iPad 2 3G £499
8th Apr 2011 | 11:14
The iPad 2 also comes as a more expensive 3G version, but is it worth the extra cash?
iPad 2 3G: Overview
Update: Check our our new iPad 3 review
TechRadar has already reviewed Apple's new slimmer, sexier non-3G iPad 2.
In short, it's a keeper, but Apple also makes a more expensive 3G version and it's worth considering what it brings to the table before you make your purchase.
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So, with a shiny new 64GB 3G model in our mits, TechRadar set about seeing how 3G can change the way you use an iPad.
You can check out TechRadar's iPad 2 review video below:
Visually the only thing to separate a 3G iPad 2 from the Wi-Fi-only version is the sleek black bar visible along the top of the device.
It spoils the minimalist Apple aesthetic, but only slightly since you can hardly see it from the front of the iPad.
In all other respects it looks exactly the same, it's only 12g heavier and has the same processor, cameras and memory configurations (16GB, 32GB and 64GB), and even comes in the same colours and has the same battery life.
Yet for including a 3G chip (which provides a wireless data connection to the Internet wherever you can get a 3G signal) Apple whacks another £100 onto the price of the basic Wi-Fi model; so a 16GB 3G iPad costs you £499, instead of £399, a 32GB model costs you £579 and a 64GB model will set you back a whopping £659, making it the most expensive iPad on the Apple Store.
- See iPad 2 3G (32Gb) deals
- See iPad 2 3G (64Gb) deals
- Buy the iPad 2 16GB 3G from Amazon
- Buy the iPad 2 32GB 3G from Amazon
Since in all other respects the Wi-Fi and 3G models are exactly the same this won't be a stand-alone review of the iPad as a whole, like we said, we've done that already in our original iPad 2 review. Instead we'll focus here on the 3G aspect of the device, and help you decide if it justifies the extra expense.
After all, there are other, cheaper, if less convenient ways of getting a 3G data connection when you're out and about, which we'll go into later.
Of course, paying an extra £100 upfront for the device is only the beginning of your financial ruin. Once you start considering a 3G iPad you need to factor in the costs of your data plan into your overall cost of ownership.
Although, depending on how tied-down you like to be, and how much data you use, your data plan could end up saving you money, provided you sign up for a fixed term contract. Orange, for example, will sell you a 16GB iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G discounted to £199 if you sign up for a two year contract at £25 a month, and all the major providers like Vodafone, Three, T-Mobile and O2 offer similar discounted deals.
Of course, if you don't plan on using an awful lot of data a short term daily or weekly plan will probably be the most economical in the long run. That way you only pay for the times when you will be traveling with your iPad and need to use the 3G network.
Both Orange and O2 offer daily plans for 200MB of data per day (which doesn't sound a lot, but is more than sufficient for most people) at around £2 a pop, while Three offers a very competitive 1GB a month for £7.50.
Of course, what you should really do is go for the provider that has the best coverage in your area - there's no sense in saving money on a data plan if you can't get a connection where you live anyway. If you'd like to see how the plans compare, Apple has a useful comparison of short term contracts on its website.
For more info on tariffs, check out our best iPad 2 data plans page.
Remember, iPad 2s are sold unlocked from the Apple Store, so you can choose any 3G provider you like.
iPad 2 3G: Features
Once you've got your data connection sorted it's time to see what the 3G version of the iPad 2 is capable of.
Freed from the constraints of your home Wi-Fi network you're able to roam anywhere with your iPad, and unlike the iPhone 4 there are no antenna issues, so you can hold it however you like. It's not just a big iPhone though - there's no voice call component to the 3G data plan - it's strictly data only.
The most obvious use for the 3G connection is with the Maps app - you can use it to find your location wherever you are (handy if you're lost, since it uses the GPS link to pinpoint your exact location), or you can use it in the car as a crude navigation device to help you find your way on journeys, since it includes a directions function.
When you're in the car you can see your location move as you drive along roads. Of course, we're not recommending that you use your iPad while you drive - that would be crazy - we're assuming your passenger is using it to help you navigate.
What 3G brings to the table
With a 3G iPad you can also do all the obvious things like get your email and browse the web when you're sitting on a bus, or in a café. 3G is a little bit slower than a standard Wi-Fi connection, but it's still perfectly possible to watch YouTube videos using it.
With a 3G connection you're free to sit in a cafe getting your latest news feeds, catching up with friends on Twitter or Facebook or watching the latest headlines via the Sky News app. It's also good for gaming - you can play turn-based games like office favourite Strategery with ease, since they don't require a particularly quick Internet connection.
It's not all plain sailing though. One disappointment is that the FaceTime app doesn't work over the 3G network, so you can't use your iPad 2 as a portable video phone, and while the Skype app does do video chat over 3G on an iPhone there's no iPad version.
Another 3G failure is the BBC iPlayer app, which also requires a Wi-Fi connection to function.
Then there's downloading apps. Anything over 20MB requires a Wi-Fi connection, which seems like an unnecessary restriction by Apple. The same applies to downloading podcasts and video podcasts, which can get frustrating.
There's also the issue of reception. 3G coverage in the UK can best be described as patchy. Quite often you'll find your signal will drop below a strength that can deliver 3G.
In these cases the iPad will switch to EDGE, if available, as a second best option (you can think of EDGE as being 2.5G) and then down to GPRS level, which is too slow for anything but basic email use. Different icons on the iPad's menu bar tell you what sort of connection you have.
iPad 2 3G: 3G performance
The iPad 2 has a faster processor compared to to the original iPad, but there's no way you can make a 3G connection faster than it already is.
So, in theory at least, there shouldn't be any speed difference between the iPad and the iPad 2 when it comes to using the Internet.
Of course, web pages may display fractionally quicker on an iPad 2, but that's simply down to the speed of the processor and nothing to do with the speed of the Internet connection. To test if this hypothesis is correct we set about running a number of speed tests on an original iPad 3G and a new iPad 2 3G.
There's a handy little app you can get for your iPad called Speedtest.net - it measures three factors - PING time, download speed and upload speed. Download and upload speeds are pretty self explanatory and are measured in megabits per second. PING is the time it takes to bounce a message to the server and get it back again, and is measures in milliseconds.
Since you get a slightly different reading each time you run the speed test we ran it three times and took an average to get our score. We used the same 3G microSIM for the test on both iPads (on Orange).
The ADSL broadband figure we're using for comparison is provided by Sky. It averages 100ms for a PING, 2.97Mbps for download and 0.4Mbps for upload.
In comparison, the iPad 1 using 3G came in at 290ms for a PING, 0.7Mbps for download and 0.28Mbps for upload. The iPad 2 using 3G did slightly better with a PING with 269ms, almost exactly the same for download (0.69Mbps) and better at uploading at 1.28MBps.
PING: Lower is better
iPad 3G: 290ms
iPad 2 3G: 269ms
Download: Higher is better
iPad 3G: 0.7Mbps
iPad 2 3G: 0.69Mbps
Upload: Higher is better
iPad 3G: 0.28Mbps
iPad 2 3G: 1.28Mbps
So, the iPad 2 did marginally better overall than the iPad 1 on 3G, but not by anything that would make a noticeable difference in daily use, since downloading is the most important reading.
The real world tests were equally inconclusive. Downloading a 10MB file from Apple's MobileMe service using the iDisk app on an iPad using 3G took 2 minutes 45 seconds and on the iPad 2 using 3G it took slightly longer - at 3.07 minutes - we put this slight difference down to the general flakiness of Apple's MobileMe service.
Uploading speed tests were equally vague. The iPad 1 uploaded a 1.6MB image to a MobileMe gallery in 48 seconds, while the iPad 2 did it faster at 13.1 seconds.
What does all this mean? Well, apart from proving the fact that ADSL is faster than 3G, and the iPad 2 seems to upload at a slightly faster rate over 3G, not much. It's as we suspected - there's no real difference in download speed (which is the key factor for using the internet) between a new iPad and an old one when you're using the Internet on Wi-Fi or on 3G.
Impact on battery life is also negligible. If you're in an area of weak signal, or just on the edge of getting a good signal, then 3G will potentially use more power than a steady Wi-Fi connection since it will be constantly trying to connect at a higher speed.
But in power usage terms using both 3G and Wi-Fi pale into insignificance when compared to a graphically intensive app that uses the screen a lot, like Infinity Blade for example. Those are the real battery killers.
iPad 2 3G: All your other options
Before we deliver the final verdict it's worth considering that buying a 3G iPad isn't your only option if you want to use Apple's tablet when you're out and about.
For a start you can use your smart phone to get a cheaper Wi-Fi-only iPad online. (If you haven't heard of this before, it's called tethering).
On the iPhone, Apple introduced it's own Apple-branded version of tethering, called Personal Hotspot, as part of iOS 4.3 and it's been implemented by most providers in the UK (except Orange). It creates a small Wi-Fi network using your phone's own 3G connection, which anybody can connect to provided they have your password.
Unfortunately, most UK network providers charge you for the privilege of tethering with your iPhone, but Three are the most generous, since they simply take whatever data you use out of your monthly charge with no extra fee.
With Personal Hotspot turned on you just connect your iPad to your phone as you would when connecting to any Wi-Fi network. You don't need an iPhone either - Android handsets also tether, and more likely without the additional cost.
Another option is to get a MiFi device. Again, you can get these from most of the big network providers. It's a little device that sports a 3G connection and creates a hotspot for you to connect your iPad to. You'll need a data plan to go with it - rates are similar to iPad 3G dataplans.
The disadvantage of all these methods is speed. In our speed test, the download speed displayed by the Speedtest app dropped to a pitiful 0.01Mbps when connected using Personal Hotspot with an iPhone 4, and the upload speed sagged to 0.1Mbps.
As well as being slightly faster, having a 3G connection built into your iPad also involves less messing around. It's not difficult to start a 3G connection on a Mifi device, or fire up Personal Hotspot on your iPhone 4, but it is another couple of minutes of messing around you need to go through before you can get online. With a 3G iPad, you don't have to worry about any of that - you just fire up Safari and you're on the Internet.
So our advice is, if you can afford it, then go for the iPad 2 3G - it makes your iPad more expensive to buy in the first place, but it's by far the most convenient solution, and you're getting the latest model.
You don't have to lock yourself into a contract with a provider and if you travel infrequently with your iPad you can just credit a month's data to your account when you need to use it on the go.
iPad 2 3G: Verdict
You might be thinking that you'll only really use your iPad at home or work, so you'll always be in range of a Wi-Fi connection, but from our experience you only really notice what a limited approach to owning an iPad that is once you go back to a Wi-Fi-only version.
Once you get used to the freedom that 3G brings, it's hard to go back.
Being able to fire-up your iPad whenever you are and check your email makes it a truly portable device. The iPad needs to be fed data, and the more you can give it, the happier it is.
There's also the show-off value of having the most expensive version of the iPad. You can feel smugly superior to your Wi-Fi-only iPad-using friends.
Finally, there's plenty of choice and flexibility when it comes to data plans -shop around and find the right one that suits you.
Losing connection is an issue. On a train from Bath to London we were connected more often than not, but dipping in and out of areas of 3G signal is frustrating. And of course, if you head through a tunnel you lose your connection completely.
Like most people we don't like spending more money than we think we should either. Making the 3G version of the iPad £100 more expensive is hard to justify, since the 3G components themselves won't cost that much to add into an iPad. Then there's the cost of your data plan on top as well.
Don't forget that the original iPad 3G can still be found on Apple's Refurb Store, starting at £389. It's still a perfectly good iPad, and as our tests show, it isn't slower at browsing the net than Apple's latest iPad 2 on the 3G network, it's just not quite as thin and doesn't have a camera.
And if you can live with that then you can save yourself a lot of cash.