iPad buying guide (2015)

Once again, it's time for a quick run down of the latest options when buying an iPad. There's more choice than ever these days, so read on to find out what you need to know when trying to figure out which iPad is the best fit for you.

Also, take a look at Apple's own comparison page for pricing and more specific details.

Small, Medium or Large?
There was a time when the iPad was only available in one size, 9.7 inches measured diagonally across the screen. This is still the most popular size, but now we have two more options to choose from.

iPad mini
The small option. Some would say too small for driving lessons. Others swear by it. The iPad mini screen measures 7.9 inches diagonally. Smaller than a regular iPad, bigger than an iPhone 6 Plus.

There is an iPad mini, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and iPad mini 4. Apple currently offers the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4. They are essentially very similar, although the 4 is more refined and more powerful. The 4 also has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which the 2 does not have.

iPad Air
The medium option. Bigger than an iPad mini, smaller than an iPad Pro. Apple currently offers the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2. The Air 2 is newer and more refined. It has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the Air does not.

The original iPad (1st generation), the iPad 2, and the 3rd and 4th generation iPads also come under this 'medium' category, although Apple does not offer these for sale any longer.

iPad Pro
The newest incarnation of the iPad, and what a beast it appears to be. I've yet to get my hands on one of these monsters, but it looks like a stunner and I'm seriously looking forward to making its acquaintance. With 12.9 inches of screen, you probably don't need an iPad this large but I don't blame you if you want one!

The iPad Pro can be used with Apple's new 'Pencil' stylus, which is sold separately. Also sold separately is a folding keyboard cover which turns your iPad Pro into something resembling a laptop, great if you do a lot of typing.

If you want to know more, here's a pretty detailed review from Wired.

How much storage space?
iPads are sold with storage ranging from 16GB to 128GB. But how much do you actually need?

Realistically, this is something you can only guess. Here are some guidelines:

128GB of storage is a lot for an iPad. You're unlikely to need this much unless you are serious about carrying around a lot of video files or other space-hungry data such as detailed maps of the solar system.

64GB is also quite a lot for the average user. Worth considering, though, if you're a data-fiend.

32GB is more reasonable if you don't have a specific need to store a lot of data.

Many people get by just fine with the basic 16GB of storage. Things may become a little bit squeezed after you've been using your iPad for a couple of years and you've never, ever deleted anything from its memory. However, by that time you're probably already thinking about upgrading to a shinier, newer iPad, so it'll be time to think again on the tricky subject of whether to go for 32GB or muddle through with 16.

In a nutshell, if this is your first iPad and you're looking to use it mainly for driving lessons, email and surfing the web, you'll probably be just fine with the 16GB option.

(GB = Gigabytes)

Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular?
Perhaps rather unsurprisingly, a Wi-Fi only iPad connects to the internet via Wi-Fi only. This may be via your home network, or a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Each iPad comes with a Wi-Fi only option, or for an extra £100 you can have Wi-Fi and a cellular connection similar to your mobile phone. You need to pay to maintain the cellular connection, just as you do with your phone.

It’s a more expensive option, but many people find that it’s worth it for the “always on” internet connection wherever they roam. Even if you go for the cheaper option and plump for a Wi-Fi only iPad, you may be able to “tether” your iPad to your smartphone. Tethering allows your iPad to piggyback on your phone’s cellular connection, giving you mobile internet on your iPad without the additional costs.

One more thing to be aware of: some apps require a cellular connection and cannot be installed on a Wi-Fi only device. This is the case with my Routes app, although all my other apps can be installed and used on a Wi-Fi only model.

The big question
Gold, Silver or, um, Space Grey? It's up to you. Express yourself!

How do I get a cheap one?
If you’re in market for an iPad and determined to get a bargain, Apple's refurbished store is an excellent place to look. You can pick up all sorts of great deals on as-new or nearly-new iPads, all of which come with the same one-year warranty as the brand new versions. Supply is limited, though, so grab ‘em while you can!

Alternatively, if you’re confident buying second-hand, there are good deals to be had on reseller sites such as eBay. It’s important to note that buying this way offers much less protection than buying direct from Apple, or from another well known retailer. Make sure you know what you’re getting, and always carefully check the seller’s feedback before deciding whether to buy from them.

The current iPad range

Not a lot has changed since my last article on how to understand the slightly bewildering array of iPads that are currently available. If you’re thinking of buying an iPad and you’re not sure which one to get, you might want to read that article after looking at this one. There’s a lot of useful information there. The purpose of this article is to add a little extra information in order to keep things up to date.

Since the last article was written, Apple has released two new versions of the iPad. In the full-size range, the iPad Air 2 is the new top-of-the-range model, replacing the iPad Air. You can still buy the iPad Air, it’s still a great iPad, and it’s £80 cheaper now than it was when it was released. There’s also a new iPad mini in town, the iPad mini 3.

The iPad Air 2 is slightly lighter and thinner than the iPad Air, and features upgraded hardware. Most noticeably, Apple has added Touch ID, which enables the ability to securely unlock the device (and authorise purchases) using only your fingerprint.

The iPad mini 3 is basically the same as an iPad mini 2, but with the addition of Touch ID.

The “iPad With Retina Display” and the iPad 2 are no longer featured in the range of iPads offered by Apple.

You can still pick up an iPad 2 as a budget option, but bear in mind that this is now a four-year-old device. It’s getting pretty slow by today’s standards, and software updates will probably cease to be available for this model reasonably soon. The same goes for the 1st generation iPad mini.

To read the previous (more detailed) article on the iPad range, click here.

To go to Apple’s iPad comparison page, click here.

Get one from John Lewis and they’ll throw in a 3 year guarantee at no extra cost!

Understanding the current iPad range

On January 27th 2010 Apple unveiled the iPad, and the first ones hit the streets in April of the same year. It was a monumental step. Despite the disparagement of a few naysayers, the iPad has revolutionised the computer industry, just as the iPhone revolutionised the smartphone industry three years earlier.

As with the iPhone, Apple was not happy to release one iPad and leave it at that. They have already released several more iterations of the iconic device, each an improvement on the last. This is mainly down to Apple’s obsessive desire to advance and refine their products, incorporating the latest developments while constantly chasing an optimised user experience at all costs. It is also a response to the fact that Apple’s competitors have spent the last four years trying desperately to come up with their own answer to the iPad, copying Apple’s successful formula while hoping to leverage slight improvements in technical specifications to gain an advantage.

Over the past four years, Apple has also expanded the range of iPads, so that rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach, users can pick and choose the size and specification (and price) that suits them. This article provides an overview of the various iPad models currently available, and offers some tips on how to choose the one that’s best for you.

You can see Apple's overview of the various iPad models with prices and technical specifications here.

iPad Air

The iPad Air is the Rolls Royce of the current iPad lineup, though happily it doesn’t come with a Rolls Royce price tag! With its long battery life, light weight, and ultra-thin profile, the iPad Air has been well reviewed by pretty much anybody who’s anybody in the world of tech. Starting at just £399 for a brand new 16GB Wi-Fi only iPad Air, you can have the best for not a lot. This iPad has an absolutely gorgeous Retina display and is lightening fast in everything it does. The screen size is 9.7 inches, which is full size for a tablet and perfect for use in the car or on the couch. Don’t expect to fit it in your handbag (or manbag), though, and it might not fit in your glove compartment either.

iPad with Retina display

This iPad has a bit of misleading name, since the iPad Air also has a Retina display. This one is perhaps more accurately known as the “4th generation” iPad (the iPad Air represents the 5th generation). The “iPad with Retina display” starts at £329 for a new Wi-Fi only model (16GB) and is being sold by Apple as a cheaper alternative to the iPad Air. The differences between the two devices are fairly subtle. The screen size is the same, but the iPad Air is just a little thinner, lighter and snappier than the 4th generation iPad.

iPad 2

Although it first became available in March 2011, the iPad 2 was still being sold by Apple until recently. Despite it’s age, the iPad 2 is still a handy device. It’s basically the non-Retina version of the full-size iPad: the screen is the same 9.7 inches as the iPad Air, but with half the pixel density, meaning text and graphics are not as sharp. The overall performance of the device is good, although everything is just a little less refined than it is on the Air. Battery life is very good. The iPad 2 provides a good user experience, with a large screen in a thin, light package. Beware, though, at three years of age the iPad 2 is likely getting close to obsolescence, as software is constantly moving on and older devices usually struggle to keep up.

iPad mini

First launched in late 2012, the iPad mini was Apple’s response to those who wanted a smaller, more affordable iPad. Although cheaper in price, Apple has gone to great lengths to ensure that the iPad mini has the same high standard of fit and finish as the larger models, and that the user experience is equally good. Some driving instructors feel the 7.9 inch screen is a little small for use as a teaching aid, while others swear by it. The iPad mini is certainly a very lightweight and compact package, great for slipping into a handbag or glovebox, and starting at only £249 for a brand new 16GB Wi-Fi only one, it’s the cheapest iPad on the market.

iPad mini with Retina display

The name tells you most of what you need to know about this particular model of iPad. If you want the compact convenience of the iPad mini combined with the gorgeous clarity of the Retina display, this is the iPad for you. It starts at £319 for a new 16GB Wi-Fi only model.


If you’re in market for an iPad and determined to get a bargain, Apple’s Refurbished store is an excellent place to look. Here you can pick up all sorts of great deals on as-new or nearly-new iPads, all of which come with the same one-year warranty as the brand new versions. Supply is limited, though, so grab ‘em while you can!


If you’re confident buying second-hand, there are good deals to be had on reseller sites such as eBay. It’s important to note that buying this way offers much less protection than buying direct from Apple, or from another well known retailer. Make sure you know what you’re getting, and always carefully check the seller’s feedback before deciding whether to buy from them.

Obsolescence and the upgrade cycle

It is recommended that you avoid buying the original (1st generation) iPad if you want to use the latest and greatest software on your device. Even though it was brand new and revolutionary only four years ago, the original iPad is already considered obsolete in the sense that it is not capable of running the latest Apple software. This results in a less optimised (and possible less secure) user experience. It also means the device cannot run the latest apps, which is a major downside since new and exciting developments are coming along all the time in this dynamic new field.

Buying a tablet is similar to buying a smartphone in the sense that it’s not something you buy once and forget about. The “upgrade cycle” for a smartphone or tablet device is around one to four years, so it’s worth bearing in mind that whatever model you buy there will come a time when it starts to feel slow and out-of-date, and you will want to trade it in for something newer and snappier. Knowing this, you can plan ahead by making sure you take good care of your iPad, so you can get a good resale price for it when it comes time to upgrade.


GB: Gigabytes. This figure (either 16, 32, 64 or 128 for an iPad) represents the amount of storage space the device has. Many iPad users find that 16GB is perfectly adequate for their needs. More storage is needed if you want to keep a lot of videos on your iPad, or if you need it to hold literally thousands of photos or songs, for example.

Retina display: According to Apple’s terminology, a Retina display is one with such high resolution that the human eye is unable to discern individual pixels at a typical viewing distance. This means that what you see on the screen appears less like something you see on a computer monitor and more like something printed in the pages of a magazine.

Wi-Fi only: Unsurprisingly, a Wi-Fi only iPad connects to the internet via Wi-Fi only. This may be via your home network, or a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Each iPad comes with a Wi-Fi only option, or for around £100 more you can have Wi-Fi and a cellular connection similar to your mobile phone. You also need to pay to maintain the cellular connection, just as you do with your phone. It’s a more expensive option, but many people find that it’s worth it for the “always on” internet connection wherever they roam. Even if you go for the cheaper option and plump for a Wi-Fi only iPad, you may be able to “tether” your iPad to your smartphone. Tethering allows your iPad to piggyback on your phone’s cellular connection, giving you mobile internet on your iPad without the additional costs.

Buying an iPad

A few months ago I wrote this post about how to choose the right iPad if you're an ADI or PDI looking to get one for use in driving lessons. Since then, Apple has released not one but two new iPads, so I wanted to revisit the subject and offer some more up-to-date advice.

Most (if not all) of what I wrote in the previous article is still relevant, especially if you're considering buying an older iPad. I'd recommend having a read over it if you want to have a fuller understanding of the differences between the various iPads.

In this article, I'm going to give brief summary of each of the different options currently available.

iPad with Retina display (4th generation)

This is the one iPad I've never actually owned or used. By all accounts it's a lovely piece of work which improves on some of the deficiencies of the 3rd generation iPad. Here's a short review from the Daily Telegraph. Recommended if you've got the dosh and you want the best iPad money can buy.

iPad with Retina display (3rd generation)

This is the iPad I currently use. I upgraded from the iPad 2 to get the Retina display, but was disappointed that my new device was thicker and heavier than the previous one. It also takes longer to charge than the iPad 2, and the battery goes down faster. The Retina display is lovely, but not enough to convince me that I wouldn't have been better off sticking with my iPad 2. Not recommended, unless you're getting a good deal on it.

iPad 2

The iPad 2 is still a great device. It doesn't have the crystal clear Retina display, but to be honest you don't really need it. What you get instead is a thin, lightweight device that charges quickly and lasts a long time once charged. Very handy when you're using it in the car all day! The iPad 2 is getting on a bit, but it still runs the latest iPad software and so shouldn't give you any compatibility problems for a while yet. Recommended if you want an iPad with a full size (9.7 inch) screen but don't want to part with a lot of lolly!


The original iPad was a great device when it was in its prime, a couple of years ago. However, it can no longer be considered a serious option as it's quite a bit less powerful than the newer models and it cannot run the latest iPad software. This means it's going to be harder and harder to get apps which are compatible. Avoid!

iPad mini

The iPad mini is a fantastic iPad and definitely worth considering, especially if you're on a tight budget. The biggest drawback is obviously the smaller (7.9 inch) screen, but according to ADIs who've used it in the car it's not too small for teaching (all my apps can be used on the iPad mini). Being small also has its advantages: the mini is very light, you can fit it in a large pocket (or a small glovebox), and the battery life is excellent. Recommended if you're on a budget and you have small fingers!

Wi-Fi & Cellular or Wi-Fi only?

A wi-fi only iPad will give you access to the internet on your home network and in public wi-fi 'hotspots'.

If you want to be online all the time, wherever you roam, you'll need a 'cellular' iPad. A cellular iPad is similar to a smart phone in that it will connect to the internet pretty much anywhere, but you'll need to pay for the privilege! Expect to part with around £50-£100 extra for a cellular iPad, and you'll need to pay for your data as well. As with mobile phones, there are various ways of paying and various price plans available. Cellular data on your iPad may cost anything from a few pounds per month to around £30 a month, depending on which carrier you're with and how much data you use (I tend to use less than 100MB per month, so it doesn't cost me much to stay connected).

Another possibility is to get a wi-fi only iPad and use the internet connection on your smart phone to connect to the internet. This could save you money as you’re probably already paying for a data connection on your phone, so why not share it with your iPad? Beware, however, that not all data connections can be shared, and the connection may not be as reliable as you would like. It's worth investigating this option and maybe testing it out before committing yourself.

Many instructors are happy with the wi-fi only option and just use the internet when it's available. It's certainly convenient to have an always-on connection to the world wide interwebs, but not essential.

16GB, 32GB or 64GB?

16GB is a fair amount of data for an iPad. Unless you're planning on storing a lot of video content, you'll probably find this is all you need. The 4th generation iPad also has a 128GB option, but it's hard to imagine why anyone would need all this space. My advice is to start with 16GB and see how you go. You can always upgrade to a bigger one if you need to.

Where to buy?

New iPad prices are pretty uniform wherever you go. You won't get much of a discount (if any) by buying from Amazon or Argos, so you might as well opt for whoever's going to give you the best service. You could do a lot worse than buy from an official Apple Store if there's one near you. Their service is second to none, and they'll also help you set up your new toy. John Lewis is another good option as they automatically include a 2 year guarantee with all new iPads.

If you prefer to buy online, Apple is always a good option. Here is their main iPad page. You can pick up a brand new iPad Mini from just £269, an iPad 2 from £329 or a 4th generation iPad with Retina display from just £399. Also, check out the refurbished section for the latest bargains.

When to buy?

Will Apple release a new iPad this year? Quite possibly. Should you wait for it? Probably not. You might have to wait six months, or they might just surprise us all and not release a new one this year. If you want an iPad, my advice is to just buy one. Take good care of it, and it'll retain most of its value. Then, whenever you decide it's time for an upgrade, you can sell your old one and replace it for only a little bit extra.

The Rules

I recently took delivery of a shiny new iPhone 5. Strangely, the iPhone 5 is the sixth iteration of this marvellous device, and it’s the sixth one I’ve had the privilege to own.

I’m pleased to say I’ve never been in the unfortunate situation of having lost or broken my iPhone, nor have I ever had one stolen. I don’t put this down to good luck, I put it down to the fact that from the very beginning, when I got my first one, I laid down a few ground rules for myself which I’ve stuck to pretty rigidly over the years. I’d like to share those rules with you, in case they may be of help.

There are also a few other rules I have which are less concerned with the risk of losing or damaging the thing and more concerned with the risk of turning into some sort of iPhone zombie: somebody who rarely looks up from that tiny screen, and comes to see the virtual world in their hands as more real than the physical one around them.

The Rules: how to avoid breaking or losing your iPhone

• Never leave your iPhone unattended in a public place. Never. If for for some reason you leave it with someone else, tell them not to let it out of their sight.

• As much as possible, keep your iPhone in your pocket when in public. Don't have it clipped onto your belt for all to see. Don't put it on the table. Don't keep it in your hand unless you're using it. It's very pretty and nice to hold, but it's a lot less likely to get dropped or covered in liquid if it's in your pocket. It's also a lot less likely to get swiped if it isn't seen in the first place.

• Never put your iPhone in your breast pocket. It will fall out as soon as you bend over. You've got plenty of other pockets - use them!

• Never place your iPhone on top of your car, not even for a second. The chances of you driving away with it still sitting on top are fairly small, but the extent to which you will feel like a complete twat if you do is extremely great.

• Avoid becoming engrossed looking at your iPhone while walking along the street. Apart from being thoroughly embarrassing when you walk into a lamppost, you need to remember that a shiny new iPhone is a fantastic prize for a mugger. Be aware of who's around you and remember that you're carrying something worth hundreds of pounds. I don't know how many hits of heroin that amounts to, but I suspect it's a lot.

• Avoid leaving your iPhone in your car. If you do, always lock the car and don't be away for more than a minute or so, or let the car out of your sight. If you're leaving the car for more than a minute, just take the phone with you.

• If you're sitting in the car playing with your iPhone, lock the doors. This may be more appropriate in some areas than others, but wherever you are you've got nothing to lose by taking the precaution.

Some suggestions for looking after your iPhone

• Don't put your iPhone in he same pocket as your keys or change if you don't want it to get scratched.

• Get a decent case.

• Get a screen protector.

Suggestions for having a happy life with your iPhone

• Keep it off the dinner table. Insist that your partner/kids do the same.

• Don't jump up and run to it every time it beeps. Learn to ignore it.

• Remember to notice other people. Smile, make eye contact, speak to them occasionally.

• When walking your dog, walk your dog. Play with your dog. Don't just play with your iPhone while holding onto one end of the dog's lead.

• Remember that having a short attention span is not cool!

Most of these rules can and should also be applied to the iPad, although I hope you wouldn’t even consider playing with your iPad while sitting at the dinner table or walking your dog!

How to buy an iPad

This is a driving instructor’s guide to buying an iPad. Read on to find out about the different types of iPad, how much storage space you need, and whether to go Wi-Fi or 3G...

First there was the iPad.
Then there was the iPad 2.
Now there is the “New iPad” (3rd Generation).

Lets make things easy for ourselves by calling them iPad 1, iPad 2 and iPad 3.

Some basic tips:

Don’t get an iPad 1. It’s getting a bit old, slow and forgetful. It doesn’t support the latest software.

Do get an iPad 2. It’s arguably the best iPad out there at the moment, and definitely a good choice for driving instructors.

Consider getting and iPad 3, but only if you really have to have the latest model, or you can’t live without the high resolution Retina display.

The iPad 2 is an excellent device. It’s thin, light, fast, has a good screen and great battery life.

The iPad 3 is better in some ways and worse in others. It packs more precessing power so should be faster. However, because the screen has four times as many pixels, things sometimes happen more slowly on the iPad 3, which can be a little frustrating. Lighting up all those extra pixels also takes a lot of juice, leaving the iPad 3 with a shorter battery life than the iPad 2, especially if used in bright surroundings.

The iPad 3 is slightly thicker and heavier due to the increase in battery size required to power the new screen. That new screen is gorgeous, however. It's what Apple calls the Retina display, meaning the individual pixels are so small your eyes cannot make them out at normal reading distance.

iPad 2 in a nutshell:

Faster than iPad 3 at loading some graphics, slower at most other things (but still pretty fast)
Great battery life
Battery charges quickly
Can see pixels on the screen if you look closely
Cheaper than iPad 3
May be obsolete sooner than iPad 3

iPad 3 in a nutshell:

Fast, but can be slow to load graphics such as when turning the page on a magazine
Battery life not so good (especially when screen brightness is turned up high)
Takes ages to charge battery
Gorgeous Retina display
Most expensive variety of iPad
Newest variety of iPad (and therefore won't be obsolete for a while yet)

If you’re a driving instructor, I would say that faster charging time and better battery life is going to be more useful to you than the Retina display. That’s why I would recommend the iPad 2. It’ll also cost you less. You can pick up a refurbished one from Apple for around £300, or buy a second hand one on eBay from someone who’s trading theirs for an iPad 3.

16GB, 32GB or 64GB?

Unless you’re going to store a lot of video files on your iPad, you’re unlikely to need 64GB of storage space. You might need 32GB if you’re going to be carrying plenty of music and/or photos around with you. Otherwise, 16GB should be just fine. That’ll be enough for all the apps you can eat, plus a bit of music, quite a few photos, and the odd video.

Wi-Fi only or 3G & Wi-Fi?

Many people will only use their iPad at home or in cafe which provides Wi-Fi access, so would not need to consider the 3G option. However, for a driving instructor, 3G is worth thinking about. It’s great to have internet access on your iPad wherever you are. You can bring up a screenful of maps anytime, plus it makes web browsing and email so convenient in the car. You can email mock test results and pupil progress sheets immediately at the end of a lesson. You can book a pupil’s test as you sit with them in the car. You can watch cute cat videos on YouTube whenever you have a few minutes to kill between lessons.

Another possible option is to get a Wi-Fi only iPad and use the internet connection on your phone to connect to the internet. This is usually done via Bluetooth or by using your phone to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot which you then connect to with your iPad. It’s worth investigating such options as they could save you money. (You’re probably already paying for 3G internet access via your phone, yet you would have to pay extra for a separate iPad 3G connection.)

Black or white?

This, perhaps, is that hardest decision of all. You’re on your own with that one!

Where to buy?

Buying direct from Apple is usually a good idea. If you buy a 3G iPad from Apple, it will be unlocked so you can use it with any mobile network.

Apple also offers some great deals on refurbished iPads, which are as good as new and come with a full one year warranty.

If you buy from eBay, thoroughly check the description of the item and the seller’s feedback. Don’t buy unless you’re certain it’s the real deal!

UPDATE 26/03/13: I've posted an updated version of this article. Read it here.

iPad prices plummeting

Apple currently has refurbished iPads for sale on their online store for as little as £239 for a 1st generation 16GB Wi-Fi model, or £259 for an iPad 2 with the same spec.

£259 for an iPad 2 is an absolute bargain when you consider that Apple's refurbs are more or less as-new, and come with a one-year warranty.

You can also get a refurbished 16GB iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G for £359. This is a good option for a driving instructor, although you can get by easily enough without the 3G option.

Between the Wi-Fi only models, I would definitely pay the extra £20 to get the iPad 2. It's noticeably thinner, lighter and faster than the 1st generation iPad. It also has front and back cameras and is likely to support more advanced software upgrades in the future.

I've met plenty of people who would love to have an iPad but are convinced the price is out of their reach. I think many people don't realise just how affordable these things have become.

£259 for an iPad 2! Tell your friends!