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t is for tapping As an iPad owner, general Apple-advocate and tech geek, I’ve been getting asked this question every few weeks since the iPad came out. The frequency is accelerating with the holidays drawing near, so I’m going to reproduce some of the analysis here that I’ve been sharing via email with friends and family. First and foremost, this is not a post for someone asking, “should I get an iPad?” This is more like an iPad buyer’s guide. I’m assuming you’re already going to get one at some point because it’s relevant to your interests. I find this understandable because I love mine. It’s hands down the best casual web surfing and email device I’ve ever used and that’s not to mention gaming, displaying video and displaying pictures, all of which it excels at. So let’s get started with our choices. There are six iPads as of this writing, you can see them here at the Apple iPad product page. This leaves us with seven different options…

  1. 16gb wifi – $499
  2. 32gb wifi – $599
  3. 64gb wifi – $699
  4. 16gb wifi+3G – $629
  5. 32gb wifi+3G – $729
  6. 64gb wifi+3G – $829
  7. Wait for some future release of the iPad.

So the deciding factors are budget, space, 3G capability and “now or later?”

Budget

The iPad is a really affordable computer considering bang-for-the-buck from a hardware perspective and a capability perspective. There’s a lot that you can’t do on an iPad, but what you can do you’ll be able to do better than just about any other device. This is basically Apple’s whole user experience model. The iPad just blows the doors off everything else for personal entertainment/education. It’s also noteworthy that thanks to the app store, a flexible interface and ultra portable form-factor, the iPad will continuously be updating its capabilities. Such as using it as a concert piano or to perform surgery. Being affordable in a certain context, however, does not make it cheap. This thing costs a handful of Benjamins, after all. And consider it’s a gadget and made by Apple. This means there’s a sure bet that it will get cheaper (or more capable for the same price) within 12 to 18 months and be outdated at some point. With those truisms as motivation, I’ll strike the two 64gb options from our list, because flash memory prices are currently plummeting like LCD screens were 3 years ago. Conclusion on Budget: Buying top-of-the-line when it comes to electronics is almost always a losing proposition. And if budget is a consideration at all, we don’t want to take that hit. Even eliminating the two most expensive from the range leaves us with several choices.

  1. 16gb wifi – $499
  2. 32gb wifi – $599
  3. 16gb wifi+3G – $629
  4. 32gb wifi+3G – $729
  5. Wait for some future release of the iPad.

Space/Memory Capacity

What are you going to do with your iPad? Are you going to load it up with movies and music? The music is a non-issue if you have an iPhone or an iPod, because the iPad isn’t going to be a primary listening device. It may be a non-issue anyway, since you can load three days of continuous audio with just 4gb. So the question is really, “Are you going to be watching movies on the thing?” And if you are, are you going to store them there permanently? Or are you going to store them on a computer with iTunes and just load up a couple at a time? Some real-world data on iPad memory usage: I have been using my 32gb for months. My primary use case is surfing and email on my couch/in bed or very occasionally a coffee shop. I may or may not watch a movie or two on it at some point, but there aren’t any on there now. Here’s what is on my iPad at this moment:

  • 58 apps
  • 1,300 songs
  • The last 12 months of photos my wife or I have taken with any camera or phone (994)
  • 30 podcasts that are ~1.5 hours each (Recommend TWIT and The Talk Show)
  • 13 videos (shorties: music videos and stuff I’ve shot with my phone)

With all that, my available capacity is still 18gb, which means I could fit ~6 full length HD movies on it with all the extras. (For reference, Toy Story 3 in HD is 3.29gb and that’s with tons of extras-two behind the scenes featurettes, the short that showed before the film in theaters and some production art.) Conclusion on space: size-wise the 16gb is too small. I would just be running way to close to filling the thing up all the time, the 32gb gives me plenty of room to breathe even if I want to cart around a couple HD flicks on top of all my other stuff during a trip. So that leaves us with just a few choices left.

  1. 32gb wifi – $599
  2. 32gb wifi+3G – $729
  3. Wait for some future release of the iPad

3G or not?

Where are you going to use it? Mine is primarily a couch computer, so I didn’t go for the 3G. I also take into account the fact that there’s not too many places I’d use the thing where I won’t have WiFi anyway. Most public businesses have it these days, as does my home and work. I’m not going to use the iPad a lot in my car, so I think 3G is only for the serious traveler. Add to this that I can get to email and the internet via my phone if absolutely essential and it’s another nail in the 3G coffin. However, I sometimes wish I had the 3G even though mine is pretty much a couch computer. I’d only need it occasionally, but it would be really nice when I want it. Like if I’m on vacation and don’t want to lug around a laptop: I could take the iPad and not have to count on iffy open WiFi with weird user agreements. 3G is $14-$25/month and the AT&T service is month to month with no subscription or lock in, so you could pick and choose when you have the added expense. And you can buy it straight from the iPad. Having said all that, WiFi is so ubiquitous these days, you’d have to really be a road-warrior to justify the $130 price tag. Conclusion on 3G: WiFi is already ubiquitous and spreading more every day. 3G is for serious road-warriors only or those with no other smart cellular device access.

  1. 32gb wifi – $599
  2. Wait for some future release of the iPad.

When to Buy?

This is totally a personal philosophy thing. You’re buying a gadget, so no matter what you do there is going to be something shinier and newer in a few months. I mostly ignore this factor when shopping in this product category, or I’d never buy anything. If you know something new is coming next month hold off, otherwise just get one if you want it. Then enjoy it and don’t worry about the greener grass that will inevitably come. Conclusion on When to Buy: The current iPad is a great device. Some day it will be outdated and that’s OK, because it’s still a great device. So get one now and enjoy it.

  1. 32gb wifi – $599

Almost… One last consideration: you need to have some sort of base computer running iTunes so you can sync the thing. You can buy content on the iPad itself, but you can’t get system upgrades without iTunes. (Which I think is a big mistep on Apple’s part.) The base machine doesn’t have to be great, but it has to exist and preferably have a big cheap hard drive for archiving content purchases you may not want to carry around with you all the time forever.

TLDR: Get the 32GB, Wi-Fi for $599.

Happy tapping!

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