Apple iPad Wi-Fi vs iPad 3G: which is best?

27th May 2010 | 15:00

Apple iPad Wi-Fi vs iPad 3G: which is best?

All you need to know to compare the two iPad UK variants

Apple iPad Wi-Fi vs iPad 3G

In the USA, the iPad is a confirmed hit - a million iPads were sold in just a month, boding well for Apple's forecast of selling around ten million units in 2010.

After delays due to huge iPad demand in the USA, pre-orders opened in the UK (and eight other countries, including Japan) on May 10, for an official launch tomorrow.

Demand in the UK has also been strong, and the delivery date for new pre-orders has slipped twice, once to June 7, and then merely to 'June'.

However, your local Apple Stores and DSGi outlets (PC World, Currys, Dixons) have now got stock. Therefore, what you need to do is decide which model to buy-something this article will help with.

iPad models and UK pricing

There are two types of iPad available: iPad Wi-Fi and iPad Wi-Fi + 3G. Each type comes in three different capacities: 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB. UK iPad pricing is as follows:

  • £429 (inc. VAT) for 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad
  • £499 (inc. VAT) for 32 GB Wi-Fi iPad
  • £599 (inc. VAT) for 64 GB Wi-Fi iPad
  • £529 (inc. VAT) for 16 GB Wi-Fi + 3G iPad
  • £599 (inc. VAT) for 32 GB Wi-Fi + 3G iPad
  • £699 (inc. VAT) for 64 GB Wi-Fi + 3G iPad

The two types of iPad are largely identical, each boasting a 9.7-inch LED touchscreen with 1024-by-768-pixel resolution, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR technology, a 1 GHz A4 chip, and a chunky battery that lasts up to ten hours when performing tasks such as surfing the web, watching video or listening to music.

During testing, we've found that even when playing games, you should still get six hours out of your iPad before it needs recharging.

3G or not 3G?

Physically, there are few differences between the iPad Wi-Fi and iPad Wi-Fi + 3G iPad models. The latter is a touch heavier, has a strip of black plastic at the top (ensuring the device gets decent 3G reception-something that wouldn't happen if the entire case was made of metal, like the Wi-Fi iPad), and a micro-SIM slot.

In the box, you get a Dock-Connector-to-USB cable and power supply with both models, and a SIM eject tool with the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad.

Apple iPad Wi-Fi vs iPad 3G: mobile data or MiFi?

The main difference between iPad Wi-Fi and iPad Wi-Fi + 3Gis in terms of functionality: the Wi-Fi iPad is a device you can use to connect to the internet via wireless networks, but the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad can also be used on cellular networks, once you buy and install a micro-SIM from a carrier and purchase a data plan.

With a plan in place, your iPad can remain online away from wireless networks, and you can also buy a micro-SIM and data plan to connect abroad in countries with carriers that support the iPad. iPad Wi-Fi + 3G models also boast GPS capabilities, - the Wi-Fi only model does not - although both models have a digital compass.

UK iPad data plans

In the UK, four carriers have so far announced support for the iPad 3G: Orange, O2, Three and Vodafone. Three's data plans are the cheapest: £7.50 per month for 1 GB of data, and £15 per month for 10 GB. Vodafone comes in at £10 per month for 1 GB, £15 for 3 GB, or £25 for 5 GB, but doesn't include Wi-Fi via the likes of BT Openzone. Orange and O2 both bundle Wi-Fi with their plans.

O2's pricing is £2 per day for 500 MB, £10 per month for 1 GB, or £15 per month for 3 GB. Orange offers £2 per day for 200 MB, £7.50 per week for 1 GB, £15 per month for 3GB or £25 per month for 10 GB. More on rates can be found in our Best iPad data plans for UK buyers piece.

As always, read the small print to discover the terms of whichever service and plan you're considering, such as whether billing is one-off or a 'rolling contract' until cancelled, and how easy top-ups are if you run out of data. Note that 'spare' data doesn't generally roll-over with these kinds of plans, and so it's usually best to start with a lower capacity rather than waste your money.

Going MiFi

If you're undecided about which iPad to buy and don't relish the prospect of splashing out an extra £100 for 3G capabilities you might never use, there is a third way: a MiFi mobile wireless hotspot. Three offers a range of prices for its wireless internet service, and the most relevant for an iPad owner is a one-month contract for £15 that gets you 5 GB of data.

Of course, you also need to factor in the £39.99 cost of a MiFi modem (and the fact you'll need to have it with you whenever you want to use it), although it will work with a range of devices (such as the iPod touch). Therefore, if you've multiple devices or find yourself with a Wi-Fi iPad and a hankering for very occasional 3G-based mobile connectivity, a MiFi is a good bet.

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