Which iPad should you buy and what’s the best value?

Apple has introduced new iPads, while keeping a number of existing models in the lineup. Looking at the WiFi-only models, you have a choice between 5 different models. Pricing for the base models remains the same, with storage capacities remaining at 16GB. Like the iPhone 6, both the iPad 2 and iPad mini 3 do away with the 32GB storage option, replacing it with 64GB of storage. So which iPad offers the best value?

If You Are Buying An iPad mini, What’s The Best Value

iPad family

If You Need Cheap

There are three iPad minis. The original iPad mini is the least expensive at $249. It’s still a capable tablet, one that can be upgraded to iOS 8. It doesn’t have a retina display and most of the internals were parts found in the iPad 2. That tablet was released on March 11th, 2011. If you’re looking for a cheap tablet, this is the iPad for you. It’s also money well spent and better than competing tablets due the extensive number of quality apps available in the App Store. If you’re buying for a child, this is a good option. If you want the most bang for your buck and have plans to keep this tablet for more than a year, there are better options.

If You Want Value

The iPad mini 2 (formerly known as the iPad mini with retina display) is last year’s mini. From the original to the mini 2, Apple made significant changes. For one, the iPad mini 2 features a retina display. These displays shine when reading any sort of text. Web browsing, Facebook, Twitter all benefit. If you do light reading on your iPad, you’ll instantly recognize and appreciate the display which clocks in at 326ppi (pixels per inch). Simply put, everything looks better. Specifications for last year’s retina model were in line with the flagship iPad Air, so it’s a powerhouse. More importantly, the 64-bit A7 processor is a nice pairing with Apple’s 64-bit iOS releases. The iPad 2 was the tablet that wouldn’t die and it was only this year that Apple finally stopped sales. Reason being, despite its age, it was thin, big and performer.

Retina vs non-retina

In the iPad mini 3, Apple added Touch ID. That’s it. I say that not to diminish the value of Touch ID, but to drive home the quality of specs of the iPad mini 2. Apple didn’t change the processor, display, design, camera. I could keep going down the specifications sheet. The only check mark in the column for the 3 is Touch ID.

iPad mini 3

The value of Touch ID is two-fold. It allows you to secure your iPad and unlock using your fingerprint. If you’re like me, I never lock my iPad. It’s not because I’ve thrown caution to the wind. My iPad doesn’t leave my home, so I don’t see a need to lock it. If you take your iPad every where, it offers enhanced security and convenience.

Touch ID will also allow you to make purchases in the App Store, without having to type your password. It’s much easier to press the home button, than having to enter a long password. If you use your iPad to shop online, Apple Pay is supported, so online purchases will get increasingly easier. That could be a good or bad thing, making it easier to run up bills on your credit card.

If you read the last two paragraphs and Touch ID isn’t a must, you’ll want to put the iPad mini 2 on your short list. But wait, let’s look at the storage capacities.

 

Which should you buy? iPad Air or iPad mini?

Hey, let’s face it. Deciding between the iPad Air and iPad mini is the definition of a ‘first world problem‘. Both are excellent devices.

The biggest difference between the iPad Air and iPad mini with retina is the 7.9-inch to 9.7-inch display. Moving up in screen size will also set you back $100. The iPad mini is a great mobile computing device and we’ll have to see if the redesigned iPad Air matches it. If it’s even remotely close, the $100 is a small price to pay to move up to a larger display. Bigger is better when it comes to games, multimedia and web surfing. If you do a fair amount of reading and travel often, you might use that $100 for books, movies, a good case or even moving up to a larger storage capacity. As infrequently as I travel, I still realize the importance of traveling light, where every ounce counts. It’s the reason I moved to a MacBook Air.

New Storage Capacities

The base model for the new iPhone 6, iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 all ship with 16GB of storage. Yes, it’s 2014 and they continue to ship devices with 16GB of storage. I’m going to venture a guess that profit margins played a big role. Seeing complaints from users who couldn’t install iOS 8 due to storage issues makes it tough to recommend any 16GB model, specifically the newer iPads. In past year’s, an extra $100 moved you from 16GB to 32GB, with $200 bringing you up to 64GB. This year, that extra $100 brings you from 16GB to 64GB. If you’re buying a 2014 iOS device, you want that second tier. No one ever complained about having too much storage. Apps, games, pictures, videos and content are only going to increase in size. Having room to grow, means that you won’t find yourself shuffling through your iPad deleting things, so that you can install iOS 9.

Storage capacity iPad

Let’s get back to the discussion of the iPad mini 2 vs iPad mini 3. The best value of the iPad mini 2 is the 16GB model for $299. That gives you a powerful iPad mini, at $100 less, provided you’re ok living without Touch ID. It also means that you’ll have limited space for apps, games, photos and so on. If you use your iPad to consume content (web browsing, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix) and aren’t downloading large games, you can get by with 16GB of storage. If you like to carry music, photos and videos, things can get tricky. On the iPad mini 2, the next storage option is 32GB and it’s only an additional $50. At $349, it’s not the sweet spot. If you jumped to the 64GB iPad mini 2, that’s an additional $150. Using Apple’s storage pricing, that’s $100 for double the storage and a more palatable $50 for Touch ID. And oh yeah, you can get it in gold.

If You Are Buying An iPad Air, What’s The Best Value

In the iPad Air 2, there are design and technical improvements throughout the device. Design wise, the went from impossibly thin to a level of thin where I might not be able to find enough adjectives. What about the guts? This isn’t as simple as, hey I don’t want Touch ID for an extra $100. But again, if you travel often and need security, or love the concept of using Apple Pay online, your decision just got easier. Get the iPad 2.

The iPad 2 receives a significant bump moving from the A7 to the A8X processor. The result is up to 40% faster CPU and graphics are up to 2.5X faster. If you aren’t pushing extreme graphics or running processor intensive apps, some of what you are purchasing is the future proofing of your tablet. These numbers, while nice, might not reflect your real-world usage. Having reviewed the iPad Air last year, speed was never a concern and I don’t see iOS 8 being enough of bear to change that opinion.

According to Phil Schiller, people love to take pictures with their iPads. That’s news to me, but hey, maybe you’re one of those folks. In that case, the Air 2 gets completely new iSight and FaceTime HD cameras. The iSight (rear-camera) goes from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels. It utilizes the signal image processing found in the A8X chip to help focus, recognize faces and generally, help you take clearer, sharper photos. If you plan on taking pictures, changes to the camera combined with all of the updates, makes the new model a worthy purchase.

WiFi access is the lifeblood of any iPad, so anytime that’s made faster, we’re in good shape. According to Apple, this new iPad Air 2 does just that. Wi‑Fi is more than twice as fast as before, with speeds up to 866 Mbps. So while you might not immediately see the benefits of the A8X processor, faster wireless is a more appreciable benefit to choosing the iPad Air 2.

The best value in the iPad Air lineup is the 64GB configuration of the iPad Air 2. If you are investing $500-plus on a tablet, it’s going to last you a number of years. For this reason alone, spend the extra $100 and quadruple your storage. With upgrades across the board, the added cost should pay-off in a more capable device in years to come and increased resale value.

If you can get by with 16GB of storage, the original iPad Air becomes enticing at $100 less. If you are looking for a high-end tablet, but not ready to break the bank, I’d recommend looking Apple’s refurbished models. Now, you’re talking about a difference between $339 and $499. That’s great value here at the low-end. You should know that Apple’s refurbished products look and function no differently than a brand new product. The only difference being the packaging. Refurbished products come in a non-descript white box. They come with the same 1-year warranty as a brand new iPad.

Shopping for new iPads can be confusing and even more so with five different iPads available from Apple. Hopefully, we’ve helped guide you through what’s changed and how it should impact your purchase decision. So, which iPad are you buying? Still not sure? See what other folks are doing in our iPad forums!

Originally published on October 16, 2014. Updated on March 21st, 2015.

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