Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Which iPad to Get?

With the iPad 2 going sale this friday (11-Mar-2011), many people are thinking about which iPad to get and whether it is worth upgrading. I have an iPad 1 3G with 16 GB and am thinking about this as well.

3G or not?

3G gives you the freedom to access the Internet anywhere there is cell coverage. In the car, around town, shopping, or in a waiting room. To me, this is a big part of what makes iPad so useful. In addition to Internet access, the 3G model includes a GPS receiver and compass to support location-based services. While you may not rely on the Maps application, location-based features include getting local weather, theater listings, social networking and so forth. A lot of things become easier or even possible when the iPad knows where you are. The 3G model also synchronizes the clock to the cellular network avoiding possibly awkward clock drift of 10 minutes or more.

Put simply, the 3G model is the full iPad experience Apple envisioned. The WiFi only model is a necessary compromise to achieve the psychologically important $499 entry level price.

If cost is important, consider skipping the iPhone in favor of a prepaid feature phone. With the money you save, you can buy 2 iPads including mobile Internet. iPads can make and receive phone calls, handle Email, SMS, IM etc. From my perspective, the iPad with 3G offers a richer mobile computing experience than any smartphone at a fraction of the cost if you are willing to carry it with you.

I love the iPhone, but spending $2000 on voice and data is a big expense for many. With the iPad 3G, $15 month gives you the best of the mobile Internet with no contract.

16, 32, or 64 GB of Flash Memory?

Unless you have a large collection of music, photos, or video you need to carry with you, stick with 16 GB. 16 GB is plenty for most uses, and the technology is changing so fast you'll most likely want to upgrade in a couple years anyway to get a newer radio (LTE), faster processor, more memory, etc.

AT&T or Verizon?

Advantages of AT&T:

(1) If your cellular data needs are modest since you will mostly be using WiFi at home or work, AT&T is less expensive at $14.99/month for 250 MB. Apple had a hand in creating this plan and it really is $14.99 per month with no surprises. You can start or stop any time you like again with no surprises. Verizon's plan starts at $20/mo for 1GB, but beware of fees and taxes. If you plan to use Verizon, ask around to determine your actual monthly bill, including starting service, stopping service, and going over your monthly allotment.

(2) AT&T's data service can be faster under good conditions.

(3) If you travel outside the US, especially in Europe, GSM is widely available. Verizon's CDMA is not.

(4) GSM can handle simultaneous voice and data on the iPhone. Not an issue for iPad.

(5) Apple has more experience with AT&T so the product and service is more mature.

Advantages of using Verizon:

(1) Verizon has the largest network and better coverage in many areas (but not always). If you travel extensively around the US, Verizon has more coverage in more places including the Metro in Washington DC. If you mostly stay within a single geographic region, ask the locals how the respective coverage works for them.

(2) If you expect to use more than the minimal data plan, Verizon could be less expensive.

(3) Verizon's CDMA radio technology (from Qualcomm) is more efficient, so the GSM camp adopted it for their 3G. Verizon has better 3G frequencies in many areas, which means better coverage indoors.

(4) Verizon is not AT&T. If you already have an AT&T iPhone, you can gain some redundancy and additional coverage by adding Verizon.

(5) Verizon has many corporate customers (including the federal government), so your employer may already have a deal with them.

iPad 1 or iPad 2

I'm still ambivalent around this. The iPad 1 I have works really well and I love my ZeroChroma Vario case. It lets me rest the iPad almost anywhere and adjust it to just the right angle, or hold my iPad more comfortably. A refurbished iPad 1 with 3G is available directly from Apple for $479 ($150 savings) which is pushing down iPad 1 resale values.

The selection of cases for the iPad 2 is likely to be slim at first. While I like the idea of Apple's smart cover, I carry my iPad almost everywhere and appreciate having a shell to protect it from the minor dings of everyday use.

On the upside, the iPad 2 represents the leading edge of mobile computing and affords new applications I haven't even imagined yet. The combination of geo-tagged photos, video, gyroscope, and dual core processing will open many doors. Being able to mirror anything to an external display will be invaluable to some.

I'll probably wait a month or two to hear how the iPad 2 is received and then make a decision.