Choosing an iPad

The Apple iPad is a wonderful device -- a powerful, lightweight tablet computer that can go everywhere with you.

Although an iPad cannot replace a regular laptop or desktop computer for most use cases, it certainly complements one. You can do a number of things on the iPad that you previously did on your laptop or desktop.

There’s also new uses for an iPad that you’re unlikely to ever do on a regular computer. And you can do those things from a more comfortable posture seated on a sofa or plush chair rather than at your computer desk.

The iPad can integrate into your device ecosystem along with your smart phone (iPhone or Android), laptop, and desktop computer. For example, your email, contacts, and calendar can seamlessly synchronize between all these devices.

By taking your iPad with you, you can access email or Facebook, look at a product review while standing in a store, show your vacation pics to people, make video calls using Skype or Facetime, read a book or play a game while in a waiting room, the possibilities are endless.
 
This article discusses how to choose an iPad that’ll best serve your needs.
 
There are many features to choose from and your decision must be made at or before purchase. That’s because the iPad cannot be upgraded later. You can always buy a case, an extra charger, or other accessory later on, but you cannot upgrade anything inside the iPad itself.

Elderly computer users

I wrote an article HERE on the elderly and computers and how to avoid fraud. Some types of fraud, especially the tech support scammers, are less likely to affect an iPad user. iPads (and iPhones) are highly resistant to malware infection. Elders also commonly suffer from declining cognition which might make a regular computer more difficult to use. Then there's just the reduced need that many elders have in what they use a computer for. For all these reasons, an iPad could make an excellent companion or even a total replacement for a regular computer.

My wife's 80 year old mother lives in a small village in Italy. There's no one around that could help her use or fix a problem on a regular computer. So we gave her an iPad and connected it to her wi-fi. It's been a transformational device for her. She reads books, the news, talks to my wife using FaceTime almost daily and uses email and iMessages, too. And she can sit on her sofa all the while. None of that would ever have happened with a regular tower computer or even a laptop. The iPad is truly a maintenance free device and has worked perfectly now for the three years she's owned it.

Buying decisions

There are the four things that you must decide on before you buy. Here we’ll discuss these features to help you decide what’s important based on how you intend to use your iPad.

Size of iPad. All screen measurements are diagonal, not counting the bezel.

  • 12.9 inch iPad Pro, weighs 24 oz.

  • 10.5 inch iPad Pro, weighs 17 oz.

  • 9.7 inch iPad, weighs 17 oz.

  • 7.9 inch iPad Mini 4, weighs 11 oz.

 
Decider: If you plan to carry your iPad everywhere, the Mini might be a good choice. If size and weight isn't an issue and you want a full, rich experience, one of the larger models may be indicated.
 
How much Storage?
 
Storage refers to how much stuff your iPad will hold. The biggest storage hog, by far, is media content and apps that contain lots of media (games, mostly). That means videos (the worst offender), photos, and music stored on your device. Email uses very little or no local storage. eBooks use very little storage and most apps use little storage, unless they are image-rich like many games.
 
Streaming media is ephemeral -- it doesn’t use any local storage since it’s viewed/listened-to in real time and not stored locally. e.g. YouTube videos don’t consume storage because you view them as they are downloaded. The frames of video you’ve already watched are simply deleted and are never stored. An Exception: Google's new YouTube Red (ad-free subscription YouTube) does allow some offline, local storage.
 
Generally, stored media will include videos or photos that you shoot using your iPad. Or it may include videos, photos, and music that you purchase online or synchronize to your iPad from your computer or iCloud.

 

DIfferent iPad models come with different storage options. Even if you don't store a lot of media, I'd recommend at least the middle storage option. Storage cannot be added later and you regret the smaller purchase it if you start using it up.
 
Cellular Capability or not?
 
All iPads have wi-fi capability, which means you can go online wherever there’s wi-fi available like in your home. But if you want to go online while away from home, you must find a wi-fi hotspot such as those offered in coffee shops, restaurants, etc. BUT, public wi-fi is generally not considered safe because bad actors may be on the same wi-fi network. If you have a smartphone, you could connect your iPad to the internet using your phone as a hotspot. I don't care to do that as it's more tedious, discharges the phone's battery faster, and performance can suffer.
 
But if you choose an iPad with cellular capability then you can go online safely and securely anywhere your wireless carrier provides service -- which is probably just about everywhere. The iPad is available on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. If you have a smartphone on one of those carriers, you can generally add an iPad for $10 or $15 a month. Not expensive at all.
 
Even if you don’t have a smart phone, you can still get a stand-alone data plan for an iPad for way less than the monthly cost of a smart phone.
 
The incredible usefulness of the iPad really becomes apparent when you can go online wherever you are. Standing in the isle at Home Depot and want to look something up? You can do that! My first iPad lacked cellular capability so I mostly left it at home because it was far less useful without the internet. But with my cellular-enabled iPad, I can go online practically anywhere without worrying about finding a hotspot. That makes the iPad far more useful so I take it everywhere now.
 
Decider: If you are absolutely positive you’ll rarely or never need internet access away from home, then you can choose the wi-fi-only model. But if you aren’t sure, even by a little bit, then choose a cellular-enabled model. You can always add the data plan later if you aren’t sure right now. But you cannot add the cellular capability later. If you choose the wi-fi-only model then later decide you want the cellular feature, then you must buy a new iPad.
 
What Color?
 
What is there to say here? Just pick the color you like. If the store doesn’t have the color you want, you can order it online directly from Apple or just choose a different color. Color does not affect price.
 
How much does the iPad cost?

There are too many options to list prices here. Buy you can easily compare iPads on Apple's web site.


My Recommendations

An iPad purchase is very personal. It just depends on how you plan to use the device. Examine the features I noted above such as amount of storage and cellular capability.  So, to round up, here's your decisions to make:

  • The most important decision is the size:  Small, Medium, or Large.

  • Next, choose between wi-fi only or one with cellular enabled.  (I recommend cellular enabled)

  • Then comes storage, each model has it's own options.  (I recommend at least 64 GB)

  • Finally, the least important choice. Color options vary by model.


Please don’t cheap-out and omit a feature that you even think you might want. To paraphrase what Consumer Reports advises when buying a car: Better to spend a little extra now to get the features you want because you’ll be living with this device for several years.

CLICK HERE to see a full comparison on Apple's site.