Home How-To How to choose between WiFi and Cellular Data Service for iPad

How to choose between WiFi and Cellular Data Service for iPad

Since the very first generation of the iPad, Apple has always offered two different connectivity options: the WiFi-only iPad which is more affordable, and the more expensive WiFi+Cellular iPad.

So, which one is the right choice for you? Are price and cellular connection the only major differences? Below, we will discuss all you need to know about them and how you should make your choice between the two iPad options.

WiFi iPad VS WiFi+Cellular iPad: Key differences

The core difference is fairly obvious: with a WiFi-only iPad, you can only access the internet when there is a WiFi network available which you can connect to. On the other hand, the WiFi+cellular iPad has a SIM card like a smartphone and can connect to the cellular data network.

So, there are three key factors to consider when choosing between a 4G iPad and WiFi-only iPad:

  1. Cellular data connectivity: before anything else, remember that both iPhones and Android phones do offer the option to tether the internet connection to a WiFi-only iPad. However, the iPad with cellular data can connect to the network carrier right away, so it’s more practical and won’t cause the usual issues with tethering like your phone running hot or battery consumption. In general, if you often use your iPad in areas without WiFi (including traveling), then a 4G iPad might be the better option.
  2. GPS: this is also a very important factor to consider, even if you have the option to tether your smartphone’s connection. The WiFi iPad utilizes a technology called trilateration or WiFi positioning system to determine the location of your iPad, while a cellular iPad has a dedicated A-GPS chip allowing a more accurate triangulation. Also, if you lose a WiFi iPad in areas without WiFi, you can’t use the Find My iPad function properly.
  3. Affordability: a deciding factor for many people. The WiFi+cellular iPad obviously costs more than a WiFi iPad. Also, the cellular data plan would also translate into an additional monthly cost.

When You Should Choose a WiFi-Only iPad

As discussed, you can only connect to the internet with a WiFi-only iPad when there’s WiFi access. It doesn’t have the components that allow cellular data reception, and we cannot upgrade the WiFi-only iPad into a WiFi+cellular iPad by any means.

The main, if not the only advantage of the WiFi-only iPad is its price tag. In general, a WiFi-only iPad is $130 cheaper than a comparable cellular iPad with similar storage. Also, we’d have to take account of the monthly fee for the data plan.

So, our recommendation is to reverse your thoughts: is paying the extra money justified based on your needs? Here are some considerations in answering this question:

  1. You are mainly going to use the iPad where there’s WiFi (at the home, office, school, etc.)
  2. You are mainly going to use the iPad as a reader (where you read ebooks and documents offline)
  3. You are going to download media and use your iPad as a media player offline
  4. You don’t really use the iPad often (you have a laptop, for example)
  5. You are going to use apps that don’t really require internet access (offline games, writing/typing, drawing, music-making, etc.)

When You Should Choose a WiFi+Cellular iPad

To use the cellular capability of the iPad, you’d need a cellular data service which will generally feature a monthly data limit. The higher the available data limit, the more expensive your monthly fee.

So, again, the main consideration here is whether the price difference of the WiFi+Cellular iPad and the monthly fee of your cellular data plan would be justified based on your needs, and here are some of the important considerations:

  1. Whether you’d like to use your iPad in areas without WiFi including while traveling
  2. You’re going to use the iPad in areas where there is cellular coverage but no WiFi
  3. You are going to use your iPad as a personal hotspot to provide WiFi signal to other devices like your laptop and even your phone
  4. You need GPS capabilities when traveling. As discussed, a WiFi-only iPad has inferior GPS capabilities
  5. You are going to use apps that require internet access (online gaming, GPS navigation, online content production apps, etc. )
  6. You like to watch YouTube, listen to Spotify, and access your media online
  7. You often use Facetime, Zoom or other similar apps on the go

Conclusion: Which iPad Should You Buy?

As we have discussed, the main considerations when choosing between a WiFi-only iPad and the 4G iPad is: whether the extra money is worth it and whether you are willing to pay the extra monthly fee on the cellular bill.

Newer cellular data iPads feature integrated Apple SIM or eSIM, which allows us to switch between different carriers without swapping out the SIM card. This is useful if you like to travel abroad, so you don’t have to switch to different prepaid cards when you move between countries. Truphone, for example, offers data plans for iPad that you can use in 48 different countries.

If you are often on the road and away from WiFi, then your cellular iPad might be worth the additional cost. Remember that you can turn off the cellular data on your WiFi+cellular iPad, so in the months where you are not going to use cellular data, you can simply use WiFi.

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A casual guy with no definite plans for the day, he enjoys life to the fullest. A tech geek and coder, he also likes to hack apart hardware. He has a big passion for Linux, open source, gaming and blogging. He believes that the world is an awesome place and we're here to enjoy it! He's currently the youngest member of the team. You can contact him at joshua@pc-tablet.com.