Back in the early days of Apple’s media players—more specifically the iPod—choosing which capacity to buy was easy: if you had enough stuff to fill the smaller one, get the biggest one, and if not, perhaps the smaller one would do. In fact, that advice worked pretty well all the way up to the fifth-generation iPod, which added video—and therefore some very large new files—to the mix. Now, with everything from books, magazines, photos, videos, and apps taking up space alongside your music, choosing the right capacity is more confusing than ever—but we’re here to help.
Thanks to the fact that all three iOS devices offer the ability to shoot still images and video, you need to decide how often you’ll be using those cameras. The rear-facing, five-megapixel shooter on the iPhone 4 takes images that weigh in at roughly 1MB a piece—meaning you can shoot around 1,000 per GB of space—while the comparatively pedestrian stills from the rear camera of the iPad 2 and iPod touch take up roughly 200 KB per piece, making them nearly inconsequential to your storage total—just like any photos shot with the front-facing camera of any iOS device. The 720p HD videos shot by these devices eat up space at a clip of 80 MB per minute, or around 4GB for 50 minutes of video. For prospective iPhone 4S buyers, you can expect those numbers to be higher on the photo side, and potentially dramatically higher on the video side, as 1080p video traditionally takes up a lot of room. If you plan on taking lots of photos or videos, it’s something to take into account, and a good reason to prefer a 32GB or even 64GB model.
Apps are another major consideration. While many apps take up a trivial amount of space, apps containing a lot of multimedia content—The Elements for iPad, for example—can take up a GB of space each, quickly chewing through any available capacity. Games can also take up as much as a GB or more, making lower capacity devices a stretch for heavy gamers. Music is thankfully not a simple “X number of songs means X GB of storage” choice anymore. With streaming services such as Slacker, Rdio, and Spotify offering streaming straight to iOS devices, and Apple offering an iTunes Match service that puts your entire music library within reach without needing to hold it on your device, music is less of a concern than video, which can, like apps and games, take up gigabytes of space.
All told, if you plan on doing a lot of gaming, watching or recording a lot of video, or simply want the bragging rights, purchase the largest capacity device you can. For those who want to use their device primarily for Internet-based activities and don’t plan on playing games, shooting a lot of video, or carrying a lot of movies, the lowest capacity model should suffice. For everyone else, the 32GB model was the largest iPhone available for a long time, and should provide enough space for whatever it is you want to do, whether you’re opting for an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.