16GB vs 32GB vs 64GB: Which new iPad storage capacity should you get?

So you've decided to take the plunge and get the new iPad and you've chosen both the carrier and the color you want, but you aren't sure which storage capacity size to go with? The difference between 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB isn't just how much stuff you can put on it, but $100-$200 in up front costs, so it's worth thinking about.

Here's the breakdown.

Price for storage

The current US prices for the new iPad are (not counting the $130 surcharge for 3G + 4G models):

  • 16GB: $499 or $31.19/GB
  • 32GB: $599 or $18.72/GB
  • 64GB: $699 or $10.92/GB

It looks like you can pay $200 more (20% more) the price for 4x the storage, which makes the price per GB fall really fast. Still, Apple is getting you to pay $100 for an extra 16GB of storage and $200 for an extra 48GB of storage. That's not a great deal, given what SD cards go for these days. That's probably where Apple helps increase their margins.

So if giving Apple an extra dime irks you, the 16GB baseline model could be the way to go. But there are other things to consider first.

iCloud and other online storage options

iCloud gives us unlimited online storage for iTunes purchased content -- iBooks, music, movies, TV shows, and apps, and 5GB of additional storage for backups, data, etc. If that's not enough, you can pay for more.

  • 10GB: $20/year
  • 20GB: $40/year
  • 50GB: $100/year

This might make it tempting to save some $$$ up front on onboard storage and make up for it with the free 5GB iCloud, with the option to buy more storage as a safety blanket.

It's not a crazy idea but it's important to remember that online storage isn't always as available, fast, and convenient as onboard storage. For example, you can't just play a movie from iCloud, you have to download it at the same time you watch it, which means you have to have enough space available on your iPad to handle the download. If you want to watch a lot of movies, you may have to watch, delete, watch, delete, over and over again.

iCloud also doesn't give you a file system like Dropbox or Box.net, so you can only really store what Apple lets you. If your movies and videos don't come from iTunes, iCloud is no help to you. Also, in our tests iCloud's free 5GB could get filled up pretty quickly by photos and especially videos.

So iCloud means you can get away with storing less content on your device, but you still want to have enough local storage for what you need, when you need it.

5 megapixel photos and 1080p video

iPhoto for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch

The new iPad actually has a good camera on it, and that means it takes good 5 megapixel photos and 1080p video. That also means you need room to store 5 megapixel photos and 1080p video.

For example, I take a ton of photos and videos on my iPhone 4S and with 16GB I'd quickly run out of space. Since it's a pain in the butt to have to go through and figure out what to delete if I'm not near my computer, I opted for more storage.

Unlike an iPhone, however, an iPad probably isn't your go-to camera, and isn't the camera you always have with you. In other words, I don't think most people will take and store as many photos or as much video with their iPads as they would their iPhones (or other smartphones).

That being said, I store a ton of photos and video on my iPad. It's just a great way to show and share those special moments with friends and family. If you want to keep a lot of home movies and photos available, you'll need space for them.


The other thing that can fill up our iPad quickly is content.

  • Games can be big, and with the new iPad's 2048x1536 Retina display and Apple A5X processor, we might see even bigger ones with more textures and richer environments. Some games were already getting close to 1GB, how big will the Retina iPad games be?
  • iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-5GB. If you want to take advantage of the Retina display to watch 1080p movies... Watch out.
  • iTunes TV shows can be a quarter to half the size of movies, but more than make up for it by the number of episodes typically available.
  • If you get your movies and TV shows from somewhere other than iTunes, you're still looking at about 400MB an hour for SD and over 1GB (sometimes way over) an hour for HD.
  • Music files are generally quite small but can add up as well, especially if you have lots and lots of albums you want to keep with you everywhere.

Who should get 16GB

If you don't use a lot of apps, if you don't want to have a lot of movies and TV shows, or a huge amount of music, if you don't intend to shoot and keep very much 5 megapixel photos or 1080p video on your iPad, you'll probably be okay with 16GB.

Some people like to keep their iPads light and either stream or surf the web for content, and some people manage their photos and videos very well, transferring them to their computers regularly and reliably.

If you keep your iPad lean, you can probably save yourself some cash and get by on 16GB.

Who should get 32GB

If the iPad is your primary device, if you play games on it and watch movies and TV shows on it, if you have a decent sized music collection you want to keep with you, and if you shoot an average amount of photos and videos, 32GB is probably your sweet spot.

Some people like to have one device that, while it doesn't do everything all the time, is capable enough to do most things most of the time. As long as there's some extra space to give extra time to managing apps and content, it's a great compromise.

If you do a fair but not overwhelming amount of stuff on your iPad, your probably better off going for 32GB.

Who should get 64GB

If you're a power user who wants to keep as much as possible for as long as possible, if you have a large amount of apps and games, TV and movies, and a huge music collection you simply have to have with you all the time, or you shoot photos and video almost non stop and don't want to have to bother transferring it all the time... we'll, you've probably already ordered a 64GB iPad and cursed Apple for not giving you a 128GB option!

Some people really do want their iPad to do everything, all of the time, and never (or rarely) have to worry about running out of space. If you really feel like you need it, you probably didn't need me to tell you so, and you've already decided you're getting 64GB. Enjoy!

What if you choose the wrong size?

Remember, in most places you have time to try out your new iPad and return it if you don't like it. Make sure, as soon as possible, you put your new iPad to realistic use. Load up all the apps and games you want with you, load up your movies and TV shows, go out and take some photos and shoot some video. Give it a complete and thorough workout and see.

If it feels like you got too much storage, say 64GB and you haven't even gone past 2GB, or if you got too little, say you're already at 15GB of 16GB, then take your iPad back and exchange it for one that better suits your needs.

If you come to this realization too late, after the exchange period is over, remember you can buy additional iCloud storage, or look at other options like Dropbox which will let you keep your stuff available online and potentially free up some much needed space on your iPad.

Any questions?

If you've already decided which storage capacity is perfect for you, 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB, leave a comment and let me know!

If you're still not sure, if you want advice or more opinions, just ask!


Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, co-host of Vector and Isometric podcasts, follow her on Twitter @Georgia_Dow and check out her series at anxiety-videos.com.