THE rise and rise of tablet computing means more of us are accessing data on the move. But at what cost?
It doesn’t matter whether you use an iPad or Android tablet: you’ll be connecting it to the net in the same way. When you’re at home or in certain public places, this will be via wi-fi, delivered through a broadband connection. But if you’ve paid extra for a tablet that can connect to a mobile network, you will need a data package.
This has been an expensive business in the past, with operators selling tablets for a small upfront cost on condition that you commit to a two or three-year deal at premium network rates. But the advent of monthly “bundles” and the explosion of smaller mobile companies means operating a tablet on the go is finally affordable.
Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s have their own mobile operations now, subletting airtime on the transmitters of O2, EE and Vodafone respectively. Asda has emerged as the best for tablet users, with a £5 package that buys you half a gigabyte of data each month – enough for the low to average user. There’s no contract and you don’t need to top up every month if you don’t need to – but any unused data will expire a month after you bought it.
Heavier users should look to the Three network or GiffGaff, a sister company of O2, which sells airtime at much lower rates than its sibling. Both these outfits offer a gigabyte of data for a monthly fee of £7.50, on similar terms to Asda.
Which of these you choose may depend on where you bought your tablet in the first place – because, as with phones, many sellers lock their products to a single operator, and unlocking them nearly always involves a fee. However, you can work around this by getting a Sim card from a budget supplier that uses the same network. Vodafone-only tablets can also use Sim cards from Lebara and TalkMobile as well as Sainsbury’s; O2 tablets can accommodate Lyca, Tesco and GiffGaff Sims; and EE, Orange or T-Mobile devices can take Sim cards from Asda, Delight, Family Mobile, Vectone, Virgin and People’s Operator.
It’s also worth checking that your new network actually covers your area. All the mobile operators have coverage maps on their websites. Make a particular point of checking 4G coverage, if your tablet supports it and if you’re prepared to pay extra to get it. It’s faster than anything except wi-fi, but coverage is patchy at best.