iPad Wi-Fi + 3G: A Hands-On Look at Apple's Mobile Tablet

At last, the prophecy has been fulfilled: the second half of the coming of the iPad is upon us. I have in my hands (well, on my ottoman as I write this), an iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, which is Apple’s somewhat long-winded moniker for describing an iPad with cellular data access on AT&T’s network (here in the U.S. anyway). Having used a Wi-Fi-only iPad for almost a month, I can safely say that the $130 option for adding 3G is a big deal. But, in terms of how different this new, strange iPad is from the models we’ve already seen, let’s give it a rundown.

Judging a Pad by Its Cover

Outwardly, the 3G-enabled iPad looks mostly the same as its Wi-Fi-only sibling: all of the controls are in the same place, the screen is identical, and so on. The 3G model is a tenth of a pound heavier than the Wi-Fi model, but in my very scientific “hold-one-in-each-hand” test, I was unable to detect the difference.

A long black strip that serves as a window to the 3G antenna.
There are only two external indications that you’re dealing with a different beast: the first is the prominent 4.5-inch long black plastic strip at the top of the iPad, which covers a portion of the aluminum bezel on the front and extends about half an inch down the iPad’s back. This is a window for the iPad’s 3G antenna—since radio waves can travel more easily through plastic than through aluminum, this helps improve reception.

The second is the micro-SIM card slot on the left-hand side of the device. As with the iPhone, you can pop out the tray carrying the card out a straightened paper clip; Apple also includes the same SIM removal tool that it packages with the iPhone. The micro-SIM card, as the name promises, is smaller than the iPhone’s own SIM card—it’s about half the size.

The Inside Job

The AT&T signal strength indicator is back in the 3G model.
Upon unlocking the 3G-enabled iPad, you’ll be greeted with the same Home screen as on the Wi-Fi model, with the addition of the familiar cellular reception bars and AT&T carrier tag in the top left corner. Reception seems roughly equivalent to my iPhone 3GS, in that I live in an AT&T weak spot, and that was quickly apparent on the iPad.

Beyond that little icon, most of the changes in the 3G version’s software can be found in the iPad’s Settings app. Airplane Mode returns as the top item in Settings’s left-hand pane—as with the iPhone, you can switch all the radios off with a touch.

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