I’ve had my first generation iPad Wi-Fi version for a while now and have not encountered more than one or two times that I really needed 3G. When I did, I quickly hopped on my iPhone and was able to do what I needed.
I find that in today’s technological age, you are never really far from free Wi-Fi. The few times that you are most likely do not equal the extra $130 cost of the 3G iPad plus the monthly cost to connect.
There is now an option to connect a Wi-Fi iPad to the Internet by using an iPhone tethering plan. You can ask your local phone company about those costs.
The positive side of connecting a 3G IPad is that there is no contractual obligation on your plan, so you can purchase 3G connectivity if you need it in an emergency, and turn it right back off without any additional fees or penalties. This can be done on a month to month basis.
Convenience is the biggest argument in favor of the buying a 3G iPad and iPad data plan. But if you are around free Wi-Fi more than 75% of the time is it really necessary?
A business professional on the go won’t always be near a Wi-Fi network and could end up in a client meeting where the wireless network is locked. In these cases, the 3G connectivity can be a benefit, enabling you to get an urgent e-mail, or access online data storage to retrieve an important document or presentation.
Another alternative is to use a mobile hotspot. Something like the Novatel MiFi with connection plans available from Sprint or Verizon. This alternative has an advantage over the 3G iPad in that they allow multiple devices to share a Wi-Fi connection. However, they may cost up to twice as much as the additional cost for the 3G iPad with the added cost of a contractual obligation.
My guess is that for most web surfers, and for professionals who travel infrequently, the need for a 3G connection will be rare. Both home and office most likely already have wireless networks, and there are enough places offering free Wi-Fi that it should be possible to find one if its truly necessary. We’ve even parked in front of hotels and coffee shops and were able to do a quick email check when necessary.
I hope that helps you decide which model to purchase. And don’t forget, Apple is quickly coming out with new models all of the time. If you end up buying the more expensive models it can get pricey and you may not be able to upgrade as often.