There are two ways to access the internet from a tablet: Wi-Fi in your home or office or when you’re out and about, or via a mobile phone network. All tablets offer Wi-Fi access, but not all offer mobile access, so check whether it’s just Wi-Fi or 3G or 4G too.
If you’re thinking of buying a tablet, remember that deals offering internet access over a mobile network are more expensive than those which don’t. For instance, in the UK. the iPad 4 16GB is 399 for the Wi-Fi model and 499 for the Wi-Fi plus cellular (mobile) version.
The most cost-effective way to connect your tablet to the internet is via Wi-Fi. If you have wireless at home you can use this to access the internet at no extra cost. However, bear in mind that downloading films, music, apps and other files will eat into any data limit you may have, so check that it is big enough.
When you’re outside your home there are plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots. In other places, such as hotels, you can buy Wi-Fi access, though it can be stupidly expensive.
Wi-Fi has more than 4.5m public wireless hotspots in the UK and 3m more around the world. Sign up at the MyBroadband page at BT.
Alternatively, you can use your friends’ Wi-Fi at their place if they give you their password, or Wi-Fi at work if your employer allows it.
If you have a tablet that works “on the go” ie, it has mobile access but no data plan and want to go on to the internet, you’ll need to sign up to a deal from a mobile company and insert their Sim card into your tablet. You can pay daily, monthly or for the amount of data you use.
Comparing Sim-only deals can be tricky because you need to look at any upfront cost for the Sim, how much data you get for your money, how long it is valid for and whether the network has decent coverage in your area.
You also need to make sure the Sim fits your tablet. The latest iPad and the iPad mini both take a nano-Sim, while older iPads and the Galaxy Tab take micro-Sims.
If you are yet to buy a tablet and are put off by the upfront outlay, a bundled contract deal can help spread the cost but at a price. You can buy most tablets on contracts including a data plan in a similar way to buying a mobile phone with an airtime agreement. The advantages are low upfront costs, but you are tied into a contract which can prove more expensive overall.
Another option is “tethering”, which you can do if you have a smartphone on a contract which includes data. You basically turn your phone into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot using its 3G connection, then you connect your tablet to this to access the web.
“If you need to tether data from your mobile phone, be aware of any data limits your mobile phone contract offers, as tethering can eat away at them,” Murphy warns. “If you are looking for a new mobile contract and are thinking of tethering your device, Three offer plans with unlimited data that would be perfect.”
Beware bill shock
Surfing the internet on your tablet while abroad is very expensive, so it’s a good idea to remove any Sim card if you are taking it on holiday.
“In 2012 the European Commission introduced caps on data roaming charges within Europe of 45 still very expensive, but outside of Europe there is no such protection and the charges can skyrocket even more,” Baliszewski warns. “Data is frequently charged at 3 a MB, which means a 1GB movie would cost 3,000 to download. Whether in Europe or the rest of the world, use your hotel’s Wi-Fi wherever possible and make sure data roaming is turned off.”
Guardian News and Media 2013