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

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


Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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

    From what I have seen, there appears to be no long term contract requirement for tablets at either ATT or Verizon. Just a 30 day prepaid or postpaid option. Great for travellers to the US who dont have a US cell phone with a data plan. Or anyone who is taking a trip. Cheaper than hotel connection by a long way. Nicer hotels charge for data access. Pays for itself in 3 days.
    • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

      @ramns That's what I've been seeing too. 2 year contracts are for Phone plans. Tablets seem to be whenever you want. Going on a trip next month? Buy a month of 3g data.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    I'd say a more sensible option would be to tether to an existing smartphone that offers 4G connectivity. But that again hits on yet another issue in the US - data caps. 5GB is useless for daily use beyond email or blogging, so you really need to look for an unlimited plan.

    I would never purchase a notebook or slate device with 3G/4G built-in, simply because it locks down my data access to that device. I already have a voice-only smartphone, so getting data for it is best done with a 4G mobile hotspot - the same hotspot that also works with slates, notebooks and netbooks. Sure, it means carrying another device around in a pocket, but the ability to connect any device for me outweighs that.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    At this point, I have no reason for a 3g/4g contract. Essentially I am using the tablet (Galaxy Tab 10.1) as a laptop replacement. I didn't have a wireless broadband contract for that either. I can tether with my phone, when needed. But in most instances, wifi signal is available where and when I use the tablet.
    • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

      @ralphjb@... You have to sign contracts with Android tablets? with Ipad I can sign up and cancel as needed...
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    I used to go the MiFi route but now with the new data share plans you get a SIM in every device (tablet, laptop, cellphone) and share the data as needed. Always connected and relatively cheap! (Don't get me started on bandwidth caps though)
  • I like 3G

    I'm happy with 3g on my iPad 2, it's there if I need it but I use WIFI most of the time. The nice thing is I don't have to wait for ATT to send me iOS updates I get them straight from Apple.
  • 2 items missing in this post:

    1. While data plans are required for only the tiny minority of 3/4G tablets sold, why not mention that they are not for the vast majority?<br><br>2. I bought my iPad2 with Verizon 3G but have never activated it. Why did I buy this version? To get the GPS. Using Google Maps while exploring the country is much more enjoyable on a 10" device. I tether to my AT&T iPhone for data.<br><br>2.5. Since my iPad is on a different carrier than my iPhone, it acts as a nice backup when I don't have an AT&T signal.
    • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

      @grayforge -- That's a great idea having the tablet be on a different provider than your smart phone. That is something to consider for the trips out of your normal coverage areas.
  • buy an unlocked Mi-Fi

    I did this before taking my Verizon smartphone with me to Europe. [by the way, data costs a lot less in Europe than in the U.S.] I had all non-phone uses everywhere I went - and most phone uses via Skype.<br><br>What I have found is that while a Mi-Fi is a bit more hassle than having built-in 3G/4G, I can otherwise have all the mentioned advantages of Wi-Fi only devices AND 3G mobility.<br><br>AT&T tried to give me a hassle about a SIM for my unlocked Mi-Fi when I got back to the U.S.; it took reminding them that the FCC doesn't give them much choice. My FCC approved unlocked Mi-Fi cost about a third of one sold by the carriers and works just as well.<br><br>Also, back in the U.S., I can pay Verizon extra to turn my smartphone into a Mi-Fi. There are disadvantages, but it is yet another way to avoid buying devices with built-in 3G/4G.
    Jim Johnson
  • BYO 3G/4G?

    Is it possible to bring your own 3g or 4g? I have a USB 3G unit I use on my laptop. Could it also be used on any of the current tablets to agument the WiFi capability? I pay a flat fee for unlimited access and if I could use one 3g unit with both laptop and tablet, that would be a very workable solution for me.
    Trep Ford
    • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

      @Trep Ford No, tablets won't work with USB modems, even if they have a slot. No s/w drivers.
    • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

      @Trep Ford you could, but it would require a mobile broadband router to plug the 3G modem into.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    Too many risks getting stuck with a stupid App locked in the tablet with a 3G/4G tablet.

    Go Wi-Fi and get a Mi-Fi or a Android phone with tethering.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    A device I can't buy without getting a contract, I'm not buying. As simple as that.

    I don't really know what kind of logic cell phone/tablet manufacturers apply to get to the conclusion that makes vendor lock-in to a third party somehow intelligent. I guess they get a portion of the contract fees from the ISP/phone company, but really, they'd do better to just sell hardware. At least my entire social circle is devoid of people who would think a two year contract for a device that's going to be obsolete in a year is somehow a good idea. Especially when you factor in that ridiculous price increase. Kinda like getting a loan for a car, sure, you get a car now, but you end up paying 150% (or more) of the car's price, and unless that car makes you money only if you get it right now, that's $10000 (or more) dollars you paid for essentially absolutely nothing. Same with tablets/phones, except phones and tablets never make you money, quite the opposite with all the apps and data fees.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    I don't see the point of 3g/4g tablets, if your are on a good unlimited data plan with your mobile service provider there is bound to be a free app or paid for app (which will still always be a minute fraction of the cost of a new data plan) that you can get for your mobile phone that will allow you to share its internet with your tablet. And how many of us always carry our mobiles with us.
  • RE: Like 3G/4G with that Android tablet? No thanks

    If my smartphone can have both wifi and 3g (and it does), it makes little sense to me that a device with 4 times the board space can't. It shouldn't be a choice frankly. You should be able to do all of the following:

    - replace your laptop
    - connect your favorite USB cell modem
    - use the tablet as your primary phone (bluetooth headsets don't require an even remotely phone-ish shape)
    - connect to the internet when (as is the case the vast majority of the time) there is no available wifi

    That the manufacturers and the cellular providers have forced us to make false choices like wifi or 3g/4g is something we, as consumers, should be shouting louder about.
  • unlocked and 3G-4G

    I am looking for a tablet with wi-fi and a SIM card slot because I need when I go to Europe. I am getting lost in my research because I find more and more UNLOCKED tablet BUT w/o SIM slot or at least they do not specifically say that the slot is present. If the unlocked tablet does not have a SIM slot I cannot use it in 3G or 4G, so what's the point to unlock it? Just to use wi-fi? I am thinking to buy then one in Europe where these info are more reliable. Am i correct in my analysis? Thanks for any help you can provide. Carlo