Why I decided against integrated 3G

I've just bought a new laptop, as my four-year-old Dell Inspiron 6400 is getting rather long in the tooth and I wanted something powerful yet portable. I settled on a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E420s, and am hopeful it will be delivered next week.

I've just bought a new laptop, as my four-year-old Dell Inspiron 6400 is getting rather long in the tooth and I wanted something powerful yet portable. I settled on a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E420s, and am hopeful it will be delivered next week.

Now, I'm the type of person who researches anything pricey that needs buying for months and months, to make sure I get the right thing. In this case, I eventually narrowed it down to two contenders: the Thinkpad and the Sony Vaio SB. Lenovo presented me with a conundrum, in that I could get the E420s with integrated 3G broadband or with discrete graphics (a 2GB variant of the AMD Radeon HD 6300M GPU), but not with both. At a slightly higher price, the Vaio would have come with both 'Everywair' 3G and a 1GB HD 6300M.

I chose the E420s after agonising deliberations (apologies to my colleagues and loved ones, by the way: it won't happen again until the next laptop), and did so partly based on price, partly on perceived build and keyboard quality, but also because I decided I didn't need integrated 3G after all.

Right now, I'm typing this on Nokia's only netbook, the Booklet 3G. As the name suggests, a SIM slot is present. I have used it many, many times, and have always been grateful to have connectivity wherever I go. However, times have changed.

The case against integrated 3G, particularly for business users, used to go like this: Wi-Fi was becoming ever more ubiquitous, and mobile broadband standards were themselves rapidly evolving — plain old 3G was giving way to HSPA, which was in turn superseded by HSPA+ — in a way that meant a laptop with integrated broadband could soon find itself relatively slow on the upload, compared to a rival sporting the latest dongle.

I don't think that latter concern really applies anymore, at least in the UK. The next jump is to '4G' LTE, and that's not going to happen here for the next few years. In other words, what you get now won't be obselete until close to the time you get your next laptop. The Wi-Fi argument, on the other hand, still holds.

But the real reason I decided against paying more for 3G was my smartphone (well, smartphones — I do write about these things for a living). It is now commonplace to find such devices offering wireless tethering, and this functionality is surprisingly easy on the smartphone's battery. Best of all, it means using the same mobile broadband contract, which means it works out significantly cheaper.

Understandably, many operators don't like tethering, as it means higher-volume data usage and also makes the customer less likely to buy a second contract. However, there are operators such as 3 that have unlimited data caps, making the whole deal something of a no-brainer.

In the event, I expect most of my wireless connectivity to come from various Wi-Fi hotspots, but it's nice to know mobile broadband is there if I need it. The other neat thing about going the wireless-tethering route is that the connectivity comes to the end device in the form of Wi-Fi — I don't own a Kindle or a tablet, but if I did, this would definitely steer me towards the Wi-Fi-only version of such a device.

One contract, one mobile broadband connection, and lots of lovely Wi-Fi. I expect that to do me just fine — here's hoping.

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