AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless have stocked shelves with LTE-capable versions of the Apple iPad Mini and full-sized iPad.
iPad Mini Tablet: Visual Tour
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The Apple iPad Mini with LTE 4G is available from the top three U.S. wireless network operators and Apple Friday. This version of the iPad Mini adds both 3G and 4G cellular-based mobile broadband to Apple's tablet. The Wi-Fi version of the iPad Mini has been available since November 2.
The LTE iPad Mini costs a pretty penny more than the Wi-Fi model. The Wi-Fi model costs $329, $429 and $529 for the 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB variants, respectively. Adding LTE boosts the price by $130, making the final price $459, $559 and $659 for the 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB models, respectively.
Since the iPad Mini is being sold at full retail price, consumers are not required to sign contracts with any of the wireless network operators selling it. Each has its own data offerings for the iPad Mini.
In addition to the wireless broadband feature, the LTE iPad Mini also adds GPS. This makes the iPad Mini with LTE a better navigation device. The Wi-Fi model relies only on hotspots for positioning data. The LTE model can use Wi-Fi, cellular and GPS networks to pinpoint its location.
If you're worried these features add bulk, don't be. The dimensions of the LTE iPad Mini are identical to the Wi-Fi model. The difference in weight is negligible: the Wi-Fi model weighs 0.68 pounds and the LTE+Wi-Fi model weighs 0.69 pounds.
LTE availability should play a big role in your purchasing decision.
AT&T's LTE network covers about 150 million Americans in 103 markets. That will expand to 250 million by the end of 2013 and 300 million by the end of 2014. For now, AT&T's LTE covers the most essential markets around the country, but many smaller markets are not covered.
Sprint's LTE network is barely there. It has about three dozen markets up and running, and many of them are rural. Sprint's LTE market is expected to increase its coverage significantly beginning in 2013, but it will remain far behind its larger rivals for some time.
Verizon's LTE network is by far the largest. It covers 300 million Americans in more than 400 markets. In fact, Verizon will be done building its LTE 4G network by the middle of 2013 (about the same time T-Mobile USA begins to build its LTE network).
Keep in mind, all three offer approximate 3G networks, and the LTE iPad Mini will run on those 3G networks when LTE isn't available.
In addition to the LTE iPad Mini, the LTE-equipped version of the full-sized iPad also goes on sale Friday. It costs $629, $729 and $829 for the 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB models, respectively.
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