The former allows you to connect only through a Wi-Fi network, while the latter supports both Wi-Fi and 3G data connections. A 3G model gives you greater freedom—you’re connected virtually everywhere you go—but the device itself costs more.
In this article, we’ll look into every factor to consider for each type, so you can make an informed decision about which is right for you.
3G signal on Kindle Voyage Wi-Fi signal on Kindle Paperwhite
Advantages of Kindle 3G over Kindle Wi-Fi
When Wi-Fi is not available, free 3G allows you to connect to the Internet, but with limited capabilities.
With the experimental browser in 3G, you are able to access just two websites: Amazon (to browse, buy, and download books anywhere, anytime) and Wikipedia. You can also write book reviews and share them via Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, but without the capability of accessing these sites. With a Wi-Fi connection all of the above is possible, along with access to any website of your choice.
If you own more than one Kindle, a 3G model can be kept in the car—even without a Wi-Fi signal—and it will sync with your other Kindles at home, updating the points at which you left off reading in each of your books.
Handy for travel
Kindle’s 3G coverage is over 90% within the US.
3G models have global wireless coverage in more than 100 counties and territories, including the UK, France, Spain, and Turkey.
No matter where you are—relaxing on a beach, halfway through a hike, on a short trip out of town, vacationing outside the US, or waiting on the tarmac half a world away from home—you can be covered by the 3G network.
No monthly fees – with exception?
It’s called free 3G because there are no monthly fees for using 3G to access Amazon and Wikipedia or to post reviews to Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads—Amazon covers the cost.
Your savings using Kindle’s free 3G over having to pay for a 3G SIM card and monthly service fees can be quite significant. Typical data plans in the US cost $20 for 300MB, $40 for 3GB, and $100 for 10GB, and if you travel outside the US, costs are even higher.
There are only two cases in which you will be charged for use of 3G. First, Amazon assigns an email address (for example, YourName@kindle.com) to your Kindle for use in sending documents to the device. When Wi-Fi is available, documents may be sent by Wi-Fi free of charge. If Wi-Fi is unavailable, you may choose to send documents via 3G, but Amazon will charge a per-use fee.
Second, Amazon will charge a weekly fee if you choose to receive newspaper, magazine, or blog subscription content by 3G when traveling outside the US.
3G connectivity: Is it adequate?
Depending on network conditions, 3G speeds are often slower than Wi-Fi, and downloading books may take a bit longer. Since an e-book is only a few MB in size, however, downloading one should take less than sixty seconds, according to Amazon.
In a test download of a 271-page book (815KB file size), we found 3G delivery took about ten seconds, compared with one second for Wi-Fi. (Exact Wi-Fi download times depend on your network speed.)
Wi-Fi definitely delivers higher speeds, but since most items loaded on an e-reader are relatively small files, the 3G speed offered is entirely adequate.
Models with 3G option
Of the three Kindles currently offered by Amazon, the 3G option is available only on the two higher-end models:
Advantages of Kindle Wi-Fi over Kindle 3G
Kindle with 3G models are priced higher than Wi-Fi-only.
Since a 3G connection consumes battery power more quickly than Wi-Fi, a Wi-Fi-only model usually has longer battery life. To conserve battery life on the 3G model, 3G can be switched off when not needed.
- Kindle Paperwhite weighs 7.2 oz. in Wi-Fi-only, 7.6 oz. in Wi-Fi plus 3G.
- Kindle Voyage weighs 6.3 oz. in Wi-Fi-only, 6.6 oz. in Wi-Fi plus 3G.
The without 3G model is 5% lighter than the 3G model. This is not a significant difference, but you may notice it when reading on the Kindle for extended periods.
Who should buy a Kindle Free 3G model?
- Those who don’t have Wi-Fi readily accessible. If you don’t have Wi-Fi in your home, Kindle 3G may be the better option.
- Those who take their Kindle when traveling. If you are a frequent traveler, the 3G is far more convenient.
- Those who want to read Amazon book reviews, buy and download books or access Wikipedia and Amazon from any location, even while traveling abroad.
A user experience that may help in making your final decision:
Who should buy a Kindle Wi-Fi model?
- Those who have high-speed internet and a wireless router at home and don’t need the added convenience of 3G.
- Those for whom cost is a factor — non-3G models are simply cheaper than 3G models.
- Those who tend to download books at a fixed location—home, work, or the airport before departure.
- Those who have a data plan on a mobile phone that can act as hotspot, and can thereby connect an e-reader to the Internet in places without Wi-Fi. (Note: This tends to drain the battery quickly and can result in high monthly bills for data use.)
The following reviews on Amazon will help you in making a decision:
- Amazon user review of Paperwhite Wi-Fi only model (with video)
- Amazon user review of Voyage Wi-Fi only model (with video)
You may also be interested in these articles:
- Ebook readers: Which Kindle should I buy? – Which.co.uk
- 3G or Wi-Fi-only Kindle? Advice for cost-conscious holiday shoppers – Marguerite Reardon, CNET, December 13, 2011
- Kindle 3G vs Wifi – Paul Duxbury, Wizzley.com, May 27, 2013