Wi-fi only vs. 3G iPad?

Whether you’re looking at purchasing an iPad or one of its strong competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, you’ll have to decide if you want to pay extra for the 3G version. No matter if you get the 16, 32 or 64 GB capacity iPad, the wifi-only model will cost you $130 less than the same iPad with 3G internet access. Then you have to add the monthly cost of a data plan — currently either $15 or $25/mo. at AT&T, depending on if you’re a light (250 MB) or moderate (2 GB) data user. Now I’m a pastor, not an accountant, but I figure that comes to at least $310 more that you will have paid for the first year. Or $430 if you opted for the heavier data plan. That’s nearly enough for a second (non-3G) iPad!

You might think it comes down to the question: How necessary is it for me to have constant internet access? But most of us already carry around in our pockets cellphones that can access the internet whenever and wherever we like. So the question you more likely need to ask is: How necessary is it for me to have constant internet access on a larger screen? Let’s look first at what internet access (over wi-fi or 3G) gives you:

  • Document syncing. All of your files (sermon, Bible studies, notes, etc) are instantly accessible via Dropbox or some similar service. Yes, you could always sync manually before you left your office, but sometimes it’s hard to anticipate everything you might need in advance.
  • Listen to streaming music or radio. Again, you can sync music, audio books, and podcasts through iTunes ahead of time, but services like Pandora or live radio sportscasts will only work if you have an internet connection. An excellent app for recording radio stations or specific programs to stream later is Stitcher (available on iPhone and iPad).
  • Calendar syncing. Any changes you make while connected to the “cloud” will automagically show up on any other computers or devices that you want to share with.
  • Maps and other apps that use location services. Here we must note that wi-fi networks will approximate your location, but only the 3G model has true GPS capabilities.
  • Access to more Bible versions. Some Bible apps pull the text from the cloud rather than store it on your device. Some of my favorite apps like the YouVersion Bible and Glo Bible are guilty of this behavior. So does the Logos app, but at least it gives you the option of storing specific resources for offline reading.
  • Communication. With an iPad 2, you can video chat with family while away for a pastors conference or even do long-distance counseling over Skype.
  • The whole World Wide Web. Obviously all of the vast resources of the information highway are only at your fingertips if you are somehow connected. All your surfing, Googling, Facebooking, tweeting, etc., only happens when you are online.

As I mentioned above, much of this may already be available to you on the cellphone that you take everywhere with you anyway. Of course the screen is considerably smaller, but it will usually do in a pinch.

I decided that the 3G model would be poor stewardship on my part. We already have a wireless network set up at home and in my office, which is where 85% of my iPad use takes place. And don’t forget the free wi-fi spots available in many locations like coffee shops, some airports, convention centers and seminaries. Our church building doesn’t have wi-fi, which I suppose limits some of the things I could do with an iPad (like streaming worship services), but I can make do without for now. For a while I used a personal mi-fi card which worked great in all kinds of situations, but in the end it was a superfluous expense for me. After all, it’s not the worst thing to be disconnected from time to time. A pastor could do much worse than follow the example of Christ who often went “offline” by himself or with his disciples to recharge his spiritual batteries.

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