Guide to buying an iPad

Best iPad dealsPic: AP

Along with our smartphones and laptops, the tablet computer has become a must-have for connectivity on the go, and top on many a consumer's wishlist is the Apple iPad.

The tech giant's product is the world's most popular tablet, but they don't come cheap. So whether you are desperate to get your hands on the all-singing, all-dancing iPad Air, or are looking for a 'Mini', here's how to find the best deals.

The options
There are effectively three iPads on the market - the iPad 2, the iPad Air, and the iPad Mini.

The second generation iPad 2 comes with a 9.7-inch screen and a dual-core A5 chip, but there's only one storage level available, 16GB, and it's not 4G ready, so if you need lots of storage or require the fastest download speeds, it might not be for you. Prices start from around £329.

The iPad Air is the current top-level option. With its 9.7-inch screen and incredible 'retina' display, not to mention an A7 chip and M7 motion coprocessor, the Air is 4G ready and available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB and 128GB versions, all of which pushes the price up to a minimum of £399, or £639 for the 128GB.

For those wanting an entry-level iPad, the Mini might be the smart choice. The screen is smaller, at 7.9 inches, but it boasts the same chip as the iPad 2, though only a 16GB option is available, all for a more affordable £249. An iPad Mini with Retina display and A7 chip is also available, and you can choose from 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 128GB versions, starting from £319.

The data plan
Once you've chosen your ideal gadget, it's time to consider what you'll need it for. For instance, if you'll only be using it at home and don't need 4G Internet access, then you're likely to get the cheapest data plan on offer. If, on the other hand, you're a heavy user when it comes to data, with hefty downloads and lots of movie streaming, then you'll probably want at least 1GB, if not unlimited, data as part of your plan. With some providers, you can even sign up to a contract and pay monthly, with a much smaller upfront cost for the gadget.

Buy upfront
For those that will be leaving their iPad at home, a wi-fi only plan is way to go. That means buying the tablet itself, but rather than heading straight to Apple, it's worth looking around for a better deal. For instance, if you have a Tesco Clubcard, you can bag some extra points if you buy your tech online, while John Lewis will offer a two-year warranty instead of just one year, all for the same price as Apple.

If you have already forked out for your iPad but need a mobile data plan, there are a number of options. Giffgaff provides you with a Sim card, and then you choose your own data allowance. For example, for £5 a month you'll get 500MB of data, up to £12.50 a month for 3GB. The advantage is that you can choose how much you want to pay depending on your usage from month to month, and because it's a rolling monthly contract, you're not tied in to a lengthy contract.

Three also offer a micro Sim-only deal, where you can get 10GB of data for £15 a month, again on a month's rolling contract. Just be aware that if you go over your data limits, you will be charged for the remainder of the month.

Even no-contract deals are available, from both Orange and O2, where you'll pay daily. In 02's case, you can get 500MB of data and unlimited wi-fi for £2 a day, while Orange will charge £1.29 a day as well as 5p per MB of data used (capped at £40).

Discount deals
If you simply can't afford to cough up the cash for the iPad straight off, there are plenty of deals available that offer discounted or even free gadgets.

A 24-month contract with EE, the 4G provider, gives you 8GB of data at £36 a month when you pay £199 for a 64GB iPad Air, while you can get a free 16GB iPad 2 with 3G from T-Mobile for a monthly cost of £36 a month, though you'll only get 5GB of data. For a sizeable 15GB of data, head to Three and pay £25 a month and an upfront cost of just £69 for the iPad 2.

The key is to compare the best deals on the market, so try the likes of Money Supermarket or Broadband Genie online to find the plan to suit your needs and budget.

Don't rule out refurbished
If the cost of an iPad seems a bit steep but you're keen to get your hands on some of this top-class tech, the Apple store online is always worth a try. The firm regularly offers 'refurbished' iPads, iPhones and computers on their website, so if you don't mind the odd scratch or 'cosmetic imperfection', you could save yourself a few bob and you'll still get a year's guarantee from the manufacturer. Stock is limited and changes frequently so keep trying if you can't find what you're looking for.

Have you found a fabulous iPad deal? Leave your comments below...