Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

Summary:There are cost benefits for buyers of tablets without 3G/4G connectivity, but there's another reason that may be even more important to consumers.

A tablet with no connection to the web is very limited in how useful it can be. Just ask a traveler on a flight without Wi-Fi if you don't believe that. That is why tablets typically come in two varieties: Wi-Fi only and 3G or 4G. The former is usually less expensive and the latter can get online virtually anywhere using either mobile broadband or Wi-Fi. Getting an Android tablet with 3G or 4G sounds like the best move for a consumer, but in my experience that is not always the way to go.

Android tablets with only Wi-Fi connectivity can be purchased either online or in big-box retailers. They require no contract with a phone carrier so once you buy one there are usually no more out-of-pocket expenses involved in using the tablet. They can be used anywhere an open hotspot can be found.

A 3G/4G tablet on the other hand usually means a two-year contract with a mobile provider, and that carries a monthly fee. These tablets can easily cost over $1,000 over the life of the contract, without factoring in the purchase of the tablet. They can get online almost everywhere, but not without that hefty data fee.

The cost difference is a solid reason for going with a Wi-Fi tablet, but for me it is not the main reason to pass on the 3G/4G tablet. I own both types of tablets running Honeycomb and Gingerbread, and in the Android world the Wi-Fi models get system updates far earlier than the carrier supported devices. The involvement of the network in the Android OS update process adds time, in most cases a lot of time, and that means customers get new software versions long after owners of the same tablet with Wi-Fi only gets them. I recently got the upgrade to Gingerbread on my Sprint Galaxy Tab with 3G, long after Samsung had released the upgrade for Wi-Fi models. Owners of Tabs with other carriers are still waiting for the same upgrade, which is a significant update.

Some customers buy a tablet and don't care if or when it gets updated. If you're one of those then you should get one with 3G/4G connectivity if that is important to you. If it is not a big issue for you, then you'll find that your Wi-Fi only tablet will likely get all system updates before owners in the other camp get them. That may be reason enough to go Wi-Fi.

This is only one decision that must be made by prospective tablet buyers. Remember that everyone's needs are different when it comes to these slates. There are even some folks that should stay away from tablets like comedian Steven Wright.

A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths. -- Steven Wright

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Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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