Choosing the Right iPad 2 for You

iPad 2s don't come in different sizes. In fact, if you pick up an iPad 2, you're not likely to be able to tell one model from another except that some are black and some are white and models including 3G have 3G in small print on them. Their differences are primarily under the hood.

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iPad 2 models have three variations:

  • Black or white

  • Amount of built-in memory

  • Method used for connecting to the Internet (Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G)

Deciding how much memory is enough

Memory is a measure of how much information —movies, photos, and apps — you can store on a computing device. Memory can also affect your iPad's performance when handling tasks such as streaming TV shows from the web or downloading music.

Your memory options with an iPad 2 are 16, 32, or 64 gigabytes (GB). You must choose the right amount of memory because you can't open the unit and add memory, as you can with a desktop computer. There is also no way to insert a flash drive (also known as a USB stick) to add backup capacity because iPad 2 has no USB port.

With an Apple Digital AV Adapter accessory, you can plug into the Dock connector slot to attach an HDMI-enabled device such as an external hard drive for additional storage capacity.

So how much memory is enough for your iPad? Here's a rule of thumb: If you like lots of media, such as movies, photos, and e-books, and you want to store them on your iPad (rather than experiencing or accessing this content online on sites such as Hulu or Netflix or from your Mac/PC using an app like Air Video), you might need 64GB. For most people who manage a reasonable number of photos, download some music, and watch heavy-duty media such as movies online, 32GB is probably sufficient. If you simply want to check e-mail, browse the web, and write short notes to yourself, 16GB might be enough, but why bother?

There is no way to expand memory in an iPad. Memory resides on a micro-SIM card (a smaller version of the SIM card in your cellphone), which is fine for saving your contacts' addresses and similar data, but doesn't lend itself to video storage. Apple is banking on you wanting to stream and sync content. Only you can decide if that will work for you.

Determining whether you need Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G

One variation on price and performance for the iPad is whether your model has Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and 3G. Because the iPad is great for going online, having an Internet connection for your device is pretty essential. That's where Wi-Fi and 3G come in. Both are technologies used to connect to the Internet:

  • Wi-Fi is what you use to connect to a home network or a public hotspot (like the one at your local coffee shop). This type of network has a reasonably limited range. If you leave home or walk out of the coffee shop, you can't get online.

  • 3G cellphone technology allows an iPad to connect to the Internet via a cellular network that's widespread, just as you can make calls from just about anywhere using your cellphone.

You can buy an iPad with only Wi-Fi or one with both Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities. Getting a 3G iPad costs more, but it also includes GPS so that you can get more accurate driving directions. You have to buy an iPad model that fits your data connection provider — either AT&T or Verizon. Also, to use your 3G network, you have to pay AT&T or Verizon a monthly fee. The good news is that neither carrier requires a long-term contract. Check out these plans with your cellphone carrier before buying your iPad because you have to buy either an AT&T or Verizon version.

You can use the hotspot feature on iPad, which allows you to use your iPhone's 3G connection to go online for an extra charge by your phone service carrier.

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