Apple sells a bewildering array of iPads these days, and within each model you also have a choice of storage and RAM allocation. Choosing between a cellular and Wi-Fi-only model is yet another variable, but does it make sense to pay for a cellular modem in your iPad? This guide will help you determine whether it’s worth it to get an iPad with cellular service.
The Cost Of Cellular
For every model of iPad that has a cellular modem, there’s generally an identical model without one. This allows us to see exactly how much this feature will cost.
While the exact numbers may fluctuate, for an iPad Air, you’re looking at around $150 to add cellular connectivity. For iPad Pro users, that figure jumps to around $200! That may sound like a lot for a cellular modem, but keep in mind that Wi-Fi-only iPads also lack a GPS module, so it’s really the combined cost of these features.
These price differences are nothing to sniff at, and you need to decide whether that feature is more useful to you than, for example, a bump in storage space or system RAM.
Wi-Fi Hotspots Abound
Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you’re surrounded by Wi-Fi hotspots. The obvious ones would be at home or at work, but even if you’re traveling, most restaurants, public spaces, and accommodations offer basic Wi-Fi.
In other words, unless you plan to use your iPad where there’s only cellular coverage, paying for cellular functionality doesn’t make much sense.
It’s Better to Use Your Phone’s Hotspot
Using an iPad’s cellular function usually means giving it its own data plan, which is a separate payment from your smartphone data plan. There are numerous exceptions to this of course. Some carriers allow multiple devices to share the same data plan across multiple SIM cards. Some iPads, such as the 11″ 1st and 2nd generation and 12.9″ 3rd and 4th generation iPad Pros, have an “eSIM,” which is built into the device.
If you can share one data plan with multiple devices, a cellular iPad may make sense for you if you need to use it away from Wi-Fi. However, all modern smartphones can create a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, which you can share with your iPad.
Since you’re likely to always have your phone with you, it makes sense to give your iPad access to your phone’s data connection. It’s usually cheaper to pay for one data plan on a per-GB basis or to have one unlimited plan where available.
On that note, some carriers have special conditions for tethering and sharing your phone’s data connection. While you may enjoy unlimited data on the phone itself, additional charges might apply. Check the terms and conditions of your data plan before you start using your phone as a hotspot!
Mi-Fi Devices Are Cheap
If you don’t have a phone or don’t want to use your phone’s hotspot feature for any reason (e.g., to preserve its battery life), there’s another option.
Sometimes referred to as “MiFi” devices, these small battery-powered routers contain a cellular modem and a Wi-Fi module. All of your Wi-Fi devices can share the cellular connection, and some models even allow you to share storage from an SD card.
More expensive MiFi devices support 5G network speeds, so you can spend the 5G premium once and have all of your mobile devices benefit. However, for most people, 4G speeds are more than enough, and that class of MiFi product will cost significantly less than the extra you would pay for a cellular iPad.
Who Should Buy a Cellular iPad?
While the discussion so far may make it seem like cellular iPads are somewhat pointless, that’s far from the case. There are numerous situations where it makes perfect sense to pay for cellular functionality, so let’s highlight the most likely ones.
First, you must get a cellular version if you want to use your iPad as a GPS device. While you can still use apps like Apple Maps on a Wi-Fi-only iPad, you’ll only have access to crude Wi-Fi positioning and no turn-by-turn navigation. These tablets make excellent GPS devices, but you must ensure you buy a suitable model!
It’s also a good idea to get a cellular model if you don’t have a smartphone. While it won’t allow you to make traditional phone calls like some Android tablets do, you can use VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) apps such as WhatsApp or FaceTime for voice calls.
Using a cellular model makes sense if you want to use a separate dedicated data plan with your iPad, and there are often great data-only options, especially if you want to use 5G speeds in the latest models.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use an Apple Watch with a cellular iPad?
Although there’s no technical reason why it can’t be done, Apple doesn’t allow its popular Apple Watch to work with any model of iPad. This may change in the future, but opting for a cellular iPad model won’t save you from also needing an iPhone for Apple Watch pairing.
Do cellular iPads have less battery life?
You may find that your cellular iPad has a slightly shorter battery life than a Wi-Fi only model, thanks to the additional cellular radio and GPS module. When you’re in areas with weak cellular signal, the iPad’s battery drain may be more severe. You always have the option of turning off mobile data and location services if you aren’t using them to reduce the battery impact of these features.
Can I add cellular or GPS features to my iPad later?
Unfortunately, the iPad you buy is the one you have to live with until you buy your next one. While you can always use your phone or a dedicated hotspot device to connect your Wi-Fi iPad to the Internet, you can’t give it GPS functionality.
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