Three, Orange, T-Mobile offer iPad 3G from £199 on a 24 month contract; is it worth it?

December 5th, 2010

From this week, Three, Orange and T-Mobile have begun offering the Apple iPad on a £25/month contract with an upfront fee from £199.

This week, three networks (Three, Orange and T-Mobile) have started offering the 3G iPad from £199 providing you sign up for a 24-month contract at £25/month. This compares to £529 when bought direct from Apple. In this guide, we do the sums and work out whether it’s better value to buy the iPad direct from Apple or to buy it with a 24-month contract. We also look at the issue of download limits and different editions of the iPad.

What iPad tariffs are available?

Three and Orange are offering the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB editions of the Apple iPad whereas T-Mobile are only offering the 16GB edition.

Network iPad 3G Edition Upfront Price Monthly Price Total Price (24 months) Usage limit
Three 16GB £199 £25/month £799 15GB/month
Three 32GB £249 £25/month £849 15GB/month
Three 64GB £349 £25/month £949 15GB/month
Orange 16GB £199 £27/month (£25/month for Orange customers) £847 1GB/month, 1GB/month “quiet time”*, 3GB Openzone
Orange 32GB £249 £27/month (£25/month for Orange customers) £897 1GB/month, 1GB/month “quiet time”*, 3GB Openzone
Orange 64GB £349 £27/month (£25/month for Orange customers) £997 1GB/month, 1GB/month “quiet time”*, 3GB Openzone
T-Mobile 16GB £199 £27/month (£25/month for T-Mobile customers) £847 1GB/month, 1GB/month “quiet time”**

* Orange customers get an extra 1GB to use between midnight and 4pm
** T-Mobile customers get an extra 1GB to use between midnight and 10am

Our calculations show that Three offer the lowest priced iPad tariff. A 16GB iPad will cost you £199 upfront and £25/month for a 15GB monthly download limit. The equivalent tariff on Orange and T-Mobile costs an extra £2/month (unless you are an existing customer) and only comes with a 1GB download limit. We are however sceptical about how many iPad users use more than 1GB/month (see below) and hence whether there is any practical difference between the download limits. The Orange tariff also comes with 3GB/month BT Openzone which could be useful in pubs, restaurants and other public places.

How does this compare to buying an iPad and using a microSIM-only deal?

The cheapest way of obtaining an iPad 3G is still to buy it direct from Apple and then choosing a microSIM iPad tariff.

If you buy the iPad 3G direct from Apple, it’ll cost you £529 for the 16GB model rising to £699 for the 64GB model. By comparing this to the total cost of buying it from a network over 24 months, we can find the “effective contract premium”. The “effective contract premium” is the essentially the premium you pay for the data. For example, it is £270 more expensive to buy an iPad from Three on contract than if you were buying it direct from Apple without a contract. The £270 difference is essentially how much you’re paying for the data tariff.

iPad 3G Edition Price Direct without Contract Price with Three Contract Effective Contract Premium
16GB £529 £799 £270 (£11.25/month)
32GB £599 £849 £250 (£10.42/month)
64GB £699 £949 £250 (£10.42/month)

If you buy an iPad 3G direct from Apple, you’ll need a microSIM-only iPad tariff. These start from £7.50/month on Three (1GB download limit) or £10/month on O2 (with BT Openzone) showing that there are no real cost savings obtained from buying an iPad on 24 month contract.

For a 16GB iPad, the total cost over 24 months are as follows:

Purchase Method Total Price (24 months)
Direct from Apple: 1GB/month micro-SIM from Three £709
Direct from Apple: 1GB/month micro-SIM from O2 (with Openzone) £769
With Contract: 15GB/month tariff from Three £799
With Contract: 1GB/month tariff (with Openzone) from Orange (existing customer) £799
With Contract:1GB/month tariff (with Openzone) from Orange (new customer) £847
Direct from Apple: 10GB/month micro-SIM from Three £889

For full details of the tariffs which are available to you if you buy an iPad direct from Apple, see our detailed guide to iPad tariffs.

How much 3G data do I realistically need?

It depends – how do you see yourself using your iPad? Do you plan to take it out of the house and use it whilst you’re on the move or do you plan to keep it in the home as an entertainment device? If you’d only ever use your iPad at home, you won’t need any 3G data at all. Grab yourself a £429 iPad without 3G (the wi-fi only edition) direct from Apple and you can simply connect to your home wi-fi network. You don’t need to pay a single penny for 3G data, ever. If you think you might take the iPad out of the house a few times a year, it might be worth grabbing a Pay As You Go MiFi dongle. This will allow you to connect your wi-fi only iPad to the internet when you’re out of the house. Personally I know very few people who actually take their iPad out of the house on a regular basis. For this reason, I would recommend grabbing a wi-fi only iPad as it’ll save you several hundred quid.

If you think you’ll regularly use the iPad whilst on the move, see our detailed guide to download limits and what they mean in reality. 1GB equates to roughly 3,000 rich web pages, 200 MP3 downloads and 2 hours of streaming video. Personally, I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab (an Android-based tablet) and I use around 250MB per month. How much you’ll download will depend on your usage habits.

Which edition of the iPad should I buy? How much memory do I need?

  • A 16GB iPad will hold roughly 4,000 songs or 8 hours of video.
  • A 32GB iPad will hold roughly 8,000 songs or 16 hours of video.
  • A 64GB iPad will hold roughly 16,000 songs or 32 hours of video.

What are the alternatives to the iPad?

Rivals to the Apple iPad include the Samsung Galaxy Tab (£449 from Amazon, reviewed here) and the Amazon Kindle (from £109, 3G edition reviewed here). The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a 7-inch Android-based tablet (smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen but this makes it more portable) which can also make phone calls and send texts. The Amazon Kindle is a e-reader with a 6-inch screen. It’s perfect for reading and has a battery life of around a month but is no good for multimedia.

Where do I get the iPad on a 24 month contract?

You can order through the respective network’s websites:

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 1 comment from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Padder said:

    The reason you buy a 3G is not for the connection but because they are the only models with GPS which is very useful.

    BTW I take my iPad with me pretty well everywhere – great when you are camping for example – so 3G is important. But not a contract.

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