2012 iPad buyers guide

Everything you need to know before buying the new iPad, including how to pick your model, storage capacity, color, and 3G or 4G LTE carrier!

Considering the new iPad but interested in more information before taking the plunge? Should you buy the 2012, third generation iPad at all, or would you be better off with last year's, discounted iPad 2, or another tablet entirely? If you do decide to buy the new iPad, which model do you need, 16, 32, or 64GB? Which color, white or black? And if you go for the 4G LTE version, which network is better, AT&T or Verizon?

This is our 2012 iPad buyers guide. If you have questions, iMore has answers! And if you already know what you're getting, keep think link handy to mail, tweet, or Facebook your friends and family -- we'll help them out so you don't have to!

Should you buy an iPad?

Buy vs upgrade vs skip: Should you get the new iPad?

The new iPad contains an almost staggering amount of cutting-edge technology in a minimalist package at a frankly unbelievable price. It's got a 2048x1536 Retina display that packs more pixels than a 1080p HDTV into a compact 9.7-inch screen, 4G LTE networking if you want it, a super-fast Apple A5X dual core processor with quad-core graphics, a new, high-quality 5 megapixel iSight camera, and the best app, media, and accessory ecosystem on the market.

If you're in the market for your first tablet, for most of the people, most of the time, the new iPad is a great choice. But it's not the only choice. For original iPad owners, it's a great upgrade. For iPad 2 owners, one or more of the new features have to be compelling enough to warrant the upgrade, otherwise waiting for the 2013 iPad next year could be a better bet. For owners of other tablets, from BlackBerry to Android to webOS, or for those looking to upgrade to netbooks, there are more factors to consider.

No matter which category of buyer or potential buyer you fall into, we've got your complete break down for you.

And if you want to sell you old iPad or old tablet before upgrading, here's what to do.

When should you buy a new iPad?

Timing is everything when buying a new iPad from Apple. Get it at launch and you have a year of fantastic use ahead of you before the next new model is released. Buy it at the wrong moment and Apple will announce a new one, often at the same price, and while it won't make the iPad you have useless, it will mean you didn't get the most for your money.

Here's the deal

Buy in March or April

For the last three years in a row, for as long as they've been making them, Apple has released new iPads in the spring. If it's March or April, it's likely Apple has a new iPad model ready to hit the store shelves, and it's absolutely the best time to buy.

Stay away in January or March

If you're reading this right after Christmas, it's best to hold off because Apple is probably getting ready to announce that next generation iPad just like we mentioned above. It might even be tempting to hold off buying iPads for Christmas if you really want to make sure you get the latest and the greatest in the New Year, but if a loved one really wants it, that can be tough.

In between, buy when you need

If you're reading this in the fall, right at the 6 month point, and wondering if you should pull the trigger on a new iPad or wait for the next model, ask yourself whether you need it or just want it.

If you've broken your current netbook or tablet, lost it, or otherwise simply have to get an ultra-light, ultra-portable computing appliance now, now, now, get the new iPad and have no regrets. There will always be something new on the horizon but that won't help you if you need an iPad urgently.

If you don't need it but just want it, wait as long as you possibly can wait then buy the best iPad available when you can't wait any more.

Which iPad should you buy?

Once you've decided to get an iPad, you have two major options to choose between, last year's iPad 2, with fewer features at a discounted price, or this year's new iPad with full features at full price.

The iPad 2 doesn't have Retina display, Bluetooth 4.0, 4G LTE networking, or an Apple A5X processor, and only comes in a 16GB model, but it also only costs $399.

The new iPad had everything the iPad 2 doesn't, and comes in 16, 32, and 64GB models, but starts are $499 and maxes out at $829.

That's quite a lot of choice at quite a large price range, and lowest cost isn't always highest value. Here's our complete breakdown.

Which 3G + 4G LTE iPad should you get?

AT&T vs Verizon: Which 4G iPad should you get?

If you live outside of North America, there's only one 3G iPad to choose from right now. Yes, it's frustrating there's no international 4G LTE, but the new iPad will work on HSPA+ up to 42mbps. If your carrier supports it, that's fast.

If you're in the U.S., you have two different 4G LTE carrier options to choose from (and neither is Sprint or T-Mobile). Unless you have any special deals or discounts, the decision will come down to 3 things: coverage, pricing, and tethering. Here's how the plans shake out.

If you're in Canada, you can choose between Rogers, Telus, and Bell for your 4G LTE iPad, and while the considerations are the same, the plans are quite different.

How much storage do you need for your iPad?

16GB, 32GB, or 64GB: Which new iPad capacity should you get?

The iPad comes in three storage sizes -- 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB, and each step up in size costs an extra $100. Saving money and running out of space is no fun, but neither is paying for space you don't end up using.

How many photos and videos you want to keep with you, how many apps and games, and how many TV shows and movies you want on your iPad will determine how much space you need. Also, online storage like iCloud or third party services like Dropbox, SugarSync, or Box.net might change the equation.

Here's how the different price points work out, and what you need to consider when choosing between them.

Black or white, which iPad color looks best?

Black vs white: Which new iPad should you choose?

The new iPad comes in any color you want, as long as one of the colors you want is black or white. Most of the time your own personal tastes will make the choice easy, but there are a few things to think about before making your final choice. Is white going to distract you from games or movies? Will black show more smudges and fingertips? Does either color hold up better over time?

We've got some experience with both color options, and here's what we've found.

Where to buy?

That's it. You know you're getting a new iPad, you know when, and you know on which carrier. You've done your homework, you've made your choice, and now it's time buy. But where you should you buy it?

Apple Retail and Apple Online

If you have an Apple Retail Store in your area you can go there, and if it's in stock, leave with your new iPad right away. They also offer help with your purchase and will even help you get set up free of charge. If you're worried about protecting your investment, they can also get you setup with AppleCare, and their Genius Bar can help you with hardware problems in the future. Corny as it sounds, It's not just shopping, it's an experience. Apple Retail has the best customer service in the business and it shows. There are no discounts, however, not ever.

If there's no Apple Retail store near you there's also Apple Online in many countries. Again, no discounts but you're dealing directly with Apple.

Carrier Stores and big boxes

If you want brick-and-morter but don't have an Apple Store, some carriers might sell them directly. Drop buy or get it shipped to you.

Big box and chain retailers, everything from Best Buy to Walmart the Shack to Tesco are already, or will likely be carrying the new iPad in the future. If you have loyalty points or they're just super convenient, check them out as well.

Buyer beware

Shady operators also try to sell discount iPads, sometimes devices that aren't even really iPads but cheap -- and highly breakable -- knockoffs. It goes without saying you should avoid those. Any deal too good to be true probably is. If you save money only to end up with a tablet that doesn't run iOS and may not even run at all you really just wasted your money.

After you buy

Once you've gotten your new iPad and are ready to set it up, get apps, get accessories, maybe get jailbroken, here's how to get going:

Need more help?

No article can cover every detail or address every unique circumstance or concern. Luckily iMore also hosts the iPad Forums, a vast community where users can ask questions, give feedback, and get help. Check them out:

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.