Wi-fi or 4G and 5G cellular tablets - should you pay more?
All tablets can connect to the internet via wi-fi, but cellular models also let you use 4G or 5G 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).
We've outlined the pros and cons of each type and looked at who they might suit, to help you decide which one to go for.
What's the difference between wi-fi and 4G or 5G tablets?
Both types of tablet have pros and cons – we've summarised them briefly below, and delved into more detail further down the page.
Wi-fi tablet pros and cons
Pros: Wider choice of tablets; typically cheaper to buy; no need to worry about mobile data charges
Cons: Limited internet connectivity when away from your home wi-fi network; have to buy the tablet outright
4G and 5G tablet pros and cons
Pros: Able to connect to the internet when away from a wi-fi network; 4G and 5G connections can be speedier than free wi-fi connections at cafes, for example
Cons: Less choice of tablets; more expensive to buy; need to pay for mobile data plan; using 4G or 5G can drain the battery faster than connecting over wi-fi
Wi-fi-only tablets: are they good enough?
For most people, the answer is probably 'yes'. This is fortunate. as tablets that just have wi-fi connectivity are by far the most common type. Wi-fi 'only' is a bit of a misnomer, as they also have Bluetooth connectivity. However, they lack 4G/5G (also known as 'cellular' or LTE) connectivity.
If you expect to mainly use your tablet at home or at work, then a wi-fi-only model will fit the bill. These tablets are cheaper (see below) and you don't have to worry about data charges or mobile network coverage. You shouldn't be limited to using your tablet in your home or office either; wi-fi connections are available in many other locations too, from cafes and libraries to trains and supermarkets. Often it's free to connect.
And, of course, you can still enjoy your tablet while offline. Downloading content such as ebooks and films ahead of time will help keep you entertained, while many apps will work fine without any access to the internet.
How can I get internet on my wi-fi tablet without wi-fi?
You may still be able to use the internet on a wi-fi only tablet on the go by connecting it via a 4G or 5G smartphone. This process – known as tethering – converts your phone into a mobile wi-fi hotspot.
The ability to tether only applies to smartphones; simpler phones don't have this features, and some cheaper mobile tariffs may also disable this feature to stop you from using too much data.
Bear in mind that if you tether your tablet to your phone's 4G or 5G connection, not only do you risk draining your data allowance, but you'll also be asking a lot of your phone's battery. Connecting both its 4G/5G signal and producing a wi-fi signal for your tablet will eat up power pretty rapidly.
4G and 5G tablets: get internet anywhere
Like smartphones, cellular tablets have space for a Sim card to let you connect to the mobile internet.
The key benefit of buying a 4G or 5G cellular tablet is convenience: you can connect to the internet on your tablet anywhere (or almost anywhere). You'll have the same limitations as having a 4G/5G smartphone, though - if there's no mobile signal where you are, you won't be able to connect.
4G and 5G tablets all have wi-fi as well, so if you don't have a mobile data signal but are near a wi-fi network, you don't have to worry.
4G and 5G connections can also be much faster than free wi-fi connections at cafes, pubs and campsites,for example, so if you want fast speeds all the time, picking a cellular tablet is something to consider.
Another thing to think about is battery life. A tablet connected via 4G or 5G will consume more battery power than one that's connected over wi-fi, although this may be a better option than draining your smartphone's battery by tethering your tablet to it.
Buying a tablet with a data plan
Cellular tablets are often sold through mobile networks. This means you can pay for them via a monthly contract, instead of buying them outright. This can help spread the higher cost of a cellular tablet, although you'll inevitably pay more in the long run because you're paying a monthly fee for a data plan as well as the tablet.
If you buy a 4G or 5G tablet outright from a retailer, you'll need to get a Sim card separately from a mobile provider and either top it up or enter into a 4G/5G Sim-only contract, in exactly the same way as you do with a mobile phone, but without the call minutes and SMS provision. Make sure you check what physical size of Sim card your tablet takes before ordering one from a mobile network, as these can differ.
Are there any 5G tablets?
There are, but not many as of February 2021. The only manufacturer making tablets with 5G that are widely available in the UK is Samsung, and even then that's limited to just a single product: 5G, which is substantially more expensive than the wi-fi only model (see below). And keep in mind that to use the higher speeds made possible by 5G, you'll need to subscribe to a 5G data plan, which will be pricier than one that only offers 4G.
Do 4G and 5G tablets cost more?
Yes. This is a key reason why you should weigh up whether you need one. Below are some examples of tablets that have both wi-fi-only and 4G or 5G options; we've shown the typical price for buying each type outright. We checked prices and availability in February 2021 - clicking on the links will take you to our full reviews of each product.
- Wi-fi only: £199
- Wi-fi + 4G: £239
- Wi-fi only: £329
- Wi-fi + 4G: £459
- Wi-fi only: £619
- Wi-fi + 4G: £719
- Wi-fi only: £799
- Wi-fi + 5G: £999
For cheaper tablets, the price difference between wi-fi-only and 4G/5G models isn't that much. A 4G-connected Lenovo Tab M10 Plus, for example, costs just £40 more than the wi-fi alternative.
However, thepricier the tablet the more you'll pay for extra connectivity. A 4G iPad costs £130 more than the standard model, and a 5G Galaxy Tab S7 Plus £200 more than the wi-fi-only option.