How to buy the right iPad 2 model

Maybe last year, the iPad seemed too new and exotic to be on your holiday wish list. Maybe you were hesitant to buy the first generation of a new type of device. Maybe the oohs and aahs of iPad-owning friends hadn’t yet convinced you that the time was right to take on Apple’s tablet. Whatever the reason, things have changed: As the 2011 holiday shopping season gets underway, you’ve decided to give the gift of an iPad–either to a loved one or to yourself.

We’re assuming that you didn’t spend a lot of time considering someother tablet. That’s in part because you’re reading ITBusiness.ca andtherefore, a person of discriminating taste. But also, a quick glanceat the tablet market finds very fewcompelling challengers to the iPad’s crown. Android tablets led by theMotorola Xoom and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 suffer from a wildly inconsistentexperience–apps may run differently on one kind of Android tablet thanthey do on another–and your ability to get your hands on the thelatest OS updates hinges upon the hardware you own. You’re taking apass on the BlackBerry PlayBook because you’dprefer to be able to send and receive email without tethering a phoneto your tablet. The Kindle Fire has failed to impress in its initialrelease, and the HP TouchPad has been consigned tothe remainder bin of history. The iPad may not be the only game intown, but it’s the only one worth playing if you’re serious aboutowning a tablet.

In fact, opting for the iPad over its nominal competition may be aboutthe easiest decision you make. There are a few other critical questionsyou need to answer, though, before you can grip an iPad 2 in your eagerhands.

How much storage?
The iPad 2 comes in three differentcapacities: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. How much capacity you’ll need dependson what you plan on using your iPad for.

Do you envision storing your entire music library on your iPad? If so,be prepared to opt for a higher-capacity model. If you use Apple’siTunes to store your music, a glance at the application can tell youjust how big a library you have. For example, my iTunes librarycontains about 20GB of music–fairly modest as music libraries go, butit would preclude me from using a 16GB iPad 2 if I wanted to carryevery last song on my tablet. The recently introduced iTunes Matchoffers some relief in this area: If you opt to pay that service’s$25-a-year fee, you can store much of your music in the cloud, freeingup capacity on your iPad.

If you envision using your iPad to store a lot of movies that you canwatch when on the road, you’ll need to set aside some space for that.After all, even digital rentals from the iTunes Store–which disappear intothe ether after you’ve finished watching them–need some room to bestored on your iPad. I’ve got a copy of the vastly under-appreciated1993 western Tombstone that weighs in at 1.45GB.And that’s a standard definition video–high-definition video is likelyto take up much more space. That’s something to take into considerationif you plan on turning your iPad into a mobile multiplex.

There are a few other storage considerations as well. Apps from Apple’sApp Store don’t take up much space, generally speaking; they’re usuallynot any larger than 50MB. I’ve got about six dozen apps on my iPad atthe moment: They take up around 3.4GB of space. That said, if you planon loading up your iPad with games–and why wouldn’t you since it’s agreat gaming device-the more graphically-intense apps can eat uphundreds of megabytes worth of storage. Photos can add up too,particularly if you plan on using the iPad’s camera to shoot any video.

If you plan on using your iPad to surf the Web, send email, and dabblewith a reasonable number of apps, the 16GB model should serve you justfine. Otherwise, plan on getting a higher-capacity iPad than you thinkyou might need. There’s no way to tack on storage to your iPad afteryou’ve bought it, so it’s better to have room to grow.

Wi-Fi or 3G?
Just because the iPad 2 comes in three capacities, don’t think yourselection is limited to three choices. Each iPad features the abilityto connect to a Wi-Fi network, but you can alsoorder the 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB models with the added ability to connectvia a 3G network.

Let’s tackle the 3G-or-not-3G question first. As with storage, youshould base your connectivity decision on how you plan on using youriPad. If you’re going to stick close to home or limit your iPad use tolocations where you’ll be able to access a Wi-Fi network, the lessexpensive Wi-Fi-only models are the better choice. On the other hand,if you expect that you might be out and about with your iPad fairlyoften, you might be better off paying up for a model that includes 3G connectivity.

Unlike iPhones, which require two-year commitments and monthly data and voice plans, the 3G version of the iPad comes with no contracts and no commitments. You can go month-to-month with a carrier and drop your service at any time. For that reason, if you want to keep your options open, you can always opt for the 3G model and leave the service unactivated until you need it. You will have to pay for this flexibility, though: 3G-equipped iPads cost $130 more than their Wi-Fi-only counterparts.

(If you also happen to own an iPhone, you can use that device’stethering capabilities to connect your iPad to a network, which couldspare you the expense of having to buy a 3G-capable model. You willhave to pay for tethering on your iPhone plan, but depending on yourplan it could be cheaper to turn on tethering than to pay separatelyfor a 3G plan for your iPad. Plus, tethering can work with anyWi-Fi-capable device, including your laptop.)

Finally, if you’re eager to use a GPS navigation app with the iPad’sbig screen, you’ll want to opt for a 3G-capable model: only 3G iPadscome with GPS capabilities.

What about accessories?
With the iPad, the question isn’t so much “Do I need a case?” butrather “Which case should I get?” As sleek as the iPad is, it’s notgoing to stand up to the bumps and bruises of daily use without alittle protective help.

To that end, Apple offers the iPad Smart Cover, a protective flapavailable in either Polyurethane ($39) or leather ($69). The coversnaps smartly over your iPad 2’s screen, thanks to built-in magnets,and you can fold it into assorted positions to aid typing orvideo-watching. Because it just covers the iPad’s screen, the SmartCover doesn’t hide the iPad 2’s light weight and thin design under abushel; the downside, of course, is that the back of your tablet goesunprotected, leaving it vulnerable to scratches.

Other accessory possibilities include stands, which come in handy ifyou’re planning on using your iPad as a writing tool or if you want towatch a lot of videos. (Holding an iPad for the entire running time of Inceptioncan get a little tiring.) Apple offers a $29 iPad 2 Dock that positionsyour iPad in portrait orientation; from there, you can charge, sync, or play audio- or video-out.Apple’s $39 Digital AV adapter will also appeal to videophiles: It letsyou show the HD video stored your iPad on a high-definition TV. (Italso happens to be a handy add-on for presentations.) If you’d preferto go cable-free, a $99 Apple TV will wirelessly receive videos (orjust about anything else) from your iPad and play them back on an HDTV.

White or black?
When you place an order for an iPad through Apple’s online store, thevery first question you’re asked is not about capacity norconnectivity. Rather, you have to decide: Should I get a black iPad ora white one? This is an entirely personal choice, based on your ownaesthetic style and sensibilities. So you’re on your own here.

Should I wait for an updated model?
The age-old question that dogs every technology purchase–buy now orwait for something better to come along?–is pertinent for would-beiPad owners, especially this time of year. While the iPad is arelatively recent entry to Apple’s product lineup, the company hasfollowed a fairly predictable release schedule the past two years: Theoriginal iPad hit retail shelves in April 2010, while the iPad 2arrived in March 2011. That means you could buy an iPad this holidayseason, only to see Apple roll out a new model just a few months fromnow.

The particulars of Apple’s iPad update plans are unknown outside of afew corner offices in Cupertino, so there’s no definitive answer to thebuy-or-wait dilemma. Besides, it’s a choice that’s best guided by yourown particular wants and needs.

Let me provide two personal examples of how to make that decision. Lastyear, my mother decided she wanted an iPad just as rumors of thesecond-generation of the tablet were beginning to pick up steam. Thatdidn’t deter my mother–she’s not one to crave the latest and greatestin technology and the rumored enhancements to the iPad didn’t coverthings that were on her wish list. She bought the original iPad and hasbeen a satisfied customer long after the camera-equipped iPad 2 madeits debut. This year, my wife is mulling an iPad purchase; however,she’s content to wait until next spring to see what Apple has plannedfor a theoretical iPad 3. She doesn’tneed the device right away, and she’s willing to defer the purchase toguarantee that she buys the most advanced tablet Apple has to offer.

And that seems like a pretty good guide for making your own choice. Ifthe iPad 2 addresses your every need at this point, it’s a good time topull the trigger on that purchase. If, however, the thought offoregoing future features has you hesitating, you could probably standto hold off for another few months.

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