Apple’s wonderful iPad is already out in the U.S., both in Wi-Fi-only and more recently Wi-Fi+3G variants, and the international launch is coming in the next few weeks. If you’re considering getting one then you’re probably wondering which one to go for. Wi-Fi only is cheaper but the 3G option lets you stay connected even when there’s no home, company, or public free Wi-Fi hotspot available. Sounds tempting doesn’t it?
I’m in the UK and have an iPad already — I bought a Wi-Fi only model in the U.S. — so the solution I’m about to describe is a UK one, although I’m sure similar products will be available in other countries.
When I heard Apple’s announcement about the iPad I decided straight away to go for a Wi-Fi only model. This was partly because that meant I’d get my new toy sooner, but mainly because I already have another very nifty device: the Mi-Fi from Three.
Mi-Fi is essentially a portable 3G modem and low-power Wi-Fi router, all in a package about the size of a small mobile phone, and it basically gives you your own personal Wi-Fi hotspot that you carry around with you, while it connects to the 3G data network.
You charge it, switch it on, insert SIM just like a phone, but it has no keyboard, mouthpiece, or LCD display. Instead it has three buttons down one side and five coloured lights that tell you what it’s up to. The three buttons are Power on/off, Wi-Fi on/off, and Internet on/off — nice and simple, and the lights tells you what’s currently on and off, and the state of the data signal and battery charge. To configure the unit initially you plug it into your computer via the supplied USB cable. Once you’ve configured the wireless network’s SSID and security password you can unplug it and use it totally wireless from that point on.
What does it cost? Mi-Fi is around £50 to buy from the Three Store, and then, just as with mobiles, you can choose either a contract or a pay-as-you-go service. I’ve gone PAYG and for each £10 top-up I get 1Gb of data, with a shelf life of 30 days. Anything I don’t use up within that time is lost, which is a bit of a pain, but I can see why they’ve done it that way. I use my home broadband wireless network when I’m in, so the MiFi only comes out when I’m… out, and last month I used it regularly yet still only managed to use around 300Mb of my 1Gb quota.
I’ve been using this combination of iPad / MiFi for a few weeks now and it works great. Of course you’ll always find places where the 3G signal is bad, but then that would also be true of the 3G iPad.
So why is the MiFi option better than having everything built-in to the iPad itself? True there is a slight disadvantage in that you have to carry (and charge) two devices instead of one, but the MiFi is better for another important reason: it doesn’t limit you to just using it with the iPad. I can connect my laptop and iPod Touch to it as well, in fact any Wi-Fi enabled device can use it, as long as they have the login credentials. You can even have up to three devices connected at once.
So, you can get a cheaper Wi-Fi-only iPad and still get the benefits of 3G mobile broadband, and use it with your other Wi-Fi devices too.