Still got a first-gen iPad? Don't ditch it yet

Even a three-year-old iPad still has a lot to offer

In the life of every device, there's a moment when you start to wonder whether it's still useful. Everything becomes old, and obsolescence is all but assured in the world of technology. But "old" is not the same as "obsolete."

It's been more than three years since Apple debuted the original 9.7-in. iPad, the first tablet to go mainstream and the one that opened the floodgates to all the tablets that have followed. Then in March 2011, Apple discontinued the iPad, replacing it with the thinner, faster iPad 2 -- the same model that Apple still sells for $399.

Two iPads
An original iPad (top) is bigger, heavier and slower than the iPad Air -- and is still great to have around the house.

With the arrival last month of the ultra-slim one-pound iPad Air, and the rollout this week of the new iPad mini with Retina display, it looks as if time has passed the original iPad by. In fact, since it arrived, there have been four major updates, each iteration offering better specs than the model before it.

Perhaps the most damning change -- at least as far as the iPad's longevity is concerned -- was the move away from the decade-old 30-pin connector to the new 8-pin Lightning plug. Just like that, accessories built for the new models were instantly incompatible with older iPads, unless you bought an adapter.

Almost as important, OS support for the original iPad stalled with iOS 5.1.1; Meanwhile, iOS is now up to version 7, features a new interface design and has higher hardware requirements. Adding to the iPad's woes: Its built-in RAM is limited to 256MB, which means switching between modern-day apps can be laggy and slow -- especially frustrating on touch-based devices, which need to be responsive -- and many of the latest games require more recent hardware.

If you're an original iPad owner, it's easy to conclude that the first-generation iPad has moved well beyond obsolescence, straight past the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: In short, it's ancient history.

But has the original iPad really outlived its usefulness? Absolutely not. There are still a plethora of uses for the iPad, including the sacrifice play. At the very least, you can usually trade in an old iPad -- even the first model -- for savings on a new one. Numerous retailers now offer bounties for older iPads. Places like Walmart, Target, and Amazon are offering money or gift cards for tablets in good, working condition. Amazon and T-Mobile also offer trade-ins for credit and T-Mobile even offers a free 200MB data plan for all customers in an effort to push iPad Air purchases.

Even if you've got a newer iPad at home, keeping the original may be a better idea than getting rid of it -- especially if your household has more than one computer user or you have tech-savvy friends.

It's a fact that iOS users are pretty quick to update to the latest version of iOS, with 71% of the entire base moving to iOS 7 within the first month of release. Apps get updated continuously, and it's been my experience that they generally have a remarkable life span, even after several iOS updates. And that doesn't even include the apps that shipped with the first iPad. They may be older versions, but they're still more than usable. And useful. The well-stocked App Store means there are a vast array of apps that still work well on the original iPad.

A coffee table iPad

Without a doubt, a first-generation iPad makes a perfect guest or coffee table computer. Thanks to Apple's stubborn push for HTML5 support in general, and web standards that do not rely on third-party plug-ins in particular, my old 64GB iPad is still perfect for impromptu bursts of web browsing. It's instant-on nature, long battery life and longevity while in standby/sleep makes it easier to maintain than a traditional Windows PC, and having online information at your fingertips is a boon for guests, young and old. By now, almost everyone knows how to use an iPad.

The iPad may not be a snappy as the Air, but it still wakes from sleep quickly, which is exactly what you want from a communal computer. One tap brings up Safari, and in concert with apps in the App Store, you can use it to look up just about anything: answers to trivia, movie information, the name of that song you can't remember or anything else on the web.

iPads together
The white iPad (on top of the original iPad in this image) weighs a half pound less than its ancestor and has a better screen, a faster chip and, of course, two cameras. But that doesn't make the first iPad obsolete.
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