Apple's iPad: Which hardware configuration should you buy?

March 15, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

So you've decided to pre-order your iPad. Congratulations! Your new toy will arrive the day the iPad goes on sale, April 3. Probably. If nothing goes wrong. Now you need to figure out which hardware configuration to buy.

Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + 3G?

Wireless connectivity comes in two configurations: Wi-Fi-only starting at $499, and Wi-Fi + 3G for a $130 premium, plus service fees that start at $15/mo.. The 3G service does not require a contract, so you can just pay for months you actually plan on using 3G. It's a sweet deal.

I pre-ordered iPads for my wife and me on Friday. We didn't get the 3G models. We're already paying for two cell phones with data plans, two high-speed Internet connections, cable TV -- that's enough money we're spending on data.

If we got the 3G, we'd have to wait a few more weeks at least. The 3G models are avaiable in "late April," according to Apple. A ship date as vague as that seems likely to slip.

We anticipate we'll primarily use the iPads as couch devices, rather than taking them out of the house and about, and we have Wi-Fi in the house. And when we do go out, there are plenty of places around town with public Wi-Fi that we can hitch a ride on. So we ordered the Wi-Fi-only models.

If you think you're going to use the iPad out-and-about a lot of the time, and you can wait a few weeks, and you're not comfortable relying on public Wi-Fi, then go for the 3G. But keep in mind that AT&T has poor service in many cities.

How much storage do you need?

This was the hardest part of the decision for me.

The iPad Wi-Fi comes in three configurations: 16 GB for $499, 32 GB for $599, or 64 GB for $699. Which one to buy?

16 GB seemed like plenty at first. I have a 16 GB iPhone and I've only filled less than 10 GB of it.

On the other hand, I almost never watch video on the iPhone. With the iPad's bigger display, I think it's more likely we'll want to watch video on it. So maybe we should max out on storage, and buy the high-end 64 GB model.

On the other hand, with us buying two iPads, that would add $400 to the purchase price. Ouch!

I struggled with this one for a while until I hit on an answer that was, in retrospect, obvious: The Goldilocks solution. The big one is too expensive, the little one is too small, so the middle one will be just right. We opted for the iPad Wi-Fi with 32 GB of storage for $599.

If you have a lot of music and video, you might want to go for the 64 GB model.

I advise against the 16 GB model, even though it is sorely tempting at a sub-$500 price tag. I think I probably have less music and video, and therefore less storage needs, than most iPod or iPhone users. I think most people will be unhappy with the 16 GB iPhone or iPod. And I think the iPad will be more video-friendly than the iPhone or iPod, and so you'll want even more memory than you'd want on an iPhone or iPad. Go for at least the 32-GB model, I think you'll be glad you did.