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Buy an iPad 2: Do You Need Wi-Fi and 3G?

If you're shopping for an iPad 2, you must decide how you want the iPad to connect to the Internet — through Wi-Fi or 3G. iPad 2 is great for browsing online, shopping online, e-mailing, and so on, so having an Internet connection for it is important.

One variation on price and performance for the iPad is whether your model has Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and 3G. Both technologies are used to connect to the Internet. You use Wi-Fi to connect to a home network or your local airport or coffee shop network. This type of network has a reasonably limited range.

If you leave home or walk out of the coffee shop, you can’t get online (though some towns are installing community-wide Wi-Fi networks). The 3G cellphone technology allows an iPad to connect to the Internet via a cellular network that’s widespread, just as you can make calls from just about anywhere using your cellphone.

You can buy an iPad with only Wi-Fi or one with both Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities. Getting a 3G iPad costs an additional $130 or so, but it also includes GPS so that you can get more accurate driving directions.

To use 3G, you have to buy an iPad model that fits your data connection provider, such as AT&T. Also, you will need to pay your data connection provider a monthly fee to use 3G.

The good news is that your carrier probably does not requires a long-term contract for the 3G service, as you probably had to commit to with your cellphone and its data connection — you can pay for a connection during the month you visit your grandkids, for example, and then get rid of it when you arrive home.

So how do you choose? If you want to wander around the woods or town or take long drives with your iPad continually connected to the Internet, get 3G and pay the price. But if you’ll use your iPad mainly at home or in a Wi-Fi hotspot (a location where Wi-Fi access to the Internet is available), don’t bother.

Because the 3G iPad is a GPS device, it knows where you are and can act as a navigation system to get you from here to there. If getting accurate directions is one iPad feature that excites you, get 3G.

The Wi-Fi–only model uses a digital compass and triangulation method for locating your current position, which is much less accurate; with no constant Internet connection, it won’t help you to get around town.

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