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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 IPad Air Vs IPad Mini - Which Should You Buy? IPad Air Vs IPad Mini - Which Should You Buy? If you want to buy an iPad, you have a tough decision ahead of you. Apple's new iPads are very similar, but they're still noticeably different in many ways. Read More 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.

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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.

musicstorage

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 How To Set Up iTunes Match For The First Time - The Definitive Guide How To Set Up iTunes Match For The First Time - The Definitive Guide With iTunes Match finally released to us here in the UK, I signed up and have been using it for about a week now. Here’s my definitive guide to exactly what iTunes Match is, and... Read More iTunes Match, an iCloud service that lets you store your music How To Set Up iTunes Match For The First Time - The Definitive Guide How To Set Up iTunes Match For The First Time - The Definitive Guide With iTunes Match finally released to us here in the UK, I signed up and have been using it for about a week now. Here’s my definitive guide to exactly what iTunes Match is, and... Read More 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.

ipadvideo

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.

fling-joystick-ipad

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 Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Infinity Blade III has hit the App Store, but how does it stack up compared with the fantastic experience brought about by the prequels? Read More 3D fighting game Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Infinity Blade III has hit the App Store, but how does it stack up compared with the fantastic experience brought about by the prequels? Read More  Infinity Blade III Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Is More Of The Same A Bad Thing? Not For Infinity Blade III Infinity Blade III has hit the App Store, but how does it stack up compared with the fantastic experience brought about by the prequels? Read More  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 .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.

Conclusion

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

  1. Cynthia
    January 23, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    I should've found this article before I bought my 16GB IPad Air. I love saving pictures so I had about 6000 pics on my thing but couldn't load any of my games. Now I have 3000 pics and only 4 games on my iPad because 2 of those games took up 3 gigs of my storage.

  2. John
    June 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I think it's depending the person who use it. Think before you buy.
    16 GB is enough for a casual user like me.
    I like tidiness on my computer and my tablet too. So i don't have 500+ apps which i never use just 20-40 which i use daily or weekly. I don't play 3D games, i have a (real) job and family and have no time for it. And movies? People really store them? It takes 20 minutes to download one, and what will you do after you watched it? What is the reason to store? Same goes for the music. I don't have time for listen 60 albums a day. (I wish i could have.) But it has enough space for my favourite 100 tracks. After that i can still use the cloud or spotify.
    So yes, 16 GB is enough if you want to store and use casual things and if you want to raise your productivity.
    But it's not enough someone (who is lazy to delete unimportant things) , who want to store apps, music and photo databases and who want to play a lot 3D games and those who are bored at their job. They have an option for 128 GB version or some android with SD slot.

  3. Mary Coles
    March 20, 2014 at 6:51 am

    I have 32gb iPad with 2000 photos and 490apps and 30 songs. Full as a tick! Going for 128gb if that is the biggest for iPad air next upgrade. Occasionly use phoneclean on iPad to clean up and that helps, Mary

  4. Gwen
    March 19, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    I noticed you didn't address the space taken up be apps. I have a few that are over 1GB each - most are art apps & interactive books like Dracula.

    • Matt S
      March 20, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Hmm, hadn't thought of those before, but I can see how they'd take up a lot of space with their high-resolution art.

  5. Elliot Colton
    March 19, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I bought a SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive. It has 32GB and I can stream music, movies and photos from it. You just need to install the app and a number of users can watch/listen to what they like at the same time. A much cheaper alternative to upgrading my 16GB iPad 3.

  6. jelabarre
    March 19, 2014 at 12:31 am

    The problem is Apple (and others like Amazon) are just outright too cheapa$$ to put an SDcard slot in their devices. They'd rather put all their effort info mealy-mouthed excuses on why they won't do it.

    • dragonmouth
      March 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      They are not cheapa$$, as you put it. They are as stupid as foxes. If they incorporate an SD slot, user would go out and purchase third party SD cards. Apple/Amazon would lose out on the revenue. With no SD slot, users have to purchase proprietary solutions from Apple/Amazon, at a substantial markup.

      Couple of days ago I was in an Apple Store, just looking around. Apple charges around $100 per terabyte of external drives storage. 4TB drive is around $400, a 6 TB drive is $599. The Apple external drives are esthetically pleasing but you can buy Western Digital external drives for $50-$70 a terabyte.

    • James L
      March 20, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      > ...They are as stupid as foxes. .... With no SD slot, users have to purchase
      > proprietary solutions from Apple/Amazon, at a substantial markup

      Well, then, they lose out on sales that way. As in, I would NEVER buy a device that does not have the SD slot. And I'm not the only one; at Lunacon this past weekend, talking with a retired electrical engineer, he said the very same thing. His needs required having a SD slot, and any device that didn't have one was automatically out of consideration.

      For that matter, since *tablets* have enough surface area to include one, they should have *FULL-SIZE* SD/MMC slots, rather than MicroSD.

  7. John
    March 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Why is memory such an issue for Apple? Why is Apple memory so expensive? Oh, I remember - they have to buy it off Samsung. Is it standard memory chips? No, it's special Apple memory so you can't fiddle with it. At least they should put the OS on it's own 4Gb and let you use the whole 16Gb as advertised.
    Why go to all the trouble of building and selling such an elegant and long lasting product and then throttling it with 16Gb of flash. It's like building a Maserati then running it on two cylinders. If Apple were really ahead of the game there should be a microscopic SSD in there by now. Or they could just give it a damned SD card slot and stop being so anal about form over function.

  8. Dacker
    March 18, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I have 16GB on my iPad which contains no video and very little music and I find it is just not quite enough. Whenever I want to install a new app, there is a very good chance I have to sacrifice another app.

    Of course this would not be an issue if Apple would just add a microSD card slot to all its iOS devices. This is unlikely as Apple would rather sell you additional flash memory you may or may not need at an 8X markup.

  9. marcel lemieux
    March 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    My solution for any apple product,especially tablets was to install Air Stash.Its works perfectly any i use no space on my tablet

  10. Dann A
    March 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    My iPad has 16GB, and I find that it's not quite enough. In general, it doesn't cause many problems, as I have a few of my favourite albums, a number of books, a bunch of small games, and quite a few apps loaded up. If I want to download a movie, though, or have more than one big game (like Knights of the Old Republic, Asphalt 8, or a Final Fantasy), it can be a pretty tight squeeze on space. I went with 16GB because I couldn't afford a bigger one, but next time I'll definitely be aiming for 32GB. I know I could fill up that much space, but I think it'd be enough for just about every situation I encounter, so I don't feel like I need to go up to 64GB.

  11. Howard B
    March 17, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    There's *never* enough storage for all the MP3s, videos, games, apps, etc. that I want. That's why I refuse to buy a phone or tablet without an SD slot, and my next one better support SDXC (64GB+) cards. (do you hear me, Google *and* Apple? Neither of you want to put an SD card slot in your devices, you morons!)

  12. Skun QS
    March 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Small typo:
    "thousand .PDFs, or the GUY who"
    Nice article!

  13. Mathew P
    March 17, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    With the data plans here in Canada, my next device need to have more than 16GB. My Nexus 4 is almost always full, and I can't expand the storage.

    32GB should be the smallest size in these devices nowaday.

  14. Rick Shortt
    March 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I have 32 GB on both, my tablet and phone. While more would be great, and it would be nice to always have all my movies, music, pictures, and other files always available for offline use at absolutely any time, the reality is that it simply has not ever really been a big problem so far. Including several hundred "pinned" songs, a sd movie, a rather large number of pictures, and a offline notebook for Evernote, both devices currently have 16 GB or more free.

    And even though I will still have all my files locally on my pc if I happen to be offline for some reason, I just ordered a Chromebox with only 16 GB with hopes of making it my primary desktop. Since almost all of my stuff excepting about 60 GB of mp4 movies is in the cloud, I am not really expecting that to be a big issue either. Of course, at least with that, I can also use external drives if need be.

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