Apple is a bit stingy with its entry-level storage capacity of 16GB in an iPad — but opting for more storage space means shelling out another $100 or so. When a new iPad Air 2 with 16GB will set you back $499 or so, making the leap to 64GB for $599 is a tough choice. Will you actually need 64GB? Can you get by on 16GB? How do you know?
The answers are revealed in how you will actually use your iPad — and it doesn’t matter which iPad we’re talking about: The new iPad Air 2, the iPad Air, the new iPad mini 3, or iPad mini 2, or iPad mini. In fact, most of these questions also apply to 128GB in a new MacBook or the 16GB option in a new iPhone 6, too.
Back to the iPad. There are a few kinds of uses where it makes sense to upgrade to 64GB in the iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 3 . . . and plenty of reasons not to. As for the older generation iPad Air and iPad mini 2, you can bump yourself up to 32GB for about $50.
Either way, you’re here for the 16GB answer, which you’ll find by answering a few questions:
Will you take a lot of photos or video?
If you plan to use your iPad as a video camera for anything more than a some fun clips, get 64GB. Once you start shooting video or taking a lot of photos and editing them, you can start eating up storage space fast. Of course, you can still do all of this with 16GB, but you’ll need to offload your photos to a Mac, PC, to iCloud, or to some other cloud service like DropBox. This is doable, of course, but it can get annoying. Do you want to use your iPad for fun things, for work, or do you want to waste your life transferring data all over the place?
Fortunately, a few hundred photos and a few dozen short videos aren’t going to be a problem at 16GB. If you think you might get serious — or addicted to iPad photography — error toward 64GB in the newer iPads or 32GB in the iPad Air or iPad mini 3.
Will you play graphically intense games?
If you’re a gamer — or you’re buying for a gamer or sharing an iPad with a gamer — 16GB will be enough if you’re willing to actively manage your storage and delete games that you’ve already played. For example, BioShock is 1.64GB. Infinity Blade III is 1.92GB. If you plan on playing some of the coolest graphically rich games for an iPad, you won’t be able to have more than a few installed at any one time, especially if you’ll want room for buying or renting movies or TV shows.
Sure, you can play a game and then delete it, but then you lose all your progress in the game. Plus, some games result in an emotional attachment to the journey and progress, so you might not want to delete it right away. You might want to play a few of your favorite levels again or share them with a friend. If you’re a parent deleting a teenager’s game on a shared iPad to make room for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, be prepared for a teenage freakout.
Do you stream movies and video or buy and rent them?
If you use Apple iTunes for most of your video content — buying or renting movies or buying TV shows — you’ll need free space to download those videos so you can watch them. This means 16GB could put you in a position of deciding which videos to keep and which to delete. If you’re like me, you’ll load up on video before you head out on a trip, and sometimes 16GB doesn’t seem like enough space — especially if you’ve got some large games on there, too.
On the other hand, if you tend to stream video from Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Netflix more than you download content, 16GB will likely work great for you.
What about office documents and ebooks?
If you’re doing work on your iPad with office documents or reading a lot of ebooks, save your money and stick with 16GB. Documents and ebooks don’t take up much space in the big scheme of things, and ebooks can easily be stored in the cloud or left with Amazon or Apple until you’re ready to download them to read them. No worries here.
When to Get More iPad Storage: Now or Never
The key thing to remember here is that you can’t upgrade your iPad storage after you buy — you’re stuck with what you get. Fortunately, there’s only two dangerous areas where 16GB can leave you wanting — for photographers, videographers, and gamers. Casual photographers and casual gamers? No problem.