Tablets: Tablet buyers' guide Wi-fi or 3G and 4G tablets - should you pay more?


All tablets connect to the internet via wi-fi, but some models also let you use 3G or 4G mobile internet connections.

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. 

But when you aren't connected to wi-fi, 3G or 4G internet can step into the breach. The downside is the added cost of mobile internet data.

Read on to find out what type of tablet to buy. And if you want more help then 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. 

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, and many apps work just fine without needing to connect to the internet. 

If you are mostly planning on using your tablet in the house or at work, then a wi-fi only model will fit the bill. 

However, if you need to keep up to date with emails when out and about, then a 3G or 4G version might be the best option for you. 

What are 3G and 4G?

3G and 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. 

The faster 4G service is now rolling out, and should provide faster access to the internet. Take a look at our guide to 4G for more information. 

Are 3G and 4G worthwhile?

Having a 3G or 4G tablet means that you can browse the internet when you are out about, even if there are no wi-fi hotspots. 

This is an important feature if you need to be connected all the time, but most people find that wi-fi only is sufficient, as well as being more cost-effective. 

How much do 3G and 4G cost?

The main downside to 3G and 4G tablets is that they cost more than their wi-fi equivalents. The Apple iPad 4 costs £399 for the 16GB wi-fi version, compared to £499 for the cellular version with 3G and 4G. 

On top of that, you need to factor in a data plan to pay for the mobile access. This will cost about £10 per month for a 3G data plan from a mobile network provider.

4G coverage is rolling out across the UK, and the data plans are even more expensive than with 3G. Currently the only provider with a data plan is Everything Everywhere, but as further services start up, prices will become more competitive.

More on this...