fi or 3G?

A 3G iPad is an amazing thing: Pull it out and use it anywhere, any time. It really transforms the use case of the iPad, making it a mobile companion for people on the go.

But many of us are always within range of Wi-Fi, whether it’s our home router, business access point, Starbucks or McDonald’s, or a MiFi. It’s not quite as seamless to use (you have to tell it to use this or that Wi-Fi network) but it’s faster and unlimited. It’s also $130 cheaper.

I picked Wi-Fi only, since I already carry three 3G devices (a Virgin Mobile MiFi, Cradlepoint router, and iPhone 4) and didn’t want another expensive radio. But I’m disappointed with the Wi-Fi range and sensitivity (it’s much worse than the MacBook Pro or any iPhone) and find that, because of a lack of always-on connectivity, I often turn back to the iPhone rather than using the iPad.

I recommend spending the extra money and getting a 3G radio, but which one?

GSM or CDMA?

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not so simple. Every Apple owner loves to hate AT&T, so going with Verizon for the iPad sounds great. But the Verizon CDMA model isn’t at all portable outside the United States, while the AT&T GSM model is unlocked and ready to use anywhere. This means the GSM iPad 2 is much more in demand and will likely hold its value better. Plus, AT&T’s network seems to work fine for most users I know.

On the other hand, Verizon’s data plans are somewhat cheaper than AT&T’s for many users. As CNN money reported, AT&T starts cheaper, but Verizon wins past 4 GB per month. This could really add up as time goes by!

Stephen’s Stance

I recommend getting the AT&T iPad 2 in either 16 or 64 GB capacity. Decide if you will want to take a lot of media with you and, if so, opt for the bigger iPad. It’s funny – my own choice was the exact opposite of this recommendation!

  • http://twitter.com/networkjanitor Kurt Bales

    Very timely! I have an insurance claim in right now to cover my lost (Original) iPad that I lost just after Cisco Live Melbourne! I have been tossing up which model to replace it with, but you have confirmed my thoughts of Black 64GB 3G :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.damoulakis Jim Damoulakis

    Thanks, Stephen.  This is just what I was looking for.  Your comments on Wi-Fi performance were very interesting, so I will definitely be going GSM.  Capacity is still the unknown — I’ll probably go larger than 16, just to hedge my bets.

  • jimtut

    Are you sure about iTunes streaming audio/video to an iPad?  I have iTunes on my Mac which can stream audio to the Airport Express and the Apple TV, and stream video to the Apple TV.  However, none of the iDevices (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) are available for streaming from the Mac.

  • Natsmysp

    Very helpful! :)