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Alan Zisman on the Mac

iPad Dilemma: New iPad or Stick with the Old?

- 2012.04.30 - Tip Jar

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I own an original generation iPad. With the recent release of the "New iPad", I - like millions of other owners of both the original iPad models and iPad 2s - have to decide whether it's time to upgrade to the new model.

My Current iPad

I bought my iPad the first weekend that they were available in Canada, a little bit after they had been released in the US. iPad owners - then and now - are faced with two decisions: the amount of storage and WiFi-only vs. WiFi + 3G (or LTE with the new model). Mine is the 64 GB/3G model, which has remained the most expensive model in the iPad lineup. (It was the only model in stock when I went to get mine, but it was the one I wanted in any case.)

Only a minority of iPad owners opt for the 3G models (3G+LTE in the new iPad), which costs $130 more than a WiFi-only iPad with the same amount of storage and requires setting up an account and paying a monthly fee to a mobile provider. I don't own a mobile phone, but I was pleased that US and Canadian mobile providers were offering iPad data plans at a relatively low price and that didn't require locking in to a multiyear contract; I'm buying data from Canada's Rogers, paying $15/month for 250 MB of data.

I appreciate the freedom this gives me - being able to access email and the Web on the bus, for instance, or to use Skype on the road the rare times it would be handy for me to have a mobile phone. At the same time, I've never maxed out this relatively modest amount of bandwidth.

I bought the model with the largest amount of storage available, 64 GB, which remains the largest capacity available on both the iPad 2 and the New iPad). I don't want to have to ration the amount of music, photos, videos, or apps I store on my iPad. Currently, iTunes reports a total of 58 GB of storage (some of the 64 GB space is taken up by iOS and preinstalled apps). I've got 14 GB of music, 1.2 GB of video, 1.5 GB of photos, 9 GB of apps, and about 2 GB of other stuff - probably data files associated with various apps. And I've got about 30 GB free.

iPad storage report
Alan Zisman's is using over half the capacity of his 64 GB iPad.

If I'd bought a model with less storage, I wouldn't have room for all this stuff.

Apps

I have a lot of apps installed. In addition to the preinstalled stuff, I've added a couple of Apple's iWork modules - Pages and Keynote - and the iLife stuff: GarageBand, iMovie, and iPhoto. (The latter two are not officially supported on the original iPad, but that's another story.) I've got three screens of other productivity apps, a page of music apps, a page of games, and a page of travel and language apps. Many are free, but given the generally low cost of commercial apps, I'm more likely to buy an app just because it looks like it might be fun, interesting, or maybe useful.

The result is a lot of apps that I don't really use very often and could easily do without. The free apps I use most are Google's Gmail, Echofon for Twitter, Facebook, and Zite, which assembles RSS feeds into a 'magazine' format. I also use GoodReader ($4.99), a PDF (and more) reader.

How I Use My iPad

I tell people that an iPad isn't really a notebook replacement - at least not for me. There are lots of things I do regularly on a notebook or desktop computer that are either doable but awkward on an iPad (like typing long documents) or not doable at all (like scanning or burning an optical disc). On the other hand, there are things that an iPad can do at least as well as a notebook (like web browsing) or better (like ebook reading or watching videos). The long battery life (about 10 hours) and (pseudo) instant-on (actually instant restore from sleep) beat laptops hands-down, and both are (generally unsung) usability features.

I find the iPad a very nice travel companion - lightweight and portable, with good connectivity (especially the 3G version!). Good for email, web browsing, and social networks on the go. Nice for reading books, listening to music, and watching video content (though getting video content into a format that lets it be loaded onto the iPad can be a chore). The 3G version includes GPS, which has been handy.

When my wife and I went to Italy last summer, the iPad was our only computer for three weeks. I bought an Italian SIM card that provided a month's worth of data access for about $30; it let us get online pretty much anywhere - on the train, lost in the woods in rural Tuscany (when the GPS came in handy!), and more.

It's also a nice device for long, lazy, stay-in-bed mornings or waking up in the middle of the night. Aside from being able to check email, it can be nice to be able to read without having to turn on a light and disturb my sleeping partner.

Despite having content-creation apps, I've never made a word processing document or a presentation or edited a photo or video on my iPad. Maybe some people are doing this, but I'm not among them.

What About the iPad 2?

When the iPad 2 came out in 2011, I thought about it briefly. It has the same storage options, screen size, and resolution as the original model in a somewhat slimmer, lighter case. It has a faster dual-core processor and double the RAM (512 MB vs. 256). And it's got cameras.

A faster CPU and more RAM is always a good thing, but I hadn't (and still haven't) found either processor speed or RAM a limitation using my older iPad. (Now and again I double-click the Home button in order to shut down apps that are running but not actually in use, but in general, the iPad does a very good job of memory management.) And the camera on the iPad 2 was pretty low-end and frankly, using a large tablet as a camera seems awkward to me.

So I didn't regret not moving up to an iPad 2.

What About the 'New iPad'?

The third-generation iPad ups the ante yet again. A more powerful processor with quad-core graphics promises exceptional video performance. Double the RAM again - to 1 GB. Rear camera much improved over the iPad 2's. And a high-resolution Retina Display with four times as many pixels as the screens on either the original iPad or the iPad 2.

All very nice - though I'm a bit concerned that Apple didn't boost the storage - apps rewritten to make use of the Retina Display are inevitably larger, as are higher-resolution photos and video files. The result: Users will need more storage.

So Am I Planning to Upgrade?

Nope. The New iPad looks great, and if I didn't already have an older model, it would be a great purchase. But even with the much-improved camera I don't see myself wanting to take pictures with a tablet. Apple offers a camera-connection add-on that makes it possible to transfer images from a digital camera or its memory card, and that still seems a reasonable option - one I've used now and again.

And while the increased RAM, more powerful CPU, and lovely Retina Display all seem nice things, I don't see the new iPad making a qualitative difference in any of the things I currently do on my older model - and, at least now, I'm not seeing any new New iPad-only apps that I just have to have.

I'm sure that in a year or two there will be uses for the more powerful, higher resolution iPad that I won't be able to do at all on my older model. At that point, I may have to reconsider.

But for now, I'm sticking to my original model. LEM

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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