Wi-fi or 3G and 4G tablets - should you pay more?
By Adam Marshall
Is wi-fi enough, or should you be looking to buy a 4G or 3G tablet? This expert guide will help you pick out the best tablet for your needs without paying over the odds for something you don't need.
All tablets can connect to the internet via wi-fi, but some models also let you use 3G or 4G mobile internet connections. These let you surf the web and check your emails over a mobile network while out and about.
If you have wireless internet in your house, or if you use a public wi-fi hotspot, you can browse the internet on your tablet using wi-fi. But when you aren't connected to wi-fi, 3G or 4G internet can step into the breach if the tablet supports them. The downside is the added cost of mobile internet data.
Read on to decide which type of tablet to go for. And if you want more help buying your dream tablet, check out our interactive tablet choosing tool which does all the hard work for you.
Is wi-fi enough?
For most people, wi-fi only tablets are ideal. They're cheaper to buy than their cellular counterparts and you don't have to worry about getting the best network deal.
If you're mostly planning on using your tablet in the house or at work, a wi-fi only model will fit the bill. And wi-fi connection is available in many other locations too – sometimes known as hotspots – from cafes and libraries, to certain trains and supermarkets. Sometimes you may have to pay for access, but it is often free.
If you have a smartphone that has 3G or 4G connectivity, you may be able to turn that into a hotspot too. Not all mobiles and phone tariffs have this capability – also known as tethering. But those that do, use the data on your network plan to feed your tablet.
Even if you know you're going to be without a connection for a while, you can download content such as ebooks and films ahead of time to keep you entertained. In fact, many apps work just fine without needing to connect to the internet.
Our special choosing tool below should help you make a more informed decision.
What are 3G and 4G?
3G and the faster 4G provide mobile broadband to portable devices such as tablets and smartphones.
3G is the most widely available form of mobile broadband in the UK. But the faster 4G service is now rolling out, and should provide faster access to the internet.
Are 3G and 4G tablets worthwhile?
Having a 3G or 4G tablet means that you can browse the internet when you are out and about, even if there are no wi-fi hotspots available.
This is an important feature if you need to be connected all the time (checking important work emails, for example), but most people find that wi-fi only is sufficient, as well as being more cost-effective.
How much will a 3G/4G tablet cost?
The main downside to 3G and 4G tablets is that they cost more than their wi-fi equivalents. For example, the Apple iPad Air 2 costs £399 for the 16GB wi-fi version, compared to £499 for the cellular version with 3G and 4G. Significant price gaps like these are common across manufacturers.
On top of that, you need to factor in a data plan to pay for the mobile access - like you would your smartphone. This will vary across providers, but will likely be at least £10 per month.