Behold the iPad in All Its Glory
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After spending the past week in Portland I could wax rhapsodic about OSCON, Zoo Camp, We Village or the Ultimate Sandwich. But what I really have to coo over is my new iPad.

That’s right, I said new iPad.

Admittedly, it’s only been a little over three months since I got the first iPad — a 64 GB WiFi-only model that I picked up the day they were released because my usual anxiety about waiting for the latest device was amplified by a course of antibiotics. As cures for antibiotic-induced-anxiety go, it was pretty expensive, but it made the kids happy, and since they were also cranky from their antibiotics it actually felt like a good, or at least justifiable, investment.

But I’ll be honest. As much as I’ve enjoyed playing Mirror’s Edge, my WiFi iPad felt like a big toy. A big, super cool, expensive toy. I found myself wondering: why did I spring for the most expensive model? If this was going to be a mostly kid-oriented device, couldn’t I save some bucks and get the least expensive model?

As with so many of my efforts at economizing technology, these self-doubts instead led me to spend even more money, upgrading to the 64 GB iPad with WiFi and 3G.

And let me tell you: that $129 is worth every penny.

The difference between a Wifi iPad and a 3G iPad isn’t a quantitative difference in how much you can use your iPad. That’s what I’d assumed it would be: just the same device, but connected to the net more of the time.

It’s an entirely different device.

Here are some of the things I’ve been able to with my iPad now that it’s got 3G:

  1. Navigate: This was the top use case for the iPad. By looking up destinations on Yelp (sadly no iPad app, just web or iPhone app running on iPad) and then choosing “Directions to Business”, we got our route mapped to each Portland restaurant or shop we wanted to visit. It was a heck of a lot easier to navigate with the Maps application for iPad than the Maps application on iPhone, simply because the screen is so much larger!
  2. Drive: Our 4-year-old is obsessed with BrainPop, the awesome educational website with free, fantastic iPad app. But it only works while actually connected to the net. During the Era of the WiFi-Only iPad, the phrase “it’s not connected” entered his vocabulary as his explanation for BrainPop’s failure to load outside our house. His delight at being able to watch BrainPop anywhere, anytime let us drive with far fewer stops!
  3. Eat: I didn’t want to spend my last day in Portland at the same wifi cafés I’d frequented earlier in the week…but I had a blog post to write. Thanks to the iPad and keyboard dock, I was able to blog from Ken’s Artisan Bakery, using 3G to connect to the net. It took a bit longer to write my blog post (it turns out that the ability to have side-by-side windows is pretty crucial to my blogging workflow) but I got to eat a Salted Caramel Coffee Macaron that is now in my list of top 10 all-time most delicious food experiences.
  4. Travel: The 75 MB data plan that I bought from Rogers (my Canadian wireless provider) got used up within a few days of getting to the US. Buying AT&T’s $14.99 plan for 250 MB of data on my iPad got me through the rest of the week. I’ll cancel the plan now that I’ve left the country, and re-activate it when I’m next visiting the States, though if I go to the US for more than 3 days I’ll spring for the 2 GB plan. The money I save on data during my 4-6 US visits a year will easily cover the difference in costs between the WiFi and 3G models — and free me from my fear of the dreaded (but not unprecedented) 4-figure post-travel cell phone bill.

I’ll be interested to see whether the 3G iPad is as life transforming when I’m in my own hometown. My guess is yes…if only because it’ll free me from the need to organize my café work days around my favourite Vancouver wifi cafés. (But that shouldn’t worry the folks at my new favourite, Oz Coffee: they’re good enough that I’ll keep visiting, even with 3G.)

And if you’re now kicking yourself for going WiFi-only, I’ve got good news: Apple’s supply chain woes are your best friend. Because it’s so hard for people to find iPads in stock at the Apple Store, a Craigslist ad offering to sell your used iPad at a modest discount (try knocking $50-100 off what you paid originally) will likely find takers. You can then upgrade to a new model by pre-ordering a 3G version: while the Apple Store said it would likely take 2-3 weeks for a 3G iPad to arrive, it actually only took 2-3 hours! I’m sure that was exceptionally good luck, but the point is to avoid getting discouraged by Apple’s estimated shipment times: place your order and your Craigslist ad at the same time, and you’ll have a buyer for your old iPad lined up by the time your 3G model arrives.

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