Home Tech iPad: Wi-Fi or 3G, which is best

iPad: Wi-Fi or 3G, which is best


I get lots of people asking whether to go for a wi-fi or cellular iPad. Since the introduction of the new iPad mini several people have asked why I am prepared to pay extra for 3G/4G. Wouldn’t tethering work just as well, all on one contract, they ask.

Well, of course, tethering is an option. The iPhone’s Hotspot feature works reliably and it is what I use often to connect my MacBook Air to the internet when I am away from home.

With an iPad you have to rely on creating a personal hotspot from your phone and you do have the disadvantage that while using tethering you are discharging batteries on two devices. On the Mac, in contrast, the best way to tether is to use a sync cable and enjoy seamless internet without wifi.

This has two big advantages: First, the iPhone battery is not discharging because the USB connection is maintaining the juice. Second, it is a much securer option when operating in public places such as Starbucks. Wifi is always inherently more vulnerable to baddies.

While tethering an iPad is doable, especially if needed infrequently, I have no doubt that having an in-built SIM connection is much preferable. Apart from the inconvenience with tethering of having to juggle two devices and the battery aspect, integral 3G is just that much easier.

Another big consideration is cost. Most cellular networks will permit tethering only if you pay extra. In the case of Vodafone UK, for instance, it cost £10 a month extra for the smallest tethering package. For the same money you can have a separate SIM in your iPad and it is a lot more convenient.

Even if you can use tethering on your iPhone without special permission from the carrier, you have to bear in mind that an iPad (and especially a Mac) can soon use up your monthly data plan.

If you need yet another reason to prefer the cellular versions, remember Find My iPad/iPhone/Mac. Lose your wifi-only iPad and you are unlikely to get it back. Lose a 3G iPad, provided it is switched on, and you should be able to see where it is and take appropriate action. This happened to me in Athens in February this year. My bag containing a MacBook Air and 3G iPad was stolen from a restaurant. With the help of the police I was able to track the bag. The thieves were arrested ten miles away while trying to sell my stuff in a fleamarket. Without 3G I would have been a couple of thousand pounds worse off.

On balance, after a great deal of experience, I always prefer to go for an iPad with built-in cellular capability. This applies especially to the new iPad mini that I have just ordered.

by Mike Evans, 26 October 2012