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Why I’m Getting an iPad 3G, But Not a Data Plan

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With the release of the iPad 2 coming March 11 there are some decisions to make for potential buyers. White or Black? 16, 32 or 64GB? 3G or Wi-Fi? The first two depend on your preference and storage needs. That might be a simple question to answer for most people. The third one may be more interesting. Should I spend the extra $130 to get 3G? If you don’t have an iPhone or a mobile hotspot like the Mifi and want to get online away from Wi-Fi then the answer is a resounding yes. You have no choice. But for those who do have a mobile hotspot either built into their phone or as a separate device, there still might be a good reason, or three, to go 3G.

Ipad2 hero 20110302

GPS Navigation Apps

For a year I have been frustrated by the ability of the Wi-Fi only iPad to accurately find my location in the Maps app. It does so by triangulating based on available Wi-Fi signals. But if the user is out of range of Wi-Fi then it guesses based on the last location it could accurately determine.

Copilot ipad gps 1

My iPhone navigation software is good. But sometimes I’ve wanted to use the larger screen while navigating a long trip with my wife holding the iPad so she could see and so I could glance down at it while at a stop light or waiting in heavy traffic. For this reason I’m getting a 3G iPad which has a GPS receiver built-in.

Battery Life

I have used a Mi-Fi for two years. But the battery is meager at best. Four hours is the most I’ve ever gotten. Chuong Nguyen found that the new MiFi 2372 still only gets 4 hours of battery life in his review.

Now that AT&T is going with mobile hotspot I’m getting rid of my Mifi and adding the mobile hotspot to my account, even though it will only let 3 devices connect. It will add $20 to my bill but that is less than I’m paying Verizon and I will only have one bill. Why I would want a 3G iPad when I will have either a Mifi or an iPhone with the mobile hotspot feature? Because the iPhone used as a hotspot gets pretty meager battery life too. I’ve drained my battery in less than half a day. The iPad lasts longer with it’s built-in 3G radio than the iPhone does being used as a hotspot. Maybe the built-in hotspot will be friendlier on the iPhone battery than my tests with a jailbroken iPhone and the MyWi app, but I doubt it.

AnandTech did a battery test of the iPhone battery life using 3G for browsing last year when it came out. Here is what they found. Notice the two charts below show 3G web browsing lasted 6.65 hours (left) versus 9.96 hours (right) on Wi-Fi.

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Convenience

While buyers of Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab or Motorola Xoom usually requires a monthly data plan with a two-year contract I can get a 3G data plan with no two-year contract. That way I am not a slave to a contract if I decide that 3G was a mistake. And if I wish to sign up for one month for a trip, I can.

The new data plans AT&T is going to offer are even more convenient. The 3-device limit that we are likely to see on the iPhone mobile hotspot feature is a problem for my family. We often have three laptops, an iPad and an iPod Touch on the network at once. The 3G iPad will mean that only one of these devices will go without Wi-Fi on the iPhone instead of two.

Kevin loves notebooks, tablets, gadgets and photography. He grew up with computers starting out on a Vic 20 and Commodore 64. The first computer he owned himself was an 8086 Compaq Deskpro. His foray into tablet computing began when he bought a Samsung Q1 Ultra. The smartphone market opened up for him with his Palm Treo 600.

14 Comments

  1. Twodogstudio2

    03/07/2011 at 2:30 pm

    Dudes the mifi2200 can be enhnced with a 10 hour battery aftermarket for about 70 bucks. Then you have the one the crappy 4 hour battery plus your amazing 10 hour battery for a total of 14 hours or more of continuous wifi use with 5 devices and with virgin you only pay 40 bucks and have no contract I use google voice and skype with mine so I get unlimited everything including voice calls for about 47 per month with no contract best deal in America hands down.

  2. AppleFUD

    03/07/2011 at 3:06 pm

    “While buyers of Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab or Motorola Xoom usually requires a monthly data plan with a two-year contract I can get a 3G data plan with no two-year contract.”

    This simply IS NOT TRUE. You can buy the Xoom with no contract just like the iPad. This is true of any Android device. The writer of this article really needs to get a clue and stop being an Apple shill.

    • Eric

      03/07/2011 at 3:47 pm

      Just wondering, AppleFUD, if the Xoom without the 3G plan can then be turned on month-to-month? My understanding is no. I believe that is what the “Apple shill” was referring to…if you choose to use 3G, there is a 2 year plan for the Xoom, but the iPad can be turned on for just one month.

      • AppleFUD

        04/03/2011 at 5:50 pm

        Yes, you can turn the 4G/4G service on and off on per month. . . just like the iPad. . .

        Wow. . . can you not do a little research? Verizon only attempted that ridiculous sign up BS for the first couple of days.

    • Xavier Lanier

      03/07/2011 at 6:12 pm

      You mean like I did? The $799 contract-free Xoom still requires a credit check and it’s not as easy to jump on/off 3G service as it is w/ the iPad. Not to mention the $35 activation fee… I like my Xoom, but I think Kevin has some very valid points here.

      • AppleFUD

        04/03/2011 at 5:53 pm

        Wow. . . you really do show how little research you do when you write and make comments–that’s just sad for a tech “journalist.” Verizon stopped the activation fees and the other BS they were trying to pull with the Xoom the first week of its release. They now offer the same thing they offer for the iPad. So how in the hell can it be easier on the iPad? It’s the same freakin service from the same company!

  3. Richard L.

    03/07/2011 at 6:56 pm

    Have you tried to use the GPS location on an iPad 3G with the cell data OFF. Last time I tried, it is very slow to pinpoint your location. It seems to rely a lot on the “assisted” of the AGPS to get the initial position.

    One thing I would have like to see from Apple, now that tethering of all kind is allowed on the iPhone is a special paring/tethering between iPhone/iPad for data AND GPS information. So a wifi-only iPad could get GPS location from the iPhone.

  4. Anonymous

    03/07/2011 at 7:57 pm

    I could not agree more with Kevin. I have the current iPad with 3G (and 32GB). I kept the data plan on for about 5 months but found I just wasn’t using the data enough to justify it. I have a Palm Pre with a WiFi hotspot that I can use in a pinch (I also have a iPhone 4). Using the Pre burns out it’s battery pretty quickly, and when I was using the data plan on the iPad it easily lasted all day with pretty heavy usage and push email (I turned off WiFi to see how it would do). Also the GPS works fine without the data plan. With the cellular radio off it takes a bit longer on the initial fix but is fine after that, but even without a dataplan if the cell radio is on it still seems to use the AGPS. (I still leave it off because it uses more battery and keeps asking if I want to activate the cell subscription).
    Perhaps the most salient point is that after buying this if I had a WiFi only version I would have on multiple occasions gladly paid $130 for either the data access OR the GPS. In fact I would gladly pay $100 for an extra 32GB of memory as well. When you need it, it seems pretty cheap, although at the time I bought the iPad it seemed like a way to save money. If you are getting the iPad 2, particularly with the video camera and Airplay fully working, get the the 3G with 64GBs, you’ll be much happier!

    • playcentric

      03/07/2011 at 11:51 pm

      Kevin and Aeio,

      Thanks for the info. Your post and comments have helped me to go with iPad2 64GB+3G to take advantage of the GPS feature.

      In addition I will also drop my cell phone plan and use iPad2 with Skype as my primary phone.

    • playcentric

      03/07/2011 at 11:51 pm

      Kevin and Aeio,

      Thanks for the info. Your post and comments have helped me to go with iPad2 64GB+3G to take advantage of the GPS feature.

      In addition I will also drop my cell phone plan and use iPad2 with Skype as my primary phone.

      • Cash

        03/08/2011 at 5:41 am

        Check out line2 as well. Awesome app. You can send rcv text messages and the call quality is great.

        • playcentric

          03/08/2011 at 11:04 pm

          What is the avearage data usage for a 10min Skype or line2 call?
          Your advice will be very helpful and I thank you.

          As Wi-Fi is almost everywhere I go, I intend to get iPad2 basic data plan (ATT or Verizon) so I can make Skype calls when my wife is driving when we take long distance trips.

      • Anonymous

        03/08/2011 at 10:49 pm

        Be careful of your 3G data usage and you can save alot of money :)

  5. Khair_blur

    08/24/2011 at 3:27 am

    can the android tablet install with GPS?
     

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