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1 October 2020

Wi-fi or 3G and 4G tablets - should you pay more?

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.
Man using tablet in cafe
Michael Passingham

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.

However this type of tablet is more expensive. Plus, you'll need to pay for the mobile data that you use (normally through a monthly plan).

Read on to decide which type of tablet to go for. Or if you simply want to see which models impressed in our tests then head straight to our Best Buy tablets guide.

Is wi-fi enough?

If you expect to mainly use your tablet at home or at work, then a wi-fi only model will fit the bill. As we noted above, these tablets are cheaper and you don't have to worry about data charges or network coverage. And you won't really be limited to your home or office - wi-fi connections are available in many other locations too, from cafes and libraries, to many trains and supermarkets. You may have to pay for access, but often it's free.

And even if you opt for a wi-fi only tablet, you may still be able to use it while on the go by connecting it via a 3G or 4G smartphone. This process - known as tethering - converts your phone into a mobile wi-fi hotspot and while it won't work with all phones (or with all mobile phone networks) it can be a handy work around. If it doesn't you can still enjoy your tablet while offline by downloading content such as ebooks and films ahead of time to keep you entertained, while many apps will work fine without any access to the internet.

Our choosing tool below should help you make a more informed decision.

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 costs £339 for the 16GB wi-fi version, compared to £469 for the cellular version with 3G and 4G connectivity. Significant price hikes 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.

Find out which model is our current favourite with our guide: the Which? top choice tablet of the month.

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