With a choice of four different iPads, choosing between the iPad mini, iPad 2, 'new' iPad 3 and the even newer iPad 4 with Retina display is a tricky proposition. We offer a helping hand with our expert buying advice.
iPad 2 vs iPad Retina vs iPad mini
If you're in the market for an iPad, you probably thought it would be easy deciding which one to buy. Chances are you've already discovered it's not as straightforward as you thought. For each of the four generations that Apple has produced, there are different capacities, those with 3G and those without, and - for all but the first-gen - black and white models of each.
The latest models are the iPad with Retina display (also known as the iPad 4) and the iPad mini. Only the Retina version is available in a 128GB model, but as we'll discuss, there are ways to boost an iPad's storage so you don't necessarily need to fork out for extra capacity.
A new 9.7in iPad could be just around the corner, so if you're not in a hurry you might want to wait since Apple hasn't changed the basic design since the iPad 2 in 2011. See also: iPad 5 release date, specs and rumours
Which is the best iPad: 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi only?
First up, decide on the basics. Do you need mobile data or not? If you want to use Facebook, email or YouTube in the car or on the train, you're going to want a 3G version (or 4G if you're buying one of the two newest iPads). 4G models are backwards compatible with 3G, so you won't have to pay over the odds for a 4G data SIM. Currently, there are some good deals on data-only SIMs, from Three and giffgaff.
Stick with a Wi-Fi only iPad if you'll mainly use your tablet at home on your wireless network or when connected to your office Wi-Fi.
If you're after an internet connection when abroad, it will typically be cheaper to find a Wi-Fi hotspot in a café or hotel than roaming on a UK SIM. However, buying a pre-paid foreign SIM from a supplier such as Dataroam can also work out fairly cheap.
One important factor to bear in mind is that Wi-Fi only iPads do not have a GPS receiver (a fact which has always annoyed us), so can only approximate your location using Wi-Fi hotspots. This means that if you want to use your iPad for directions (or merely locating your position accurately on the move) you will need to buy a 3G / 4G iPad.
Which is the best iPad: 7.9in or 9.7in?
The iPad mini is the first to have a screen smaller than 9.7in. Although the difference is less than 2in, it has a bigger effect than you might think. For one thing, you can hold an iPad mini in one hand - you can only balance a 9.7in iPad on one hand, or struggle to hold it at one edge.
The iPad mini has the same resolution as an iPad 2, so everything is the same but in miniature. The iPad 3 (no longer sold on Apple's website) and iPad 4 (now called the iPad with Retina display) both have the same 2048 x 1536 screen which makes everything look amazingly smooth, even up close.
The good news is that you have the same choice of apps regardless of which iPad you choose - currently, they all run the same set of apps.
Which is the best iPad: How much storage do I need?
It's tempting to opt for the base 16GB version, since it's so much cheaper than the 32GB and 64GB models. If you know that you won't want to store your music and video collections on your iPad, 16GB should be enough. However, you might be surprised how quickly apps eat up the storage space. There are so many free apps, it's sometimes hard to resist installing them.
Games in particular can occupy more than 1GB (Real Racing, for example), so it won't take many before you run out of space.
Using the iPad's rear camera to take videos and photos can also quickly consume multiple gigabytes.
As we said at the start, there are ways to increase your iPad's storage. One is to buy a Wi-Fi hard drive which works with iOS devices. An example is Kingston's Wi-Drive, which is available in various capacities up to 128GB. This battery-powered drive can store your files, including videos, music, photos and documents and make them accessible to your iPad (and two other devices simultaneously) as if they were stored locally.
However, you can't install apps on an external drive.
If you buy an iPad with a Retina display, bear in mind that apps, magazines and other things will take up more room as they need to store higher resolution images and graphics. Storing a year's worth of magazines in the Newsstand app, for example, could fill up a 16GB Retina iPad.
We're not saying you shouldn't buy a 16GB iPad, but make sure it will be sufficient for your needs, since you can't change your mind later. iPads don't have a memory card slot for adding more storage.
Which is the best iPad: Isn't the iPad 2 old hat now?
Some people say they can't tell much of a difference between the iPad 2's 1024 x 768 screen and the iPad 3 and 4's Retina display. We'd beg to differ, but if you're happy to settle for a quarter of the new model's pixels, the iPad 2 is certainly cheaper.
The 16GB Wi-Fi only version costs £329, saving £80 off the cost of the equivalent iPad 4. However, we'd argue that it's well worth spending the extra (if you can afford it) since the iPad 4 is considerably better.
It's four times faster, has vastly better front and rear cameras and (if you're going for the cellular version) has 4G that works in the UK. It also has Siri, which the iPad 2 lacks, even when upgraded to iOS 6.
The iPad 2's other enemy is the iPad mini. Not only is the mini £60 cheaper for the base model, but it's twice as fast and has the same cameras as the iPad 4. Again, it also supports 4G in the UK if you're after mobile data and, again, benefits from Siri.
Our take on it is that the iPad 2 is only a good deal if you're on a tight budget, don't want the smaller 7.9in screen of an iPad mini and can find a good one second-hand at a low price.
Which is the best iPad? What about the iPad 3?
Although it was a great upgrade on the iPad 2 seven months ago, the iPad 3 has been quickly side-lined by the introduction of the iPad 4. If you have a legitimate reason for wanting a 3rd generation iPad (perhaps because you have lots of 30-pin accessories) you might find one on Apple's website in the Special Deals section at decent prices.
Although stock varies all the time, if you act quick you can pick up the 32GB Wi-Fi model for £369, a saving of £110 over the equivalent iPad 4. The 16GB Wi-Fi model is £319, making it cheaper than the equivalent iPad 2 - a great deal.
Refurbished models look like new, have a new battery and come with a one-year warranty, so there really isn't a reason to avoid them. The same can't be said of second-hand models bought from ebay or similar.
Apart from the price, the iPad 3 is still a great performer (there's really no need for the extra performance of the iPad 4 - for now at least). Also, the iPad 3 has the older 30-pin connector which means there's a wide array of cheap accessories. Accessories for the Lightning connector on the iPad 4 (and iPad mini) are becoming more prevalent, but many 30-pin accessories will work with one of Apple's Lightning to 30-pin adaptors. (Note that the 30-pin HDMI adaptor will not work when converted to Lightning. If you need HDMI on an iPad 4 or mini, you'll need to buy the £39 Digital AV Lightning Adaptor.)
The iPad 3 might have a pretty dismal front-facing camera, but the rear one is a gem. It shoots sharp 1080p video and great photos.
A very slight disadvantage is that the 4G version of the 3rd-gen iPad doesn't support the 4G network in the UK, so can only be used at 3G speeds.
Which is the best iPad? Is the iPad mini a bargain or overpriced?
At £269, the mini is the cheapest-ever iPad. It's £130 cheaper than the equivalent iPad 4, which is a lot. However, it's also £70 more expensive than Google's Nexus 7, which has a higher-resolution screen and built-in NFC.
Near-field communication might not be a big deal now, but next year it could become much more prevalent, not just in other devices, but also in shops to allow you to pay for goods. Admittedly, that means NFC is probably more desirable in a smartphone rather than a tablet, but it's something to consider.
However, none can compete with the breadth of apps on offer through the iPad mini's App Store. You can also argue that the iOS 6 interface is the slickest around and beats Android in most areas.
Which is the best iPad? Surely the iPad 4 is the obvious choice?
If you're happy to pay top whack for a tablet, and want a 10in screen, the fourth-generation iPad is definitely the one to go for. It's comfortably faster than any of its rivals - third-generation iPad included - and is naturally the most future-proof.
It has updated cameras, including a 720p-capable front camera, and a slightly-better-than-the-iPad-3's rear camera.
Where the iPad 2 and iPad 3 will be left out of future updates at some point, the iPad 4 will get the most new features in iOS. It's also the model that's going to be able to run the most demanding new apps. Anyone who bought an original iPad will understand the frustration of not being able to get new apps (iMovie was released as an iPad 2-only app).
Plus, the iPad 4 will be compatible with the next generation of accessories using the new Lightning connector.
If you're really flush with cash, you'll benefit from the 4G support of the cellular version.
Naturally, there's always going to be another iPad in the pipeline, and there's no telling whether an iPad 5 will be launched as soon as April 2013, so if you're cautious, it could be worth waiting.
You may also be interested in: Best cases and covers for the new iPad