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Ultimate iPad 2 buyer’s guide: How to buy on launch day

The iPad 2 will be hitting shelves in less than 24 hours, and some retailers are already selling it online. If you’re considering buying your first tablet and you have to get it on March 11, we hope this guide will help you in your difficult quest ahead. We’ve gathered up some of your big choices and linked to a number of stores where you can find the iPad 2 tomorrow.

Without further ado, here are some questions you might ask yourself about the iPad 2, which launches on March 11.

Do you want an iPad 2?

Tablet newbies: The tablet world is a new and confusing space. There is a lot of competition brewing, but currently there are only four real options, and two of them are iPads. Your only choices are Android-based tablets the Motorola’s Xoom and the smaller 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. We compared between the Xoom and iPad 2 last week, which  might help you. If not, it’s time to do some soul searching. What do you want to use a tablet for? Which apps do you need? What features are essential to you? If you don’t need a camera and can handle having last year’s model, the original iPad may be a good deal. If you aren’t a big iTunes user, use Google services, or don’t have an iPhone already, maybe look into the Xoom or wait until a few more competing tablets come out over the next few months. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks especially promising.

iPad owners: Seriously? Do you need another iPad already? Yes, the new one is thinner and has cameras, but they aren’t great cameras, and your iPad can still do everything else this new one can. We support your decision, but you may be shooting yourself in the foot here. There are rumors that Apple may announce an iPad 3 this September and it might have a higher-resolution display. Can you afford two iPads this year? Unless money is no mind, maybe hold off a few months. You can still upgrade before Christmas.

For those who recently purchased the iPad despite rumblings of the iPad 2, Apple is offering $100 back to anyone who purchased an iPad between Feb. 16 and March 1.

Which iPad 2 do you want?

ipad-2-black-and-white-side-by-side-together-as-oneThere are six iPad 2s to choose from, and two different mobile carriers that will offer you 3G service for your new tablet (at a price, of course).

Storage: Like the original iPad, the iPad 2 comes with three storage options: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB. There is no SD card slot or expandable memory in the iPad 2, so your choice is rather final. If you don’t have a lot of music, videos, or media you plan to store on your iPad 2, you will do just fine with a 16GB unit. However, if you’re like us, no amount of storage will satisfy you because you have thousands of songs and video files you’d love to take with you everywhere. The 64GB model is a media hog’s best option, but we wish it held a bit more. For a moderate user, 32GB will do you just fine. The 16GB models start at $499, followed b the 32GB at $599, and 64GB at $699.

Black or white: We won’t call you a racist if you choose the white iPad 2. Both are great options and it’s nice to see Apple offering white again. There is no price difference between the two units. This choice is all yours.

Wi-Fi or 3G: This is a big choice. Adding 3G service to your iPad will cost you $129 up front and $15 to $80 per month, depending on which wireless carrier you opt for (AT&T or Verizon) and how heavily you plan to use the Web. The benefits of 3G are immense; like your phone, your iPad would always have an Internet connection, so long as you’re not in a dead zone or on the subway (they never get service down there). It’s a lot of fun to be able to turn on your iPad and just use the Web without worrying about a Wi-Fi connection. However, if you have a home Wi-Fi network and plan to use your iPad mostly in places where you can find Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s a helluva lot cheaper to stick with just a Wi-Fi iPad 2. It has no monthly recurring charge and its cheaper to buy.

Below are your data plan options, should you desire a 3G connection.

  • AT&T
    • $14.99 for 250MB of data
    • $25.00 for 2GB of data
  • Verizon
    • $20 for 1GB of data
    • $35 for 3GB of data
    • $50 for 5GB of data
    • $80 for 10GB of data

For more details, head here.

How patient are you?

ipad-2-gollum-lotrI can wait like a week: If you can sleep tonight without unboxing an iPad 2, we recommend you buy the device from Apple.com. Steve Jobs will send you your shiny new iPad 2 for free and it will only take a week or so. If you’re impatient, there will likely be more shipping options. However, we do recommend that you get online at 4 a.m. EST (1 a.m. PST) on March 11 (tonight) to order it. That is when Apple will open online ordering. We don’t know how fast this thing will sell out. If you can wait more than a week, just order one this weekend. It will come soon enough. Try to interact with real people before your new electronic friend arrives.

NEED NOW: Woah there, Cookie Monster. We know you’re already packing your tent to camp out at midnight tonight, but you might want to plan ahead here. All retailers who carry Apple products will begin selling the iPad 2 on Friday, March 11, at 5:00 p.m. in whatever time zone that store happens to be located. Often, if you call ahead, you can get an idea of which places will be busy on launch day and which places won’t. Judging from some recent launches, not as many people seem to be rushing to retail on day one to pick up these products. Many are opting to buy online. So you might have a good shot.

Which store will you choose?

Like we said, if you can wait, I recommend ordering an iPad 2 from Apple.com at 4 a.m. EST (1 a.m. PST). Other online retailers will likely get the device and sell out fairly quickly. All physical stores will begin selling the tablet at 5 p.m. in whatever time zone you are located.

Apple Retail Stores: Locate your nearest Apple Store here. Apple Stores will have the most iPad 2s in stock, but they are also the most obvious target for crazed launch day shoppers like yourself.

Verizon Wireless stores: Verizon only sells the iPad 2 with Verizon 3G service built in, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you can locate a Verizon store here. The iPad 2 page on Verizon’s Website will also open up for online purchasing.

AT&T Wireless stores: You can already order the iPad 2 on AT&T’s Website, but for those searching for a 3G model with AT&T data service, a store locater can be found here.

Best Buy: Best Buy is offering original iPads for $399 (though we’ve seen cheaper), but the chain’s stores will begin the iPad 2 launch process at 4:30 p.m. on March 11. The store locator works fairly well. Please, if you buy an iPad 2 from Best Buy, just don’t fall for the crappy Buy Back Program. Your used iPad 2 will net you a lot more than what Best Buy is willing to pay you.

Walmart: Walmart’s online store is already sold out of iPad 2s, but it will get more. Until then, you can locate your nearest Walmart using this store locator. We recommend you call ahead to get an idea of the lines and availability.

Conclusion

If you really want an iPad 2 immediately, it’s going to take some work. Rain or shine, this thing is hitting shelves tomorrow and it’s releasing during rush hour, meaning that more people will be out of work and rearing to buy the shiny new gadget. Others will be packing the streets with their motor vehicles, making your prance home a dangerous affair. So stay safe, Applers, and let us know what you think of your new iPad 2.