My 3G adventures with the iPad

Your intrepid blogger sees how much he can rely on his iPad outside the comfort of Wi-Fi

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And I was pleased that AT&T emailed me 14 hours before my pay-as-you-go plan expired, so I could cancel the auto-renewal. I wasn't sure AT&T would have given me a heads-up and, in the process, could collect an extra month's worth of fees (after all, carriers spend all day dreaming up ways to fool customers), so I added a "cancel 3G" item to my calendar to be safe. But AT&T did the right thing, for which it deserves credit.

My only complaint was the manner in which the iPad's Mail app handled 3G slowdowns and outages in parts of the T subway. When using my Exchange account, it would hang until service was reestablished, rather than let me compose offline or switch to another app, as I could do when working with my IMAP account.

Three weeks in San Francisco: Mixed results on an uneven network
My Boston experience was encouraging, and as I had nearly 1.8GB of data usage left, I decided to keep using the iPad wherever possible until my 30-day 2GB plan expired. Thus, I used it during my train-and-bus commute in San Francisco each day, as well as when I was offsite at meetings and waiting in lobbies. I even used it to and from the vet's office to keep up on work (no, I wasn't driving) and on the way via train to a friend's birthday party, where, once again, I used it as a GPS navigator to find my way to a restaurant I hadn't been to before.

My San Francisco 3G experience was generally positive, but the uneven quality of AT&T's service was more noticeable here than in Boston. The data speeds were all over the map, and it was not unusual for the iPad to slip into EDGE and even GPRS modes -- which run at about the speed of a modem (remember those?). New Yorkers report the same problems.

All that usage added another 300MB to the tally -- still well below the 2GB allowance. Overall, in the course of the 30 days, I used 536MB total: 73MB outgoing and 463MB incoming. Had I watched videos, done lots of GPS navigation (which uses high-res maps), or played online games, my usage might have been higher. I think it's fair to say AT&T's claim that most users will find 2GB adequate is accurate, a claim it made when AT&T ended unlimited data plans earlier this year.

A month in Europe: Not as simple as it should be
In late summer, I went to England for a cousin's wedding and made a monthlong trip out of it, visiting relatives there for a week and a half, spending a short week in Paris, and another 10 days in Belgium. Wi-Fi is prevalent in those countries, but much of my time in England was spent in the Midlands and Wessex regions where various relatives lived, and a portion of the Belgium trip was also in a rural area, the Ardennes. There were big Wi-Fi-less zones.

Using your AT&T 3G service overseas is a sure way to go bankrupt -- all the carriers charge scandalous roaming fees for data. It's so bad that the European Union had to cap the roaming charges permitted for EU citizens traveling within its member countries, but that doesn't help visiting Americans.

It's very common in Europe to get a 3G SIM and pop it into your phone when you are in a different country; travelers tend to have a SIM for each nation they visit, with pay-as-you-go service on each (what the Europeans call SIM-only plans). The iPad too uses a SIM that you can replace, so I thought I would get a SIM in each country for the iPad, as well as one for an old Vodafone cell phone that my brother-in-law got in Australia and loaned us.

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