The iPad as a Personal Hotspot: Over 25 Hours of Continuous Use

Verizon makes the decision of which iPad to buy even more difficult by being the only of the two US carriers to enable the personal hotspot option on the new iPad. For no additional monthly fee on top of your data plan your Verizon LTE iPad can act as a wireless hotspot, allowing up to five other devices to use its cellular connection over WiFi (2.4GHz only, unfortunately) or Bluetooth. One device can use the hotspot via the iPad's USB dock cable.

If you don't already have the personal hotspot option in the initial settings page, you'll need to go to general settings, then network, and activate personal hotspot there. Once you've done so you'll see a new item for personal hotspot in the default settings page.

You must remain on the personal hotspot settings page for the iPad's SSID to be visible to nearby devices. Once you leave the settings page, the iPad stops broadcasting its personal hotspot SSID.

In general the iPad's personal hotspot seems to be better behaved than similar options under Android. I've noticed all too often that Android hotspots will either stop routing traffic after an extended period of use, requiring either cycling the radio states on the hotspot device itself or in some cases a full reset of the hardware. The iPad wasn't immune to this sort of behavior, it just seemed to happen less than on the Android tablets and smartphones that I've tested. In one test it took only a few hours before I had to reset the iPad to make its hotspot work properly again, while in another case it was only after 24 hours of continuous use that the feature began misbehaving. Overall I am very pleased with the Verizon iPad as a personal hotspot, the bigger issue is the cost of the data that you're sharing with all of those devices.

As I mentioned in our Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE review, these LTE tablets make great hotspots simply because you are pairing smartphone modems with gigantic (for a smartphone) batteries. The end result is if you have to treat your LTE tablet as a true hotspot (screen off and all), you get great battery life. The new iPad takes this idea to a completely new level since its battery is now squarely in the laptop-sized category, but its LTE modem is still designed to run on a < 6Wh smartphone battery.

Our standard hotspot battery life test involves running four copies of our web browsing battery life test and playing a 128Kbps internet radio stream on a laptop tethered via WiFi to the hotspot being tested. While peak download speeds during this test can reach as high as 1MB/s, remember that these web browsing battery life scripts include significant idle time to simulate reading a web page. The average data transferred over the duration of the test amounts to around 25KB/s if you take into account idle periods.

With the Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE I tried something different—letting the tethered notebook download at full speed using the Tab's LTE connection. On the new iPad, after nearly an hour of downloads at well over 1MB/s I saw no drop in the battery percentage indicator—it was stuck at 100%. Not wanting to upset Verizon too much, I needed to find a good balance between a realistic workload and something that wasn't going to make me rack up over a hundred GB in overages.

If our standard hotspot test averages around 25KB/s of transfers, I figured doubling it couldn't hurt. I downloaded a sufficiently large file at a constant 50KB/s on a laptop tethered over WiFi to the new iPad to see how long it would last. The result was astounding: 25.3 hours on a single charge

WiFi Hotspot Battery Life Time

I used up over 4.5GB during this period—almost the entire amount that my $50/month plan gave me, all without having to plug the iPad in to recharge it. That's the beauty of using a 42.5Wh battery to drive a cellular modem that can last a couple of hours on a tenth of that capacity. If you want to use the new iPad as a personal hotspot, you'll likely run out of data before you run out of battery life.

It's a real shame that AT&T decided against enabling personal hotspot on its version of the LTE iPad. It's for this reason alone that I'd recommend the Verizon version, assuming that you're planning on using your iPad in an area where Verizon has LTE coverage of course.

The Most Tangible Feature: LTE Support The Camera, It's Much Improved
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  • antef - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Yes it's nice, no one will argue that. But I don't see it as the huge advancement the authors indicate. Using it in the store it seemed fine, but honestly just walking right up to it, I wasn't even sure if I was using the new or old iPad. I had to go over to the iPad 2 to recognize the difference. And even then, after being back at the new iPad for a couple minutes, I completely forgot about it. If you are looking for pixels, sure, you'll notice. If you're just using your device and thinking about other things, probably not so much. Reply
  • PeteH - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Eh, I think it depends on what application you use the iPad for. Web browsing and Tweeting? You're probably right, you wouldn't notice the difference in displays. But if you use it to view images I could see it being a big deal. Reply
  • zorxd - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I am pretty sure extra resolution is more noticeable when reading text than when looking at images Reply
  • PeteH - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I didn't mean "notice" as in you couldn't tell the difference, just that the difference wouldn't be something that you would constantly be aware of if you were simply web browsing.

    If you were reading an e-book? Absolutely, but if that's your only use case I'd get a Kindle and save the money.

    Regularly viewing quality images is something that can't be done on an e-ink reader, but for which the improved display would make a huge difference.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I would say this is a perfect example of why it's better to use "I"" statements than say "YOU won't notice, YOU won't care, there isn't that much difference" - those kinds of statements. "I didn't notice much of a difference, it wasn't a big change in MY experience. . .)

    Displays can very very personal in experience, and things that bug the heck out of me may not be a problem to someone else. For example, a pixel pitch of around .270mm is just too big for me, in a monitor, and it bugs me. Always.

    Frame rates are a good example of something I'm not consciously aware of all the time, but I can sure tell the difference on some level, and some displays are more effected than others. There are extra factors in LCD screens that can make the problem worse for some of us - others don't notice so much, or it's just not a problem for them.

    One thing I believe, is that as more people use really better screens, they'll understand more why some of us call for them every chance we get.

    ;)
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I can *immediately* notice the difference in web browsing, which is primarily focused on reading text... Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    I found it a noticeable difference, just not neuron melting like some reviews led me to think. For 100 or more less I'd still be plenty happy with an iPad 2, especially given the CPU and battery life performance are about the same. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately the iPad 2's camera is a disgrace. It should've had the iPhone 4 camera, which was already out by that time. Reply
  • repoman27 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    The iPad 2 was also thinner than the iPhone 4. Now that it is the same width, it has the same camera. It's not really Apple's style to add thickness to a device just to support one feature that isn't heavily used anyway (tablets are not a very good form factor for a camera.) Reply
  • zanon - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - link

    Human vision varies significantly from person to person, as do use patterns for machines. Someone who is more near sighted or simply has better vision in general, and/or uses their system at a closer distance, may see a truly dramatic change. To take my personal example, I have excellent color vision and am also near sighted, and tend to hold my devices relatively close (or use glasses at my machine). I can see the pixels on the iPhone 4 screens (326 ppi) if I focus a bit, and for the older screens (or old iPads) they're massively pixelated to me (not that that made them useless). The High DPI screens are a night/day difference personally, making all types of reading in particular (be it on a terminal session, the web, PDF manuals, ebooks, or whatever) massively more functional (and everything else more beautiful).

    But that's just me, and is that awesome? No, it's kind of meh, I'd love it if I didn't need glasses to use my desktop without being hunched over the keyboard to drive. But understand that you'll see raves about the screen that are completely justified, just not for you. 20/20 vision puts the critical distance around 13" I think, but in the end everyone will need to take a look for themselves.
    Reply

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