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Ten days with the LTE iPad Mini

Adding cellular to the iPad Mini isn't the most affordable proposition, but it has some serious benefits. Trying it out over the last week and a half, here's what impressed me most.

Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

You might not think that adding cellular LTE onto an iPad Mini would be all that exciting. After all, the larger Retina Display iPad and iPhone 5 are both LTE devices. However, the Mini has something unique going for it in the world of Apple devices: it's the smallest contract-free iOS LTE gadget short of getting an unlocked iPhone.

I got the opportunity to try out a black Verizon LTE Mini and see how the experience differed from using the Wi-Fi only version. There really shouldn't be many surprises, right? Still, there are some use cases I realized were pretty compelling, and might even merit the idea that an LTE iPad Mini is more of an ideal purchase than the larger LTE iPad ever was.

Turn-by-turn navigation: Now that iOS 6 supports baked-in turn by turn directions with voice without downloading a separate app, the Mini acts as a pretty good in-car navigation system. You'd need a special mount to take full advantage, but the Mini's tweener size and larger screen seem ideal for car use. The Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the iPad Mini has A-GPS and GLONASS, while the Wi-Fi version doesn't have GPS at all (it finds your location by triangulating local data like Wi-Fi hotspots). It worked like a charm during a New Jersey-to-Long Island road trip.

FaceTime on the go: My iPad started ringing as I was standing on the corner of 28th and Madison. As it so happens, my wife was trying to call my phone via FaceTime, and because the Mini used my same iCloud account, it forwarded to the iPad Mini. Answering an iPad Mini is still nowhere near as comfy as answering a phone, but it's far less absurd than lifting a full iPad out of your bag. I was able to make a quick call and say good-night to my kid before crossing the street. Other video chat services like Skype and VOIP calling apps are available, too. In essence, the iPad Mini with LTE is as close to an LTE-equipped iPod Touch "phoneless iPhone" as you can get.

Tethering: Sure, you'll have to make sure your data plan doesn't get totally swallowed up by the tempting proposition of on-the-go wireless tethering, but the iPad Mini is the perfect size to take in a bag alongside a laptop, unlike the larger iPad. As such, it's a perfect companion device for tethering. I found it worked excellently during train rides between New York City and my New Jersey home. (In case you're curious, I've already gone through nearly 900MB of data downloading via cellular over ten days of medium use.) Tethering is supported out of the box no matter if you picked Sprint, Verizon or AT&T, and up to five devices can be connected at once.

Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

iMessage adds texting, in a sense: I've already been assaulted by iMessages being propagated across all the myriad test iOS devices attached to my iCloud account. It's helpful to be able to get iMessages on the Mini on the go, because in work-related situations, it allows me to have an almost IM-like instant communications system. iMessage doesn't always work perfectly, and regular non-iMessage texts won't make it through onto the LTE iPad Mini, but it's a welcome way to use LTE without hogging the data.

Whether or not you wish there were a better Retina Display on the iPad Mini, there are no compromises when it comes to its wireless communication: the same super-fast LTE connectivity exists on the Mini as on the larger iPad. In that sense, it feels like an equally important, if not essential, feature for frequent travelers, and in my time with the LTE Mini on Verizon it seems to little additional battery drain. Although the $130 upgrade cost for LTE capability isn't cheap and you could connect a Wi-Fi iPad via other means such as tethering to a phone or a dedicated cellular/Wi-Fi puck, it's an extremely attractive perk.

Read my full review of the iPad Mini, including the newly-added section on LTE.

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