Matthew Fitzsimmons

iPad 3G Decisions

There has been a lot of talk of people using Mifi devices from Sprint or Verizon to provide 3G access to the iPad via wifi. This was really tempting to me for a while, but in the long run I decided to go with the built-in 3G option, even though it meant sticking with AT&T and waiting longer to get my iPad.

I thought I'd share my thought process, and maybe help you decide which route you want to go.

There appear to be two main reasons why you would want to use a Mifi instead of the built-in 3G capability:

  1. Verizon/Sprint has a better network. Or at least a broader 3G network.
    1. You may want this if you travel a lot.
    2. You may want this if you live in an area that AT&T doesn't cover.
    3. You may want this if you just think AT&T sucks.
  2. A Mifi provides access to multiple devices (like a laptop).

Neither of those usage scenarios really sways me much for the following reasons:

  1. I'm rarely in places where AT&T doesn't reach, and have been generally happy with them.
  2. Most of the cases in which I would want 3G access for my laptop will be solved by the iPad anyway.

However, it really wasn't those two things that finally made me decide not to go the Mifi route. The following reasons had much more of an affect on my decision.

  1. Battery/Charging. A Mifi only gets 4 hours of battery life when actually in use. Granted, there would be much sleep time, but if I needed to use it heavily I'd much rather just be able to plug in the device itself as the battery drains down instead of having to charge two separate devices. Besides, I already have too much crap to charge.
  2. More devices to carry. I have enough trouble with too much crap in my pockets already. Yes, when I have my laptop with me, I'll have a laptop bag. The same can't be said of the iPad, however. I don't want to have to grab my Mifi every time I leave the house with my iPad.
  3. Price. If my wife ends up also getting an iPad (which is almost a surety), a Mifi would only be useful for one of us whenever we're separated. So for the price of one Mifi plan, I can get two iPad unlimited data plans, which wouldn't leave one of us stuck without 3G when the other one needs it elsewhere.
  4. Contract. A Mifi requires a 2 year contract. With the iPad I can enable and disable 3G as I need it on a month by month basis. This also means I can toy with the significantly cheaper 250MB plan, and see if it's going to work out for me, or even switch to the unlimited only on months where I'm going to be traveling.

You can boil this list down to two things: convenience and price.

The convenience is really the biggest of them for me. Could I afford a Mifi? Yes, at this point in my life, I could. I don't want to spend the extra money, but the ability to use it on my laptop is tempting, even though I probably wouldn't actually do it much. But charging even more devices, carrying even more devices, having to remember to grab a second device every time (third, really, since I'll tend to be carrying my iPhone whenever I'm leaving the house), and having to wake up two devices every time I want access is just not appealing to me if I can avoid it.

Eventually, I may decide I need 3G access on my laptop. At that point, I'll probably shell out for a Mifi instead of just a USB dongle because of the flexibility. That time isn't yet for me.

April 7, 2010