The big tablet debate: 3G or Wi-Fi-only?

20 Apr 2011

Upon reading my review of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, our picky editor Barry Collins turned to me with a criticism. "The fact that there's no 3G version," he argued, "should surely count against it, shouldn't it?"

Should it? We tend to review the Wi-Fi-only models of tablets, because that's what we're usually sent. We'll mention the 3G options in the review, but it's up to manufacturers to decide whether to offer them or not, and up to consumers to buy them.

It started a debate, one which began in the office and spilled over to the PC Pro podcast as well. Then I posed the question - to 3G or not to 3G? - on Twitter, and it generated an unexpected level of response.

Obviously, it does all depend on what you'll use it for, and plenty of you said you'd buy with or without 3G depending on that. But just as many came out firmly on one side or the other, with no clear winner.

In the 3G corner...

Led by @bazzacollins.

Senior staff writer @mikejjennings: "A supposedly "mobile" device without constant (network-dependent) net access? No thanks."

Contributing editor @PaulOckenden: "Huge yes from me. What if you're out of Wi-Fi range?"

Contributing editor @JonHoneyball: "I wouldn't buy a tablet unless it had a 3G socket/modem built in. I might not buy a sim immediately, but..."

Plenty of readers agreed with those sentiments.

@allpointsnorth: "3G for me, but only cos I'm on the go a lot - replaces dongle. Cloud/Openzone not always that reliable either."

@MarkTechArc72: "3G is a must - for a mainly information consumption device, what's the point if you have no internet when you're out?"

@the_pc_doc: "Manufacturers not offering 3G as an option will go the same way as the dinosaur or the dodo..."

And a few picked up the travel theme too:

@mikehamer: "iPad 3G was very useful on our holiday in Italy (with Italian SIM). Google Maps on its big screen was fab."

@smithsocksimon: "3G is handy if you travel, cause you can buy a local SIM for each country."

It was left to Mr Honeyball to offer some sensible advice: "Buy it with 3G but without SIM. Buy a monthly contract SIM like 3 for 15 quid. Try it both ways. You'll hate Wi-Fi-only mode."

In the Wi-Fi corner...

Led by @Bayonnaise:

@tomaszrykala: "3G isn't a must, as the research confirms, majority of tablets don't ever leave the house."

If you do leave the house, a huge number of people suggested different ways to get data...

@chatanm: "I'd recommend a Mi-Fi and Wi-Fi tablet instead of 3G tablet. More flexible and the battery life would be better on your tablet without 3G."

@MerseyMal: "For the rare occasions away from Wi-Fi would use phone. Don't want two 3G contracts."

@alanjrobertson: "It's a no from me - seems to add about £100 + extra contract to cost. Happy with Android Wi-Fi hotspot function instead."

@jim_herd: "Big issue for me is only paying for one data contract. Makes Mi-Fi or mobile tethering the way to go."

And several people came up with the same response regarding their experiences with 3G tablets.

@johnny_winter: "I bought 3G iPad last year. It wasn't necessary so cancelled 3G SIM. Can use personal hotspot on iPhone if required now."

@itf: "Got a 3G iPad, never used the 3G."

The judges' decision

Those are just a few of the tweets we got, but the result is hardly surprising: some people want 3G in a tablet, some people don't, and it's entirely dependent on where you are and how you use it.

We even got a response from @MattJEgan, editor of (boo hiss) rival PC Advisor, supporting both sides: "Yes [to 3G]! Commuter, etc. That said, the PC Advisor Reviews Ed has a Wi-Fi iPad and carries a 3G MiFi dongle for all his toys."

All of which I suppose vindicates Barry on his original argument: it is a bit short-sighted of Asus not to give the option.

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