Apple iPad Review: WiFi+3G Model

When the Apple iPad WiFi model shipped I did a pretty in-depth review of it, which you can see here. Therefore the purpose of today's review is focus primarily on the 3G capabilities. (and yes that's a custom Gelaskin on the back because that's just how I roll πŸ™‚ )


Which model did I go with?

I had planned all along to go with the 16GB WiFi model for testing and reviewing and then get the 64GB WiFi+3G model for my own use. That's exactly what I did. Although I don't "need" 64GB's of space for my info and media content, I do plan to use the iPad for field backup of my photos and instant touch up and sharing using the iPad Camera Connection Kit. I typically shoot to either 8GB or 16GB memory cards and almost never fill them up in one day. After loading everything on the iPad that I wanted to have on it  (including a couple of movies), I still had over 32GBs of free space. That will be plenty for photo backup each day of shooting. My wife claimed the 16GB WiFi version in case you were wondering.


What's different on the outside?

Not much. The only two visual differences on the outer case are the black bar across the top for the antennas/GPS support and the MicroSIM tray on the left side. Otherwise it's visually identical to the WiFi model. 


What's different on the inside?

The obvious and biggest difference on the inside is that the WiFi+3G models include 3G wireless technology to allow you to connect to the internet pretty much anywhere there is GSM cell service. The other difference is that these models also include a real GPS chip. So while the WiFi mode can detect your location based on available WiFi signals, the WiFi+3G model can do so based on GPS satellites, cell towers AND WiFi signals. This also means that it's capable of running turn-by-turn GPS navigation apps although it may be a bit conspicuous on your dashboard. πŸ™‚


How do the AT&T data plans work?

Unlike the iPhone there is no requirement to setup a data plan. You can use the iPad WiFi+3G out of the box (once you configure it in iTunes) on WiFi without ever signing up on AT&T. However, chances are you paid more for the 3G version because you DO want to use it on 3G when you're out and about. The good news is that not only can you set one up (3G account) whenever you're ready, but there is NO CONTRACT. You sign up with a credit card and although it's a recurring charge you can cancel, downgrade or upgrade whenever you want. AT&T offers two plans. You can either go with a limited plan of 250MB/month for $14.99 or an Unlimited plan for $29.99/month. You create your account and signup right on your iPad (Settings->Cellular Data). You also manage your account and upgrade/downgrade/cancel in the same area of the iPad settings. If you go with the limited plan you can also track your usage.


Which plan did I go with?

Since there is no penalty for changing plans, I wanted to see could I get by with the 250MB/month plan. My thought was that I'd be on WiFi "most" of the time and only use 3G when I had to. So I started on Friday (4/30) with the 250MB plan. Even though I was in my house on WiFi all day Friday when I checked my account it said that I had used 1MB. Um, OK (see my tip below). On Saturday I went out to get a haircut and although I usually have an appointment, I usually have to wait anyway. So I figured it would be a good chance to use my iPad on 3G and see how much data I would use on a regular day not connected to WiFi. I arrived at 4PM right on time and as usual I had to wait (Brian you really need to get better at scheduling πŸ™‚ ). This time my wait was longer than usual. I had to wait just over an hour. However, I didn't mind the wait because I had the iPad for entertainment. I used this time to setup some Apps that I had installed but hadn't yet configured. I also brought up each video App to see if they worked on 3G or not (see Streaming Video below). Now keep in mind that I didn't watch more than a couple of seconds in each App. It was just a test to see if they worked or not. I read USAToday and some stories on SkyGrid. I did some email and responded to some Twitter and blog comments.

When I got home I decided to check my usage for that "hour" and I had now used 78MBs! Wow! 77MB in one hour of my "typical" use. So as you can see, there is no way that 250MB will last me a whole month in most cases. We'll see how the rest of the week goes. When you run out of data (you get three alerts at the 20% left, 10% left 0% left) you can either add 250MB more for $14.99 or upgrade to unlimited or let it run out for the rest of the month until the clock starts over again next month. In other words you're not going to be dinged any kind of overage charges by the kilobyte or minute. Also keep in mind that your iPad will connect to the retrieve email and sync info if you have PUSH on or a schedule. It's also in constant communication with Push Notification servers. 


International Travelers – as we all know cell phone data charges while roaming internationally can mount to the cost of buying a small island. So just like the iPhone, Data Roaming defaults to the OFF position. Therefore you can't get hit by accident with international data roaming charges when you travel abroad. However, if you do want to use your iPad internationally you can add on an International Package for a month and even set it for the date you want it to start. That's cool. Not cheap, but cool.


A Tip for 250MB/month Plan Users

Like I said above, I got dinged for 1MB of usage even though I was on WiFi. Now that may have been what it took to setup the device or who knows what? However, I don't want the iPad on 3G unless I'm trying to use it on 3G. I've even noticed that when I pick up my iPhone 3GS sometimes it's on 3G for the first few seconds/minutes before it switches over to my WiFi network. That's fine on the iPhone because it's on an unlimited data plan. However, for the iPad you probably don't want it using up your 250/MB allotment unnecessarily. So here's a tip: 1) Go into your settings and switch your iPad to Airplane mode. This of course disables the wireless features especially 3G wireless. Now go to WiFi and turn it back on. Yep, the iPad (and iPhone) can be in Airplane mode and have both WiFi and Bluetooth ON. So effectively you've disabled the 3G signal and therefore can't accidentally be on 3G cellular data when you don't want to be. When you do want to be on 3G because there is no WiFi available simply turn Airplane mode OFF and you'll be able to surf on 3G. 


Streaming Video Playback While on 3G

Apple/AT&T seem to allow some video streaming from some Apps and no video streaming from other Apps while on 3G. For example, the ABC App won't stream at all. A message is displayed telling you to connect to a WiFi Network. YouTube does work, but delivers up a smaller lesser quality video than you get when you watch the same video while connected to WiFi. The Netflix App seems unaffected. So it looks like your mileage will vary on an App by App basis.


My YouTube Video on WiFi (looks great)


The Same YouTube video on 3G (doesn't look so great)



25 iPad Tips – My first iBook for the iPad

My Top 10 Must Have iPad Apps

More iPad App Reviews

The iPad Camera Connection Kt Review

The 1st Batch of iPad Accessories

My iPad Unboxing Video πŸ˜‰


The Bottom Line

My primary use for the iPad will be to fit it into my photography workflow and now that the Camera Connection Kit is here and proven to work the way that I need it to, I'm happy with my purchase. I don't know that I will ever be able to just use a tablet device because while it does do what it claims (for the most part), it lacks too many things that I need from my computer. Again, this isn't meant to be a computer replacement so I'm not faulting it for that, but it would be nice to be able to just get by (at least sometimes) carrying only a tablet device like this one. In the meantime I've just added 2-3 pounds to computer bag and I'm OK with that. I certainly have no more need for my Epson P6000 or HyperDrive ColorSpace


Interesting how far we've come from Apple's original vision




Clearly they envisioned AT&T getting past their bandwidth issues. Thankfully bow tie guy didn't make the cut πŸ™‚

31 Replies to “Apple iPad Review: WiFi+3G Model”

  1. That last video made me smile. I don’t know about AT&T’s problems as live in the UK, but I think they were expecting voice recognition to have improved a lot as well πŸ™‚

    Glenn (UK)

  2. I got the iPad 3G/64 as well, but can’t get on AT&T because of their software check for my billing address coming back from the USPS server as ‘possibly not a physical address’. So even though I live in the coverage area, USPS’s inaccurate data on my address is preventing me from signing up. On the Apple forums, there are a lot of people hitting this issue and both Apple & AT&T have so far not offered any solution. I’m greatly disappointed in the lack of response from both companies.

    1. 3 days ago, AT&T Took my billing address as a PO Box just fine….I believe there was an area for both physical and billing-related addresses to be entered. Possibly you overlooked this somehow? . My Visa is listed via a PO Box and I have never had an issue, since they REALLY want your money LOL!!

  3. Thanks for the review, Terry. Can you post also about your first experiences using the iPad as an on-location backup? Great idea–hope it works so I, too, can dump my Hyperdrive.

  4. I loved that you put in that last video — I was at a Navy data conference in the late 80’s (??) where Apple presented that video as a vision of the future … I had a copy of the video that I kept for years as a reminder to me, which I accidentally put into a box that went to the Salvation Army! I’m so glad to see it again to see how far we’ve come to meet that vision.

    do you think it viable to switch SIMs overseas for a local intl carrier vs using the international plan for iPad?

    Thank you! I love your reviews and your blog.

  5. Great review, but is it just me or is the International Traveler’s price range is extremely overcharged?


  6. Terry, I was wondering if you plan on applying a clear plastic film over your ipad? If so, what brand do you recommend? I have one on my iphone, but haven’t heard of anyone using one on the ipad yet.

    Thanks for keeping you blog going – although I’ve spent a lot of money based on your recommendations!

  7. IPad web surfing on 3G is slow here in Portland, like being on dialup in olden tymes.

  8. Terry, thanks for yet another great post! I was wondering if you could be so kind as to post a link or email me the photo you used for the Gelaskin pictured in the post. After recently upgrading to CS5, I’d like to rock that skin on my iPad. Also, What are your thoughts on the iPad having the available hardware crevice for a camera, yet not including one? I’m sure you have read about it,but just incase, here’s where I read it: Thanks!

  9. Hey Terry, I’ve been trying to figure out how to use the mail app on iPad for several users, who do not want to store their info in the iPad, yet would like to use the app itself, rather than Safari. Friends and family of want to gain the experience, however, I do not want them viewing my personal info, etc. Is there anyway around this, or perhaps an app you know of that focuses on privacy features? Thanks.

    1. Jason, I feel your pain and that’s why in my original review I stated that the iPad needs a “Multiple Users” feature. I don’t currently have a work around for this.

  10. Terry, Thanks for always providing useful info. How has the performance of 3G been in comparison to Wi-Fi?

    1. Rod,
      the 3G performance has been quite good. I was just on it for another hour and things moved along at good speeds. It didn’t feel like I wasn’t on WiFi. So I’m happy.

  11. Any idea on the battery life using the 3g version? Thanks for all the informatiion.


    1. Seems to hold up to the 10 hour claims that Apple has for the iPad. Battery life on 3G or WiFi has not been an issue yet. I’m going on a long plane ride soon and that will be my real test.


  12. Greetings,

    You indicated that the iPad will replace your Epson 6000 and Hyperdrive device. So does the iPad download meta data when you download a picture. Where is the meta file located? Can the picture file and metq file be downloaded to your hard drive on your laptop and /or your desktop? Lots of questions, little info/few answers. Thanks for the support.

    Steve Zaiontz

    1. I’m a bit confused by your question so forgive me if this doesn’t answer it. When you import images from your card/camera into the iPad, the images come in with their EXIF data (which is stored in the images themselves). When you download them into your computer from your iPad the EXIF data is still there. Any image editing you do on the iPad results in a NEW file, so your original images are intact. What other metadata are you referring to?

      1. Thanks for the quick response. The confusion is on my side. I am still fresh to digital photography and how the image files with EXIF data travel through a workflow. That answers my concern about the EXIF data remaining intact with the image file. It sounds like I can use the IPAD for a backup strategy, just do not seem to be able to burn to a secondary backup hardware except a computer.

  13. Hello Terry,

    Great review! I have a question for you: could you check if the MIFI device (on which you did a great report some months ago) can work with the micro sim card of the IPad?
    Why? Because it seems that the next IPhone 4G will use a micro sim card, AND if the MIFI accept and can work with micro sim cards it means that the next IPhone plus a IPad Wifi only and a MIFI could be enough and we will eventually avoid to pay again another data plan for the IPad. So, could you tell us if the MIFI accept and works fine with micro sim cards? Thanks!

    1. MicroSIM cards are physically smaller so no it won’t work with the MiFi (at least not without some type of adapter).

  14. It’s definitely the best gadget ever made but I think I’m not buying one unless this gadget has a multi-tasking capability… it’s not just so practical on its price…

  15. Hello

    great review of the iPads. Just so everybody knows, there is a microsim adapter available from which allows your microsim to be used in a standard sim slot.

    I have a family plan with ATT, and have an extra line with a ‘data plan’ which I have used in a grey-market mifi from europe. this has allowed 5gb data for ~24.99/month and I am able to use it with my computer. After getting the ipad, I used the microsim adapter as well as the actual att microsim to chop down the sim I had in the mifi.

    It now works in the ipad as my primary sim. I can also use the converter to use the sim in the mifi when I want to travel with my laptop.

    It may be more cost effective to cancel the second line, and use the ipad sim in the mifi, does anybody know if this is possible?


  16. Thanks so much for the tip on turning off 3G unless needed. I think I may still need to call AT&T about how much 3G data was used while I was on wifi in my house (dropped from 4 mb to 1 mb well after I had been at home on my wifi for a while). That doesn’t seem right. Even if they resolve my issue, I will be following the 3G off advice. I use my iPad all the time (same version as yours) and have 4 days left on my billing plan ($15) and have 1 mb of data left to use. Not too shabby. Especially if I had turned off the 3G! Have a great night :o)

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