For consumers wishing to buy the tablet from a mobile company and sign up to a fixed-term contract, Three is offering 16GB iPad and sim deals on 24-month contracts starting from an upfront charge of £99 plus £29 a month, which gives 15GB of data a month. If you spend £159 up front it will charge you the lower rate of £25 a month for the same data allowance.
Alternatively, Orange has a monthly contract starting from £25 a month for 24 months with an upfront cost of £199 (or £229 for new customers) for the 16GB version – but you’ll be restricted to a maximum data allowance of 1GB of anytime data and 1GB of “Quiet Time” data (only allowed between midnight and 4pm), although Orange users also get “unlimited” BT Openzone Wi-Fi of up to 10GB a month.
O2 and Virgin Mobile do not sell the new iPad at all, while T-Mobile has not yet released its price plans.
Upfront costs for the higher specification versions of Apple’s new tablet are higher at both Three and Orange. At Three, the 32GB version costs either £169 upfront and £29 a month or £229 upfront and £25 a month. For the 64GB version this rises to £249 and £29 a month, or £299 and £25 a month.
Orange is more expensive but, again, less so for existing customers. It will charge £249 for the 32GB version (£279 for new customers) and £349 for the 64GB version (£379 for new customers), plus £25 a month.
Sim-only deals offer better value if you don’t mind shelling out full price for the new iPad from Apple or another retailer. At the Apple Store, the Wi-Fi with 4G version costs £499 for 16GB, £579 for 32GB or £659 for the 64GB tablet, while PC World is charging the same.
The cheapest it has been is with Tesco Direct, but it quickly emerged that the 64Gb model was mistakenly listed as being available for £50 before the supermarket quickly took the page down. It has refused to honour the purchases of eagle-eyed shoppers who pounced before the retailer realised its mistake.
Once you have purchased your iPad, for sim-only deals Three charges £7.50 a month for 1GB and £15 for 10GB. Orange will charge £15 a month for 3GB compared with O2′s £10.21 for just 1GB or £15.32 for only 2GB – but O2 users get double the data every time they make their third top-up.
Vodafone charges a similar £10 for 1GB, £15 for 3GB and £25 for 5GB – the latter particularly over-priced – while Virgin Mobile sells sim-only services but is not yet offering the micro-sim that iPads use.
Should you get caught short, you can also buy 24-hour top-ups: O2 offers pay as you go sims at £2.04 a day for a measly 200MB, compared with £2.99 for 500MB with Three. Orange charges a flat £2 for 200MB.
giffgaff, a sim-only network operated by O2, is better value than its parent company. It offers data-only sim bundles for tablet users costing £5 a month for 500MB, £7.50 for 1GB or £12.50 for 3GB – making it a “best-buy” sim-only deal.
Dominic Baliszwski of Broadbandchoices.co.uk says users should think carefully about how much data they will actually use through their iPad: “Are you a heavy user of media streaming services, or do you just stick to surfing and emailing? Think carefully before choosing a data plan. Failure to heed this advice can lead to excess usage charges which can quickly add up, leading to nasty bill shocks at the end of the month.
“Also think about when you will be using your iPad. If you mainly use it when on the move, you may find you can simply take advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the UK. If you mostly use it at home, you should be able to use your home broadband wireless signal, removing the need for a separate data plan altogether.”
Virgin Media has announced it will be providing London Underground stations with free Wi-Fi over the summer, allowing commuters to download and surf to their heart’s content – for free.
Baliszwski warned consumers that while the new iPad is being marketed as a 4G product, realistically 4G services will not be widely available in the UK until the end of 2012 at the earliest. “Signing up to a 3G 24-month contract now can mean many consumers will have a long wait before enjoying the benefits that 4G services promise.
“If you can pay up front for the iPad itself, consider opting for a one-month rolling contract on a sim-only deal. This way, you still have the freedom to upgrade to a 4G service when it becomes available.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010