Always-connected and always-on, a 4G tablet is the ultimate entertainment device that you can take anywhere. But do you really need one?

We explain the difference between 4G- and Wi-Fi tablets, help you decide whether you should buy a 4G tablet and show you where you can find the best deals.

What is a 4G tablet?

All tablets can take advantage of a wireless internet connection to get online when you’re at home or near a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Tablets that also have a cellular – or 4G – data connection have a built-in SIM like your smartphone, and as such are able to get online anywhere you have network coverage. You’ll be able to get online when you want, and not when public Wi-Fi allows.

With a cellular connection a 4G tablet is not unlike a large-screen smartphone, albeit without the traditional network-calling functionality.

But SMS and instant messaging clients, email provision, social media and video-calling apps ensure you’re never without the means for communication, while those extra screen inches make all the difference for enjoying media and being productive outside the office.

4G connectivity comes in handy when you’re not in range of a wireless connection, but its addition increases the tablet’s price – both at purchase point and in data charges. Can you justify the added expense over a Wi-Fi-only device?

4G vs Wi-Fi tablets

Designed to be portable, yet with a larger screen on which to stream TV shows and movies, play games, browse the web and get stuff done, a tablet is a much better alternative to a smartphone for entertainment and working on the move.

A tablet can also be more practical than a bulky laptop, which has to be connected to Wi-Fi or tethered to your phone and may not have the battery life to see you through.

But internet connectivity is critical for streaming and downloading content, working on documents in the cloud, and communicating with friends, family and clients. Without the internet, a tablet is a dumb device.

You’re not always at home or in range of a public Wi-Fi network and, even if you are, Wi-Fi hotspots are typically slow and flaky, while a lack of adequate network security could put your personal accounts and data at risk of hacking or identity theft. And providers can have you jumping through hoops registering to use their ‘free’ service.

So, it follows that when out and about many of us are relying on the mobile data connections of our smartphones in preference to using what is more often than not the better tool for the job: a 4G tablet.

Add a mobile internet connection to your tablet and you gain near-constant, secure web access on a large screen in places you didn’t previously think possible, such as on a holiday abroad or camping in the middle of nowhere.

Are 4G tablets expensive?

If saving money is your ultimate priority then a 4G tablet is never going to be a cheaper option than a Wi-Fi-only model. But for those who would take advantage of its cellular connectivity a 4G tablet doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think. It may also allow you to save money on your smartphone tariff by lowering your data allowance.

O2 has the best 4G tablet range in the UK, and buying on contract means the cost of the device (and your chosen data plan) is spread over 24 months: you can afford the latest model today, without having to pay the full price right away. If you were worried about the extra cost of 4G, this should set your mind at rest.

Best 4G tablet deals at O2

O2 stocks tablets that are available on a Pay-As-You-Go basis or a monthly contract - you can see some of its best deals in the chart below.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 7.0, for example, is a compact and affordable 4G tablet that is available with a one-off payment of £179 (with additional data charges), or from just £14.50 per month (no upfront charge). Or if you're looking for a larger screen, you could pick the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 for £18.50 per month.

O2 also makes the latest top-end tablets available at a more affordable monthly premium: you’ll get the Apple iPad 9.7 32GB from £31 per month (£5.99 upfront), Apple iPad Pro 10.5 from £41 per month (£29.99 upfront) or Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 9.7 from £39 per month (£18.99 upfront). And if you’re already an O2 customer, you can get up to 20% off the monthly cost.

Tablets bought on a 24-month contract offer a wide range of monthly data allowance options, as well as 100 texts (Android tablets only) and free O2 Wifi, with 15,000 hotspots in the UK. Selected tablets also include a free Office 365 subscription.