The tablet revolution is upon us with 180 million such devices expected to be sold by 2014. But many of the newer tablets are launching in a costly 3G version. Chime in on our poll as we see if Wi-Fi tablets are good enough for most.


The tablet revolution may be upon us as 180 million of the devices are expected to be sold by 2014, but many consumers are still unwilling to take part for a number reasons. People have to decide if and how a tablet device fits into their lifestyle or figure out if it can replace another device instead of becoming yet another screen to see. Both are valid questions, but a third decision point looms large for tablet purchases: Can the monthly budget afford yet another charge for mobile broadband data? Apple’s iPad is offered in a Wi-Fi version, but so far, few other tablet manufacturers have followed suit — potentially a huge oversight that could strengthen Apple’s already tight hold on this nascent market.

Take the Motorola Xoom, for example, which just launched last week. Although my initial impressions and hands-on video show some corners cut to get the tablet to market quickly, there’s much to like about the device, and Google’s new Honeycomb platform for tablets. But many potential buyers are put off by the $799 price tag. Yes, the device can be had for $599, but in return for the discount, customers must agree to a 2-year data plan commitment, which starts at $20 per month and can rise to $80 for 10 GB of data usage in a month. Motorola has confirmed a future Wi-Fi version of the Xoom, which is expected to cost around $600. Of course, without a mobile broadband radio in such a model, there would be no monthly bill from a carrier.

The 3G vs Wi-Fi debate likely centers on where and how individuals plan to use their tablet. For couch-surfing sessions and other use around the home, a Wi-Fi device will clearly fit the bill. Folks that plan on taking their tablet everywhere — much as they may do with a smartphone, for example — could lean toward a device with full-time connectivity. Of course, the smartphone is becoming the new hotspot as more handsets are gaining the ability to be used for connection sharing, something I often do with my Android handset. Indeed, over on our Apple channel, Darrell suggests that the iPhone’s new personal hotspot feature could make the 3G iPad irrelevant for some. This service is a feature, so it doesn’t require any additional contract commitment and can be used with multiple devices.

I actually opted to purchase my Samsung Galaxy Tab with 3G on contract to get the reduced price of $299. Even if I chose to cancel the contract, the $200 early termination fee still keeps my total cost under the unsubsidized. Another reason for the purchase is the tablet’s ability to act as a 3G hotspot at no extra charge. Between my phone and my tablet then, I have two mobile broadband connections for an iPod touch, notebook computer or any other Wi-Fi enabled device.

But my preferences are different from most, and lets face it: the Galaxy Tab at that price is far less than the Motorola Xoom at $599 on a contract or $799 off-contract. With a slew of new 3G tablets due to arrive soon are you planning to buy, or will you wait for a less expensive Wi-Fi version to use at home or with a mobile broadband hotspot device?

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  1. I have my Evo which functions as a wifi hotspot so I don’t care about 3G. If they want to toss the option in for free and offer reasonable no contract plans, then so be it. I refuse to pay extra for it though.

    1. I’m with you, but unfortunately, the Galaxy Tab wasn’t available in a Wi-Fi only version when I purchased it. If it had been, I would have considered going that route and used my handset as the hotspot. As it stands now, I actually leave the smartphone behind and take the 3G tablet everywhere since it does all of the same things on a higher resolution and larger screen that’s easier on my eyes. ;)

    2. I also have an EVO. Did you root so it tethers free….or are you paying Sprint 30-bucks a month?

  2. It looks like wifi hotspots will soon be a standard option on most smart phones, rendering 3G on tablets redundant.

    1. Kevin C. Tofel Adam Tuesday, March 1, 2011

      Agreed that it’s becoming a standard option, but there’s a key element that could keep 3G radio options in tablets: battery life. Your phone battery runs down faster when it’s sharing the mobile broadband connection. I work around that with a second battery for my handset because I can’t be left without a phone. However, some handsets (such as the iPhone) have non-replaceable sealed batteries so this isn’t an option.

    2. Last I checked running WiFi hot spots drains batteries profoundly. If you running 4G by the time you actually jump on your battery would be toast.

      Regardless having a tablet with instant on was the point. If you have to mess around with setting up a hotspot you might as well have a laptop instead.

  3. Michael Anderson Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    I think it depends on your usage. I use my iPad at home and work mostly, where I have great WiFi. When I have traveled I seldom am without WiFi nearby, and have my Droid for when that happens.

    I also agree with ahow628 that price of entry is an issue with 3G models. No way would I pay $130 more for a iPad 3G … and heck noes to a contract data plan! If the iPad 3G had only cost ~$25 – 50 more and had month-to-month plans, I would have gotten it and been happy the 1-2 times I would have used it.

  4. colorandlight Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Dear tablet maker,
    Please don’t hamstring your fantastic devices by tying them to one carrier. Don’t Appleize me to AT&T, and don’t Motorolaize me to Verizon. Pass the savings from a lack of cellular radio, development, and integration on to me. I see a tablet as my next general purpose computer (browsing and office tasks), not my next phone.

  5. While 3G/4G is not a necessary addition to my Tablet of choice (HP/Palm Touchpad) I would love to have a Tablet that was 4G (LTE) capable.

  6. Wi-fi only is good enough … as long as the GPS works without a data connection.

  7. I’m with the “WiFi is good enough” crowd. I’m around WiFi almost all the time. I also do think 4G would be great when it is ubiquitous and rates are similar to cable ISP, but until then I’m on WiFi.

  8. A cellular radio with 3G is a definite bonus that should be available unlocked. Some tablets don’t have the option for GPS without the cellular radio. I like what Huwaei did with their tablet, throw in the phone (voice and SMS) as a bonus. That way you can do sim-swap and with a bluetooth headset you can do everything you can do on a smartphone and more. With a reasonable prepaid option like the iPad has, people can get 3G when they want it and not be locked into a long term contract that they might not need.

    The cellular modem is not as expensive as they increase in price they charge and if they offer something similar to GOBI that they have for laptops the customer can choose any provider of 3G and change at a whim and not have to buy a new device. I’m sure that’s how Apple will be going and then everyone else will realize it’s benefits…but tablet manufactures try to sell to the networks and not to the customers so their products reflect value accordingly.

  9. So long as I can tether it to an iPhone, why does it matter? But, these artificial limitations are bizarre. I would love to know the breakdown on sales by configuration.

    1. I had read at some point last year that around 2/3rds of the iPads sold by Apple were Wi-Fi only models. I’ll see if I can find a recent update though. It matters because, at least here in the U.S., the 3G models are often more expensive to begin with and the only way to get the price down is to commit to a 2-year data plan. Consumers already have those for their smartphones and other devices – do they want another? I think most do not.

  10. One more benefit with embedded 3G is the security of the connection. None of the insecurities of a Wifi-only connection which can be spoofed or hacked. I don’t always trust “free internet” using the 3G only connection is even more secure than a secured mobile hotspot.

    1. Great point, Stuart!

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