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New iPad's Speedy 4G Can Use Up Data Allotment in a Flash

The new iPad is displayed during an Apple product launch event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 7, 2012 in San Francisco, Ca.
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The new iPad is displayed during an Apple product launch event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 7, 2012 in San Francisco, Ca.

You'll love the blistering data speeds on the new iPad models with 4G wireless. What you may not love is how fast you could exhaust your monthly data allotment, or the cost of using that data when the preferred method of connecting, Wi-Fi, is unavailable.

Less than 24 hours after purchasing the Verizon Wireless version of the iPad + 4G — and choosing a $30, 2GB monthly data plan from Verizon — I was shocked by the notification on my iPad's screen: "There is no data remaining on your current plan."

My remaining options for the month included changing to a $50 5GB data plan or an $80 10GB plan. (AT&T offers a 250MB plan for $14.99; 3GB for $30; and 5GB for $50.)

I was all too aware that you can consume gobs of data while streaming a movie say on Verizon or AT&T's speedy 4G LTE data networks. Heck, you can use up your entire monthly allowance watching an hour of high-definition video.

You can also stream video on a 3G connection, and that same movie carries the same amount of data no matter how it is being delivered. The difference is that 4G provides a far superior viewing experience, without the hiccups and starts and stops that might make you give up on movie watching or certain other activities under 3G. And 4G LTE loads data faster than on the pokier networks. (Verizon claims that 4G downloads 10 times faster than 3G.) So by its very nature, 4G encourages you to do more — and ultimately spend more.

In my case, I wasn't watching video. What nailed me, I think, is that I was wirelessly downloading a number of the apps that I had already purchased for my older iPad onto the latest model. Those apps were made available through Apple's iCloud.

To help avoid just this situation, the new iPad has a 50MB per app download limit on 4G. Anything over that, and you're directed to Wi-Fi. (The over-the-air download limit on 3G-capable iPads was 20MB.) But that's a per-app limit, and all those smaller-sized apps I was moving to the new iPad collectively added up.

AT&T declined to comment for this story. In an e-mail, Verizon advised to "Use Wi-Fi to help extend the life of your data plan. With so many people having Wi-Fi in their homes and the increasing availability of Wi-Fi in public areas, customers should plan their data use in context of taking advantage of the Wi-Fi capability on 4G LTE tablets."

That's fine in theory. But the whole purpose of choosing a 4G iPad, which starts at $629 compared with the entry price of $499 for Wi-Fi-only models, is that you want it for precisely those instances when Wi-Fi is out of reach.

If there's a positive, it's that iPad data plans on AT&T and Verizon are prepaid. You can select only what you think you'll need. Because there's no contract, as is the norm with cellphones, you can easily add on or cancel data plans right from the iPad as often as you need to. Tap Settings and Cellular Data on the iPad to do just that.

The iPad almost always defaults to a Wi-Fi connection when available. But to make sure you won't get hit by cellular charges, turn off Cellular Data within Settings when you don't need it. You also have the option to shut down LTE.

From the iPad you can tell how much data you've used (in Settings). But to get a decent idea of which activities consume how much data, head to www.att.com/datainfo on AT&T or to the data calculator on Verizon.

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