Apple iPad 3G: The Cost of On-the-Go Connectivity

It's a Catch-22: If the passcode lock is not active, you risk having your data falling into the wrong hands. On the other hand, if you have a passcode lock, the finder/thief would not be able to log into the device and establish a Wi-Fi connection, meaning Find My iPad would never update its location.

Like the iPhone before it, the iPad 3G with an active data connection and GPS would precisely pinpoint its location on the Find My iPad site.

Daily Life with the iPad

After using the original Wi-Fi iPad for almost a month, I can tell you that the 3G model simply adds another wireless option to what was already an impressive device. Yes, the screen needs to be wiped off a lot; doing so has become a morning ritual, like brushing my teeth and eating breakfast. The iPad's fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating doesn't mean the screen isn't susceptible to fingerprints; it just means that those fingerprints are easily wiped away. (I've started carrying around the cleaning cloth that Apple supplies with its iMacs; it works very well at removing screen crud, and one should be included with every iPad.)

I've also found that the iPad has effectively replaced my laptop while I'm at work -- and the 3G access will only further cement that transition. The iPad is simply lighter and easier to carry than even a MacBook Air. When used with the Apple iPad Case, the iPad is like a thin, hardcover book -- a book that can access essential systems I need, such as our HelpDesk/Asset management system and our Windows Servers.

The one caveat is the ridiculous lack of Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) support. Yes, I can use virtual network computing to access the Macs on our network, but I'd like a more secure connection, especially since I use ARD as often as I use Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection.

Originally, I figured I'd come to bury the iPad software keyboard, not praise it, but after using the device extensively, I've grown accustomed to it. I can actually type on the unit in landscape mode using all of my fingers as if I were typing on a physical keyboard.

Caveat: This took training, and since there's no physical keyboard, you have to hover your fingers above the screen instead of resting them on the keys. With the proper placement and a little perseverance, it's quite possible to avoid using a physical keyboard, even though either iPad model can sync with Bluetooth units.

Another plus is that the iPad is absolutely quiet. There are no whirring fans and no mechanical parts; it runs cool to the touch and the battery lasts all day. "All day" in this case means I unplug the iPad at 6 a.m., use it all day, and then plug it back in at 11 p.m., before bedtime.

The iPad's battery puts netbook and laptop batteries to shame. And based on my tests, the addition of 3G access doesn't seem to have shortened the device's battery life appreciably.

Bottom Line

The question for most iPad buyers a month ago was whether to take the early plunge and get a Wi-Fi-only model or wait a month for the version that includes 3G access. Now the question is whether you really need 3G access, with all of its network limitations and costs, or can get along fine using Wi-Fi alone. If it's the former, then your iPad has arrived. If it's the latter, and you still want occasional 3G connectivity, you might consider MiFi as an option.

Either iPad choice is a good one if you want to get your hands on the very latest in mobile technology -- at least until the next iPad arrives.

Michael DeAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is an award-winning writer, computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macs and working on them professionally since 1993. Follow him on Twitter(@mdeagonia).

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