16GB vs. 32GB vs. 64GB vs. 128GB: Which iPad Air or Retina iPad mini storage capacity should you get?

2013 iPad buyers guide: How to choose the perfect 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB iPad Air or Retina iPad mini for you!

Apple offers four different storage sized options for the new iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, ranging from a paltry 16GB to an enormous 128GB - literally 8 times the capacity! Every step up in capacity, however, comes with a matching $100 step up in price. That might seem like a pretty straightforward bit of math, but it really isn't! Figuring out how much storage you really need, and how much you can afford is really important. It's the difference between a great experience and a lot of frustration. So, here's the deal!

iPad price per gigabyte breakdowns

iPad price points, like all of Apple's iOS device price points, are based on storage size. While it may seem like the price per gigabyte gets cheaper once you start going up, that's not always the case. You can see the U.S. prices above.

At first glance it might look like the 128GB iPad Air and 128GB Retina iPad mini offer eight times (8x) the storage of the 16GB models for less than twice the price - $499 vs. $799 for the iPad Air, $399 vs. $699 for the Retina iPad mini. Typically, however, the 16GB model has the lowest margins for Apple, and as you step up in storage, they step up in profitability. Think of it this way, going from 16GB to 32GB costs you $100. Go look at the cost of a 16GB SD card and you'll see how much more you're paying for that bump. Now, the $300 premium for an additional 112GB of i storage is more interesting, but is it $300 more interesting? (Hey, that's why Apple has over $100 billion in the bank!) Here's how the cost per gigabyte breaks down for both the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, Wi-Fi versions.

  • 16GB: $31.19/$24.94
  • 32GB: $18.72/$15.59
  • 64GB: $10.92/$9.36
  • 128GB: $6.24/$5.46

So, while the higher-end iPads make Apple the most money, they also cost you the least per gigabyte of storage. But how much do you really need, and where do you need it?

Local vs. Cloud storage

Everything you need to know about Apple's iCloud -- PC-free, iTunes in the Cloud, iTunes Match, Photo Stream, Documents in the Cloud, Find my iPhone, Find my Friends, and more!

Apple's iCloud gives you free, unlimited storage for all your iTunes stuff. That includes iBooks, music, movies, TV shows, and apps, as well as 30 days or 1000 Photo Stream photos. You also get 5GB of additional storage for backups, data, etc. In many countries, you can use iTunes in the Cloud to download your media only when, and as needed. You can even purchase more iCloud storage for the following yearly fees:

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

Beyond iCloud, there are also other options like Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and more. All of these cloud storage services might make the 16GB iPad all the more tempting. You might think iCloud can let you keep most of your apps and media nearline, and re-download them only when you need to, so they don't take up precious storage on your device. You might also think Dropbox can let you keep documents and photos similarly available just-in-time rather than all-the-time.

It's not a crazy idea but it's important to remember that online/nearline storage isn't always as available, fast, or convenient as onboard storage. For starters, you can't really play a movie from iCloud, you have to download it before hand watch it, which means it takes a lot of time and you have to have enough space available on your iPhone 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. Annoying. The same goes for any large download - like 1GB+ games! - or many small downloads, like podcasts and music.

So cloud storage means you can get away with managing more content on your device than you could otherwise, but it also means you still want to have enough local storage for what you need, when you need it.

Photos and videos

Photoristic HD for iPad is a great canvas for basic to semi-advanced photo editing

The iPad Air and Retina iPad mini can both take 5 megapixel photos and shoot 1080p video at 30fps. Those can be some big files. About an hour of 1080p video can take up roughly 10GB of storage. 16GB doesn't seem so roomy now, does it?

Is the iPad going to be your primary camera? If so, running out of space all the time can be very annoying, and it's a huge pain in the butt to have to go through and figure out which memories and special moments you have to delete in order to capture more. So if you're really into the camera, 16GB might not work.

Apps, games, and media

Apps and especially games can also take up a lot of space on your iPad. It's not uncommon for some console-quality games to be well over 1GB in size these days. Even basic apps might include interface assets for iPhone and iPad, standard and Retina, (and now call up frameworks that might be 32- and 64-bits!). Those are some super-fat binaries!

iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-6GB. 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. Even with something like iTunes Match or a similar music locker service, or a streaming service, you need local storage for offline playback. Again, it all adds up.

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 8mp photos or 1080p video on your iPad, you'll probably be okay with 16GB.

Some people like to keep their iPads light and do all their gaming and media on their traditional computers, and some people just don't do a lot with their iPads period. If that's you, you can save yourself some cash and get a 16GB iPad Air or Retina iPad mini.

But we don't recommend it.

Who should get 32GB?

If the iPad is your primary computing 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 your sweet spot.

Some people like to have one device that, while it doesn't do everything all the time, it's capable enough to do most things most of the time. If you do a fair but not overwhelming amount of stuff on your iPad Air or Retina iPad mini, you're 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 shows 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 64GB is a reasonable 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. For most people, 64GB will do that, and more.

Who should get 128GB?

Who're we kidding? If you want 128GB, you already know it. You're an audiophile who wants to keep absolutely everything, you're a video collector who wants to travel with enough entertainment to last around the world and back, you're a gamer who wants every single game all in one place - you're an alpha geek. And for you, 128GB is already on order.

For the person who wants everything - and by everything I mean everything - only 128GB will do.

Still undecided?

Most places have return policies, so make sure, as soon as possible, you put your new iPad through realistic paces. 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 63GB of 64GB, 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.

If you're still not sure about 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB, jump into our iPad discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out. Once you've decided, let me know - which iPhone, and which size, did you go with and why?

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.

  • I'm getting a 128GB wifi + cellular model in silver... That's for sure... But I'm waiting till the do a tear down to determine if they truly have identical specs... I'm leaning towards the iPad Air... Something tells me it will have twice the RAM as the iPad mini with retina display. But if the tear down proves that they have identical RAM... Then it will be a tough decision
  • They might just be identical!
  • We know the batteries are at least different...I am waiting to hear how the LTE models are setup. Are the Vzw models still gsm unlocked? I would like a Vzw model but if it is gsm unlocked I would pick up a tmobile sim for the free 200 MB
  • There is now only one LTE model, that supports all four of the major U.S. carriers
  • Cool! Any insight into whether or not you will be able to swap sims then between carriers? Or will they all be locked into a specific carrier even though the radios support all of them?
  • All iPads are Always Unlocked if I am not mistaken.
  • What does RAM have to do with being unlocked? Sent from the iMore App
  • I could be mistaken, however.
  • I am with you. 64 or 128 for sure. Though I am now seriously considering the T-Mobile plan. Might be a good way to test out their coverage before my Verizon iPhone contract is up in time for next year's iPhones... Hmmm... Could sell my 32 GB iPad 3 to Gazelle for $230. That would cover the down payment and first month + for the 64 GB T-Mobile iPad Air or 128 GB iPad mini...
  • For the past year I have had the 64 gig iPad 3 and the only way I have ever come close to filling it was when I had my 35 gigs of music on there. Since I only use it at home I won't be needing all my music when I have the classic iPod. I'll be going with the 32 gig this round. Apple really needs to go away with 16 gigs, the way tech is moving, especially with the larger apps 16 is just a rip off.
  • My current 64GB iPad mini is my in-flight & in-hotel entertainment unit. It is currently loaded to the gills with movies. Definitely going 128GB with the retina mini.
  • Same here!! I pretty much live on the road so 128GB is a no brainer for me
  • Now I need the write up on which carrier to get
  • We'll have those up this week!
  • One thing you didn't mention and it's newsstand. Magazines and interactive books take a lot of space. Like 3-4 of them could easily take 1 GB. My 64GB is already full.
  • Yea, that's mostly what I use my Ipad for is to read books and magazines and they will eat up your space. I had to delete a ton of them a few weeks ago.
  • Books, at least ones that are text, take up very, very little room. I have scores of ebooks on my 16gb devices and there's virtually no impact on space. It's the PDFs of the world, along with graphic-rich, interactive books that can take lots of space.
  • How does the time capsule interact with the i lines? Can you stream content off of it?
  • I've been running with a 64gb iPad 3 for a while now and I still have about 22gb free on it so I think I'll be sticking with 64 once again with the Air. Every fiber of me is screaming to go 128gb but I know I would never come close to filling it with content i would actually use. Then again what's another $100 on top of an $800+ purchase... ?
  • Since Apple does not provide expandability vai memory cards or USB ports, owning an iPad really is an expensive business...
  • It's their model. Increasingly they're moving towards computing appliances. No SD on iOS devices, no floppy or optical disks on Macs. And they're not alone, some Android devices no longer offer SD support either. However, all of them support services like Dropbox, Skydrive, Google Drive, etc. which in the end may just be better technology. It lets you keep data nearline (near-online) and access it when and if you need it. A lot of platforms have struggled with SD reliability, security, and predictability (it's what hobbled BlackBerry and Android apps for a long time). Like every decision Apple makes, it won't be the right one for everyone, but it's likely been thought through and just as likely is the best one for the platform.
  • This is an excellent point Rene...and one I completely disagree with in the review. A) Google is trying to eliminate other OEMs to get rid of the SD card for extra storage. B) in the review the comparison is made between on board NAND storage and the price of 'off the shelf' SD cards. The iPads internal storage is more in parity with high end Compact Flash cards...and fast read/write cards at that. Take a look at the price of the high end (90mb/s) CF cards for cameras as an example. Apple isn't using SanDisk's cheap SD cards for storage. It's significantly more reliable, faster and expensive than the SD comparison. I'm not sure about the BOM for an iPad is between 16/32/64 & 128GB of storage....but even though the 16GB model may mark Apple 'more' money than the rest of the bunch....it can't be as significant as made in this review. Not even USB 2 thumb drives are comparable (due to their lack of R/W speeds). Not that the NAND approach Apple is using in the iPad is as fast as their SSD options in their computer line up or their PCIe SSD approach to the new Airs and MBPs...but they're incredibly quick. Much more so than Best Buy's weekly sales on SanDisk's low end 16GB cards. SDXC cards @ 128gb with R/W speeds at 45MB/s are $150-200 bucks. CF cards...@ 128GB range from $370 up to $730 in newegg's site
    Obviously..the 100MB/s extreme cards @ $750 aren't equal performance exactly to the iPad's NAND storage mods....nor are the cheap SanDisk SD card of the week at BB!
    As well....I don't believe you have to download the entire movie from the cloud anymore (iCloud). I believe with iOS 7 you can now stream your purchased movies (without hogging on board storage) without downloading them first now, isn't that correct? Seems like I just read this the other day but I've not yet tried it (like the Apple TV). I'll research this a bit more. But if the case, and if you've got wifi or LTE where you are, seems you don't have to stuff up your storage with the flick.
    Just a couple of observations. As storage increases in solid state modules, the price goes up exponentially. And Apple's storage is much more comparable to today's CF cards than the cheap, almost disposable SD, standard storage. I'm not exactly sure what the read/write speeds are to the iPad storage, but as far as performance, one doesn't have to 'wait' to open an app, file, picture or video when accessing on the newer iPads.
    Any thoughts? Am I WAY off? ;)
    I'm sure Apple makes more money as the price increases...that makes sense. But to what extent? Is it really that extensive? I've always bought 64Gb iPhone and iPads. With 350mb magazines, apps approaching 2GB, a decent music selection or a few movies (HD) for flights when access to the cloud or streaming isn't possible....this can take up a ton of space. I've got a subscription to Mac Format. A UK mag. They're typically 500-700GB monthlies. That's a lot of space...but it's a killer magazine for us Mac geeks. J
  • It can be, but Apple's model has its benefits. If I misplace my iPad or if its stolen, I can remotely wipe it and all of its data. If I lose a memory card filled with photos and documents, there's little I can do to ensure that a miscreant doesn't gain full access to my data.
  • That is a very good point, and one I hadn't thought of before.
  • Great point!!!
  • I plan on ordering the 32GB Space Grey Wi-Fi-only iPad mini with Retina display, but 64GB is a possibility.
  • This will be my 1st iPad, and I'm leaning toward a space grey 16gig for the wife, then wait and see how that works for her. I've had 64gig iPhones since 4S, and keep the bulk of my stuff there. I'll probably go with 32gig white iPad mini when the dust settles. With all the music I care to take with me, videos, apps I don't use and still haven't deleted, and pics since the 1st day of the 1st iPhone in my camera roll, I've never exceeded 35gigs on my iPhone. I plan to keep mine lighter than the phone, and use cloud services or airdrop from phone if needed. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm getting the 128G but please Georgia weight is a big factor for me, iPad-4 is real heavy. Can you tell me the difference in weight between the iPad Air 16G and 128G ?
  • I'd estimate something like a couple Micrograms extra. The iPad 4 is much heavier than the iPad 2 since it needed to have a larger battery and backlight. The only difference in storage is a couple more transistors.
  • So you think it's not even a gram... That cool !
    I know that there is10 grams between iPad wifi only et wifi+3G so I always wonders about 128G and 16G.
    Thanks !
  • Anytime :)
  • FYI, I just bought the iPad Air 128G wifi only today and it is 2 gram heavier than the 16G.
    iPad Air 16G wifi 469g
    iPad Air 128G wifi 471g
    That completely acceptable !
  • Cool, i bought the 32gb cellular model, it is just a couple grams heavier too:)
  • For me, 16GB is enough. Just because using it only for browsing, chatting. As for games, just candy crush. Not using for media like movies and music.. So, 16GB for me..
  • 16GB for sure! With iCloud and iTunes Match there's really no need for all the extra storage, but a 32GB would be convenient :-) Sent from the iMore App
  • @Georgia/ iMore Team - Why do you guys always ask the stupid question all the time, when a new iDevice gets launched. People will get it either 2 way; either one with lower storage(who can't afford more) and the other one will go for the higher storage as per their usage/capacity. That's it. Why do you guys try to solve this idiotic questions all the time. Just try to do something more (when your site is also named "iMore", for that matter of fact, do something literally) out of the box. No offense to Georgia, i think she wrote what Rene told her to write. Just do something productive. Cheers!
  • What you choose to call a "stupid question" are perfectly valid for some. They've provided some scenarios for people who may not be as smart as you to assist them with making a buying decision. I know whenever anyone at work is going to buy an iPhone, iPad etc they ALWAYS ask, what size should I get, how many GBs do I need. They are trying to do their own cost / benefit analysis. Not a stupid question at all, just stupid for you because it seems you already know the answer, for you. And why would iMore repeat it every time a new device comes out? Because it's topical and relevant then. They wouldn't expect new visitors to go trawling through their archives to find this information, plus they need to include a whole new set of keywords in their content to bring users to the site.
  • I totally agree, it's a bit aragant to think that everyone has it sorted when it comes to the size of space needed. I've really enjoyed the article and it's answered a few questions and solved which size ipad I'll upgrade too as well...
  • Firstly let me thank you for your great web pages.Believe me for someone who lives in Iran, and is in the habit of checking every bit of info on apple devices, I found this web site of great cohesion, usability and very informative.
    Now I need a device for my teaching , a device which mostly has to deal with reading books , PDF files and projecting them on whiteboard and calculating a bit. what you suggest? which one should I get?
  • I think that my next iPad that I want to purchase I will be thinking about getting a 32gb
  • 32 iPad mini (without cellular. If you have a smartphone you can share the internet connection to you iPad )
  • I'm getting 16 gig ipad air wifi because all I do is surf internet, watch a little bit of youtube, a bit of iWork stuff, and etc apps. (not games for sure) Plus, I owned ipad 3 32 gig wifi version and I currently have 22 gigs of storage left. Then, I realised that I wasted 100 bucks.
  • Besides the first iPad, I've went with the 64 gb model. Now since I'm selling my mini to get an Air I'm going with the 128. I have all my music and some movies on it and it's almost full. My decision is whether I go wifi or cellular.
  • I know from past experience that 16GB is not sufficient for me, and I was completely set on 32GB this time. I have recently been thinking, though, that with the advent of 64 bit and the A7, the apps themselves are going to become larger and take up more space. I am thinking maybe 64 would be a better investment if I intend to keep it for 2-3 years. Agree or disagree?
  • Hey Georgia,
    Have you considered the option of using an SD Card to increase storage? I read that using Apple's Camera Connection Kit will allow one to swap files in and out of the iPad. Now, granted it's not the most convenient solution (as I believe one cannot play video off the SD card, but you must copy the file to the iPad). With the price of a 64gb Class 10 SD Card going for as low as $40, and a knockoff camera kit for $10, perhaps one can go for the 16gb iPad.
    This option will allow you to carry all your files and not worry about slow cloud access.
  • One scenario you could add, for the 128GB... "You're a photographer going on a trip and want a convenient and easy, small, device to store the photos you take on the road" Or "You live in a country or area with out ubiquitous wifi or unlimited mobile data plans" for either of these reasons the bigger the better to meet your on-the-go storage needs. These are the reasons I'll be getting the 128GB iPad mini.
  • my Aunty Alexa just got a new yellow Chevrolet Colorado from only workin parttime on a home computer. check my source
  • 16GB is great for .....browsing the web. But seriously it's a joke (only 13GB is user available) and how much do we have left after installing those standard Apple apps ? Forget about movies, music or top games with that capacity (even single magazines take hundreds of MB). Buying 16GB version you additionaly buy frustration as part of the experience. At least with 32GB we get 27GB of space so if for example iOS 8 gets a tad bigger next year you'll be able to install it.
    If you believe that this tablet will become your main device next year and replaces a notebook then you want 128GB but with sd cards cheap as dirt and new models of Nexus 7 & Kindle HDX both offering you 32GB for $270 I refuse to pay Apple for more flash storage until they wake up. I've my principles and want to keep some of that dignity while being ripped off :)
  • I'm getting a 16 GB with LTE. The iPad spends most of its time at home with wifi or occasionally elsewhere, usually in places with wifi. All I store is apps that generally fill up most of the space. The Photo Stream from my families iPhones takes up some space but I don't take any pictures from the iPad. I also don't bother putting music or video on the iPad since I can stream it all from Skydrive or Dropbox, I am buying the LTE model for the sole reason of getting the free T-Mobile 200 MB and getting a little free mail checking or light browsing if I take my iPad outside. For my iPad 2, it neatly used almost 15 GB of space and stayed steady at that. Just my Two Cents if your usage patterns are like mine.
  • Yeah, it's like I said "for browsing the web". Email, some photos, news apps etc. If someone wants to use this device with every purpose it was build for and get his money's worth then he needs more than 10GB.
  • I feel like a major cheat but I went to Best Buy and bought the cellular model with... 32 GB. :) I took advice from people like you and decided to go and buy the extra storage. The main reason for me is because of giant games and for iOS 8,9, etc.
  • try the samsung galaxy s4 with 16Gb you only get about 8.5-9Gb
  • The iPad has come a long way in music. With an interface, camera connection kit, and a good DAW app, you have a portable recording studio. It is no longer a tool for laying down simple tracks to edit later, but can be a full 48 track DAW, with full edit, and mixing abilities. For that you need 128GB. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm getting a 16 GB with LTE. The iPad spends most of its time at home with wifi or occasionally elsewhere, usually in places with wifi. All I store is apps that generally fill up most of the space. The Photo Stream from my families iPhones takes up some space but I don't take any pictures from the iPad. I also don't bother putting music or video on the iPad since I can stream it all from Skydrive or Dropbox, I am buying the LTE model for the sole reason of getting the free T-Mobile 200 MB and getting a little free mail checking or light browsing if I take my iPad outside. For my iPad 2, it neatly used almost 15 GB of space and stayed steady at that. Just my Two Cents if your usage patterns are like mine.
  • I'm similar to you as well, in a wifi most of the time, everything is in the cloud other than what I'm working on. I use my ipad all day everyday for work and I have 2.7 gig free on a 16 gig ipad with all my favourite apps.... In fact I've found that its easier to use as I don't have lots of apps that I've tried and don't use cluttering my screen unlike my 32gig phone that is a bit messy and hard to find apps...
  • 32Gig Mini, i filled my 16 way to quick because of music. i can't stand full size iPad anymore, mine tends to collect dust a lot more now that i have a MBP though.
  • I am getting the 64GB. Why, I have a 32GB iPhone 5s, and 128GB MacBook Air 11", so an iPad Mini with Retina 64GB seams just right. :-/
  • I've always had a 32GB iPad. But lately, I'm thinking having that amount of space only allows me to cop-out on dealing with unnecessary stuff on my iPad; music I never listen to, apps I never use that I could easily download again in the future when needed, pictures that are just sitting on my device for no reason. So this time I'm going with the 16GB iPad Air and I use my iPad every single day. Having the 16GB will only keep me on my toes on being efficient with the space. And it's an extra $100 I could spend on accessories.
  • I've had a 64GB 3rd Gen Ipad. After some consideration i've decided to buy the 128GB IPad Air.
    I only had 8Gb left on my 64gb iPad.
    I think with 64 bit apps becoming more common and my appetite to load the odd season of Homeland on my ipad it makes sense.
  • is it worth it to order a LTE 16gb and lose storage or order a 32gb WiFi only and lose the LTE if you don't want to spend so much money?
  • Great Post! I picked up the 16GB Air I love it my only gripe is that with the added horse power I've been enticed to purchase larger apps like Infinity Blade III the iWorks and iLife suites.. I have about 4 GB free... I will be exchanging to a 32GB Air in the coming days!!!!
  • I just decided to go with 32 instead of 16 for my first ipad, (air) I was inclined to be cheap, but I have 32 gbs on my HTC one and it is 2/3 full, so the extra 100 dollars will be worth it. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I originally purchased the 16gb model. the actual usable storage space for the device is closer to 13gb...Not much room if you plan to store some mp3s, podcasts, and such. I took it back to MicroCenter and got the 64gb version. It has around 54gb actual storage but i think it will stand the test of time a little better than the 16gb version. The iPad Mini Retina is definitely a top notch device. I still enjoy android but for polish and quality I still pick the iPad.
  • Many portable hard drives connect wirelessly with an iPad as an option for nearly unlimited local storage. http://www.amazon.com/mn/search/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789...