Choosing an iPad
Note: This information is a bit out of date since the introduction of the iPad Air 2. Some improvements have been introduced, but the iPad Air is still a solid machine, and is priced $100 - $150 cheaper, depending on the specifications.
Apple is known for keeping things simple, so your choices are limited to size and generation.
There are currently four options available at www.apple.com. The iPad Air, the iPad with Retina Display, the iPad mini with Retina Display, and the iPad mini.
The current generation models are the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display. Both the Air and the mini with Retina sport the same processor, camera, and resolution. At this point in the Apple product cycle, I would advise against choosing anything but these two models, as I mention below.
Price vs. Size
The choice then comes down to size. The iPad Air has a 9.7 inch diagonal screen, while the mini has a 7.9 inch diagonal screen. This translates into a 35 percent smaller screen. You can adjust the font size in most apps, but the larger iPad Air is easier on the eyes.
The Air weighs in at just over a 16 ounces, while the mini with Retina Display weighs about 12. Unless you are holding it for a long time, this isn’t much of a difference. I often read my iPad at a table and make use of a stand. When sitting, I typically rest it on my leg while reading. Here again, the larger iPad Air makes it easier to see.
The difference in price for similar storage is $100.
I would recommend that most people purchase the 32 GB model. The 16 GB model can fill up quickly. Unless you have a lot of music or movies, the 64 GB or 128 GB can be overkill.
All models come with a WiFi capability. Adding a cellular connection adds about $129 to the base price of the iPad. In addition, the carrier, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon will add a monthly cost to the iPad. If you already have WiFi installed, the cellular connection isn’t necessary. If you travel, though, it might be worth the expense. I’ll post more about this later.
What about older models? Can’t I save some money?
At the time of this post, June 2014, the iPad with Retina Display and the iPad mini are both about two years old. Typically this is about the point at which Apple stops allowing updates. For example, the iPhone 4 will not receive future updates.
For a savings of $100, the older processors and the lack of updates is not worth it in my opinion.
Where should I buy my iPad?
If you have an Apple Store nearby, that might be your best bet. With the addition of AppleCare to your purchase (again, about another $100), you can sometimes walk in and walk out with a replacement.
If you don’t, most retailers offer a protection plan for about the same $100. Typically, you mail the damaged iPad in, and have it repaired or replaced fairly quickly.
The Apple store generally does not run sales, though you might luck into a gift-card promotion at some points during the year.
Amazon is more likely to have discounts, but you need to be careful. Today, the first listing was for an older generation iPad. This link leads to the current iPad Air 32 GB WiFi-only model.
Apple iPad Air MD786LL/A (32GB, Wi-Fi, Black with Space Gray) NEWEST VERSION
Best Buy runs sales sporadically throughout the year.