BUYER'S GUIDE: Everything You Need To Know Before You Pick Up A New iPad Air Or iPad Mini

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It's been a year since the last iPad refresh, and Apple's new tablet line-up doesn't disappoint.

As we noted in our review round-up for the new iPad Air, the consensus is that this year's model is the best tablet Apple has ever made — and by extension, the best tablet on the market.

With that said, those looking at buying a new tablet next month will have to make a number of decisions. Air or Mini with Retina? Black or white? Wi-Fi or LTE? How much storage do I need? Where should I buy it?

We've rounded up the most common questions people have regarding the new iPads to compile the ultimate buyer's guide. If there's anything we haven't addressed, feel free to bring it up in the comments and we'll see how we can help.

You can click the links below to skip to your specific question:

Should I buy the iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina? 

What about the iPad 2 or older iPad Mini?

Should I get a Wi-Fi model or step up to LTE?

How much storage should I pay for (16 GB/32 GB/64 GB/128 GB)?

Which color iPad should I go with?

Which retailer should I buy from?

Which carrier should I go with if I want an iPad with LTE?

Should I buy the iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina?

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This one depends on your screen-size preference, budget and patience.

Internally, the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina are essentially identical: same screen resolution, same processor, and same battery life.

So the main differentiator in terms of the hardware itself is the screen size — and the change in weight that brings with it. The Mini with Retina's 40% smaller display makes the package lighter and easier to hold in one hand, while the Air's larger display makes text clearer and video enjoyable from farther away.

With that said, the Mini with Retina model costs $100 less than an Air with equivalent storage and wireless options. We also don't have a specific date for its release; all we know is that it's coming "later in November."

What about the iPad 2 or older iPad Mini?

While the idea of buying a full-sized iPad for only $399 might seem appealing at first glance, the truth is that the iPad 2 is a major rip-off at that price point.

It's running the same hardware as it did back in 2011 (though a change to its processor has improved battery life some), meaning that it's going to have an increasingly difficult time over the next two years or so as apps are made to take advantage of Apple's new 64-bit mobile architecture. While its current performance is passable, the iPad 2 simply isn't a good long-term purchase.

The $299 iPad Mini is a somewhat different story. It has the same internals as the iPad 2 but weighs significantly less, making for a decent bargain if you're in the market for a smaller iOS tablet and don't mind being a bit behind the curve on specs.

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At the same price point as the iPad Mini with Retina, the iPad 2 simply isn't a good deal.

Should I get a Wi-Fi model or step up to LTE?

To get the cheapest iPad possible, go Wi-Fi only. LTE connectivity immediately adds $130 to the cost of your new device and most likely an extra charge on your monthly wireless carrier bill. (More on this later). 

If you're willing to pay the premium, adding LTE really is a great option on this year's new iPads. As Engadget's Brad Molen notes in his review of the Air, the iPad is able to pull off download and upload rates competitive with many Americans' home broadband connections with only average signal strength.

How much storage should I pay for (16 GB/32 GB/64 GB/128 GB)?

This one's a bit tricky to answer. If you intend to only use your new iPad for web browsing, social networking apps, and content streaming via services like Netflix or Spotify, chances are you won't even come close to filling up a 16 GB model.

The second you start thinking about storage-heavy content like downloaded HD video or some of the more graphically impressive video games on the App Store, it's time to seriously consider moving up to at least 32 GB.

Filling up an iPad with movies, television episodes, and bigger games (say, for a trip to stay with that relative who doesn't have Wi-Fi) could even fill up a 32 GB pretty easily. While most won't need 64 GB, it's something to consider since you can't upgrade the storage later.

As for the 128 GB option, that's only really useful for those exceptional people who must have their entire HD movie and high-bitrate music collections with them at all times.

Which color iPad should I go with?

While this seems like a purely aesthetic factor, the color you go with really can impact your experience with the iPad.

User experience aficionados will point out that a black screen is better for consuming video content, as the brain tends to ignore the black border around what you're watching (which is why you don't see many white big-screen TVs on the market). On the downside, the black iPad is notorious for the noticeable buildup of greasy fingerprints.

If you don't watch much video or are a stickler for keeping your device clean, the white iPad is a beautiful option. Our recommendation: try both before you buy, and use each as you would your own. 

Which retailer should I buy from?

If you're opting to get a Wi-Fi iPad and don't have an older one to trade in for it, the best deal we can find is Wal-Mart's price of $479 for the 16GB iPad Air, $2o off the normal price. CNN's Emily Jane Fox confirmed that you'll also be able to trade in tablets in good condition to further reduce the price of your new iPad.

Those concerned about waiting in line on the day the iPad you've decided to go with comes out (again, the new iPad Mini with Retina arrives later in November), anecdotal evidence suggests that Best Buy and Radio Shack have shorter/no lines.

On the other hand, some enjoy spending time with others who are pumped about getting new Apple tech. 

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Nothing beats lining up at an Apple Store for launch day excitement.

Which carrier should I go with if I want an iPad with LTE?

Another tricky question due to the many factors that come into play.

T-Mobile made headlines by announcing that they would be offering both the 16 GB iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina for $0 down. Of course, you'll have to to commit to making two years of monthly payments that will still come out to $530/$630, the base prices of the Mini with Retina and Air, respectively.

To sweeten the deal, T-Mobile is also throwing in a free 200 MB worth of data each month, perfect for those who would only use it sparingly. T-Mobile voice customers will be able to add a data plan beyond that for an extra $10 per month and new customers will have to hand over $20.

While they have announced that they will be accepting tablet trade-ins, they have yet to add to add any tablets to their trade-in device value estimator as of this writing. 

AT&T will also let you pick up an iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina for $0 if you're willing to pay for it in monthly installments that add up to their full retail price — with the option to upgrade to next year's model for no additional cost. There's also the option to buy it with a two-year contract for $100 off of the retail price — so $430 and $530 for the Mini with Retina and Air, respectively.

While AT&T doesn't offer any free data options, its $30, 3 GB plan is a great deal compared to the $20, 500 MB plan offered by T-Mobile for non-voice customers. Those who do have voice plans with T-Mobile face a more difficult decision, as $20 per month will give them 2.5 GB of data per month.

Those considering AT&T with a tablet to trade in can see how much it might be worth by clicking here.

Following AT&T's lead, Verizon will let you buy an iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina for full price (paid in monthly installments) or for $100 off if you're willing to sign a two-year contract. Of course, Verizon's biggest draw is its fantastic LTE coverage — if you live outside of a major urban area but still want 4G data on your tablet, Verizon is your best bet.

Verizon lets you share data between all of the devices on your plan, so if you decide to pick one up you'll only have to add $10 per month to your cellular bill as long as you don't think you'll be too voracious with your data consumption. They're also accepting trade-ins, so if you're going to be replacing a tablet you can see how much it'll be worth for you by clicking here.

Sprint has been the slowest of the major carriers to reveal its plans for the new iPads. It doesn't currently list prices on its site, but does note that you'll be able to spread the cost over 24 months (much like the other carriers mentioned above).

With that said, current Sprint customers should be happy to find that adding a new iPad to their plan will only add an additional $5 per month to their bill (on top of the price of the iPad itself). They also have a generous device buyback program, so if you're going to be upgrading from an older tablet you can see how much it can cut off of the price of your new iPad by clicking here.



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