The iPad is now cheaper than ever if you buy it outright, but if you don’t have between $539 and $899 to spare, you can buy the new iPad on a contract. Planhacker looks at everything that’s on offer from Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, but be warned: it’s an expensive way to buy and we don’t recommend it.
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Being able to purchase the iPad on contract is a relatively recent development in the Australian market. Vodafone began offering the iPad 2 late last September, with Optus and Telstra following soon afterwards. However, as the newest iPad goes on sale, all three major local carriers are offering contract deals. In part, that reflects that following high sales for the first two models, Apple needs to entice buyers who don’t want to pay up-front for the device. (Those up-front prices: 16GB $539; with 3G, $679; 32GB $649; with 3G, $789; 64GB, $759; with 3G, $899).
Buying on contract does spread your costs, and guarantees you a fixed amount of data to use on the go each month. You’ll still be able to use Wi-Fi where it’s available, but 3G can be a useful option if you use the iPad regularly on the road or as part of your daily commute. For more casual usage, a prepaid iPad SIM plan is likely to be better value, but that will require you to purchase the device outright.
If you’re a frequent upgrader, a 24-month contract can seem restrictive, especially as Apple has released a new iPad model every 12 months since its launch. Vodafone offers 12-month contracts; Telstra and Optus only have 24-month deals.
In the table below, we’ve outlined the deals available from each carrier, including the monthly charge, how much data is included (in MB), and what the total minimum cost is. There are some large data totals available, but to be frank I don’t think many people will need 15GB of data a month unless they want to watch lots of streaming movies on the road. Across all carriers, data can only be used in Australia.
You can click on the column headers to filter down results to specific models, carriers or other features. For instance, to see all 64GB model plans, click on ‘Model’, choose ‘Filter’ and select just ’64GB’. Clear the setting or reload the page to view the full table again.
Your choice of carrier will be heavily influenced by availability where you want to use the device. Remember that in a home environment you’ll probably switch to Wi-Fi, so coverage in other locations may be more relevant. Telstra has the best reputation for overall coverage; Vodafone is still trying to recover its reputation after coverage disasters in late 2010 and early 2011; Optus falls somewhere in between. Telstra has relatively more expensive data charges, but many users already tolerate those on phones because of improved coverage (although that performance is less impressive than it was and the lack of 4G support for the new iPad means you’ll be competing with lots of others for bandwidth).
Buying on contract only really makes economic sense if you are regularly going to use the data allowance. If you’re an established iPad user and you know you need large amounts of data, it could make sense. But if you’re a first-time buyer, then choosing a lower allowance is a more sensible approach (though Optus’ entry-level 500MB plans look overpriced and if you’re going for the $79 plan, you might as well insist on a 64Gb model).
The absolute cheapest shortest-term deal on offer — a 12 month contract from Vodafone with a 16GB iPad and 2GB of data each month — costs $912 in total. That’s $373 more than buying an outright model. Vodafone will also sell you a prepaid SIM with 25GB of data to use over a year for $250, which would be cheaper overall (and more flexible). You could also purchase a much lower value SIM and find out what your general data usage is. Either way, you’ll spend less in the long run.
Similar calculations apply with the other carriers, so think carefully before buying through any provider on contract. Our assessment is that it’s rarely worth it.
If you want to check out the full details of individual plans, hit the relevant carrier site:
Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.