Which iPad Do You Recommend?

Our support team receives many inquires as to which iPad we recommend, especially near Oshkosh and during the holiday season. In this post I try to offer some advice to help readers decide which iPad is best for them.

To begin, most pilots want to know what screen size they should get. While this is a important consideration, there are other factors to consider, too.

Screen size: This is more of a personal preference and cockpit management style than a technical decision. Here’s why:  I learned to fly with paper charts when the art of origami chart folding was a prerequisite. Today I can safely let those skills fade but I still treat my iPad and FlyQ EFB like a paper chart.  I pull my iPad from the map pocket or off the seat, look at it, and put it back. This works great for me and my style of flying. On the other hand, at trade shows I hear from many pilots that they prefer to mount the iPad on the yoke or on the panel for use like a glass panel.  In that case, you may need an iPad with a smaller screen size (an iPad mini) to fit. The screen size also has to do with the amount of visible chart while at the same zoom level. With a larger screen model, less screen gestures are required to move or scale the chart image. It’s a minor point but one worth consideration.  The last consideration is the obvious — text and graphics are easier to see on the larger iPads.  As many of us wear glasses when we fly, this may be a very important consideration.  Put differently, the smaller iPads are generally better for the plane while the larger iPads are better for our eyes.  Oh, and don’t bother with the new iPad Pro.  Unless you’re a graphic designer or fly a minivan, you just don’t need the gargantuan iPad taking up all the space in the cockpit

Storage space:  Let me say this upfront – when I purchased my first iPad, I said it was for flying only. Yeah, right! Boy was I wrong! Today I use it for everything — Email, Messages, Pictures, Movies, and the occasional game but mostly for flying. Why is this important? Unlike a traditional computer, iPad storage space cannot be expanded; your iPad is forever stuck with the storage it had when you bought it so “round up” and consider that you’ll probably use it for more than flying even if you promise yourself it will live in your flight bag.  For example, the first iPad I purchased was 16GB. Six months later I sold it for one with more storage. When you factor the space that the operating system uses up, you’re not left with much. I recommend 64GB as the minimum.

Wifi Only or WiFi + Cellular: Not to sound like a broken record but my first iPad was WiFi Only (have you figured out yet that I’m cheap?). It was a pain trying to find free WiFi everywhere I went. And if you fly into a backcountry airport, forget about it! My point is having Cellular Data Service is it’s a nice safety feature to have. While on the ground it allows me to check weather, file a flight plan for my next leg, and send a few messages while the lineman tops off the tanks. And remember that, unlike a lot of phone service plans, no 2 year subscription is required as iPad data plans are month-to-month.  Depending on your phone carrier, you may also be able to add the iPad on to your current plan for about $5-$10/month.  Having a iPad with Cellular also includes a internal GPS that WiFi only models lack, but it’s subject to dropout and accuracy issues (it’s a consumer device not an aviation-grade instrument). In this case, a portable ADS-B receiver is recommend. This provides weather (METAR, TAF, Nexrad, winds-aloft) and traffic (other airplanes sharing your airspace) updates while flying.  Your tax dollars already paid for the service so get your money’s worth.

CPU and RAM: Apple doesn’t publish much in the way of technical details like the rest of the computer industry. Not that it’s wrong but what is lacking in my mind is the publishing  of CPU Speed and System RAM. Thankfully Web sites such as EveryMac.com come to the rescue. Currently the iPad Pro is the king of System RAM at a whopping 4 GB but the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 come in at a very respectable 2 GB. More RAM means the system runs smoother, faster, and can have more apps open simultaneously. As for CPU the iPad Air 2, iPad Pro and iPad Mini 4 have the fastest CPU. For reference most iPad’s have between 512MB and 1GB.

Looking back at all the computers I’ve purchased over the decades, I’ve come to learn that when given a choice of buy CPU and RAM, more is better. It runs better and in someways your future proofing yourself by delaying the next upgrade to a certain extent.

Bottom Line: So what do I recommend? iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4, 64GB or more storage, WiFi + Cellular, with a portable ADS-B receiver.  The iPad mini 2 with 32 GB is a good budget-friendly alternate choice at about $300.

Hope this helps!



4 thoughts on “Which iPad Do You Recommend?

  1. My wife and I are both GA pilots. We have the iPad 4 (full-size screen) with 64gb plus Wi-Fi & Cellular. In fact, we have two of the same thing…running one as backup to the other…in the plane. And just in case that wasn’t enough backup…we also run iPhone 6 and an Android phone with FlyQ as well. We still use the Stratus 1, which is OK…but not very fast….but the iPad and Stratus are a pretty good combination. I have not tried any other ADS-B unit. I know there’s a LOT of hype and marketing by ForeFlight. I’ve tried it, and came back to FlyQ. Now as a lifetime subscriber to FlyQ, seeing all it’s continuing improvements and enhancements, I see no reason to change to anything else.


    Bob & Bev



  2. Keith,
    Excellent summary. You have greatly relieved my buyer’s remorse. As “Santa’s Helper” I now have a 128 gig iPad mini 4 cellular under the tree, along with a MoKo case and tempered glass screen protector. Plan is to retire my very reflective screen original iPad mini to backup the mini 4.
    Several weeks ago found a great deal locally on a Stratus-2S replacing my Dual XGPS-170 and Stratus-1. Wish I knew the Bad Elf ADS-B with AHRS was about to go to market – but would not have been able to retain my desired ForeFlight functionality as b/u to FlyQ.

    Lifetime FlyQ member, Cheers, Frank

    BTW – the mini 4 has a built-in altimeter. Perhaps you can follow up on my earlier suggestion to add a cabin pressure warning to FlyQ?? In this case you would not need permission or assistance from the Appareo guys!


  3. All what was said is true. Maybe one should add that the cellular capability don’t only give you data (actually, you can always tether you iPad to your phone for that), but is also required to give your iPad a GPS receiver. No cellular = no inbuilt GPS. In many applications the inbuilt GPS is just perfect as saves the hassle of connecting (via Bluetooth for example) and powering and external GPS receiver.

    Another issue that you guys didn’t touch is that iPads (all versions that I have tried so far) switch off when exposed to direct sunlight – at outside temperatures as low as 27 deg C. That switching-off comes at the most inconvenient times and without any warning. It will render the iPad unusable for typically 20 min or so. Can be pretty dramatic, as we have learnt to totally depend on our Apple device. Apparently needed to prevent the inbuilt Li battery from exploding (who needs this!). Not sure why even the latest iOS doesn’t even give you a “switching off in 1 min” warning.

    The solution? Have several iOS devices with the same apps as back-up, but make sure all settings, routes, waypoints are meticulously mirrored across all devices. I am playing around with an elaborate system of rotating ice gel packs, and ice buckets. Effective for short flights (up to 2 hours), but cumbersome to say the least.


    • Tim, Me thinks you are being overly dramatic about the thermal shutdown. Ice gel packs and ice buckets – really? We fly in the Florida Panhandle and environs (can you say very warm?) and have never had the issue on 2 hr flights. Of course, if you leave the unit on the glare shield, or in the cockpit on long ground stops – then yes it may overheat as you say, but the ipad mounted vertically on side of the windshield and the Stratus either in the headset bag or mounted horizontally to the side window = never an issue. BTW, we beat the sun heating issue (and the sliding around the glare shield) problem on our previous Stratus 1 by simply placing It into the stretchable ankle portion of a white athletic sock and cutting off the surplus lower part of the sock.
      Cheers, Frank – KECP


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