The changing laptop landscape: Can I have LTE with that?

The changing laptop landscape: Can I have LTE with that?

Summary: The mobile world is changing due to the spread of fast LTE to populated areas. The utility provided by an 'everywhere' connection has changed my purchase preferences.

TOPICS: Mobility, 4G, iPad, Tablets

I embraced long-term evolution (LTE) as soon as it began rolling out a few years ago. Having a connection in unexpected places that was as fast as that in my office was liberating. I came to depend on LTE heavily in my daily work outings and I now find it difficult to do without it.

LTE speed
(Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick)

For years, I was firmly in the "I don't need the cost of integrated 4G/LTE in my laptops" camp. I used MiFi hotspots at first, and then my phone as a hotspot when LTE became the standard. I was happy having wi-fi only in my laptops so they wouldn't be tied down to a carrier.

Then the iPad came along with integrated LTE and I picked one up. I figured it wouldn't use that much data, so it wouldn't be too expensive having its own data charge. Being able to add it to my bundled data-sharing plan was a plus. I paid for a bucket of data and used it on my phone and my iPad.

For a while, I have been using my iPad for work, along with one keyboard or another. The tablet/keyboard combination is a decent solution for my work. Using the iPad this way quickly demonstrated how convenient and valuable the integrated LTE on the tablet is for working anywhere.

My remote work shows me that wi-fi is anything but ubiquitous. I am still surprised at how many establishments do not offer free wi-fi for patrons. Even more common than the disconnected business is the one with poor connectivity. Often, when I work remotely, I either find no wi-fi available or networks so bad that connectivity is terrible.

I estimate I use my LTE almost half the time when working remotely as a result of the lousy wi-fi situation. The fact is my solid LTE bandwidth is usually far faster than that of most public hotspots. I can work with speed without messing around with stuttering networks.

I tend to rotate among several different laptops as part of my job. Most of those are wi-fi only, since 4G is not widely available on the laptop side of things. When I carry a laptop without LTE on work trips, I throw the iPad mini with LTE into a pocket on the bag for use as a mobile hotspot. This works fine, but it is not as convenient as a laptop with its own LTE connectivity would be.

This became crystal clear when Google sent the Chromebook Pixel for me to test. It is the LTE model, giving it fast connectivity everywhere. I discovered how nice it is to take the laptop out of the bag and get connected without concern about the local network or worry about getting a mobile hotspot going.

Having integrated LTE is so darn convenient that even though I have several very nice laptops to throw in the bag, I find that I am more often than not taking the iPad or Chromebook Pixel. This is largely due to the integrated LTE both devices have that makes my work easier. When I carry one of these, I don't even think about finding wi-fi or pulling a second gadget out of the bag for use as a mobile hotspot.

I find it liberating to not have to plan my outings around the availability of good wi-fi. I like to work in stimulating places, and having LTE onboard is the best way to do so.

I just bought the HP Envy x2 and I really like it as both a laptop and a tablet. Unfortunately, the lack of LTE means it often requires me to turn on the mobile hotspot using one of my gadgets with the capability. That's not a big deal, but it's big enough to affect whether I throw it in the gear bag. Having LTE is better than not having it, and given a choice, I will more frequently go for integrated LTE.

Adding a laptop to my shared data plan only adds a few dollars a month. I'm already paying for a big bucket of data and it makes sense to have a laptop that taps into what I'm paying for. My next laptop purchase will almost certainly take integrated LTE into consideration. If I can find one.

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Topics: Mobility, 4G, iPad, Tablets

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  • I do not understand why you want LTE enabled devices

    Why pay extra for LTE on a device? You always have your phone, so why not turn on the wifi tethering and use your phone data plan? On my Android phone, it's two presses to enable. Far cheaper in the long run to tether, rather than pay for the device and extra data plan.
    • Cost?

      if your carrier detects your tethering (and it varies) it's going to cost you. Some of the detection schemes are easy to get around. I'm not sure that's the case with all carriers.
  • That's probably because...

    ...James lives in the US, where tethering is an extra cost. Outside of the US however, I would agree with you. Why pay extra for the feature, when a hotspot enabled smartphone would do the trick.
    • You are correct

      Plus I don't like having my phone's battery drained by using it as a hotspot. I like keeping it free for phone stuff. That's just me.
      • What kind of "work" do you do that ipad and chromebooks "work" 4u

        I read reviews like this and wonder what kind of work you do remotely, as these devices do not run most hardcore work related productivity applications. If all you do is browse and type stories you could just use a phablet or smart phone for pete's sake!
        • Typing on a cell phone or tablet, no thanks

          Typing on a tablet is bad enough, but using a phablet or phone to do a story isn't possible for me. Perhaps it is because my hands are a bit big, or that I have been touch typing for over 50 years, but doing anything more than a few sentences is a burden for me. I used a netbook the other day for the first time, and it was so much better than any tablet I have used that I actually considered getting one or a chromebook. I type on my laptop several hours a day and anything other than a real keyboard is next to useless.
          • He said he uses wireless keyboard

            for ipad so that same keyboard can be used for other devices
      • my take too

        I would prefer to not run two devices at the same time, and deplete two batteries -- just to have the hotspot functionality. Relative to the cost of the device, data plan and lost productivity -- the cost of having integrated cellular (LTE or 3G) is negligible. Wifi hotspots are truly awful and if you travel frequently, you will find some countries, where finding a free hotspot is very, very challenging -- not to say how bad the connectivity is.

        About the only trouble is, that not all carriers agree to shared data plans and that many manufacturers still refuse to make cellular enabled devices. Perhaps, because unlike wifi only devices, they are required to homologate these in each and every country.
  • SIM card

    James- can you weigh in on your experience with SIM cards? If I were traveling more than 3 days a week, every week, to places with no wifi I could justify paying for an extra SIM card every month. but if you're not a constant traveler it seems an insane waste of money for something you're hardly using. and as far as I know, most carriers will not allow non-phone devices to run off your phone's SIM card for LTE. do you pay for 2 data plans and SIM cards, or do you have some sort of plan that lets you swap your SIM between your phone and laptop?
    • Shared data plan

      I pay for my phone's unlimited voice and text and then a bucket of data (10GB) that is shared between the phone, iPad, iPad mini, etc.
      • contract

        I assume you have to be on a contract for that kind of setup? I've never heard of a carrier offering such a thing for prepaid (and I can't understand anyone not going prepaid. contracts are there to lock you in to get overcharged, not just to stop you from moving to a different carrier).
  • I don't understand the problem

    with having a mobile hotspot tucked away in a shirt pocket. That's how I've always worked, and keeping notebook and mobile hotspot separated meant I could use whatever notebook I wanted. Locking LTE to your notebook is a recipe for headaches when hardware/software goes down, limits your choice of devices/performance, and makes upgrades a PITA. Unless you're working for a company that has a sweetheart wireless contract, I'd stay away from built-in LTE.
  • Flip-flopper

    James - as I recall you're flip-flopping on your approach here. Thought you were a proponent of the mifi type device, rather than integrated LTE - I'm guessing one big motivator here was the recent change of all the carriers to shared data plans, enabling the addition and removal of LTE devices on an ad hoc basis? However, that doesn't change the added cost of the device with LTE in it vs. wifi only, so I think you're saying the convenience of integrated LTE is now worth the cost (of the hardware).
  • I couldn't agree more!

    Dear James, I must say I too wish that all laptops came with the option of adding LTE/4G. At least keep a slot free on the mainboard so those of us who dare open a laptop could add an LTE controller and SIM card.

    Do you happen to know some lightweight laptops that have DVD drive AND LTE(/4G)?
    Best regards, Mikkel