Ask Maggie: On iPad 2 vs. the original iPad

In this week's Ask Maggie, I address readers' questions about whether the new version of Apple's tablet is different enough from last year's model to capture their cash.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
7 min read

Apple's iPad 2 is thinner, lighter, and faster than the original, but is it different enough from last year's model to entice new customers?

That's the big question. Apple sold more than 15 million iPads in 2010. But this week, when Apple introduced the new iPad 2, some people are disappointed that latest version was still missing key features and isn't much different from its predecessor. The device goes on sale in the U.S. on March 11.

In this week's Ask Maggie, I help one reader decide if he should spend the extra cash on the iPad 2, or if he should take advantage of the reduced price on last year's model. I also explain the best options for getting 3G service on an iPad while traveling abroad. And I clear up a reader's question about getting 3G service for an iPad using a carrier other than AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

iPad vs. iPad 2

Dear Maggie,
Great article regarding the iPad 2 launch! In your opinion, do you think that the new iPad is worth $100 more than the discounted existing iPad? Especially for someone who doesn't use the camera?

Thanks so much,

Dear David,

This is a terrific question. It's one that I am considering myself. And I'll admit I am torn.

The obvious reason to buy the first iPad over the iPad 2 is the cost. Apple just reduced the price of the older version of the iPad by $100, as you mentioned in your question. This means the least expensive 16GB Wi-Fi only iPad is now $399 instead of $499. And if you get a refurbished iPad through Apple's site, the price goes down $349. (If you're willing to get a used iPad elsewhere, you may even be able to get a cheaper price as many people will be looking to upgrade.)

In terms of the design and function of the iPad 2, it's not much different from the older iPad. It's about 33 percent thinner and lighter. And as you mentioned it comes with front-facing and back-facing cameras that can be used for video conferencing. The older iPad doesn't have cameras.

The new version of the iPad does use a faster dual-core processor and it has upgraded graphics inside that will supposedly make the graphics nine times faster. But so far I haven't heard many people complaining that the iPad is slow.

If you don't need or want the video chat capability, and the weight or size of the older iPad doesn't bother you, I can see why you'd consider getting it instead of the iPad 2. I'm pretty cheap. And the $499 price tag of the cheapest iPad is a lot of money for me to spend on a gadget that is more of a "want" than a "need." So I definitely understand where you are coming from.

To get a different perspective on this situation, I talked to my CNET colleague Josh Lowensohn, who covers Apple. Josh argues there are a number of reasons to get the newer iPad.

The first reason he raised has to do with making sure your device is compatible with future applications. He believes new apps developed for the iPad will make use of the newer hardware, which means that these apps may not work at all on the older iPad. He said something similar happened when Apple improved the guts of the iPhone. There are certain application functions that can run on the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 that can't run on the original iPhone and iPhone 3G.

This app compatibility issue may be even more important when the next version of iOS comes out. Josh said that iOS 5 could add something to the software code that will allow new multi-core threaded apps to make use of both processor cores at once, which could result in some very interesting applications.

"There's also the issue of load time," he said. "Who wouldn't want an iPad that can load apps, and switch between them faster?"

Josh also pointed out that Apple has a nasty habit of leaving out older hardware from future software updates. Apple did this when it moved to iOS 4 from iOS 3.

So Josh's advice to you is this: "If he doesn't think he's going to buy another iPad on a yearly basis, then it would make more sense to invest a little bit more now to make sure you're not completely left out when the next version comes out."

The bottom line really comes down to how much you're willing to spend on a tablet now. If as Josh said, you want to keep this device for a while, you might want to think of this more as an investment and consider ponying up the extra $100 for the iPad 2. But if you're priority is to get the lowest possible price on a tablet, the original iPad, either new or refurbished, may be a good option for you.

iPad 3G roaming in Europe

Dear Maggie,
Thanks for your informative articles and columns on mobile technology. I have a question about using the new iPad 2 in Europe. Is it possible to roam in Europe with the GSM iPad2? Can you recommend some sources for either renting or purchasing those odd-sized SIMS for internet/data access?


Dear Eric,

It is possible to roam with your iPad 2 while traveling in Europe, but it's only possible for the AT&T 3G version of the iPad or iPad 2 and not the Verizon Wireless version of the iPad 2. (Verizon uses a network technology called CDMA, which is not compatible with other carrier networks in Europe.)

AT&T offers an international roaming plan for its tablets. But it's pricey.

  • 20MB for 30 days at $24.99
  • 50MB for 30 days at $59.99
  • 100MB for 30 days at $119.99
  • 200MB for 30days at $199.99

If this is too expensive for you, then you could buy a prepaid SIM card when you get to destination. The iPad and iPad 2 are unlocked, so you can simply pop out the 3G SIM card from AT&T and put in another SIM card from a foreign carrier.

But there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind. First, the iPad, like the iPhone 4, uses a Micro SIM card. These are smaller than typical SIM cards used in most GSM cellphones. So you have two options in choosing a prepaid plan from a foreign carrier. You can either find a carrier that offers Micro SIM cards or you can get a Micro SIM cutter and cut a regular SIM card down to the size of the Micro SIM.

The next issue you'll have to tackle is looking for and deciding on which prepaid data plan to get. The plans vary widely depending on the carrier and the country you are in. And if you are traveling to more than one country, it's further complicated by the fact that carriers charge lots of money when you use data across borders.

For example, in Italy you have two options for a prepaid SIM card and the service is either either metered based on how much data you use or it's limited by time and the amount of data you use is unlimited.

These options are probably less expensive than roaming using AT&T's service, but it can be a huge hassle. I think your best option is to use Wi-Fi where ever you can while traveling.


Alternatives to 3G iPad access?

Dear Maggie,
Thank you for your coverage of the iPad 2. With the USB camera adapter, is it possible to use a T-Mobile Rocket or Sprint 3G/4G USB U600 to gain Internet access through their networks? Thank you again for all your hard work.

Best Regards,

Dear Landistig,

I applaud your creative thinking. But unfortunately, that won't work. The iPad Camera Connection Kit is designed only to transfer images and video from the iPhone or a digital camera onto the iPad. If you want 3G wireless service on your iPad you either have to buy the AT&T version of the iPad or iPad 2 or the Verizon Wireless version of the iPad 2.

If you want to use 3G service from another carrier to connect your iPad to the Internet, you can use a Mi-Fi device that creates a Wi-Fi hotspot. Sprint offers the Spring Overdrive, which is device that creates a mobile hot spot and connects to Sprint's 3G/4G network.

In fact, Verizon has been selling its Mi-Fi solution with the original iPad for several months. The 2010 iPad only connects directly to a 3G wireless service in the U.S. using AT&T's network.