Wi-Fi is great, but you must be near a hotspot to use it. If your tablet can connect to 4G cellular wireless networks, though, you can have high-speed Internet access wherever you go.
This can be accomplished by getting a tablet that has LTE capabilities built in, or with an external accessory. Each of these options has their strengths and weaknesses.
But no matter which option you choose, cellular data is very convenient, freeing your tablet from needing a hotspot for most of its functions. And LTE is the fastest type of 4G data available now, with a good connection nearly as fast as Wi-Fi access. That’s why all the top telecoms use it.
The most convenient option is to get a tablet that can connect directly to the data networks of carriers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and others.
The device must be purchased with this capability; it can’t be added later. Fortunately, there’s a fairly good range of options. Apple offers version of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 with integrated 4G. Many of Samsung’s high-end and mid-range Android tablets are available with it, and the new Microsoft Surface 3 can be purchased with 4G.
Not surprisingly, most carriers charge a premium for devices with this feature built in, usually about $100. And, obviously, they charge for data service as well. Still, many telecoms will allow their customers to add a tablet to an already-existing phone plan for about $10 a month.
Those with small data needs will be interested to hear that T-Mobile offers 200MB of free data for anyone with a tablet that connects to its network.
Just be aware, connecting to a cellular network frequently takes more power than connecting via Wi-Fi, so 4G can cut into the device’s battery life.
External 4G Options
Tablet users are accustomed to getting Internet access though a Wi-Fi hotspot, but did you know there are mobile hotspots?
Many smartphones can be used as a hotspot. An app on the device turns this feature on, allowing tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, and other devices to connect and share one cellular-wireless data connection. This is convenient because it means the user need carry around only their phone and tablet, but powering 4G and Wi-Fi simultaneously is a real strain on the phone’s battery.
Another option is a dedicated mobile hotspot, available from essentially every telecom. These have their own batteries so they don’t overwork the user’s phone, but they have to be purchased separately, and good ones can cost $200.
Those on a budget who don’t need a lot of data should consider getting a router from FreedomPop, as this comes with a small amount of free data each month.
Watch Your Data
Unlike with Wi-Fi hotspots, when using an LTE connection is important to keep an eye on how much data is being used. Tablet owners typically use more data than those on a phone because tablets are a better experience for many things, from surfing the web to watching video.
A typical data plan is good for email, a moderate amount of web access, social networking, and other light tasks, but a few hours of Netflix or Hulu Plus can run through an entire month’s allotment.