When you’re shopping for a tablet, whether for yourself or as a gift, regardless of whether it’s an iPad or one of the many Android tablets available, there’s one particular configuration you should give more consideration to now: the model with embedded 4G LTE cellular connectivity.
You might ask, “But Mike, there’s WiFi everywhere, so why should I pay extra?” – and that’d be a valid question. I’m not proposing that every single tablet buyer pick up the cellular-equipped model. It all depends how you’ll be using it. If it’s for use around the house and you never plan on taking it when you travel, the WiFi-only model is likely sufficient. However, tablets are being built thinner, lighter and more powerful than ever before, just begging to be taken with you. More and more apps empower productivity, entertainment, news, information, and communication, and many of them are fed with data from the Web.
What’s Wrong With Free Public WiFi
One big concern with using publicly accessible WiFi, whether in your local Starbucks, at a conference or event, or in a hotel, is the lack of security. This topic could branch off into a thousand other points, which we could discuss for days on end, but just realize that everything you do with your device on a public WiFi network can be hijacked and viewed by someone else with very little effort. That includes everything from your social network logins to your corporate email to your banking information. A tablet with its own private connection is virtually impossible to snoop.
Another issue I have with free public WiFi is the typical bandwidth / speed limits. Since it’s a shared connection being used by scads of people at the same time, it’s more akin to dial-up than broadband you get at home.
Even in instances where you have to pay to use WiFi, the experience is almost always restricted and still leaves your private information exposed. Just take The Sheraton hotel for example. As a guest, using their WiFi costs $10+ a day, and isn’t any good for streaming content. If you plan on watching videos on YouTube or Netflix, or if you’re having a no pants dance party in your hotel room while blasting some tunes from Spotify, be prepared to spend a chunk of the time you could be rocking your socks off just waiting for your content to buffer, play for 10 seconds, then spend the next minute buffering. It’s maddening. If you want access to WiFi that will let you stream content, that’s $30 bucks. For three hours. Add up the nickel and diming you’ll pay here and there and you’ll likely come out ahead, in the long run, with the LTE tablet.
Explaining the Added Cost of Tablets with 4G LTE
With the iPad, a cellular-equipped model will set you back an extra $129, no matter which size configuration you select. Cellular models are sold without a contract and the devices are unlocked for use around the world with other carriers’ SIM cards. With the Kindle Fire HDX, a cellular-equipped model in either size will cost an extra $100 over the WiFi-only model.
This cost is upfront and part of the purchase price, but it isn’t the only cost. You’ll also have a monthly charge for the data plan, which will vary in amount depending on the carrier you use and the data plan you select. If you have the shared data plan for your smartphone with Verizon or AT&T, adding a tablet is $10 more a month. If T-Mobile has service in your area, you can sign up for 200 MB of free 4G LTE data each month with no strings attached, even if your smartphone is with another carrier. Additionally, you can prepay for data for fairly reasonable rates with any of the big four carriers. 1 GB of 4G LTE on Verizon will cost you $20 a month, for example.
Tethering Your WiFi Tablet to Your Smartphone
My friend Tanner is planning on buying an iPad Air tonight, and we were talking earlier about whether he should get the WiFi-only model or a model with embedded cellular connectivity. His biggest reason for not considering the cellular model was that he tethers to his iPhone. That’s well and good, and for some, it’ll do the trick. However, there are two drawbacks to this.
- Battery Drain – If your smartphone is serving as a WiFi hotspot on top of everything else, you should expect the battery to drain much faster than if you weren’t tethering.
- Data Usage – Unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve managed to hang onto your unlimited data plan from the good ol days, your smartphone usage is probably limited by a data cap. Add your tablet data usage into that same cap and you’ll find yourself running out sooner or needing to upgrade to the next tier. That upgrade will cost the same (and in a few cases, more) than a monthly tablet plan.
Buy the LTE Model
Once again, it all comes down to how the kind of tablet user you are. If you’ll be using it outside your house, suck it up and buy the LTE model. I assure you, it’ll be a breath of fresh air every time you realize you don’t have to fiddle with your phone to turn on tethering, then connect your tablet, and it’ll be a great time saver when you don’t have to go hunting down an insecure public WiFi hotspot just to get online.
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