2019 iPad mini

Best answer: When it comes to picking a cellular plan for your iPad Air 3, iPad mini 5, seventh-generation iPad, or iPad Pro model, you need to weigh your options, because the choices vary.

Wi-Fi only vs. Wi-Fi + Cellular

Since its humble beginnings, the iPad has offered a Wi-Fi + Cellular option in its lineup. The difference in price ranges from $130 for the three iPad models and $150 for the two current iPad Pro models. The newest iPad models have eSIM, but no included Apple SIM card. eSIM iPad models are as follows:

  • 11-inch iPad Pro 2020
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2020
  • iPad Air (3rd-Gen)
  • iPad (7th-Gen)
  • iPad mini (5th-Gen)

iPad Pro models from 2016 - 2018 include an Apple SIM embedded, but no eSIM support. Embedded Apple SIM iPad Pro models are as follows:

  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2nd-Gen)

iPad models from 2014 - 2018 (excluding iPad Pro between 2016 and 2018) include an Apple SIM card, which would allow you to switch carriers, but wasn't supported by all carriers and wasn't as convenient as eSIM. iPad models that include an Apple SIM card are as follows:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (1st-Gen)
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad (6th-Gen)
  • iPad (5th-Gen)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad mini 3

What is a SIM card, and how does it work?

As with your iPhone, you'll have to pay a monthly charge for data on your cellular plan; unlike your smartphone, however, these plans are often a la carte — you can buy data as you need, and disable monthly subscriptions at any time without penalty. Additionally, if your smartphone plan allows data sharing, you may be able to directly add your iPad to your monthly plan.

If you're considering getting an iPad with cellular access, here's everything you need to know.

Ask yourself: Do you really need an iPad with Wi-Fi and Cellular?

While $130 or $150 may not be a huge price to pay for the option of LTE, not all users need it for their iPad — especially if you have an iPhone with tethering capabilities, or plan to use your tablet largely in areas where there's Wi-Fi.

LTE service can be incredibly useful, however, if you plan to use your iPad on the go and don't want to drain your iPhone's battery to tether. The Cellular model also sports a GPS antenna, if you plan to use your iPad for navigation. I've had LTE-capable iPads since their beginnings, and I love being able to freely work on a close-to-laptop-size device with a cellular antenna. If you have good coverage where you're traveling, it means never having to worry about finding a Wi-Fi hotspot or tethering your iPhone to work.

Additionally, if you have a different data plan on your iPad than your iPhone, it can be useful for getting data in areas where your iPhone's cellular provider has dead spots (and vice versa).

About Apple SIM and eSIM

Apple switched to eSIM on all of its iPad models in 2019. This means you can select your carrier right on your iPad, digitally, without having to wait for or select a specific SIM card. It's even more convenient than an Apple SIM card because there is no restriction on where you buy your iPad from. With Apple SIM, AT&T would lock down the card and if you wanted Verizon as your carrier, you had to order your iPad directly from Verizon. These limitations are freed up with eSIM.

With eSIM, you can choose multiple carriers, instead of being locked to a single provider. (In the U.S., that includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, AlwaysOnline, and the international data service GigSky).

For iPad models that use Apple SIM cards instead of eSIM, be aware that you will be able to switch carriers at will with your Apple SIM, but not every company has opted in. Auto-switching in the U.S. works if you pick a T-Mobile, Sprint, AlwaysOnline, or GigSky plan: You can make accounts on all four networks if you so choose, and switch between their plans depending on which suits you based on your location. Pick AT&T, however, and your Apple SIM card will immediately lock down and become an AT&T-only SIM card. The AT&T option will also immediately disappear once you pick one of its competitors.

If you find yourself overseas or in a different country that doesn't support eSIM, the 2019-2020 iPad models do include a SIM tray, but you'll need to buy the nano-SIM card from your carrier of choice (the card is usually free or very low-cost and you'll only be paying for the service). It's easy to set up once you've received your SIM card. You just pop the card in and follow the instructions.

For iPad models with Apple SIM cards, you can simply swap out your included nano-SIM card with the international one.

How to remove the SIM card in an iPhone or iPad

Before you buy: Check your LTE data coverage and speeds

There are lots of great deals on tablet data available for your iPad — but it's not going to do you any good if you can't use that data in your local area. Before you choose a plan for your iPad, we recommend checking out your carrier's coverage maps. You'll also want to see what carriers have the most reliable coverage and speeds in your area — comprehensive coverage means nothing if that coverage is slow as molasses.

Where to buy your Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad

In the U.S., the best place to order your iPad is through Apple — either the Apple Online Store, Apple Store app, or in a physical Apple Store.

However, there is no reason why you couldn't buy your iPad from your favorite carrier. The joy of eSIM is that you are not locked to a particular carrier anymore.

Choose a cellular data plan

Once you've picked up your iPad and any appropriate SIM cards, it's time to choose your plan. The big U.S. carriers offer several data options for iPad users; here's the gist.

T-Mobile

When it comes T-Mobile, you have three options for paying for data on your iPad.

The first is the Simple Choice Mobile Internet. In addition to your monthly allotment of prepaid LTE data, T-Mobile also gives you unlimited 2G data. The LTE data plans break down like so.

Data Price
2GB $10 (monthly)
6GB $25 (monthly)
10GB $40 (monthly)
14GB $55 (monthly)
18GB $70 (monthly)
22GB $85 (monthly)

T-Mobile also sells data passes, which offer non-recurring charges for specific amounts of data. For $5, you can get 500MB of LTE data for a 24-hour period. There's also a $30 plan that gives you 3GB of data for one month.

Finally, you should check out the company's three unlimited plans, Essentials, Magenta, and Magenta Plus. Prices vary by plan and whether you already have a cell phone plan through the company.

Check out T-Mobile plans

AT&T

With AT&T, you can pay for your data with monthly pre-paid plans. Right now, you can get twice the GB of data for half the price if you choose the lowest-tier plan. That's 2GB instead of 1GB for $15 instead of $30, but this is a limited-time promotion at the time of this writing.

Let's take a look at AT&T's standard prepaid plans:

Data Price
1GB $30 (monthly)
8GB $40 (monthly)
Unlimited $45 (monthly)
Unlimited Plus $65 (monthly)

You can also join AT&T's monthly pay-as-you-go data-only plan. These plans expire after 30 days, but can be renewed automatically if your plan is still active.

Here's what AT&T's prepaid data-only plans look like:

Data Price
3GB $25 (monthly)
10GB $50 (monthly)
18GB $75 (monthly)

Finally, there's Mobile Share Data, a postpaid plan that lets you pay less the more devices you have on your plan. You can choose from one to four devices and 3GB or 9GB of data per month on this plan.

Data Price
1 Device $50 per month for 3GB
$60GB per month for 9GB
2 Devices $40 per month for 3GB
$50GB per month for 9GB
3 Devices $34 per month for 3GB
$40GB per month for 9GB
4 Devices $30 per month for 3GB
$35GB per month for 9GB

Verizon

Note: Verizon isn't available on Apple SIM; you'll have to order an iPad from the Apple Store and visit Verizon for a nano-SIM, or order directly from the Verizon store.

Verizon's data plans are really straightforward, there are just a lot of them. Like AT&T's mobile share plan, you share the data on these plans with whatever devices are attached to them

Data Price
2GB $20/mo.
4GB $30/mo.
6GB $40/mo.
8GB $50/mo.
10GB $60/mo.
12GB $70/mo.
14GB $80/mo.
16GB $90/mo.
18GB $100/mo.
20GB $110/mo.
30GB $185/mo.
40GB $260/mo.
50GB $335/mo.
60GB $410/mo.
80GB $560/mo.
100GB $710/mo.

Verizon, too, will let you add your tablet to your iPhone's existing cellular plan for an additional $10/month.

Sprint

Sprint offers a day pass, week pass, and several monthly passes for iPad owners. The subscription-based plans renew the day before the next calendar cycle begins; you can cancel at any time, and Sprint won't deactivate your SIM if you don't have a plan active.

Data Price
300MB $5 (24 hours)
500MB $10 (7 days)
1GB $15 (auto-renews every month)
3GB $35 (auto-renews every month)
6GB $50 (auto-renews every month)
12GB $80 (auto-renews every month)

As with the other plans, you should be able to add your iPad to your currently-active smartphone plan if you want to share its data.

AlwaysOnline and GigSky

AlwaysOnline and GigSky are Apple's two available data plans for international travelers: They're networks known as "alternative carriers" — they piggyback on existing cellular networks across the world to help give you internet access wherever you go.

AlwaysOnline offers global coverage in 74 countries. Their pricing varies depending on which country you visit; here are the prices for roaming in the U.S.:

Data Price
100MB $0.99 (per hour)
500MB $2.99 (1 day)
1GB $7.99 (valid up to 15 days)
3GB $22.99 (valid up to 15 days)
5GB $34.99 (valid up to 15 days)

GigSky offers coverage in 189 countries, with slightly different pricing depending on where in the world you are. In North America, its pricing is as follows:

Data Price
300MB $10 (valid up to 1 day)
500MB $15 (valid up to 15 days)
1GB $20 (valid up to 15 days)
2GB $30 (valid up to 15 days)
5GB $50 (valid up to 30 days)

Which carrier and plan should you get?

There are a lot of factors that weigh in on your carrier choice and plan size, and everyone's going to have a different opinion on what best fits their lifestyle. But, if you want some advice, here's what I got.

You'll be happy with T-Mobile if there's decent coverage in your area: The network is speedy in its active locations, supports LTE Advanced, and gives you free lifetime data and ridiculously cheap a la carte and monthly options. T-Mobile can also be used without locking your iPad's Apple SIM.

You'll be happy with AT&T if you have an iPhone whose data plan you want to share, you don't need a ton of data, or you don't have great T-Mobile coverage. You also shouldn't mind AT&T locking Apple SIM to that carrier, or buying an iPad to get around the locking restriction.

You'll be happy with Verizon if you have an iPhone whose data plan you want to share, you don't need a ton of data, or you don't have great T-Mobile or AT&T coverage. You also shouldn't mind replacing your Apple SIM (or adding a new nano SIM, in the case of iPadusers) with a Verizon option.

You'll be happy with Sprint if there's decent coverage in your area: The network is the cheapest option for a la carte data after T-Mobile, and the monthly plans are solid, too. Sprint can also be used without locking your iPad's Apple SIM.

You'll be happy with AlwaysOnline or GigSky if you're planning on traveling internationally: These plans allow you to avoid picking up a local SIM in the country you're traveling to and still have internet access. Both can be used without locking your iPad's Apple SIM.

The newest iPad Air

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