Poll: Is 3G a Must for Tablets or Will Wi-Fi Do?

The tablet revolution may be upon us as 180 million of the devices are expected to be sold by 2014, but many consumers are still unwilling to take part for a number reasons. People have to decide if and how a tablet device fits into their lifestyle or figure out if it can replace another device instead of becoming yet another screen to see. Both are valid questions, but a third decision point looms large for tablet purchases: Can the monthly budget afford yet another charge for mobile broadband data? Apple’s iPad (s aapl) is offered in a Wi-Fi version, but so far, few other tablet manufacturers have followed suit — potentially a huge oversight that could strengthen Apple’s already tight hold on this nascent market.

Take the Motorola Xoom (s mmi), for example, which just launched last week. Although my initial impressions and hands-on video show some corners cut to get the tablet to market quickly, there’s much to like about the device, and Google’s (s goog) new Honeycomb platform for tablets. But many potential buyers are put off by the $799 price tag. Yes, the device can be had for $599, but in return for the discount, customers must agree to a 2-year data plan commitment, which starts at $20 per month and can rise to $80 for 10 GB of data usage in a month. Motorola has confirmed a future Wi-Fi version of the Xoom, which is expected to cost around $600. Of course, without a mobile broadband radio in such a model, there would be no monthly bill from a carrier.

The 3G vs Wi-Fi debate likely centers on where and how individuals plan to use their tablet. For couch-surfing sessions and other use around the home, a Wi-Fi device will clearly fit the bill. Folks that plan on taking their tablet everywhere — much as they may do with a smartphone, for example — could lean toward a device with full-time connectivity. Of course, the smartphone is becoming the new hotspot as more handsets are gaining the ability to be used for connection sharing, something I often do with my Android handset. Indeed, over on our Apple channel, Darrell suggests that the iPhone’s new personal hotspot feature could make the 3G iPad irrelevant for some. This service is a feature, so it doesn’t require any additional contract commitment and can be used with multiple devices.

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I actually opted to purchase my Samsung Galaxy Tab with 3G on contract to get the reduced price of $299. Even if I chose to cancel the contract, the $200 early termination fee still keeps my total cost under the unsubsidized. Another reason for the purchase is the tablet’s ability to act as a 3G hotspot at no extra charge. Between my phone and my tablet then, I have two mobile broadband connections for an iPod touch, notebook computer or any other Wi-Fi enabled device.

But my preferences are different from most, and lets face it: the Galaxy Tab at that price is far less than the Motorola Xoom at $599 on a contract or $799 off-contract. With a slew of new 3G tablets due to arrive soon are you planning to buy, or will you wait for a less expensive Wi-Fi version to use at home or with a mobile broadband hotspot device?

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