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iPads As Smartphone Complements (II)

A Wi-Fi-equipped iPad would be a natural complement to a smartphone equipped with an embedded mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, but consumers won’t have as many good options to pair the two as I had hoped.

To great fanfare earlier this year, Palm unveiled the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus, both with embedded hot spot. AT&T, however, has disabled the hot spot feature in its versions of the two smartphones, a spokesperson confirmed. AT&T launched the Palm Pre Plus on May 16 for $150 after rebate, and the AT&T-network Pixi Plus is due June 6. Presumably, AT&T doesn’t want the phones’ hot spot feature to compete with the data plans it sells for the 3G-equipped iPad and for the cellular USB modems that it sells.

In the case of Sprint’s planned 3G/4G HTC-made Evo, the savings compared to buying a 3G-equipped iPad won’t be as great as I had hoped. Sprint will charge an additional $29.99/month if you want to activate the phone’s mobile Wi-Fi hot spot feature. Sprint said the price is half the monthly cost of its current Mobile Broadband data plans, which use dedicated 3G/4G modems, but that’s not including an additional $10/month premium-data add-on charge required by the company to use the phone. The carrier contends the premium is justified because the phone’s 4G capability and premium feature set, including simultaneous voice and data over cellular, will generate more data usage than is typical of smartphones.

In comparison, AT&T’s 3G data plans for 3G-equipped iPads look pretty cheap at $14.99/month for 250MB of data and $29.99 for an unlimited data plan. In addition, because the 3G iPad’s data plan is a prepaid service, you can buy service a month at a time only for when you need it. The price also includes Wi-Fi access in all locations where AT&T offers its non-mobile hot spot service.

The premium to buy a 3G iPad isn’t that steep, either. The 3G iPads cost only $130 more than their Wi-Fi-only versions at $629 (16GB), $729 (32GB), and $829 (64GB).

Pricewise, your best option is to mate a Wi-Fi iPad with the Verizon Wireless versions of the Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus smartphones. Although Verizon originally charged $40/month to use the hot spot feature (for up to 5GB of data per month), the carrier in April began offering the phones’ embedded hot spot at no extra charge for as long as you own the phone. However, you still have to pay $29.99/month for the Palm device’s required data plan. The carrier has also been discounting the price of the Pre Plus to $49.99 and the Pixi Plus to free.

Anyone buying one of the Palm smartphones from Verizon to take advantage of their free hot spot capability should only hope that Hewlett-Packard, as Palm’s new owner, will continue to support the Palm handsets with upgrades and new apps for some years to come.