Mac or iPad: which is right for you?

Apple has updated the iPad to include video cameras for FaceTime chat, and made it even faster, thinner and lighter. It's also dropped the price slightly. But if you've already got an iPad is it worth upgrading?

In all honesty, probably not. The original iPad is still a great iPad, and at the time of going to press you could pick up a 16GB Wi-Fi version for the rock-bottom price of £289 on Apple's Refurb Store.

Of course, if you want the very latest model with all the bells and whistles, then opt for the iPad 2. The only question is, which one to get?

There are three memory sizes (16, 32 and 64GB), and a choice of Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + 3G. The 32GB seems to be the best choice of size for most people, as it hits the sweet spot between cost and capacity.

Obviously, having a 3G iPad gives you the advantage of being always connected to the internet - if you plan to travel with your iPad a lot then this can be absolutely vital. Unfortunately, merely opting for the 3G version of the iPad whacks another £100 onto the price of purchase, and then you've got to factor in the cost of your data plan as well (see to compare rate plans).


Depending on how much data you're going to use, you might consider getting an iPad on a contract from one of the network providers, since this lowers the initial purchase cost considerably.

But don't forget that there are other options. You can always purchase the cheaper Wi-Fi version of the iPad and get a MiFi device, which creates a wireless hotspot that you can connect to from your iPad. And of course, you can now create a hotspot on your iPhone 4 provided that you have tethering enabled as part of your contract.

Both solutions require a bit more messing around each time you want to get connected – the beauty of the 3G iPad is that you simply turn it on and you're online. So, if you can afford the 3G version of the iPad, our advice is to go for it for the sheer convenience.

But what about our original question – do you really need an iPad? You still need a Mac to do proper 'work', but fantastic apps like iMovie and GarageBand are starting to demonstrate how the iPad can be used for creating content as well as consuming it.

But perhaps the most important thing about using an iPad is that it's a lot of fun, and that is exactly what people want.

Tablet alternatives

BlackBerry Playbook

While many new tablets have 10-inch screens, RIM has opted for a 7-inch with the new BlackBerry Playbook. It runs BlackBerry Tablet OS (sadly lacking basics apps), has a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM and supports Adobe Flash.

Its cameras are a higher resolution than the iPad, but it needs to pair with a BlackBerry phone for things that really should be included, such as email or an address book (although webmail works through an internet browser).

Read TechRadar's full BlackBerry Playbook review

Motorola XOOM

The 4G-ready Motorola XOOM runs Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the version of Android designed specifically for tablets. Its specifications mount up to a 1GHz dual-core processor, a 1280x800 resolution screen, HDMI out, a 5MP rear-facing camera capable of 720p video capture and a 2MP front-facing camera for video chat.

There's more flexibility available in getting media onto a XOOM tablet and playing it than you'll find with the iPad, but far fewer applications are currently available.

Read TechRadar's full Motorola XOOM review

HP TouchPad

Running HP webOS, this 10-inch tablet presents an interesting alternative to the iPad, sporting an operating system that is nicer to look at than the functional but aesthetically challenged Android OS.

It has a 1024x768 resolution screen, a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chat, and wireless charging. It makes use of what are referred to as 'activity cards' to help organise whatever you're working on. Again, this is one the public will have to wait for – the HP TouchPad is scheduled to be available this summer.

Read TechRadar's full HP TouchPad review

Galaxy Tab 10.1
£TBA com/GalaxyTab

The outstanding Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Honeycomb tablet is lighter and a hair thinner than the Apple iPad 2, and has a smaller footprint than either the Motorola Xoom or the Acer Iconia Tab A500, which are heavier and bulkier than most tablets. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a major contender.

We reviewed the short-lived Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V already, but that thicker and heavier device has since been discontinued (It looked as if Vodafone might pick up the 10.1V tab but it is now waiting to release the newer 10.1 model).

Read TechRadar's Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

Dell Streak 7
From £299

If you're looking for something a little smaller than an iPad then this 7-inch tablet with a meagre 800x480 resolution display from Dell is an interesting proposal. It runs Android 2.2, but with a unique Dell interface over the top called Dell Stage.

It boasts a dual-core processor and 16GB or 32GB of memory. Its front and back cameras are 1.3 and 5MP respectively, and it's available for just £299 direct from Dell. There's also support for SD, MMC and SDHC cards – the ideal camera companion?


First published in MacFormat Issue 235

Liked this? Then check outTablet buying guide: 10 things to look for

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Graham Barlow
Senior Editor, AI

Graham is the Senior Editor for AI at TechRadar. With over 25 years of experience in both online and print journalism, Graham has worked for various market-leading tech brands including Computeractive, PC Pro, iMore, MacFormat, Mac|Life, Maximum PC, and more. He specializes in reporting on everything to do with AI and has appeared on BBC TV shows like BBC One Breakfast and on Radio 4 commenting on the latest trends in tech. Graham has an honors degree in Computer Science and spends his spare time podcasting and blogging.