Should You Buy a New new iPad?

Apple CEO Tim Cook adopted a dress style reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs when leading today's presentation of the new iPad.

Apple released their new third generation iPad earlier today, with the ridiculous name of ‘new iPad’.

Fortunately, its name was probably the most disappointing part of the new iPad, with the device offering a massively improved screen and camera, plus some other tweaks and enhancements too, and all at the same price as the iPad 2 models it is now replacing.  We already have a review of the new iPad features online here and see also our item ‘The new iPad’s Six Biggest Disappointments‘ too.

The new iPads are available for pre-order now, and are expected to be in the stores on Friday March 16 (in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and six other countries).

So, if you already have an iPad, should you upgrade?  If you’ve been holding out for an iPad, should you buy one now?  And, if you are going to buy one, which of the six different models should you buy?

Read on for answers to all these questions.

What About Competing Products

The amazing thing is that even after two years, no other manufacturer has yet got close to the iPad in terms of functionality, features, and price.

It is hard to understand why this is.  Sure, Apple was the first company to release a tablet, but even its initial launch was hardly a surprise; furthermore, its iPad 2 hardly improved upon the initial iPad at all.

At present, and notwithstanding more than 100 different tablet style computers being released in the last year, there is very little to effectively compete with the iPad 2, and the new iPad is massively better in terms of screen resolution and is still ‘best of breed’ in terms of all-important battery life.  What’s more, there are no persuasive rumors of any ‘iPad killers’ about to be released by other companies.

Perhaps the most credible competitor, at present, is the recently announced but yet to be released Asus Transformer Pad Infinity 700; but not only does this not have a release date, it doesn’t have a price set for it either.  If you can wait for more details of this unit, it might be a worthy competitor, but that would be the only other unit we see as worthy of possible consideration.

So – other than possibly for the Ausus device – we don’t think there is any reason to delay the purchase of an iPad.  If you want to get a tablet type computer, now is a great time to do so, and the new iPad is your clear best choice.

Should You Upgrade an Existing iPad or iPad 2?

The two main enhancements to the new iPad are its screen resolution and its camera.  It also has a faster processor, although this won’t be obvious in most applications.

The improved screen resolution means it can play better quality video, although in reality, with the levels of video compression that are typically used to save video on an iPad, you’ll not see any difference in quality at all.

The new iPad’s improved screen will also display clearer pictures and type, with more vivid colors.  This will make reading eBooks much more pleasant, for example.

It will also display large sized web pages more easily because the screen resolution is almost always larger than the resolution required by the website.  You won’t need to turn the iPad on its side so much, either (although this will remain a helpful thing to increase the size of the type which, while clearer, will still be small).

To be fair, the original iPad and iPad 2 had good screens already, but the new screen is definitely better.  Depending on how you perceive your current screen quality to be, and the importance to you of a better screen resolution, this may or may not be sufficient reason for you to upgrade.

We’re not sure about the overall impacts of the faster processor, and won’t know until we have some real hands-on experiences.  But as best we can ascertain, video speed will be at least as good as on the iPad 2, and better than on the iPad, and general applications (and swapping between applications) will probably run faster than on either of the other two earlier iPads.

If you’ve been growing increasingly impatient at what you perceive to be a slow current iPad, maybe the new unit will be faster – we say ‘maybe’ because maybe part of the reason for the perceived slowness is simply the speed of the Wi-fi connection you are using.  That will obviously remain as much (or as little) of a constraint with a new iPad as it is with a current iPad.

The next enhancement to the iPad is its camera.  The new iPad has a massively improved camera compared to the iPad 2, and the original iPad had no camera at all.

We’re in two minds as to the value of a camera on a tablet style computer.  If you’re like us, you travel everywhere with your cell phone, and it probably has a camera on it already (and if you have an iPhone 4S, you have the exact same camera that has now been added to the iPad).  You might also have a separate standalone camera, too.

Do you really need yet another camera, on your iPad, too?  Most of us don’t have our iPad with us all the time, and so we are less likely to be at a place where we simultaneously need (or want) to take a picture, and have our iPad with us, and don’t have any other device that can take a picture instead/as well.

Furthermore, the iPad is a relatively bulky/clumsy thing to use as a camera.  It probably would not always be our first choice of device to use as a camera.  And – unlike the iPhone 4S or a regular camera – it has no flash with it.

Don’t get us wrong – it is nice to have a camera in the iPad, and maybe on occasion it will be convenient to use it.  But we don’t see the camera as enough reason, by itself, to upgrade from an iPad 2; maybe it is a slightly stronger reason to upgrade from a first generation (and camera-less) iPad.

The new iPads also come with an option that gives faster wireless data connectivity than before – using the new 4G LTE type of wireless data, rather than the previous 3G type of wireless data.  But if you’re like most of us, you never signed up for wireless data service with your present iPad, and even if you did, the 4G LTE data service is only available in limited parts of the country.

Two more points about the wireless data.  For sure, 4G is much faster than 3G, and it is being touted as a product that makes it practical to stream video wirelessly.  But – at what cost?  All wireless data plans are charged by the GB of usage, and you’ll quickly use up your monthly data allowance (most people have only a 2GB or 5GB allowance) on only a few video downloads.

The second issue is that although 4G is theoretically very much faster than 3G, both 3G and 4G will seldom perform at full maximum speed, and as more 4G devices are released onto the market, there will be just as much – and maybe more – data congestion on 4G services as there currently is on 3G services, causing real-world data speeds to slow down massively, compared to the theoretical promise.

It is far from clear exactly how much faster, in the real world, 4G will end up being, compared to the real world speeds of 3G.

So unless you have some sort of special need for very fast wireless data connectivity everywhere (and don’t forget that 4G isn’t everywhere, anyway!) you’ll probably not feel a need to upgrade from 3G to 4G.

Summary for Present iPad Owners

If you’re like me, with now two year old original iPads, you probably feel that your sensible avoidance of buying into the iPad 2 entitles you now to buy a new iPad without feeling guilty, and for sure the lovely new screen is a powerful motivation to do so, as is the palpably faster general functionality of everything, and the presence of both front and rear cameras (whether you use them much or not).

I’m getting a new iPad, and maybe you should too.

But if you already have an iPad 2, you have to be more searching in your evaluation.  Do you really need the brighter/clearer screen?  Is there any value to you in a better camera?  Will you benefit from the 4G wireless?

If you can’t confidently answer yes to at least some of these questions, maybe you’re better off staying with your iPad 2 for a bit longer, and waiting for an iPad 4 (or, perhaps it will be called, next year, the newer iPad?).

Should You Now Buy an iPad for the First Time?

If you’re one of the few people who have so far resisted the increasingly powerful temptation to buy an iPad, should you now take the plunge and spend $500+ on a new iPad?

This depends on you and how you’d use it, of course.  Is there value to you in having a portable, instant on, device that you can use as a computer, for email, for entertainment and games, for web browsing, for reading eBooks, for taking photos and video (and watching the same)?

Would your needs be just as well satisfied with a much less expensive Amazon Kindle Fire ($200)?  The Fire is best suited for reading eBooks (but an iPad will also read Amazon’s range of eBooks as well as those from most other sources).  The iPad can do most things better, and many more things overall, and on a bigger screen, than the Fire can, but it costs 2.5 times as much.

There’s one more thing to consider as well :  If you already have an iPhone, it makes sense to stay in the Apple/iOS family of products.  But if your phone is an Android based phone, maybe it makes sense to stay within the Android family, and so to consider something like the new Asus device (or the Amazon Fire) instead.

The good thing is that over the last two years, the big question first posed with the introduction of the first iPad – ‘What will I do with this?’ has been more or less answered.  There are now in excess of 200,000 different programs/applications specially developed for the iPad, and most other regular iPhone applications also run on the iPad as well, so there’s a huge range of things you can do with the iPad.

Our general feeling is that most people will probably benefit from getting an iPad now.

Which Model Should You Choose

Apple are offering six different models, and in two different colors (black and white bezels around the screen).

We’ll not comment on the color choices – you can decide that for yourself.  Instead, let’s consider the six different models; and this isn’t as complicated as it looks, because there are only two things that change between the six models.

The first thing that changes is whether or not the unit has wireless data capabilities and GPS, or not.  Three models come equipped for wireless data and GPS signals, three do not.  You’ll pay an extra $130 if you want to add the capability to receive GPS signals and wireless data to your iPad.

Is this money well spent?  For the wireless data capability, we think not.  Few people use this, and if you do, you’ll find it expensive and limiting ($50 for 5GB of wireless data per month).  If you occasionally find you really must have wireless data, there are probably ways you can turn your cell phone into a mini Wi-Fi hub and share its wireless data connection.

It is however regrettable that the GPS capability is also part of this choice, because, for sure, GPS is a great extra feature, not just in terms of mapping software per se, but also all the growing number of other programs that use your location information to decide what information to provide you.

However, as a basic GPS unit, the iPad is not necessarily a good solution.  It is too big and heavy for most applications – it is one thing to mount your cell phone on your car’s dash or windshield and use that as a GPS unit, but an iPad is probably too big and bulky for such an application.

The iPad is also too large and too heavy to use as a GPS while simply walking around – it is again much easier to use your phone for that.  So we think the GPS capability is a bit of a ‘red herring’ – something that seems good, but which you’ll almost never use.

Our advice is not to spend the extra $130 for the wireless and GPS capabilities.

So now you have three models to choose from, with the difference between them being the amount of storage capacity they each have.  $499 gets you 16GB of storage, $599 gets you 32GB, and $699 gets you 64GB of storage.

How much storage do you need?

Well, that depends on what you want to store, of course.  eBooks take up very little space (you can typically get half a dozen into each MB, so less than 1GB would hold more books than you’re likely to ever need or read).

Most application programs are not too demanding of space, either.  But graphic/picture intensive games can quickly chew through the space.  A ‘normal’ sort of program might only be 10MB in size, but a game could be 500MB or more in size.  Chances are, you’ll end up with at least 5GB of space used by apps and games.

If you’re using your iPad as an electronic photo album, you’ll probably end up using some GB of space for all your digital photos, but probably less than 5GB.

Maybe you’ll also use your iPad as an iPod equivalent, and store all your iTunes music on it, too.  This could take up anywhere from 1GB to 20GB, depending on how extensive your music library is.

And then – leaving the biggest until last – there is video.  Do you want to save some movies onto your iPad, so you can watch them, for example, while flying somewhere on a plane?  If so, you’ll find that each hour of video will probably take up 1GB or more of space, depending on how compressed you choose to store the video.  In other words, half a dozen two hour movies could use up more than 12GB of space.

Now, start adding all of this up, and what do you get?  Most people will find that the entry level 16GB unit is insufficient.  The ‘sweet spot’ for most of us is going to be either the 32GB or the 64GB unit, with your ultimate choice depending on how many movies you want to have available all the time to choose from, and how important it is to save/spend the extra $100 to go from a 32GB capacity to a 64GB capacity.

As we said in our earlier review of the new iPad, it is a shame Apple didn’t release a 128GB version too.  There is increasing need for this added capacity (or, even better still, to allow for removable SD cards).


If you don’t already have an iPad, this is probably a good time to join the rush to the new iPad, unless you want to stay within the Android product family, in which case the new Asus device looks promising.

If you already have an original iPad, we can understand you deciding it is time to upgrade; if you have an iPad 2, it is more a difficult judgment call.

If you do buy a new iPad, you’ll probably be best advised to get one without the wireless data and GPS, and with either 32GB or 64GB of storage.

Please also see our article ‘The new iPad’s Six Biggest Disappointments‘ for some more commentary on what is not included in this new device.

2 thoughts on “Should You Buy a New new iPad?”

  1. It is a post PC device not a laptop or entertainment center. How many movies do you need to carry when you can down load while traveling. Wi-Fi will become a necessity in the future for airports, hotels, cities. With iCloud you should not need SD’s to shuffle around and lose while traveling. I believe there is nothing on the market that comes close, Apple will address new features in the future as the majority of customers demand. Apple is one of the few companies that are in touch with user interface, user friendliness and practicality. You might want to review the keynote speech before being too disappointed with the 6 items mentioned.

    1. Hi, Joe

      Thanks for your note, and for the humor perhaps inadvertently contained therein.

      Let’s see – where to start…..

      (a) How many movies do you need when you can download while traveling? Tell me about the movies you can download on a long flight, Joe, and – in the improbable event that you could, what the cost would be to download them. Tell me about the movies you can download while on a cruise. Tell me about the movies your kids can download in the back of the car on a long day’s drive. Tell me about the movies you can download while out of the country.

      Most of all, tell me about the data costs if you try downloading movies through your wireless connection. At say 1 GB for a low quality movie, what happens after you’ve downloaded 3 or 4 movies and used up your 3GB or 5GB monthly allowance – how much extra will you be paying for each additional movie that month?

      Even if you can find a free Wi-fi connection (good luck to you in that respect) or even if you are willing to pay top dollar for Wi-fi or wireless, will the connection be fast enough to support HD video streaming? Almost certainly not in my experience.

      I’m sorry, but your suggestion that movies can be conveniently downloaded any time you want to watch one is ridiculously wrong. It is a claim that isn’t close to the reality of the world we live in.

      (b) With iCloud, no need to shuffle SD cards? But, two problems here. The first is – how much will you pay for iCloud storage, and the second is, ooops, the same as my first point (a).

      How will you get the movie from the iCloud to the iPad, assuming there is any sort of wireless or Wi-fi connectivity wherever you may be? Only by paying more money to stream it to the iPad, alas.

      (c) Apple will address new features in the future that customers demand? Really??? Are you saying there is no demand for an SD slot or for Flash support?

      In the reality that most of us inhabit, Apple’s cavalier disregard for what customers want is legendary. Maybe that will change with the demise of Jobs, but there’s no evidence yet of that (and in particular no evidence in the iPad). If Apple gave us what we wanted, it wouldn’t have come close to total bankruptcy with its ridiculously closed Mac system, and its same high handed approach to iPhones has meant that Android phones now have a significantly greater market share than the iPhone. There’s every reason to expect history will repeat itself a third time and for three times in a row, Apple will ignore the market and lose its initial market dominance.

      (d) Review the keynote speech and stop being disappointed? I don’t know what ‘keynote speech’ you’re talking about, or maybe you’re attempting to dignify the sales pitch Apple mounted on Wednesday as a ‘keynote speech’; a keynote speech is something a dignitary is invited to present at an impartial third party convention/conference, it is not one’s own press conference/product release.

      And, after having watched their sales pitch once, I have to tell you that watching it a second time won’t make me stop wanting more memory, or an SD card slot. It won’t make its too heavy and too big form factor feel lighter or smaller. Maybe drinking Apple’s koolaid gives you a wondrous buzz, but it leaves me completely unchanged.

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