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Posted on April 20th, 2011 by David Bayon

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

Asus Eee Pad TransformerUpon 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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28 Responses to “ The big tablet debate: 3G or Wi-Fi-only? ”

  1. Martin Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    One small point to make here. There is a 3G Asus Eee Pad Transformer due out soon so there was probably no need for the argument in the first place. I’m going for a Wi-Fi transformer and will be using tethering for 3g access. Why pay twice?

  2. David Bayon Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Last we heard there won’t be an Asus 3G Android tablet until after summer. I’ll see if I can find anything more concrete than that, but it’s Wi-Fi only for the time being.


  3. David Bayon Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Direct quote from Asus:
    “We will be launching integrated 3G models in the UK. Exact date is TBC but it was originally planned for 2 months after WiFi version. At this stage we’re anticipating June UK launch subject to testing etc.”


  4. ironbath Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I’d have thought that the MiFi option was the obvious solution. 3G access when you need it, but without paying the premium when you are within friendly WiFi range. It is more cost effective and more flexible. Only downside is that it is another (small) device to be carried around and keep recharged.

  5. Alvin Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Many Android and iPhones offer tethering, and can act as wireless routers. Nearly everyone has an iPhone/Android. What’s the big deal?

  6. Bart Colbert Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    For those in major metropolis the WiFi is great, but I think that there is a lot more people in 3G service.
    If I had to chose, 3G.. otherwise both.

  7. Bill Gianopoulos Says:
    April 20th, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    When the iPad first came out my very first response to the device was that 3g on it was dumb and what was really required was to have a slot in it so you could just dock your iPhone in it when you wanted to do 3g.

    Why should you need to have another monthly bill form at&t for this?

  8. Mark Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I agree with Alvin: “Many Android and iPhones offer tethering, and can act as wireless routers. Nearly everyone has an iPhone/Android. What’s the big deal?”

    I just tether my tablet to my phone. Why pay twice for 3G if my phone is willing to share it with my other devices?

  9. Terry Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I’m in the wifi/tethered camp. I use my iPad2 in three places: home (wifi), work (wifi), the airport (wifi), and on the plane (no 3G, and rare/pricey wifi).

    But if money weren’t a factor, sure, 3G would be awesome.

  10. Stephen Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I’ve got a feeling that a lot of people who own tablets (although not all) will have a smartphone as well. That’s my position currently and it’s not so much a question of if tablets are better with 3G or not as it is refusing to pay for mobile data twice.

    I don’t have a separate broadband connection to each computer in my house and I’m not going to do it outside either.

  11. Paul Ockenden Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 8:43 am

    The argument against tethering is one of convenience. A 3G tablet has an instant data connection (”instant” really is important with tablets – instant on, and instant network). With tethering you often have to click things on either the tablet or the phone to make a connection (leave your phone broadcasting Wi-Fi all the time and you’ll kill the batteries).

    There’s also a smaller argument that you might not always have your phone with you.

    But the big one, and it’ll get bigger still going forwards, is location awareness and location based services. With tethering this is completely lost. A trivial example: Fire up Google Maps on a 3G connected tablet and it shows you where you are. Do the same on a tethered or MiFied tablet and it won’t have a clue.

    Sure, another data-only SIM will cost a little bit more. But if you’re walking round with a £600 bit of kit in your hand you’re obviously not afraid of occasional spendiness…

  12. Tony Hunt Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 11:21 am

    It depends if we define the tablet as a mobile or portable devices. Portable devices are not used in transit and wifi will suffice.
    While a mobile device needs an always on’ connection as it is used while in transit.

    Tethering is an option. In my case I bought the iPhone to use as a mini iPAD because I can’t use an iPAD while walking through streets, it’s difficult enough in the back of a cab…. Smaller tablets please!

  13. shonangreg Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I’m guessing what Paul is talking about is the inability of a tethered tablet to use cell phone signals for location information. Still, with the GPS you’ll have more accurate location-based info, and with WiFi-scanning of nearby AP’s you’ll have the rough location services.

    I don’t see how location-based services can be “completely lost”.

  14. Peter Says:
    April 22nd, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I live in an area where ANY mobile signal would be a boon, let alone 3G…

    Personally I don’t feel that 3G is that important for a Tablet. Apart from that pretentious git who does BBC Formula 1, the idea of carrying your Tablet about away from base seems pontless.

    I see a Tablet as an essentially domestic device. On the move a ‘phone is more useful, or a notebook if you have to do extensive content creation. Once you accept this model, then 3G becomes pretty irrelevant.

  15. Joel Says:
    April 23rd, 2011 at 8:46 am

    i feel MIFI combo a WIFI would be better. there are issues with 3G connection services at time with the tablet itself. for some reason using a dedicated mifi, instead of a phone tethering, is faster. do believe that you do not want 3G on all the time, incase of bill shock / spams. either way each has its pros and cons, and i believe it is down to the user themselves. for my case, getting mifi is better as i have a few devices on me that needs wifi. eg ipod touch.

  16. Stu h Says:
    April 27th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    People say they don’t want to pay twice, but does it not cost more to turn on the tethering functionality in the first place? I understand on some US networks you require specific (more expencive) plan? I’d prefer having the 3g functionality, especialy as I plan on bying a G-Tab to REPLACE my phone (I rearely ever actually make a call so can live with a BT earpice for that rare occasion!), but my ‘tight arse’ tendencies whould stear me towards MiFi (as I have one already) if I already had a phone for calls.

  17. crl95 Says:
    May 30th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    just a thought, but there is an attraction to to be able to mms from a larger tablet device; which requires a mobile phone connection provided over 3g.

    A wifi with a mifi wont accomplish this, plus all the benefits of e mail has to offer.

    Therefore you can mms/email to your hearts content on your chosen tablet device with all the benefits the larger screen has to offer.

    … verdict 3g for me.
    My choice Asus transformer with 3g

    Both sides of the coin have merit.

    @ the the end of the day there are pro’s & cons for both schools of thought.

    Ultimatley it will be down to how individuals will use there tablets.

    But it would be nice to have the choice.

  18. Lawrence Says:
    May 30th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Why do you buy a tablet anyway? I would buy it if I wanted
    a) internet access anywhere I go, on a device easy to carry (which could be the smartphone)
    b) on a screen large enough to actually view an entire web page (smartphone excluded in this case).
    If the tablet is only equiped with wi-fi, well… you don’t find wi-fi spots everywhere, so that conflicts with condition a). You could use your smartphone as a wi-fi hotspot, but you would depend on your phone (battery life???) So, in my opinion, wi-fi is mandatory and 3G modem should be at least optional. Non existent is not acceptable. Or maybe we’re waiting for the 4G to expand?

  19. Marcelo Says:
    September 29th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I dont need 3G on my tablet, i prefer to use the iphone 4 as router to tether the internet to the tablet

  20. gurpreet Says:
    October 31st, 2011 at 8:44 am

    we can call any mobile phone with this tablet?

  21. Martin Says:
    December 4th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Good debate on the 3g issue, but what about the inclusion of wifi 802.11 a? Many devices include b/g/n modes, but these all use 2.4GHz band wheras a uses less crowded 5GHz. I appreciate this may gradually change. I think the ipad all support this. I would like to find an android tab that did too.

  22. ANdre Says:
    March 21st, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Being a Tablet PC Distributor I have to stand in the 3G corner, total mobile ability is paramount amongst my customers:–product–25.html

  23. Gabriel Says:
    August 3rd, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I agree with Jon Honeyball: buy a tablet with 3G and get a SIM card like 3’s PAYGO £15 monthly topup on “All You Can Eat” tariff — with NO data limit! A fantastic deal in areas of good 3 coverage (but elsewhere rather poor), as other networks’ PAYGO tariffs (and most contract phones) have a monthly data limit of 1GB for a £30 monthly topup. And even when advertised as “1GB” it can be effectively less — as for Orange / T-Mobile PAYGO, beware! — with a daily data limit of 25MB making for a 750MB monthly data limit. This, plus stunning charges for exceeding a daily limit, at eg 65p per MB. That bumps up the cost of a month’s actual 1GB download to over £200. Read the small print of Terms & Conditions and beware.

  24. Dave Faulkner Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 9:23 am

    @Gabriel, I think the Three deal you refer to pertains to a SIM for a phone, not a micro-SIM for a tablet. See and click on ‘Plan details’ under ‘Best for data’. Their micro-SIM deal will give you 10 GB for £15/month.

  25. Paul Taylor Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I am looking at this issue at the moment and could do with some advice. I have the full monty plan on T-Mobile, which should allow me to tether my S3 to a tablet Note 10.1. However, i also read that T-Mobile and some other service providers have taken tethering off their all inclusive plans. If this is the case, “Which is the best way for me to go?” Personally i do not want to be paying for 2 data plans, but would also like the convenience of having access when out of a Wi-Fi range.


  26. Adrian olaleye Says:
    January 4th, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Mifi wifi and 3g are largely subjective. Choice of either would ultimately be influenced by the monthly contract on a smart phone and battery life at the expense of tethering.
    If you have an expensive contract it’s likely mifi is the option. For those of us who don’t 2contracts would be manageable.
    Another question which should be taken into account ‘is mifi worth using at the cost of mobile functionality?’ (Making calls)

  27. Simon Dewey Says:
    April 9th, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I didn’t go 3g and regret it. My Samsung phone sucks for internet.

  28. MikeH Says:
    April 27th, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Is it possible to connect a laptop to the internet via a 3g tablet. This could be useful to allow email checking for multi-users when away from wi-fi hotspots.


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