4 Things to Help You Enjoy the iPad mini

You don’t need a computer (and the connection to iTunes and whatever program you use to store your contacts) to use an iPad mini. You see, the current flavor of the iOS operating system, version 7, lets you activate, set up, and apply iOS updates to an iPad wirelessly, without having to connect it to a computer.

But even though you don’t, technically, need a computer, you’ll prefer using your iPad with one rather than without one. So it isn’t recommended you use your iPad totally unplugged unless you really don’t have a computer available to use.

Many tasks — such as iOS software updates and rearranging application icons, to name just a couple — are faster and easier to do using iTunes on a Mac or PC than on the iPad.

Now, here are the four things you need in order to use your iPad (and yes, after thinking about it, a computer is on the list):

  • A computer: This can be either a Macintosh running Mac OS X version 10.5.8 or later, or a PC running Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP Home or Professional Edition with Service Pack 3 or later. That’s the official word from Apple anyway.

    The iCloud service has higher requirements: Mac OS X Lion (10.7), OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) or OS X Mavericks (10.9) or higher for Macs; or Windows Vista or Windows 7 and 8 for PCs.

  • iTunes software: More specifically, you need version 10.7. or later of iTunes — emphasis on the later because by the time you read this, it is later.

    That is, unless you’re a fan of the popular TV show Mad Men and can’t remember what decade you’re living in. All kidding aside, Apple constantly tweaks iTunes to make it better. You can go to iTunes to fetch a copy. Or, launch your current version of iTunes and then choose iTunes (Help in Windows)‚ě™Check for Updates.

    For the uninitiated, iTunes is the nifty Apple jukebox software that owners of iPods and iPhones, not to mention PCs and Macs, use to manage music, videos, apps, and more. iTunes is at the core of the iPad as well because an iPod is built into the iPad.

    You can use iTunes to synchronize a bunch of stuff from your Mac or PC to and from an iPad, including (but not limited to) apps, photos, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U lectures, and of course, music.

  • An Apple ID account: You’ll want an account to download content from iTunes or the App Store or to take advantage of iCloud.

  • Internet access: Your iPad can connect to the Internet in one of two ways: Wi-Fi or cellular (if you bought an iPad mini with the capabilities of tapping into 3G or 4G networks when available). You can connect your iPad to cyberspace via Wi-Fi in your home, office, school, favorite coffeehouse, or bookstore, or in numerous other spots.

    At press time, 3G (third-generation) and 4G (fourth-generation) wireless data connections were available from many carriers in countries too numerous to mention; in the United States, you can choose between AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile.

    Those wireless carriers are still building the zippier 4G (fourth-generation) networks across the USA, with Verizon in the lead with the fastest variety, called LTE — shorthand for Long Term Evolution. While the others play catch-up on LTE, the latest iPad mini on AT&T and T-Mobile makes nice with other pretty fast networks, including something known as HSPA+.

    Unlike the cellphone contract you may have with your cellular carrier, no long-term service commitment is required to connect your iPad to the network.

    Data rates (no contract required) are reasonably priced as long as you don’t stream or download a lot of movies or watch tons of videos while connected over 3G or 4G. For as little as $5 in some instances, you can buy a day pass for data instead of getting a monthly plan.

    And T-Mobile, a latecomer as far as selling Apple tablets, is even dishing out 200 megabytes (MB) of monthly LTE data gratis — free! — for people using the iPad mini with the Retina display (or the larger display iPad Air). That translates to about 800 Instagram photos, more than 2,500 e-mails, or 200 minutes of music streaming.

    You can start paying if you need more. The following plan highlights are from other carriers:

    • AT&T: $14.99 a month for 250 megabytes (MB), 3GB for $30, and 5GB for $50

    • Sprint: $14.99 a month for 300 megabytes (MB), 3GB for $34.99, and 6GB for $49.99

    • Verizon: $20 for 1GB, $30 a month for 2GB, $50 for 5GB, $80 for 10GB

    A friendly warning pops up on your iPad when you get close to your limit. At that point, you can pay more to add to your data bucket or start from scratch next month. Keep in mind that with 4G, you’re likely to use more data in a hurry.

Find a Wi-Fi network if you want to buy, rent, or watch movies.