Blog Post

Why You Want to Travel Abroad With a Smartphone, Not an iPad

If you’re an AT&T (s t) customer looking to take a trip outside the U.S., would you take along a smartphone or an iPad 3G (s aapl) model for your Internet activities? On the face of it, price doesn’t seem to be a determining factor — international data plans cost the same as what AT&T charges for 3G smartphones while abroad. It’s more likely a question of which device will gobble up more bandwidth — if so, plan to leave the iPad 3G at home.

Bytemobile recently tested the Apple iPad to see how its data consumption compares to that of the iPhone. The same web and software activities were run on both devices and overall, the iPad used 2.5 times more data than the iPhone. The USA Today application offered the most striking difference during Bytemobile’s tests — using the software to read news on the iPad required 6.3 times more data throughput, likely due to higher-resolution pictures and other multimedia supplements, which provide a more immersive experience.

Of course, such an experience is the primary benefit of the iPad with its touch-friendly interface and 9.7-inch display. Indeed, when here at home, I opt to use my iPad in lieu of my smartphone because the experience is so much better. And with no difference for international data plans between smartphones and iPads, traveling consumers could find themselves topping off the data plan on the more enjoyable iPad and then wondering why half an hour’s worth of of YouTube videos cost them $200 to watch.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

9 Responses to “Why You Want to Travel Abroad With a Smartphone, Not an iPad”

  1. Ted T.

    The iPhone is locked, the iPadis unlocked. The choice is obvious.

    And I don’t think micro-Sims will be hard to find — they were already in use overseas before the iPad. Lastly regular and micro-Sims are connector compatible. You can literally take a pair of scissors to a regular and cut it down to micro.

    Also considering how readily WiFi is available many places, leaving your iPad behind would be a monumentally stupid move.

  2. Since the iPad is unlocked you can get a local prepaid sim card plan. No need to pay for AT&T’s international roaming plans. I’ve used my iPhone with their international roaming plans, and it’s worth it, but silly if you have a cheaper option.

  3. I’ve got something like 4 million air miles under my belt, so I guess I’m qualified to comment on this.

    If you’re traveling overseas with an iPad, the first choice is to use WiFi wherever available. I tend to stay in decent hotels, often US chains (for frequent flyer points), so WiFi is often all I need. If you need more, I’d strongly suggest buying a micro-SIM locally. The cost will be a tiny fraction of what you’d pay AT&T for roaming.

    That, of course, assumes that the iPad suits your needs and you don’t need a laptop. For me, it will – since I put LogMeIn on my home computer, I can now access all my files anywhere in the world where I have Internet access. The iPad therefore gives me access to all of my computer work, a dozen eBooks, a couple dozen movies, and thousands of songs – in a 1.5 pound package. My iPhone will do most of that, but I can’t deal with the tiny screen for more than a quick email or web search. The laptop will still get used (and the iPad left at home) only if I need full blown computer power for content creation, major work at a customer site, and so on.

  4. Glenn Fleishman

    You’re missing something here. The iPad doesn’t automatically roam onto other networks. It uses prepaid, not postpaid service. You can purchase a 30-day chunk of data from $20 for 20 MB up to $200 for 200 MB. And that’s it. If you take an iPad into another market, it will not work unless you swap out its microSIM for a prepaid microSIM from another carrier (which only exist in limited markets at the moment).

    • I agree with you on the prepaid bits, Glenn, but AT&T has a web page devoted to information on using the iPad 3G outside of the U.S.

      The first step it lists is: “Identify the AT&T roaming partners for your destination country by visiting”

      I don’t see any mention of microSIM swapping — if that were the case, why would AT&T even offer an international 3G plan for the iPad?

      • I am currently testing the iPad 3G in Jamaica on Claro’s network and it was working great after doing SIM swap (they don’t have microSIMs available publicly as yet and no pricing has been announced by them either).

        Clearly SIM Swapping will work if you can buy a SIM or microSIM plus a data plan for the time the person will be in the country.

        Personally I see that as a hassle so I will more likely look for wi-fi hotspots before I fly or leave my iPad (as much as I don’t want to do that)

  5. You are going to need a laptop when you travel abroad. If you can carry a laptop, iPhone and iPad then sure you will have that great internet experience on iPad :). If it is too much to carry three devices ( not to talk about charging and syncing them) then I guess a laptop and iPhone will do just fine. iPhone can do almost everything the iPad does.