10 ways to get the most from your Wi-Fi-only tablet

Use these tips to download books, make phone calls, and get other vital information -- all without investing in a data plan

Much to the chagrin (and much against the ill wishes) of wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, people are buying Wi-Fi-only tablets. In fact, some studies have shown that in 2011 up to 90 percent of all tablets sold in the United States relied on Wi-Fi, rather than on 3G or 4G LTE.

Today's Wi-Fi-focused tablets include the Wi-Fi only version of the Apple iPad, the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, the Google Nexus 7, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, to mention a few.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Check out the 7 reasons Google's Nexus 7 beats the iPad. | Understand how to both manage and benefit from the consumerization of IT with InfoWorld's "Consumerization Digital Spotlight" PDF special report. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

I hate to say it, AT&T, but this makes sense: Wi-Fi only tablets are cheaper (and I'm not talking exclusively about the Wi-Fi-only iPad, but also about tablets that never had a data option, such as the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7), and people are discovering that they just don't need an extra data plan. Don't believe me? Check out these 10 tips for getting the most out of your Wi-Fi-only tablet.

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1. Tether, tether, tether

If you already have a smartphone with a data plan, you don't need to waste money on an additional plan for your tablet. Instead, use your phone's plan to get an Internet connection for both devices.

There are two ways to tether, or turn you phone into an Internet hotspot, using today's smartphones. One option is to use your phone's built-in tethering ability, which means you'll likely have to pay your carrier an extra fee for the service. The other is to download a third-party tethering app such as PdaNet (for nonrooted Android phones), Wireless Tether for Root Users (for rooted Android phones), or PdaNet for iPhone (for jailbroken phones).

The only problem with tethering is that carriers do their utmost to discourage it. If you use your phone's default tethering ability, you'll have to pay your carrier a fee of around $20 for the privilege. That's $20 on top of your already pricey data plan -- and you don't get any extra data. And if you use a third-party tethering app, your carrier can charge you if it finds out (unless you happen to be on Verizon). And only jailbroken iPhones can run third-party tethering apps.

But jailbreaking, rooting, or paying a monthly fee may be a small price to pay for the freedom to use your Wi-Fi only tablet (and other devices, such as your laptop) wherever you can use your phone.

2. Get a mobile hotspot

Instead of tethering your tablet to your phone's data plan, you may want to consider picking up a mobile hotspot from your local wireless carrier.

A dedicated mobile hotspot can yield better results than tethering your phone's data connection. For starters, it's often faster and more reliable than a tethered phone's connection. And whereas tethering can drain a phone's battery quickly, mobile hotspots commonly deliver many hours of battery life. I use the Novatel Wireless MiFi 4510L for Verizon LTE, which offers long battery life, excellent data speeds, and a solid connection -- unlike my Galaxy Nexus phone.

Though the MiFi 4510L lost out in PCWorld's hotspot tests to the Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot, the main advantage of the MiFi 4510L is its ability to keep its connection while moving. The Samsung 4G LTE is speedier when you're sitting still, but, in my hands-on experience, the MiFi 4510L maintained a solid connection on a 9-hour drive to Vegas (our PCWorld tests didn't evaluate this capability).

Check out our latest mobile hotspot showdown here.

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