TiPb helps you decide if you should buy an iPad 2, on which network, and whether you should get it now or wait until the next generation

iPad buyers guide

Trying to figure out if it's a good time to buy that iPad 2 -- or if you should get the now-cheaper original iPad or maybe even try to hold out for the iPad 3? Or maybe you're still trying to decide if the iPad is right for you, and considering some tablet alternatives? No worries, TiPb has your back -- here's our iPad Buyer's Guide.

Should you buy an iPad 2 or something else?

iPad 2 is the sequel to a category-establishing tablet but no one device is right for everyone. If you want something that "just works", that brings the best internet, apps, and games experience, that's supported by the massive iTunes and Apple ecosystem (tons of content, tons of accessories), and that allows some hacking via Jailbreak, then iPad 2 might be for you.

iPad 2 advantage

  • Ease of use: iPad 2 offers several levels of experience but the first level is so incredibly easy to use that the most non-tech savvy of people, people who find traditional computers intimidating or confusing, can pick it up and get going with it immediately. From small children to special needs to grandparents who've never owned a computer before, iPad offers perhaps the best entry level experience available. At the same time it's highly appealing to expert and veteran computer users who want to spend their time devouring content on the device, not having their time devoured by the device.
  • Mobile internet: Apple was the first to put a usable web browser on a mobile device and absent Adobe Flash, Safari is still the best browser in the business. Likewise the built in Mail app shows rich content with pictures. VPN, ActiveSync, and other enterprise-friendly features are also built right in.
  • Apps for that: It's become a cliché but there really is an app for almost everything on the iPad. Thousands and thousands and more every day. Pretty much every major app and currently all the best games are easily available in the App Store and are so functional people actually use them more than the great web browser these days.
  • iTunes: This is the iPad's killer advantage: iTunes lets you easily sync your existing content and also gives you access not only to the App Store but music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U (University) and overall more content in more parts of the world than any other service.
  • More: Apple itself creates a ton of other products to supplement the iPad, including Mac computers, software for Mac and Windows, and together with their partners provide more cases, chargers, docks, car kits, and accessories of every kind. No other tablet has the quantity or quality of extras, from fashionable to functional, that iPad has.

iPad alternatives: BlackBerry, Android, Palm and more

There's only one iPad, however, so if you want more hardware choices like smaller sizes, Flash support, or app marketplaces that aren't curated and controlled by Apple, there are alternatives.

  • Android: If you are hugely invested in Google services and want a device you can more or less tinker away with to your heart's content, you might prefer one of the many Dell, HTC, Motorola, HTC, etc. Android tablets, especially the new ones running Android 3.0 Honeycomb which is optimized for the big screen (see AndroidCentral.com for more). Not all of them are on the market yet, however, and some may not arrive so check and see what's available when you're ready to buy.
  • BlackBerry: If you bleed BlackBerry and want a 7-inch tablet that fits in your salesman suit pocket, you may prefer the PlayBook. (check out CrackBerry.com for more). Again, it hasn't shipped yet but check for updates.
  • HP/Palm: webOS is coming to tablets with TouchPad, a very similar size and shape to iPad but very different software. (Check out PreCentral.net for more). And yet again, it hasn't shipped yet so keep checking for updates.

Take some time, visit the sites above, try out demos at your local big box or carrier store, and see what suits your tastes. Then compare them again to iPad at the Apple Store and everything it offers and make your decision based on the total package.

iPad 2 vs. Xoom vs. Optimus Pad vs. Galaxy Tab 10 vs TouchPad vs BlackBerry Playbook -- Spec wars!

Should you upgrade?

If you already have the original iPad it can be hard deciding whether or not it's worth it to upgrade to iPad 2. Are the cameras, the better processor, the thinner and lighter form factor, the white color, the display mirroring, or any single or combination of new features simply killer enough to make it worth buying the next generation model? We have a whole article dedicated to that, so check it out for more!

Which iPad should you buy?

Once you've decided iPad 2 is for you the next step is to figure out which iPad is for you. Apple is offering 3 different storage capacities in 2 different colors and in Wi-Fi, GSM, and Verizon flavors. Also, and for who knows how long, Apple is still selling the original iPad at a discount.

  • Storage: If you don't carry around a lot of movies you probably don't need a lot of storage. Wi-Fi only iPad 2 starts at $499 for 16GB and that's plenty if you're mostly using the web and accessing your content online. If, on the other hand, you want to bring all your music, movies, and TV shows with you, and if you want to load up every big game you can imagine, you can upgrade to 32GB for $599 or a whopping 64GB for $699.
  • Color: If you want everyone to know you have an iPad 2 get it in white because the original iPad was black only. However, white probably won't be as good if you watch a lot of videos or play a lot of games because the reflected brightness won't let you experience as dark or rich colors.
  • 3G: If you're only using your iPad 2 at home, school, and work (or have Wi-Fi personal hotspot on your iPhone or smartphone) you can save yourself some money and get the Wi-Fi only version. If you need internet access on the road, you're going to need to shell out $629, $729, or $829 (depending on the storage you need). You'll also have to pay anywhere from $15 to $30+ for data every month you want to use it.
  • iPad 1: Right now Apple and other retailers are selling the original iPad starting at $399. If you don't want FaceTime, HDMI display mirroring, or the thinner, lighter form factor, save yourself some cash and pick up the 2010 model.

When should you buy an iPad?

So you know you're getting an iPad and you know which one you're getting, your next decision is whether you should go get an iPad 2 now or wait for Apple to release the next generation iPad 3 next spring (if not sooner).

Spring's the thing

So far Apple has released both the original iPad and iPad 2 in spring -- April and March to be specific. If you're reading this anytime around then, it's probably safe to buy it without worrying that it'll be made obsolete for roughly another year. There's a slim chance there may be an iPad 3 in September, so keep your browser locked to TiPb if you're reading this anywhere around then.

January is scary

Conversely, if you're reading this in January, Apple is probably just about to announce a new iPad and unless you don't care and absolutely, positively have to have a new tablet now, now, you should hold off until they do. So far every new iPad has been the same price -- starting at $499 -- as the old one but offers more for the money. At the same time the old model has so far been dropped in price (starting at $399 right now) so you can save if you need to.

In between, buy when you need

If you're reading this smack dab at the 6 month point, maybe right before the Holidays and you want to know if you should buy, here's the simple question to ask: Do you need it now?

If you've broken your current tablet, lost it, or otherwise simply have to buy a new iPad now get it and have no regrets. There will always be something new on the horizon but that won't help you if you need a tablet now.

Will it get cheaper later?

Typically no. Apart from sales (Apple has one a year on Black Friday, other retailers may do periodic sales) Apple doesn't drop prices of current generation hardware. When the next iPad comes out it will probably keep the same price points but offer more for the money. However, Apple does drop the price on the previous generation hardware (the 2010 iPad is currently reduced by $100) so the advantage of waiting a year is saving a little cash.

Bottom line

If you don't need an iPad now 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 carrier network should you choose?

If you're getting a 3G iPad 2, then carrier comes first. If you only have one good carrier in your area, that's the carrier you should go with. If you have two or more carriers that are all pretty much the same in your area, then it comes down to things like customer service, , coverage in areas you may travel too, overall speed and reliability of the network, etc. If you're not sure ask your neighbors and colleagues which carriers they use and what they think of the service. Wherever you use your iPad most, find out which carrier makes the people there the happiest.

Verizon vs. AT&T

AT&T vs. Verizon iPhone: Which should you choose?

In the US there's currently a bigger decision to be made because the two iPad carriers use different network technologies: AT&T on GSM and Verizon on CDMA. Speed vs. coverage, roaming vs. reliability, you have some choices to make. You won't be able to change later without buying a new iPad (they're not cross-compatible) so think it through.

iPad 2 AT&T Verizon pricing chart

Where to buy?

That's it. You know you're getting an 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?

iPad 2: When, where, and how can you get 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, your carrier will often have one or several stores in your area. Drop buy or get it shipped to you. If you're getting a upgrade discount or other carrier incentives it's a great way to get it all setup right away.

Big box and chain retailers, everything from Best Buy to Walmart also carry iPad. 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 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 TiPb also hosts the iPad Forums, a vast community where users can ask questions, give feedback, and get help. Check them out: