16GB vs 32GB vs 64GB: Which new iPad mini or iPad 4 storage capacity should you get?

So you've decided to take the plunge and the new iPad mini or the newly updated iPad 4, 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.

iPad mini and iPad 4 price for storage breakdown

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

  • 16GB: $329 or $20.56/GB
  • 32GB: $429 or $13.41/GB
  • 64GB: $529 or $8.26/GB

The current US prices for the iPad 4 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

At first glance it may look like 64GB is twice the price for four times the storage, in other words a really sweet deal. But nothing is ever really that simple, is it? Basically, the 16GB for $329 (iPad mini) or $499 (iPad 4) is Apple's lowest margin device. After that, Apple is getting you to pay a premium for every additional doubling of storage. In other words, going from 16GB to 32GB costs you $100. Take a look at the cost of a 16GB SD card and you'll see how much more you're paying for that bump. The $200 premium for an additional 48GB of storage is more interesting, because it's for more expensive, double density NAND Flash. But it's still not $200 more expensive.

If your goal is to pay Apple absolutely the least amount of money as possible, the 16GB might tempt you. But hold on, there's a lot more to consider than just the cost of storage...

iPad mini and iPad 4 vs. iCloud and other online storage options

The ultimate guide to iCloud

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

All of this might make that 16GB iPad mini or iPad 4 all the more tempting, since you could keep most of your media nearline in iCloud, and maybe even buy a little extra iCloud space if you need to.

It's not a crazy idea but it's important to remember that online 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 at the same time you watch it, which means you have to have enough space available on your iPad mini or iPad 4 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.

iCloud also isn't as open as things like Dropbox (which is also an option to consider), so you can only really store what Apple lets you. If your movies and videos don't come from iTunes, that's an important consideration. Also, in our tests, iCloud's free 5GB could get filled up pretty quickly by photos and especially videos.

Bottom line, iCloud means you can get away with managing more content on your device, but you still want to have enough local storage for what you need, when you need it.

iPad mini and iPad 4 and 5 megapixel photos and 1080p video

Both the iPad 4 and iPad mini actually have good iSight cameras on them, and that means they take 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 5 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 do store a ton of photos and video on my iPad that I've taken with my iPhone and with my DSLR. 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.

iPad mini and iPad 4 content

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

The other thing that can fill up the iPad mini and iPad 4 quickly is apps, especially games. 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 the Retina iPad 4, which are huge, and which all add up.

iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-5GB. 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 like Slacker you need local storage for offline playback. Again, it all adds up.

Who should get 16GB iPad mini or iPad 4

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 delete games and media when they're don with them, and some people just don't shoot a lot of pictures or video. If that's you, you can save yourself some cash and get a 16GB iPad mini or iPad 4.

Who should get 32GB iPad mini or iPad 4

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 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, your probably better off going for 32GB.

Who should get 64GB iPad mini or iPad 4

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 decided on 64GB, haven't you?

Some people really do want their iPad mini or iPad 4 to do everything, all of the time, and never (or rarely) have to worry about running out of space. They probably want 128GB -- or even 256GB if they could get it! -- but they'll use the most they can, whenever they can. That's 64GB.

What if you choose the wrong iPad mini or iPad 4 size?

Remember, in most places you have time to try out your new iPad mini or iPad 4 and return it if you don't like it. Make sure, as soon as possible, you put your iPad mini or iPad 4 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 mini or iPad 4 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 mini or iPad 4.


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.