Decisions: what's my next phone, tablet on AT&T?

I've been intrigued by the new HP/Palm products that are just arriving on the market.  I like what I've seen of webOS so far, and the combination of a tiny Veer phone plus the TouchPad looks really, really interesting.  My question: is there a combination of phone and data plans from AT&T that will work for me and still be relatively affordable?  I went to an AT&T store today and found out.  Here's what I learned.

First of all, I learned that I have a pretty good data plan now, and I probably shouldn't change it for my phone.  I have an iPhone 3GS with an unlimited data plan.  AT&T has stopped offering that plan; if I switch to a different data plan, I can never come back to an unlimited data plan with AT&T.  It's $30 per month, not a bad price for all-you-can-eat data.  So far, so good.

Next, I want to get an HP TouchPad, but should I get the WiFi-only model, or should I wait a few more weeks for the 3G-enabled TouchPad and buy an extra data plan for it?  That depends: if I can use my phone for "tethering", i.e., turn my phone into a personal wireless hotspot, then I don't need a 3G-enabled tablet or a separate data plan for the tablet..  This is useful if I want Internet access for the tablet, but I'm not in a WiFi hotspot.  My iPhone has the ability to be a personal hotspot (and so does the HP Veer), but it requires me to have tethering as part of my AT&T data plan.

I ask the AT&T representative "Does my data plan include tethering?"  No, it does not.  If I want tethering, I need to leave my unlimited data plan and switch to a plan that gives much less data for more than I'm currently paying.

How much data are we talking about?  For what cost?  My tradeoffs look like this:
  1. Keep unlimited phone data plan, add 2GB tablet data plan.  Cost: $55 / month, or $75 / month with 2GB overage.
  2. Switch to 4GB + tethering phone data plan, no tablet data plan.  Cost: $45 / month, $65 / month with overage.
  3. Keep unlimited data plan, no tablet data plan.  Cost: $30 / month, no possibility of overage.
Option 1 is the most expensive, wastes my unlimited data plan on the small phone, and is susceptible to overage charges on my tablet.  I'll want to limit how often I watch movies or stream music on the tablet when I'm connected via 3G.

Option 2 means I give up my unlimited data plan, but I don't have to buy a separate plan for the tablet because it can get Internet data from the phone's mobile hotspot.  However, I'm vulnerable to overage charges, because I'm sure that the phone + tablet combined will go over the 4GB monthly limit.

Option 3 means the tablet only sees the Internet when I'm in a WiFi zone.  But it's the cheapest plan, and there are never overage charges so I can watch movies on the tablet as much as I want with no extra charges.  The tradeoff seems worth it to me, except I wonder if I'll ever find myself with no WiFi coverage and I want the internet on my tablet.

One final piece of data helps answer that last question: I can buy a tablet data plan on a month-to-month basis; no long-term contracts are required.  So if I go with Option 3 and one day I really need Internet access for the tablet outside of a WiFi hotspot, I can just call AT&T, put the tablet on a monthly plan, and start using it.  I just need to remember to turn off the plan before the end of the month.

I think Option 3 is my winner.  This means I should wait a little longer for the 3G-enabled HP TouchPad.  And I may need to be careful about adding a month-to-month data plan because I'll want to remember to disable it.

What would you do if you were in my situation?  Which of the three options above would you choose, and why?  What factors are important to you?  I'd love to hear how you would approach the situation.


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The next tablet is really

The next tablet is really good. We all should look forward to its release. - Green Water Technologies

Works for me...

I'm in the very same boat, with a nice "unlimited" data plan for my iphone that I would have to give up if I added tethering. We went with option 3 as well when adding in my wife's iPad to the family stable, getting a 3G model but waiting to activate it if we ever need to. So far, over a year in, we have never felt much urge. I went further in this direction in the past couple weeks in getting a tablet for myself, a Nook Color that I've rooted to full Android. I know I have the option of switching to a tethering plan on the iPhone if I ever feel the urge, which would have the side benefit of supporting other devices, like our laptops. It's a question of lifestyle, really - for me, if I'm not somewhere with wifi (work or home, mainly), I'm probably driving from one to the other or at some social activity where I wouldn't really be doing tablet stuff anyway. The iPhone is a capable enough mobile device on its own that it can cover the gap reasonably well (checking maps, looking up product reviews while in the store, etc.). Also, the tablets have enough locally-stored value (books, games, cached news feeds) that they are still an enjoyable distraction between hotspots. I can see the desire for a tablet data plan if you did a whole lot of travelling, or lived some TV-commercial sort of life where you hang out at sidewalk cafes all the time. But that hardcore traveller probably already carries a thinkpad for work, and the cafe guy probably opens up a MacBook anyway to go with his machiato and clove cigarettes. A tethering scheme probably works out for both those guys. The interesting experiment might be to see if one can get by with a "dumb" phone that just does calling and messaging, and just carry a data plan on a tablet that you'd nearly always have with you. This might be easier for women who carry purses, and maybe easier with a 7in tablet like a Samsung Galaxy Tab than a 10in tablet like an ipad or Xoom.

In case I wasn't clear: the

In case I wasn't clear: the Nook Color is wifi-only. At $250, it's a great value right now for a very capable Android tablet with an excellent screen.

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