Last spring I purchased an original iPad and had a few observations about choosing a 3G iPad over a WiFi iPad.
I thought these observations after a year of use might be helpful for you, if you're looking at the new iPad 2 (launching today) and are weighing 3G vs. WiFi networking as part of your purchase.
So, below are some thoughts about why you might choose a 3G iPad 2 or a WiFi iPad 2—maybe a few things you hadn't considered about them on the surface.
iPad 2 w/ 3G - The Pros
• GPS Unit - (WiFi doesn't) so that maps and other location services work better, even if you decide to cancel the 3G plan after the first month.
• Easy Re-Activation - Even if you eventually turn off 3G, it's easy to activate it on the spot, right on the iPad if you need connectivity. I needed this once and it was very convenient to have immediate access as needed.
• Equal AT&T and Verizon Plans - After reading the Apple Insider article on 3G options, both Verizon and AT&T plans are pretty close and let you turn them on and off at will. The article was updated to show no Verizon $35 activation fee at startup, or later on.
• Activation Really is On-Demand - I believe (based on our 3G iPad 1) we had to at least activate the first month, then we were free to cancel or activate at will afterwards. It worked really well for us—we ran AT&T 3G for our summer vacation, then turned off 3G for a few months, re-activating it a few times as needed later in the year.
• 3G is Great on the Road - Having 3G on the road was nice for maps. My wife did hotel research one stormy day while I was driving us home—3G was well worth having.
• Free WiFi on AT&T - If you go AT&T you also get access to AT&T's WiFi hotspots, which might be handy at Starbucks ands other locations where those hotspots appear.
• 250MB 3G Plans are Paltry - The basic $15 plan for 250MB data is really paltry. It didn't take long to exceed this for very modest data use—might be good only if you do email and other text-based low-data things with the iPad 2. I'd suggest the 2GB plan.
iPad 2 w/ WiFi - The Pros
• Tethering or MiFi Might be Better - One reason to go WiFi is if you have tethering with your iPhone, a MiFi (3G to WiFi device) or just never use it outside of the home or work.
• Cost Benefits to WiFi - Also, for a bit over the cost of the 16GB 3G iPad 2 ($630) you could get a 32GB WiFi iPad ($599) and a regular Smart Cover ($39) for $640. Having that extra space might be more important to you than 3G.
Our iPad 3G Experience
For us, the 3G device was a great choice. We wanted data access specifically for road trips, for mapping, surfing, video and other data uses on the road. On our big family trip last summer, we made extensive use of the Google Map feature in the iPad, which is aided by the GPS unit only found in the 3G iPad.
Having 3G on the road was also very helpful for finding hotels on the road—my wife was able to check the web for hotels nearby, call and get availability and then route us to the hotel using the large iPad screen.
As a general road trip device, the iPad was fantastic. Long battery life, access to game apps and videos for our 8 year old son was perfect to keep his attention for our 10 hour trip east and back. Especially key was battery life—10 hours made it easy to let us run the iPad without any concern about the thing going dead on us.
I hope these observations are helpful if you're pondering an iPad 2 purchase.
If you have other observations to add, please leave a comment so this article can become a resource for others.