Those who are planning on getting an iPad 2 may be debating between a 3G+wifi or the wifi-only model. That choice is of course entirely up to you, and many of those picking up the tablet already have one in mind.
However, as with many of Apple's iOS devices, the iPad also attracts a wide range or users, many of them are what we like to call casual users. They enjoy the iPad because it it offers an easy way to browse the internet that to them may not be as intimidating as a traditional computer. Perhaps the differences between 3G and wifi aren't immediately clear.
Hopefully we can make it a little easier for them.
If your home is set up with wireless internet, you can connect your iPad through your home network and browse the internet from the comfort of your couch. There's not a lot to it, your iPad will usually find a network on its own and it will ask you if you want to connect.
Wifi is faster than 3G because it's using your home internet connection. If you have a larger house or walk outside, you may lose signal depending on your router's range. What's nice is that wifi hotspots are becoming the norm, and it's not unusual to find local coffee shops and fast food joints with wireless networks. This is often the case for hotels as well. Any hotel that is worth staying at should have free wifi.
The benefit to 3G is that you can connect from almost anywhere. That means you can browse the internet and check your email while riding along in the car. Of course that is limited by a network's coverage, so don't be surprised to find a few dead zones if you are on a cross country trip. The speed is noticeably slower than using your home network, but 3G should work fine for regular browsing or checking your email. Just don't expect to download a movie from iTunes or have access to FaceTime.
3G will also cost you extra per month. The chart below (credit to All Things D) shows the cost of data plans on Verizon and on AT&T:
Keep in mind that all iPads have wifi capabilities. That means that you can switch from 3G to wifi when you get home.
In Our Experience
Experiences differ for all users, but here are things we've thought are worth asking yourself:
- Do you travel on the road enough to justify the extra costs of 3G? Even if are on the road a lot, having internet doesn't do you much good if you are driving.
- While on the subject of driving: The iPad 3G also has Assisted GPS, meaning it can be handy if you are traveling and need to figure out where you are.
- Most hotels and many restaurants offer free wifi. Even planes these days are offering wifi connections with 3G speeds.
- You wouldn't be able to use your 3G on a plane unless a Federal offense sounds like an ideal way to cut your vacation short.
- All that said, we've found that the iPad tends to stay home most of the time as the laptop is our tool of choice for long-distance travel.