Buying a Tablet on contract

It looks cheap today, but will you regret signing up? Tablets aren't exactly cheap, but you can get a significant discount if you sign up for a contract. Instead of paying £500-plus for a 3G iPad, mobile phone firms will give you one for as little as £99. So what's the catch?

You could end up with old kit

We're writing this two days before the UK launch of the iPad 2, and the phone firms are cheerfully offering contracts based on the first-generation model - a device that's got three days left to live. That's a problem, because...

The contracts last for ages

To get your £99 iPad 3G, firms such as Orange want you to sign up for a 24-month contract. With firms updating their tablets annually, that means you'll be stuck with increasingly ageing technology: sign up for an iPad today and there will be an iPad 2, iPad 3 and possibly even an iPad 4 released before your contract's up.

It's a lot of money

Let's stick with Orange here, although the other networks' contracts are more or less the same. If you're already an Orange customer, a 16GB iPad 3G will cost you £99 plus 24 months at £25.00 per month. That's £699. If you're not already a customer, you'll pay an extra £2 per month: £747. Orange's site points out that the price is for a limited time only; expect it to increase when the firm offers the iPad 2.

It's not a lot of data

You'd think that a two-year iPad contract would give you unlimited data. Nope. Orange offers 1GB of data per month, plus another 1GB that can only be used between midnight and 4am. You do get unlimited Wi-Fi via BT Openzone access points, but it's not really unlimited: it has a fair usage policy of 10GB per month. Three is more generous with £20 per month giving you 15GB, but it's the exception that proves the rule.

iPhone 4s can be 3G modems

If you have an iPhone 4 and activate tethering, you can use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot - so you can simply buy a Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 for around £430 and connect it to your phone. Expect to pay £5 a month over and above your existing contract, unless you're with Three: if you are, the hotspot feature is free. Either way, it's a lot less than paying for a phone contract and an iPad contract too.

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