The new iPad: What size and model should you buy?

The new iPadAre you thinking of buying an iPad? That is great, what size and model is it going to be? Right now, you can spend anywhere in between $399 and $829 (US prices) on a brand new iPad, and you can shave off some additional dollars if you buy refurbished or previously enjoyed. Picking wisely what you need can therefore save you some great deal of money.

So here is what you do: Go get yourself a third-generation iPad WiFi 32 GB White without any extras. Just kidding, this is what I am getting. Only you know what iPad configuration is best for you; however, in this post I will discuss the merits of 4G, reflect on storage size, and tell you about my “Apps and Music Diet” that allows me to drop from a 64 GB to a 32 GB iPad.

  All models of the iPad 2 and the new iPad

Before you continue reading, let me again point out that this post is based on my particular case. Your needs could be different. However, if you are “normal” academic, not the Indiana Jones type of guy who is constantly in some jungle-action-escape situation, then these thoughts might also work well for you.


iPad 2 or the new, third-generation iPad?

That is an easy one: the new iPad it is. I am still rocking the first-gen iPad right now and told myself not to update before the iPad gets the Retina Display treatment. Well, that just happened, and since the Retina Display will make reading so much better on the new iPad, it is not worth in my opinion to save the extra 100 bucks on an iPad 2.

Even if you are not interested in the sharper text of the new iPad, consider that Apple as of yesterday only sells its iPad 2 with no more than 16 GB. That’s a size too small for me personally (see below).


WiFi only, or also 4G?

This one might be a little bit more tricky for you, but for me the WiFi only option is an easy choice. I am in reach of a wireless network for most of my working life (in university, at home, in coffee shops), and even while travelling by train or bus you nowadays often have access to WiFi.

In addition, I can use my Telus iPhone as a Personal Hotspot here in Canada, and I understand that Personal Hotspots also work in the US (not sure for other places in the world – any comments?). I have done this a few times, and while the data connection isn’t really great, it works for email and light browsing.

And last, it is not that you won’t have anything to do without being online. You can always catch up on your readings, and with a little bit of foresight, you can also read some webpages offline via Instapaper and Readability.

So, I am pretty sure that my lifestyle does not require a 4G iPad. If you are a rock star academic who travels a lot, or if you are doing a lot of field work, this might be different for you, but always keep in mind the extra costs that occur through the 4G model and data plan.


Storage size: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB?

Now this is the toughest nut to crack. My current first-gen iPad has 64 GB, which translates to an available capacity of 58 GB (due to converting GB into bytes). Of this, I am using about 32 GB, leaving 26 GB free.

Capacity used on iPad 64 GB after two years

That puts me in a difficult spot, because I have a lot of free capacity, but a 32 GB iPad would be too small for me right now. In addition, images used in an app need to be rescaled into a higher resolution because of the Retina Display, which should to some extent increase the storage demands of that app.

Nonetheless, I decided that I will save $100 and go with the smaller size of 32 GB. I do this by reclaiming space taken by unused apps, and most importantly, by switching fully over to a paid music subscription service. I call this the “Apps and Music Diet”!


Cutting down on apps

I am the first to admit that I went a little over-board with my apps. I am trying out a lot of apps in order to decide whether or not they will be reviewed on academiPad, and many of those I never really use. The next chart shows you the size of my 50 largest apps.

Size of my 50 largest apps

As you can see, the largest six apps are responsible for the largest chunk of data (7 GB in total), and afterwards the graph flattens out. By the way, all these stats classes are finally paying off!!

I am not ashamed of telling you what the biggest six apps are: TED (1.6GB), Rdio (1.5GB, more about this in a bit), Real Racing 2 HD (1.2 GB), Magic Window (1GB), Papers (980MB), and Garage Band (800MB). Both TED and Magic Window are so large because I downloaded extra content that can be cleaned up: 2.5 GB saved.


Most of the next twenty apps (about 4GB in size) I actually use quite frequently,but the residual 3GB have some saving potential. Lets say that I will get rid of half of the apps: 1.5 GB saved.


Cutting down on videos

Next up in my cutting down on storage size are videos: I am not really watching a lot of videos on the iPad, and if I do it is often from youtube. The 4.3 GB are basically one really good movie and another podcast, and both can go. It is reasonable to say that I should have always enough space for one movie, so lets say that I budget in 2 GB and a bit for movies: 2 GB saved.


My music master plan (you can do the same trick!)

But all of these savings are peanuts in comparison with my master plan for music. After having recently signed up with Rdio, pretty much my entire music collection on iTunes (9.1 GB) can go. Rdio is a music subscription service that lets you stream music from an immense online catalog. Because all music is available for you once you are online, you can reduce your synced library to a minimum selection of songs you are listening to all the time (or when you are offline). I have already 1.5 GB synced with Rdio (see above), and this might grow in future. But, thanks to fast university networks, my Rdio library will never be the same size as my iTunes library: 8 GB saved.

Rdio for iPad

You might be able to slim down your new iPad to a smaller size (storage capacity wise) by switching over to a subscription-based music service such as Rdio. The savings you have from the smaller-size iPad will be eaten up by the subscription fee in the first 10 months, but it makes subscribing to music more affordable. Plus, you get all the benefits of having millions of songs in your music library

There are two things that make music subscription a really cool trick:

  • In contrast to the cutting down on apps and videos, music subscription allows me to have more music!
  • You can do the same trick! In fact, I would say that my iTunes library (9.1 GB in size) is rather small in comparison to others, so you might be able to save even more space.

Be aware, however, that you are signing a pact with the devil (whose music is rock, after all). Of course, subscription services charge you for the service (with Rdio it is $10 a month), and unless you purchased songs separately you won’t have access to your music library once you have canceled your subscription.

Still, I find that the subscription model makes sense: Slimming down the storage capacity of your new iPad to the next-smaller model will save you $100. Assume that you keep your iPad for two years, then almost half of your Rdio subscription is paid by the savings you had on the iPad. And you can easily pay for the second year of your Rdio subscription through the savings you had because you don’t have to buy that much music any longer. Last, lets not forget the pure joy of radically extending your musical horizon. For me, that is worth signing up with Rdio alone.


Total savings: 14 GB

There you have it! Through my “Apps and Music Diet” I can save 14 GB and up my free space to a total of 40 GB. I can therefore slim my new iPad down to a 32 GB model, while still having 8 GB buffer to play with.

The Rdio trick (and there are a couple of other subscription services, depending on your region) will work the better the larger your iTunes library is right now. So go ahead and check out if a music subscription pays off for you as well: money-wise, but also lifestyle-wise.


When would you want to have a smaller (16 GB) or larger (64 GB) storage size?

If you use the iPad mainly for reading PDFs, emails, web, and RSS, then you should do well with 16 GB. However, the moment you want to explore richer content on the iPad, your app library grows very quickly.

If you are into graphic intensive games (e.g., Real Racing, Infinity Blade, and so on), if you want to have a lot of movies on your iPad, or if you are planning on editing a lot of videos and photos on your iPad, then you might want to consider the 64 GB model (or whatever the biggest size will be in future).


Accessories and Color

What accessories you need is a whole different post, but here is the short-version for my particular case: I will neither buy a Smart Cover nor Apple Care+. Check back over the next few Fridays for why I don’t find these two accessories necessary (however, Apple has updated its warranty program since I started my series on “must-have” iPad accessories you should NOT buy, and their new warranty is much more consumer friendly).

With regard to the color, I am going for white because it better resembles a printed page. With the Retina Display rendering text as crips and clear as in a printed document, I will try to perfect the illusion.

Now you know what iPad I am getting, and you also know why. I hope that my thoughts on 4G and capacity help you in your own decision. Maybe you even join me in my “Apps and Music Diet” and shave off a few GBs; it is almost spring time after all!

If you found this information helpful, please take a minute to let me and other readers know what iPad you are getting. The comment section is wide open for you…

UPDATE: I received my new iPad and experienced the heat issues you are hearing about first-hand. Is it an issue? Yes, it is. Read more about why I am returning my new iPad over the heat issue here.

Disclaimer: This article contains one affiliate link. New iPad image by Apple, price comparison image by Engadget, Rdio on iPad image by Rdio. All graphs by academiPad.

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  1. Jo says:

    Here is a little bit of more info about increased size of apps because of the retina display: “According to a study by ABI Research, the average size of an iOS app increased by 16% from March to September 2012; iOS games have grown even faster, jumping 42% over that same time period.” (from Macrumors). March was the month the new iPad was launched. So keep this in mind when upgrading to a retina-enabled iPad.

  2. Deny says:

    I have to say I stumble upon to your website by accident while searching for some specs on Ipad. But I am happy to say that I don’t regret it…I mean I am writing a comment(I don’t do that very often ) …anyway to my question: Can the Ipad read ebooks in pdf format? I was wondering because I need to buy one for education purposes. I have a bunch of ebooks that are basically scanned books which are very largeeee( arround 150 Mb/ebook) ,do you think 32 GB will be enough for me?Thanksss

  3. Sam says:

    I will be starting my phd degree soon. I am thinking of getting an iPad for my research. However, I am confused with which one to buy, the 16/ 31/ or the 64 gb. Which one will be enough for saving lot of data ( PDF. Books etc.)? Thx

    • Jo says:

      If you are using it mainly for text data like PDFs and Books, 32GB will be plenty in my opinion. Even if you are having a fair amount of photos and songs on your iPad, 32GB should still work. I bought a 64GB in 2010, and its still not full and I could easily downsize to a 32GB model.

      However, if you are planning on having a lot of videos on it and to play graphic intense games, 64GB may be better for you.

  4. Tyler tang says:

    Hi, I feel so lucky that you have a such blog because I also want to have an iPad for academic reading purpose. I am kindly of hesitating about whether I should get an iPad 2 or 3 because some people say the new iPad has some problems like overheating, yellow screen, long-time charging, etc. DO you know if these problems serious? The posts in Apple’s iPad forum really frustrated me. Do u think iPad3’s problems are not that bad for academic reading? Thank you.

    • Jo says:

      Hi Tyler,
      You bring up a really good question. I just got my new iPad a few days ago, and I must say that the heat issues DO bother me (see UPDATE in the post above). I am writing a new post about my real world assessment of the new iPad which should come out hopefully over the weekend or early next week. That post should answer your question more in-depth.

  5. Dean Bryant says:

    This is a great article, and answered many of the questions I have. I am finally going to break down and get the new iPad.

    Another question: I’m thinking of getting the AppleTV. Any thoughts on the viability of replacing my cable service with AppleTV and/or RoKu and/or Hulu+, etc., etc.? Thanks!

    • Jo says:

      Hi Dean,
      I am glad that I could help. What model and size are you getting?
      Unfortunately, I have no experience with AppleTV, so no thoughts on replacing other services with that. Maybe someone else can comment?

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