Money: Getting your new tablet online ... how to do it and what it costs: Technology: Emma Lunn looks at the pros and cons, from pounds 2 a day sim-only to a pounds 30 monthly bundle
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) If you were one of the countless people who received gadgets including the iPad mini, Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7 in your Christmas stocking, you may still be considering the best way to get it online - and at the right cost.
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. 3G is the most widely available form of mobile broadband in the UK, while the faster 4G is currently only offered by Everything Everywhere, and not across the whole country. Other networks are likely to start offering 4G later in 2013.
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, the iPad 4 16GB is pounds 399 for the Wi-Fi model and pounds 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.
Roughly speaking, 1GB will let you browse 10,000 web pages or download 200 songs or two hours of video. A typical web page is about 100KB of data, a song about 5MB and a 30-minute video about 250MB.
If you know you're going to be without a connection for a while, you can download content such as ebooks, music and films before you go out to keep you entertained. Many apps, such as games, work fine without needing to connect to the internet.
When you're outside your home there are plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots. Popular ones include Costa Coffee, McDonald's, Starbucks, trains such as Virgin and Heathrow Express, and many pubs. In other places, such as hotels, you can buy Wi-Fi access, though it can be stupidly expensive.
If you have BT Broadband at home, as part of your package you receive unlimited free access to BT Wi-Fi, the new name for BT Openzone and BT FON. BT 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. Prices start at 5p per MB or pounds 2 a day, rising to as much as pounds 40 a month.
"If you are looking for a Sim-only tariff, they come in two types - a rolling contract or pay-as-you-go, where you are given an allowance to use over a given period paid for in advance," says Kate Murphy, telecoms expert at Moneysupermarket.com. "Three is offering 1GB on a rolling one-month contract for pounds 7.50 a month or, for heavier users, 5GB for pounds 15.99 a month. O2 has a daily plan that offers 200MB and unlimited Wi-Fi over 24 hours costing pounds 2.04."
You can also buy 3GB Sim cards on Amazon that run on the Three network; they cost about pounds 11 and last 90 days. Other options include giffgaff, which uses the O2 network and offers 500MB over one month for pounds 5, 1GB for pounds 7.50 or 3GB for pounds 12.50.
"If you have a 4G iPad, the only provider at the moment is Everything Everywhere," says Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at Broadbandchoices.co.uk. "They offer 5GB for pounds 15.99 a month on a Sim-only basis, and the first month is free."
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.
For example, Everything Everywhere offers a 16GB iPad mini on 4G for pounds 99.99 upfront and pounds 30.99 a month for 24 months with a 5GB monthly download limit. Over the two-year deal you would pay a total of pounds 845.75.
But buying the same iPad mini from Apple for pounds 369 then signing up to Everything Everywhere's 5GB for pounds 15.99 a month deal would come to pounds 752.76 over two years, almost pounds 100 less. And you wouldn't be tied in, so if you wanted to upgrade your tablet or change your data plan, you could.
Other bundled deals include Orange, which offers a 32GB Google Nexus 7 for free with a pounds 26-a-month two-year contract offering 2GB data a month. This is pounds 624 over two years. The tablet alone costs about pounds 239 for the 3G version.
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 pounds 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 pounds 3 a MB, which means a 1GB movie would cost pounds 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."
iWant to get online: there's a range of options for connecting an iPad mini Getty
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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