Apple iPad Buying Guide: Which One is Right for You?

iPadRightForYou_leadOf course you want an iPad. It has become the industry standard, thanks to Apple’s stellar App Store, best-in-class design and intuitive user interface. Now, for the first time, Apple is offering four different models of iPads. For some, making the decision of which one to get is that much harder.

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you need a cellular connection in addition to the Wi-Fi option. All four of the major carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — offer versions of each model. Each comes with a data plan that ranges from $14.99 to $50 per month, and will cost you about $130 more up front. But, if you need connectivity absolutely everywhere, it might just be worth it. Helpfully, you don’t have to sign a contract, so if you know you’re heading out on a long business trip you could sign up for a month and then cancel. Or, your carrier may offer a shared data plan for use with your phone and iPad. If you go that route you’ll want to take into account your existing data usage. 

iPad Air


For the early adopter and true technophile who must have a large-screen tablet, the iPad Air is the model for you. Available in Space Gray or Silver, the iPad Air costs $499 for the Wi-Fi-only base model with 16GB of storage. You can opt for 32GB ($599), 64GB ($699) or 128GB ($799). The big selling point for this slate is the new thin-and-light design, measuring 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches and weighing just 1 pound. That is much smaller and lighter than the iPad 2. Under the hood you’ll find Apple’s new A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion co-processor, also an improvement.

Rounding out the specs, you’ll get a 9.7-inch screen with IPS technology and a 2048 x 1536-pixel Retina display. We love the iSight, 5-MP camera with autofocus and face detection, which blows away the camera on the iPad 2. And the 1.2-MP front camera on the Air is perfect for FaceTime conversations. The iPad Air one-ups the iPad 2 by offering 1080p HD video recording with stabilization and 3x video zoom.

On the battery life front, it’s tough to argue with the superiority of the iPad Air. On the Wi-Fi-only version, the Air lasted an astonishing 11 hours and 51 minutes. By comparison, the iPad 2 lasted 11:11, but the category average is 7:33. On Geekbench, which measures processor and memory performance, the iPad 2 notched just 742 compared with the Air’s 2,694.

For those who won’t settle for anything but the very best, Apple’s iPad Air is the tablet to get. It’s not just our favorite iPad, thanks to its long battery life, fast performance and awesome Retina display. It’s our favorite tablet. Period.

MORE: 25 Best iPad Apps

iPad 2


If you’re unconcerned about keeping up with the tech spec Jones, the iPad 2 is a solid choice for a full-size tablet. Granted, you won’t get the faster A7 chip, or options for up to 128GB of storage space. But for $100 less than the iPad Air, you still get a 9.7-inch slate running iOS 7 with full access to the tremendous Apple App Store.

The iPad 2 measures a little bigger than the Air at 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.34 inches. And it weighs a third of a pound more as well. The display isn’t Retina-crisp, at just 1024 x 768 pixels and 132ppi. The VGA front-facing camera is good enough for FaceTime, and the back camera can shoot 720p video.

There’s a lot to love about the iPad 2, particularly if you’re on a budget but have your heart set on a full-size tablet. You won’t get Siri. But, at $399 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model, you can still enjoy many of the best aspects of Apple’s mobile lineup.

If you can live with a smaller screen, the iPad mini with Retina Display offers a better screen and performance for the same $399 price. 

MORE: 25 Best iOS 7 Apps

iPad mini with Retina display


For a more portable, bag-friendly tablet, the 7.9-inch iPad mini is the way to go. And the new model, with its super-sharp Retina display, is the top of the line, perfect for early adopters who must have the very best. The price starts at $399 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only version, and goes up to $829 for the 128GB, Wi-Fi and 4G version.

The measurements of 7.87 x 5.3 x 0.29 inches on the mini haven’t changed much from the first generation’s 7.87 x 5.3 x 0.28 inches. The Retina model weighs a tad more, at 12 ounces, than the first generation’s 11.04 ounces. The 7.9-inch display technology is identical to the iPad Air’s 2048 x 1536 pixels. But because of the screen’s smaller size it fits in more pixels, at 326 ppi. By comparison, the iPad Air offers 264 ppi.

The iPad mini with Retina display shares a few other similarities with the iPad Air, besides the screen. Both tablets sport Apple’s speedy A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and an M7 motion co-processor. Both come with a 1.2-MP FaceTime camera on the front and a 5-MP iSight camera on the back, which can shoot 1080p video. And last, the two tablets offer Siri’s personal assistance for using your voice to send messages, set reminders and much more.

On Geekbench, which measures processor and memory performance, the Retina mini scored 2,519. The category average is a mere 1,766, and the Air notched 2,694. The original iPad mini, by comparison, mustered just 498. On Ice Storm Unlimited, which gauges graphics prowess, the Retina iPad mini scored a sky-high 14,128. That tramples the 2,679 score from the first mini.

The iPad mini with Retina display will last 11:06 of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi. While the iPad Air (Wi-Fi-only) does offer longer battery life at 11:51, it’s only by a hair.

If performance, battery life and a stunning display that easily fits in a small bag are important to you, the iPad mini with Retina display is the right iPad to buy. 

MORE: iPad Neck Strain: 5 Tips for Avoiding Injury

iPad mini


The least-expensive iPad around, the $299 (Wi-Fi only) original iPad mini is still an exceptional tablet worthy of your consideration. For that small sum, you get full access to Apple’s App Store, and the several enhancements found in iOS 7. And, unlike the iPad 2, you still get access to Siri.

The cheaper mini features the same front and back cameras found on the iPad mini with Retina display. The only difference on that front is that the first mini doesn’t come with the 3x video zoom ability found on its newer cousins. 

You won’t get the super-fast A7 chip under the hood of the original iPad mini, so you will sacrifice some speed. And you won’t get the Retina-display. Instead, you’ll have to make due with a 1024 x 768-pixel, 7.9-inch touch screen with 163 ppi. 

In some ways, the original iPad mini is a step up from the iPad 2. For those who place an emphasis on value, this is an excellent tablet. 

Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking and accessories. She's proud to say she loves each and every one of her phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
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  1. Rahul Says:

    Personally I would prefer the iPad Air simply because of the low weight compared to previous models. The bezel is thin but iOS 7 is optimized to detect fingers obstructing the screen and still stay away from causing any problem. The iPad Mini with retina display is good but sometimes I feel it’s just too small for the complete tablet experience.

  2. wade Says:

    No where can I find where to buy an Apple Wi-Fi 3g or 4g Ipad with true GPS capability by model number or store where they can be purchased. Approx cost would be nice. Any help is appreciated

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