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 Post Posted: Sat May 01, 2010 10:51 am 
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Joined: Thu Apr 15, 2010 6:36 pm
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The Apple iPad 3G just went on sale, but in order to make the most of that built-in cellular modem, you need to purchase a data plan for the device. There are only two choices and choosing wisely could save you a lot of money.

There are two service plans available for the Apple iPad 3G: a $29.99 unlimited plan and a $14.99, 250 MB/month plan. Both plans use AT&T's 3G network and plans are unusually flexible: you can swap between them or cancel them at any time. No contracts are required. On the $14.99 plan, you'll be prompted when you get down to your last 50 and last 25 megabytes. If you run out of data, you'll be prompted to buy another 250 MB for $14.99, or upgrade to the unlimited plan.
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That means if you really want an untethered iPad, you might as well try out the $14.99 plan and see if it fits your lifestyle. But you'll probably find that if you use your iPad for any significant length of time on the 3G network, you'll probably end up on the unlimited plan.

Humans don't understand megabytes, so here's how far you'll get on $14.99 per month.

250 MB is about:

• 500 medium-to-large Web pages such as the PCMag.com home page
• 12 hours of working remotely (as I found when testing Virgin Mobile's Broadband2Go product)
• 8 hours, 40 minutes of Rhapsody music streaming at 64 kbps
• 1 hour, 44 minutes of "medium" quality Web streaming video at 320 kbps video + audio

You can turn the plans on and off on a month-by-month basis, so you could just pony up the $30 for when you're on a trip away from your home Wi-Fi network, for instance. You pay one month at a time.

If you intend to mix limited 3G usage with lots of Wi-Fi, the $14.99 plan might work, as it comes with unlimited access to AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspots at Starbucks, Barnes & Noble bookstores, McDonald's restaurants, and many airports and hotels.

Another option to consider is a nationwide WiFi service, like Boingo's Mobile Wi-Fi.

Boingo's hotspot plan is much more economical costs just $7.95/month, you get unlimited Wi-Fi access at Starbucks, McDonald's, and many other locations. Of course, if you can get by with just WiFi, then you shouldn't have spent the extra $130 for the iPad 3G hardware.

Making the right decision could save you a lot of money over the life of your iPad. In your first year alone, this is how the costs would break down:

iPad 16GB Wi-Fi w/Boingo Mobile: $594.40
iPad 3G 16GB w/250 MB plan: $808.88
iPad 3G 16GB w/unlimited plan: $988.88

Finally, remember that the 3G plan is for domestic U.S. use only. So far, it doesn't include roaming on foreign networks - but Wi-Fi will work overseas, of course.

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