Which iPad is right for you?

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Over the last few months, a few friends and colleagues of mine have said to me: ‘Michael, I want to buy an iPad, which one should I buy?’. I usually answer their question with my own question: What is it you want to do on the iPad?

You would have thought answering this question would be rather simple to do but you’d be surprised by the number of times I received a blank expression or a shrug of the shoulders. But after a few suggested uses, the answers usually start flowing. The popular answers I get are narrow down to the following activities:

  1. Surf the Internet, writing emails, view social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+)
  2. Watch movies, catch-up TV (iPlayer / ITV player / 4oD / Netflix / Amazon Prime Video)
  3. Play games
  4. Read books, newspapers, magazines etc
  5. View photographs.

By writing this article I hope to help people decide which iPad is right for them and the reasons why. So let’s begin with the basics.

The basics

The Apple iPad is available to buy in five models: iPad ProiPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini 4 and iPad mini 2. Although there are five models, it actually comes in three physical sizes: the iPad Pro measures 12.9″ across, the iPad Air measures 9.7 inches across diagonally and the iPad mini measures 7.9o inches across diagonally.

The iPad is very versatile piece of hardware and it can do numerous tasks and it does them rather well, but certain models excel at specific tasks than the other models.

What is ‘Retina Display’?

I get this question all the time from people. Retina Display is Apple’s brand name for a high pixel density screen; think of it as ‘High Definition’ (HD). Because the Retina Display has more pixels than a normal pixel density screen, images and text appear clearer and sharper.

All of the five models of iPad come with Retina Display.

Size does matter

As the saying goes, size does matter. If your primary activity is to be playing games or watch movies/catch-up TV then the iPad Pro or the iPad Air is for you; you can’t beat a big screen.

If you want to use the iPad as an e-reader for books, newspapers or magazines then I’d advise you to get the iPad mini 4 or iPad mini 2. The prolong reading on screen will be easier on your eyes because the text has better definition and is sharper therefore less focusing for your eyes which will equal less headaches.

I don’t advise getting the bigger iPad Pro or iPad Air model for reading due to its size, it’s too big and heavier than the iPad mini to held in one hand for any considerable amount of time whilst you swipe with the other. The iPad mini is at the perfect size and weight combination to be held in one hand, even if you have small hand or not so strong.

If you do the occasional Internet activities, I’d advise you get the iPad mini. You don’t need to spend the extra money on a bigger screen that will not benefit you much.

If you have a visible impairment, without a doubt get the iPad Pro or iPad Air model, regardless of your task.

4G/3G (mobile) or Wi-Fi

To add further confusion, all models come in a further two combinations: Mobile or Wi-Fi. The Mobile model also includes Wi-Fi, it’s the Wi-Fi only model that omits Mobile. Having a Mobile enabled iPad means you have the ability to access the Internet anywhere in the world by connecting directly to a mobile carrier network. If you do buy a Mobile iPad you will to also need to purchase a mobile data plan with a mobile carrier to enable this function, otherwise, it will be Wi-Fi only. Prices and data allowance differ between carriers and you will need to decide which plan best suits your needs when you come to purchasing.

If you have an Apple iPhone (or any other smartphone) with a data plan, you can save money by just purchasing the Wi-Fi iPad. By turning your iPhone into a ‘Personal Hotspot’, you can share the Internet connection provided by your iPhone by having the iPad connect to it wirelessly, this is called Tethering. Having the iPad tether to the iPhone means that iPad can then use the iPhone mobile signal to connect to the Internet. Of course, you will need a data plan with your carrier so make sure you have one before you enable it, otherwise you could be facing a huge bill.

Memory

The iPads do NOT have internal hard disk drives, nor a slot for a microSD card; everything is stored on the internal Flash memory much like a USB memory stick. Because of this, your iPad memory is not upgradeable so you need to choose a capacity that will be sufficient for your present and future needs.

If you are planning to play games or watch movies you’ve purchased off iTunes or RIPped from DVD on your iPad, I recommend that you purchase the 32GB, 64GB or 128GB capacity models. You can’t have enough memory when it comes to games and movies. If you are watch movies on a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, storage is not a concern as the movie is not stored on your iPad. But, these services may offer you the feature to download the movie for ‘offline’ viewing one day, you may want to consider a bigger capacity iPad.

Why do you need a bigger capacity iPad? The actual file size of a movie will of course depend on its running time, but the typical file size is usually between 1.5GB-2GB for a two hour film in standard definition (SD), the file size will be considerably larger if the movie is in high definition. This means that you can realistically only put six or seven movies onto a 16GB iPad before it’s full. Please note: the operating system for the iPad, iOS, is also stored in the same Flash memory and this usually takes 1GB of space. So, unless you want to spend time forever transferring movies on and off the device, I recommend you purchase a high capacity iPad.

All models except the original iPad mini come in various capacity variations. Purchase the biggest capacity iPad you can afford or willing to spend.

Minor differences

Although there are five models of iPad, there are only minor technical differences between them. The ‘top of the line’ iPad is the iPad Pro as it has the fastest processor (the A9), a fully laminated display, an anti-reflective coating, a fingerprint identity sensor (known as Touch ID), a burst mode camera, a slow-motion video camera and a barometer. You can argue these are all ‘nice to have’ features, but you can definitely live without them. All these features push the price of the iPad Pro to £679 minimum, whereas, if you can do without, the iPad Air 2 will cost £319 minimum.

You can view the full differences comparison chart on Apple’s own website.

Colour

The iPads come in a three colours: black/space-grey, white/silver and white/gold, but what’s available depends on which model you buy. black/space-grey and white/silver is available on all models whereas white/gold is only available on the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4.

Which colour is better is subjective, but users have found that the black/space grey models make fingerprints around the edge of the iPad more visible due to the contrast. So, if you have greasy skin, I recommend you get the white/silver or white/gold models. Otherwise, it’s totally up to you.

Conclusion

I suspect I have confused you more now than when we you started! If so, apologies. But hopefully my list below will clarify which model is best suited for a particular task:

  • Surf the Internet, writing emails, view social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) – iPad mini 4 or 2
  • Watch movies, catch-up TV – iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 or iPad Air with 32GB of memory or more
  • Play games – iPad Air 2 or iPad Air with 32GB of memory or more
  • Read books, newspapers, magazines – iPad mini 4 or 2
  • Viewing personal photographs – Any model
  • Blogging, office work – iPad Pro with Apple Smart Keyboard, or iPad Air 4 or iPad Air, with a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard.

If you have an Apple Store or a John Lewis store near you, go and have a play with the iPad. There you can actually get a grasp on the iPad’s physical size and weight to see if it is indeed the right iPad for you.

Version history

2.0 February 2015 – Updated to match new iPad model line.
1.0 December 2013 – Article originally published.