My Big Question: iPad 3G or Verizon MiFi?

Because I hail from Massachusetts, where our politicians are famous for being against something before they are for it, I’ll just state this: I was dead set against another data plan for wireless Internet before I was for it. I pay $70 a month for my Edge iPhone contract. Adding in any sort of additional data plan would jump my “out of house” Internet access costs to over $100/month.

However, as I look to use an iPad to supplement my iPhone usage — or have a device that does sit between an iPhone and my MacBook Pro — I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought. I’m not a heavy traveller. Most of my “travel” time is spent on the commuter rail, and the MBTA has at least one or two Wi-Fi-equipped coaches per train. The service isn’t great — Edge access on my iPhone is faster — but it’s handy if I need to get my laptop online. Due to security reasons, I can’t get a device on the wireless network at work, so I would have to hope that if I needed to get a file onto the iPad, the rumored mounting solution would work.

So, assuming I always have my iPhone with me, the odds are very good I’ll not be without Internet access. The problem, though, is the more I check my e-mail, read blogs, Twitter, watch a video, etc. on the iPhone, I’m running the battery down and can’t use it as a phone. This is problematic for emergency uses, and a hassle when you get home and your wife asks, “Did you get my voice mail about picking something up for me?” As a result, I have a support line of charging cables (one by the bed, one in my home office, one in my work office, two in my bag, one in my truck) because the iPhone battery life is so abysmal.

Which gets me to thinking: if the iPad can handle that and the battery dies down, I’m not crap out of luck. I can wait until I get home, to the office etc. to charge it. Plus, there’s enough times during the year I want a device larger than an iPhone to get online with: My dad and I take road trips, and I’d like to leave my MacBook at home and not worry about getting online if the hotel doesn’t have free Wi-Fi. A month’s worth of iPad data usage is roughly 2-3 nights of paid Wi-Fi in a hotel. So, I came around to the idea that additional “always on” Internet isn’t a bad thing. Once  I had that paradigm shift, I started debating the idea of a Verizon MiFi vs. the iPad 3G.

The MiFi is an interesting device. It’s about the same size as a credit card and can get up to five devices online, Without a two-year contract it’s $269 and then $60 a month. With a two-year contact, it’s $99 and $60/month. The iPad 3G is $130 more, and no-contract plans range from $15 (for an almost useless amount of data) to $30 for what they claim is unlimited.

On the surface, the 3G seems like a better economic model. If financial hardships befall me, I can cancel the 3G plan and suffer like the rest of the great unwashed masses, or, if I don’t use it much, I can just activate it when I need to. It’s very flexible.

Where the MiFi starts to shine is connecting more than one device , and each of those devices thinks it’s on a Wi-Fi network. This is very key when you think of the restrictions Apple has placed on the iTunes store. Want do download an album that’s over 20MB? You can’t. Also, apps that simply don’t work on 3G (like placing Skype Calls) now do. The extra frosting is it’s not on AT&T (s att), so I’m doubly covered for data access.

In the end, I’m going to just get the 3G iPad. It’s cheaper with no contract, and if I really have to, I can use it as a bridge to getting data to and from my MacBook — I can’t tether, but if needed I can exchange Word files via sync. It’s also an all-in-one device; I won’t have to worry about extra charging cables or another battery life. Were I a more heavy traveller, carrying all three devices with me, I would be giving the MiFi serious thought. As an aside, for the rare times I need to get my MacBook online, I might look at the Virgin Broadband2go. It’s only $100, and pay-as-you-go prices range from $10-50.

How about you? Are you getting the iPad 3G, or looking into a device like the MiFi?

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