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Solid state storage is awesome. Besides its speed, which far outpaces mechanical drives, solid state offers packaging benefits. The drives are small and can be assembled in different configurations to fit different devices. Tablets and smartphones as we know them today simply couldn’t exist if mechanical drives were the only choice.
There is a downside, however. Solid state storage is expensive, so devices usually don’t offer much. The cheapest iPad Air, though priced at $499, still provides only sixteen gigabytes of space, which leaves some buyers wondering if that’s really enough.
Let’s see what a 16GB iPad can handle.
How Much Storage Do You Actually Receive?
An iPad, like any device with an operating system, must devote some of its storage to its OS. In the case of a 16GB iPad Air this works out to around 4GB, leaving your 12GB to play with.
This is a non-negotiable. Unlike a Windows PC where there’s a ton of options and features to turn off or un-install, the iPad has a small suite of apps and none of them can be removed. You’re going to have to deal with the fact you’ll have about 75% of the advertised space available.
In fairness to the iPad, though, this is typical. Some 64GB Windows tablets have half their hard drive consumed when they leave the factory.
How Much Music Can I Store?
The amount of music you can store on your 16GB iPad depends on the format and bitrate, but assuming a common 128kbps bit rate, you’re going to be looking at a little less than one megabyte per minute. Rounding that off to a megabyte per minute for simplicity’s sake, you end up with a maximum of 12,000 minutes of music, or about 200 hours. Not bad, really; that’d easily store 200 albums.
However, the iTunes standard is 256kbps, and not everyone wants to convert their music to a lower bitrate for storage purposes. This will put you at a tad less than two megabytes per minute of audio, which cuts storage to about 6,000 minutes, or 100 hours. That’s still enough for a moderate music collection, but those who can’t go a moment without access to their favorite tunes may quickly fill up their device.
You can mitigate the issue with iTunes Match, an iCloud service that lets you store your music in the cloud, including music you did not buy on iTunes. The service is $24.99 per year for up to 25,000 songs stored (and songs you’ve purchased from iTunes don’t count against that limit).
However, user satisfaction with iTunes Match seems iffy, as there"s a lot of complaints about songs not uploading correctly and improper song recognition. Don"t forget that this is a cloud streaming service, so you can only access your music so long as you have a data connection.
How Much Video Can I Store?
An iPad, with its beautiful Retina display, is a great video player. But limited storage space can ruin your experience.
I’ll make this easy; if you want to watch high-resolution video, and you can’t or don’t want to stream it, a 16GB iPad isn’t for you. HD movies are extremely storage-intensive and, depending on compression, a single television show with a run time of 45 to 60 minutes can consume a few gigabytes. A two-hour feature film will consume around four or five gigabytes.
Even SD content requires significant space, as a two-hour film will need around a 1.5GB. This means a 16GB iPad, with 12GB of real space, can only hold three HD movies or eight SD movies.
That’s fine if you just want a movie or two for a cross-country trip, but it’s absolutely not going to work if you want to store a small library. Buyers who can"t go without their TV-IV should jump straight to the 64GB model.
How Many Games Can I Store?
Some people use their iPad mostly for games, and if that sounds like you, you’ve got a lot to consider. Games vary incredibly in size, so an estimating your needs can be difficult.
Speaking generally, textures are what really balloon a game’s file size. Angry Birds HD, with its simple art assets, needs only 44 MB. Eclipse: New Dawn For The Galaxy, a strategy title based off a board game, requires 158MB. But 3D fighting game Infinity Blade III requires 1.8 GB because it features a large number of detailed art assets.
If you only play 2D games you"ll probably never have to worry about storage even on a 16GB iPad. Assuming 100MB per game, you"ll have space for 120 titles, which is way more than anyone needs installed at once. Mobile gamers who love rich 3D experiences should opt for a 32GB model.
What About Everything Else?
Everything else? You mean photos, books, contact lists, and so on? That stuff doesn"t really matter.
Okay, okay, it could matter. But consider this; I have 1,000 photos on my iPhone, and that only takes up about 1.5 GB. One thousand photos! I could simply delete a lot of them, but there’s no real need when they take up so little space. You have to be seriously into iPad photography to make storage an issue.
In other words, there are certainly special situations. You might be the guy who wants to store one thousand also .PDFs, or the gal who wants to take panoramas of absolutely everything, or the person who thinks a tablet should double as a flash drive. But these needs are niche. Most people just need to worry about music, movies and games.
The answer to this article’s question is "it depends." The information above will help you make an educated guess about how much storage you’ll need, but it’s still a guess. Remember that it’s good to leave some buffer, so if you think you will be close to the limit, it would be wise to opt for the 32GB model.
How much storage do you have on your smartphone or tablet, and how much of it have you actually used? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: Tonido
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Matthew Smith is a freelance writer living in Portland Oregon. He also writes and edits for Digital Trends.
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