I’ve had about two months with the an LTE iPad Air now, and I’m really glad I opted for the cellular option this time around. I’ve always wondered about the kind of difference a cellular option would make, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to make the investment. As it turns out, I’m really glad that I did. The freedom that a cellular connection provides makes the iPad feel immediately accessible, in a way that tethering to my iPhone never really did.
I have a 6GB data plan for my iPhone with Koodo, but I don’t tether much any more because Koodo’s network speeds are sub-par (2.5 Mbps down around Queen & Shaw) and iOS tethering is still too finnicky for reliable usage. The Wi-Fi hotspot on my iPhone 5S often takes half a minute to show up on the iPad, and Bluetooth tethering is just too miserably slow to use, even for surfing.
Having an LTE connection isn’t cheap – the cellular option adds $130 to the base iPad cost and tablet plans are pricey here in Canada – but I think it unlocks the potential of the iPad. It’s somehow different than having LTE on an iPhone 5S, or having an LTE rocket stick attached to a MacBook Pro. The iPhone is ultra mobile and designed to be consistently connected to the Internet, but its mobility means that it lacks the screen real estate to comfortably write on. On the other hand, my 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro has a wonderful amount of screen space, but requires a desk or a chair to use. Furthermore, a Mac isn’t designed to always be online – it’s usually either asleep (and offline) or awake (and online). Little OS X extras like Power Nap help the MacBook stay more up-to-date during transit, but it’s limited because it only works for certain Apple apps.
In contrast, my LTE iPad Air is the most well-connected and most flexible computer I’ve ever owned. LTE allows the background app refresh to work while the tablet is asleep in my bag, so it always feels ready to use when I fold my Smart Cover back. It’s available for quick calendar look-ups just like my iPhone, but it’s also large enough to use for surfing and writing. The Air is a big breakthrough for the iPad because of its new lightweight design, but I’m especially loving this model because it’s the first time I’ve gotten to enjoy an always-connected iPad. Now that I’ve experienced one, I doubt I’ll ever go back to the Wi-Fi model.