Tech review: 3G iPad makes you appreciate Wi-Fi

May 27, 2010 By Victor Godinez
The iPad 3G

I've heard frequently from people who bought the original Wi-Fi-only iPad about how they planned to upgrade to the iPad 3G as soon as possible.

After spending a couple weeks with an 3G, though, I don't think the upgrade will be worth the price to everyone.

While 3G connectivity is great for checking e-mail or browsing the Web, watching streaming video on the iPad over a cell connection is slow, frustrating and unsatisfying.

And making phone calls over the Internet on the iPad is nearly impossible at the moment.

The iPad 3G is almost identical to the Wi-Fi-only model.

The differences: Instead of an all-aluminum enclosure, there's a black plastic strip along the top to allow 3G reception, and the 3G model weighs 1.6 pounds; the Wi-Fi model, 1.5 pounds.

DATA DECISIONS

The machine comes with a mini , just like a , to connect to AT&T's network.

There's no contract; you pay month to month. It's $14.99 a month for 250 megabytes of data downloads or $29.99 for unlimited downloads.

I'd suggest starting with the 250-meg offer and then upgrading as needed, since 250 megs is more data than you might realize.

Plus, you'll generally want to to faster Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, and that will reduce the amount of data you'd otherwise download over 3G.

After spending some time with the iPad 3G, I really appreciated Wi-Fi. The problem: 3G simply can't do all the media streaming for which the iPad is designed.

I loaded ABC's video player and the Netflix streaming app on my test unit, switched off Wi-Fi and tried to watch some shows and movies through those two apps, as well as through the built-in YouTube app.

Depending on 3G signal strength, video quality ranged from merely a bit worse than Wi-Fi to shockingly bad.

Occasionally, the ABC player couldn't even load the main menu, much less the actual videos.

And when videos finally started to play after a few minutes of loading and buffering, the image was a smeared, low-resolution mess with frame rates in the single digits.

A few minutes of choppy playback generally led to a somewhat improved picture quality.

But watching the same video side-by-side over Wi-Fi on another iPad was simply depressing. I've posted some screen grabs from the two videos on our technology blog (techblog.dallasnews.com), and the differences are obvious.

And not only was the video quality better, but the loading times were much faster over Wi-Fi -- seconds compared to minutes.

I don't think this is AT&T's fault. I suspect any 3G network in existence would choke trying to provide sharp, smooth video on such a large screen.

Streaming video to a tablet is really a task for the next-generation 4G networks, which all the major carriers will be lighting up this year and next.

KEEP YOUR PHONE

I was also disappointed by the current crop of 3G VoIP apps available for the iPad.

Skype doesn't yet support 3G calls (only Wi-Fi), and I couldn't get Fring, another free VoIP app that claims to offer 3G support, to dial.

I was finally able to achieve modest success with the free VoIP app Whistle. But it took several tries to get a connection, and my one completed call dropped after about 10 seconds.

Needless to say, the iPad is not yet a replacement for your iPhone.

However, being able to surf the Web and check e-mail from anywhere is truly a killer app for the 3G iPad, and it makes this much more of a business device for travelers who don't want to have to rely on Wi-Fi for quickly checking messages or news headlines.

If that's what you want out of your iPad 3G -- rather than a way to watch episodes of House on your bus ride to work -- then this is indeed a worthy upgrade.

Otherwise, wait for next year's iPad 4G.

IPAD 3G

Pros: As an e-mail and Web machine, the iPad 3G is superb. And pricing for 3G data plans is reasonable and flexible, a solid move from AT&T.

Cons: Streaming video is still much better suited to Wi-Fi, though, so don't expect your iPad 3G to become a mobile multimedia powerhouse.

Bottom line: The iPad 3G isn't the slam dunk upgrade you might have hoped for. But for some users, the extra cost will be well worth it.

Explore further: Review: Moto 360 smartwatch is no perfect circle

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User comments : 6

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ringoes_man
1.5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2010
From what I've read, the iPAD is more hype than substance.

Comments from early users (reporters) include: underwhelming; No multitasking; No Adobe Flash; No camera or iChat capabilities; No HDMI port; 4:3 aspect ratio (not HD-widescreen); on AT&T's spotty 3G service; too many adapters (spaghetti wiring).

From those more compassionate:

"it's too early to draw any conclusions."

"If I didn't own a Kindle or an iPod touch, the decision to buy an iPad would be an easy one. But I own both, and even if I only owned one of them, it would be a tough decision."

Even Wozniak commented on the possible future of the iPad but lamented its productivity capabilities -- specifically its inability to edit movies or fiddle with music.

For the full story see PCWORLD Apple iPad Reviews: The Critics Weigh In, by Brennon Slattery, Jan 28, 2010 2:09 pm

Frankly aside from the bigger screen, my MOTOROLA Droid is far better and it fits in my pocket.

Temple
4 / 5 (4) May 28, 2010
From what I've read, surveys have shown that the iPad has a 91% user satisfaction level.

When demand is outpacing supply and 91% of consumers are pleased with their purchase, then it doesn't matter what features or ports or capabilities 'should' be in the product.

Lots of people are buying the iPad for what it is without all those other features and they are quite happy after doing so.

That the device is not something that *you* want to buy, does not make others' enjoyment or desire for that device "more hype than substance".
CreepyD
1 / 5 (1) May 28, 2010
They may be satisfied, but they also may not realise there are better alternatives.
I know people who bought one without ever reading about what it can do.. Assuming it will be great because it's by Apple.
Hats off to Apple for achieving kind kind of status.
Personally I will stick to a laptop + Droid combo.
Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (48) May 28, 2010
The notion that those who buy the iPad may not be aware of alternatives is presumptuous, and arbitrary. I build my own PC systems and have worked as a programmer for years, and yet I bought an iPad. I suspect most who buy these things are tech geeks who like gagets. The iPad is not a must have item. It is a very nice interface for media, email, and the Internet. Having to boot-up a OS to do these simple tasks is already old fashioned.
Mayday
not rated yet May 31, 2010
It's easy to see from the reviews that very few reviewers have spent much time with the device. I find it a boon to my productivity. And my laptop is collecting dust. Glass typing is truly awesome and effortless. And the right there instant on functionality is great.

I look forward to the promise of even more apps. And I welcome all the competition coming out with new tablet versions. The convergence of solutions in the next 2-3 years will be fantastic.

But where are the prototype double-glass laptops? It seems such an obvious next step. Big multi-screen, multi-touch-sizable windows, sizable keyboards, flexible-function keyboards. All with long battery life and instant on! Wow! Sign me up. In the meantime, I'm doing 90% of my "computing" on the iPad.
droid
not rated yet May 31, 2010
@noumenon: Though you may build your own systems and work as a programmer, the presumption that you are the poster-boy for apple users is, quite frankly, presumptuous.

The fact is that apple has built their success on IMAGE rather than quality or function. It is STYLISH for little girls who know nothing about computers to have the latest apple-gadget, despite really having no use for it or knowing what alternatives there are.

And believe it or not, apple does an ENORMOUS about of marketing. Take somebody who has no idea about the technology and show them one of these apple tablets right beside, say, an ASUS T91 convertible netbook/tablet which they've never heard of, they'll pick the one they've seen on TV! And that is DESPITE the fact that the T91 is superior in EVERY WAY, starting from the fact that it is convertible, and finishing at the fact that it has an x86 CPU and can run a REAL OPERATING SYSTEM rather than terrible excuse for proprietary firmware.