I eagerly embraced the iPad 3G, hoping to shed the weight of my laptop when traveling to China. Sadly, my conclusion is that the iPad doesn’t quite replace my laptop, maybe because I haven’t done enough to unleash its power. Here’s what I’ve found:
1) High roaming charges do not justify the 3G data roaming: I already travel with an iPhone, for which I was paying $50/month for 50MB of data roaming, and this was sufficient to address my basic email needs. So, I decided not to turn on data roaming for the iPad. Now, iPad comes unlocked, so there maybe a cheaper local solution. In China, you can buy a cheap 3G phone card for $30 and have it cut to fit into the iPad. There are professionals at stores like Guomei Electronics who can help cut the phone card for free.
2) Without data roaming, the wireless function is not as easy to use even in 5 star hotels: I tried a few, and surprisingly, the best place to use my iPad was at Songtsam Lodge in Shangri-La, Yunnan. From all 25 rooms of the lodge, you can get strong a wireless signal. One morning, after my jog at an altitude of 10,000 feet, I came back and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to make a Skype call to the US from my iPad!
I tried other hotels as well, with varying results:
I upgraded to try out the Songtsam Retreat, which is part of Accor Hotels. The rooms are beautifully done, but each room comes with only a cable for Ethernet connection. I quickly moved back downhill to Songtsam Lodge for the wireless.
Later on, I tested a series of Chinese five-star hotels in Baoshan and Tengchong. Guanfang Hotels are so luxuriously furnished that I couldn’t believe they were located in these remote unknown towns in Yunnan. However, they both came with Ethernet connection, and no wireless. (I am mystified that they don’t have a website either).
Hotel G in Beijing, a hip designer boutique hotel in the Sanlitun area, offers wireless in every room, but my iPad could not pick up the signal, and after 20 minutes I gave up.
Regent Hotel in Beijing is one of the hidden secrets of Beijing. It boasts a great location and the biggest gym within Beijing hotels, and yet still offers fairly affordable prices. There is wireless in the lobby as well as the executive lounge. But, again, I couldn’t make it work either on my iPhone or my iPad. There was one release of liability page the iPad keeps pulling up, but I couldn’t bypass it to access the free wireless internet. As I was about to give up, however, the hotel staff called in an IT specialist to help me. He input the IP address on my iPad, and voila, it worked!
3) Multimedia functions have not been tested: If anyone takes large files of photos and videos, test your iPad’s downloading capabilities at home first. I learned this the hard way. (To be fair, this is more a universal rather than China specific-issue.)
Overall, I’d say the best part of using an iPad in China is the “WOW” effect of using an iPad in public. Other than that, unless I figure out how to fit a local 3G SIM card in the iPad, I won’t travel with it again to China.
Photo credit: Beckett Guide to iPhone Apps
Follow WildChina and Mei on Twitter: @WildChina and @yunnangirl.