When talking about cell phone plans with coworkers, someone brought up an interesting point: If you have an cell phone plan that allows device tethering, do you really need a 3G tablet too? I got to thinking about it, and that’s a good point.

I have an AT&T iPhone 5 and iPad 2 3G that are on a mobile data plan together. They share 6 GB of pooled data per month, and it includes tethering. AT&T charges me an extra $10 a month to have my iPad on the plan for cellular data. If I shared the connection from my iPhone, though, I could forego the $10 charge and still get internet anywhere on the iPad (in theory). Beyond that, it’s also about $150 cheaper to buy Wi-Fi only iPads, so there could be even more savings there… of course it’s too late for me since I already have the 3G version.

So, is it even feasible to do this? I had some concerns. Would this totally kill my iPhone battery life? How would the internet speed on the iPad compare to 3G? Would the connection seamlessly hold up throughout the day? I found out these answers and some other interesting things when trying it out.

Here are the results of my testing, with normal mixed use throughout the day between devices:

Connection iPhone 5 Battery Life iPad 2 Internet Speed Notables
iPad 2 Cellular 3G ~14 hours 6 Mbps down
0.75 Mbps
  • Costs $10 a month to enable 3G on my plan
iPhone 5 Bluetooth Hotspot ~8 hours 1.5 Mbps down
1.5 Mbps up
  • When on a call, I was barely able to load a site. Speed test reported 0.5 Mbps / 0.0 Mbps up
iPhone 5 Wi-Fi Hotspot ~6 hours 30 Mbps down
20 Mbps up
  • When on a call, I was barely able to load a site. Speed test reported 0.75 Mbps / 0.0 Mbps up

Verdict: I’m not ready to ditch my iPad 3G connection, despite the $10 a month charge.

First of all, having the iPad internet basically unusable when on a call is just not acceptable. That’s one of the most frequent times I am using it to view emails, attachments, and google stuff. Battery life is the next big issue. Most days I can get through without having a charger. But with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi hotspot turned on, it’s not even close. If I run out of battery with my iPhone, I at least can use the iPad as a backup for everything but calling… But with a tethered internet I lose both abilities when the phone dies.

Bluetooth tethering doesn’t have enough benefits yet. It’s not efficient enough on battery, and the speed stinks. Maybe it’s better over Bluetooth 4.0 (anyone have an iPad 3 or newer to test?). I was impressed, though, that my phone can maintain a connection with my car and the iPad simultaneously. That’s pretty slick. Not that driving and talking plus using the iPad is a good idea…

The Wi-Fi hotspot gives me great LTE speeds that exceed the 3G capability of the iPad 2, but at a huge iPhone battery life cost. I also had trouble keeping it connected throughout the day. It simply did not like to stay connected to the Wi-Fi hotspot over longer idle periods. I had to keep going in to settings and refreshing to get the connection to come back. This was a minor inconvenience, but annoying none the less.

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