Kindle 3G or WiFi

Now that the Kindle 3 has been out for a few days it’s interesting to see the Kindle 3G or WiFi question still tripping up lots of people.

Have been looking at the questions people have about the differences between Kindle 3G+WiFi and Kindle WiFi and realized that it’s mostly use case related – People only care about the impact in terms of how they use their Kindle. This post will focus on the use cases and the simplest possible language.

If you’d like a more technical discussion the Kindle vs Kindle WiFi comparison post should help you.

Kindle 3G or WiFi – The Golden Rule and an explanation for WiFi

First, there are only two differences between Kindle 3 (Kindle with 3G and WiFi) and Kindle WiFi –

  1. Kindle 3 has both 3G and WiFi. 3G is what your cellphone uses and it uses AT&T’s wireless network to connect to Kindle Whispernet. Kindle WiFi has only WiFi. It does not have 3G. We’ll discuss WiFi in the next section.
  2. Kindle WiFi is $50 cheaper than Kindle 3. So by forsaking 3G you save $50.

The Golden Rule is – If you don’t know what WiFi is and $50 isn’t a big deal  – get the Kindle 3G+WiFi (i.e. Kindle 3).

You don’t have to read the rest of the post – just go and get the Kindle 3.

This is thanks to someone at the official Kindle forum. It makes a ton of sense. If $50 isn’t a big deal to you , then you are not going to ever regret spending $50 more. However, there’s a pretty high chance you will regret not getting the 3G. If you would buy something for $50 without thinking twice about it then get the Kindle 3. This is especially true if  you have been using the Kindle 2 and love having the WhisperNet connection everywhere OR if you travel more than twice a year.

When are WiFi and 3G used?

The Kindle 3G+WiFi and the Kindle WiFi are identical in behavior most of the time. That includes reading, sorting through your books, looking up the dictionary, listening to music, and using Text to Speech.

The only time they are different is when you are browsing the Kindle Store or downloading a book you have bought or surfing the Internet or Wikipedia. To do that your Kindle needs to connect to Amazon’s WhisperNet. Think of WhisperNet as an intermediary/gateway to the Kindle Store and to the Internet.

You need SOMETHING to connect your Kindle to WhisperNet – a gateway to the gateway.

  1. The Kindle 3G + WiFi can use either 3G or WiFi to connect to WhisperNet.
  2. The Kindle WiFi can only use WiFi to connect to WhisperNet.

That’s the only difference – How you connect to WhisperNet. Since 3G is availabile wherever AT&T’s network is available and that’s usually (not always) more widespread than WiFi availability the Kindle 3G+WiFi has a bit of an advantage.

3G and WiFi are both luxuries.

Neither 3G nor WiFi are a prerequisite to using your Kindle or even buying books. You can do without 3G and WiFi by using your PC. 

You can simply use your computer to browse Amazon’s Kindle section, buy books, and to download them to your PC. After that you can transfer books from your PC via USB cable to your Kindle (to the Documents folder).

So 3G and WiFi are a convenience and not a necessity.

Let’s dig into what 3G is, what WiFi is, and what wireless networks are.

What is WiFi? What is a wireless network?

WiFi is a popular wireless network technology. Kindle has WiFi capability means it can connect to wireless networks using WiFi network technology. Both Kindle 3 (3G+WiFi capable) and Kindle WiFi (only WiFi capable) have WiFi network technology.

A wireless network is usually a network that uses radio waves to connect devices to a main hub and via that hub to the Internet or to other devices. There are also wireless networks that connect devices to devices – However, Kindle does not support that.

At home, if you want to let devices connect to your Internet connection without using unwieldy cables, you can set up a home wireless network. Your wireless modem will plug into the wall socket that has the Internet cable and then it’ll send out radio waves that encompass a certain area and that is the wireless network.

Any device in that area can connect to the wireless network (provided it has the password), through the network to your modem, and through it connect to the Internet. 

If an airport wants to let passengers use the Internet connection(s) the Airport has it can set up a wireless network. Again we have the same process of the WiFi capable device connecting to this Wireless network the airport has set up and through it to the Internet.

What is 3G?

3G stands for third generation wireless technology and is generally used for cellphones.

Kindle 3 with 3G+WiFi uses AT&T’s cellphone wireless network as its 3G network. This is the same 3G network that is used by AT&T cellphones like the iPhone and the same one used by Kindle 2 International. 

If you want everything to work just as it does with the current Kindle 2 then the safe bet is getting Kindle 3G+WiFi.

Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 US use Sprint’s wireless network as their 3G connection. If you’ve been using one of these please check how AT&T’s network reception is in your home, work, etc. before buying a Kindle 3.

Quick Summary

At the very core 3G and WiFi are just ways to connect to WhisperNet. 3G will work wherever AT&T network reception is available. WiFi will work wherever there is a wireless network and you have the password to access it.

Kindle 3 can use either AT&T’s cellphone network or a WiFi network. Kindle WiFi can only use WiFi networks.

Where can you find WiFi?

To use WiFi to connect to WhisperNet you need a WiFi hotspot (a wireless network). Here are a few options –

  1. If you have wireless Internet at home that’s a WiFi network your Kindle WiFi can log onto.  
  2. Here is a list of AT&T WiFi Locations. AT&T offers Kindle owners free WiFi access for browsing Kindle Store and buying books. Note that WiFi locations are not like cellphone towers – they are small in area. If a coffee shop has a WiFi network it’ll only be available to you inside the coffee shop and in the immediate vicinity. You probably won’t have the network 10 metres away.
  3. All McDonald’s have WiFi networks. There is free access though you might have to get a password.
  4. All Starbucks have WiFi. These too have free access and again you might have to get a password.
  5. Lots of coffee shops and cafes have WiFi. These are usually free.
  6. Your work will probably have a WiFi network.
  7. Lots of airports and hotels have WiFi networks – some of these are paid.

By asking around you can find out whether or not there is WiFi in all the places you usually read. Remember that you don’t need WiFi except when you are downloading books and browsing the Kindle Store and surfing the Internet.

What are you paying the extra $50 for?

You are paying $50 extra to get Kindle 3’s 3G capability and have the option of using EITHER WiFi or 3G to connect to WhisperNet. You also get free Internet access via 3G and if your home country is US you get this free Internet access in over 100 countries. In all those countries you can also browse the Kindle Store and buy books (you can do this even if your home country isn’t the US).

Note that you don’t have to have either 3G or WiFi – you could just use your computer.

It basically comes down to how much convenience you want and how much access to WiFi you have. There are 4 main cases –

  1. You have no access to WiFi and need the convenience of 3G and the free Internet access – Get a Kindle 3. This has both 3G and WiFi.  
  2. You have access to WiFi sometimes (or always) but want the convenience of 3G and the free Internet access – Get a Kindle 3.  
  3. You have access to WiFi sometimes (or always) and don’t mind restricting book browsing and buying and Internet surfing to those times – Get a Kindle WiFi.  
  4. You have no access to WiFi but can get by using your Computer – Get a Kindle WiFi.

Another way to look at it is –

  1. Kindle 3G+WiFi – Book browsing, buying, and Internet surfing wherever there is AT&T’s network or there is a WiFi network.
  2. Kindle WiFi – All the above things only where there is a WiFi network.
  3. Your Computer – All the above things.

For $50 you are getting the convenience of AT&T’s 3G network and free Internet browsing on it – including outside the US.

What if you make the wrong choice?

The worse case scenarios are pretty harmless – You might get the Kindle WiFi and feel it restricts you to buying books only when WiFi networks are available or from your Computer. That’s not such a big deal.

You might get the Kindle 3G+WiFi and feel you spent $50 and aren’t using 3G access enough to justify it. Well, it’s convenient and it’s just $50 and it helps resale value.

Quick Summary of Kindle 3G or WiFi

Kindle 3G or WiFi is an easy question to answer –

For the most convenience get the Kindle 3 with both 3G and WiFi.

If you don’t mind the inconvenience of looking for WiFi OR you always have a WiFi network available OR you don’t mind using your computer to buy books then get a Kindle WiFi.

The only critical thing the Kindle 3G or WiFi decision determines is the physical locations at which you will be able to browse and buy books from your Kindle. If you don’t get Kindle 3G you can simply use a computer or find a WiFi network.

89 thoughts on “Kindle 3G or WiFi”

  1. I’m not in the market for a new Kindle but when the times comes, the decision will be easy: the Wifi only model. I have a wireless network at home and I have never purchased an e-book anywhere outside of my home. Paying an extra $50 for the possibility of doing so in a place where Wifi isn’t available isn’t worth it to me — it’s 5 extra books.

  2. The browsing was a big reason I was initially excited by the 3G in the Kindle 2. But the thing is, the Kindle is not good at browsing. It’s slow and lacks a lot of important browsing functionality. And in the meantime, I got a 3G-capable cell phone that’s much better at it in every respect except screen size. So when upgrading, I plumped for the Kindle WiFi. $50 is not a big deal for a first time purchase, but since I just got my Kindle 2 a year ago… every saving counts.

    1. Indeed.
      One thing to remember though is that the 3G (browsing and shopping) on Kindle is FREE in 100 countries of the world. It’s not only that one gets to use it, it’s free as well. In my country the roaming data fees even when travelling in the neighboring countries are simply outrageous. Kindle with 3G solves this issue, if it’s present to begin with.
      In my case the free 3G on the Kindle saved me much more than $50 in a couple of international travels alone.

      1. Can you access other online info such as google maps? I often leave my garmin in another car and sometimes need directions. Just wondering if shopping for books was only up shot to the 3G kindle 3. Thanks

  3. In a perverse twist, it appears that AT&T is the WiFi provider for Barnes & Noble… so you can use your Kindle WiFi while sitting at B&N to buy books from Amazon.

  4. I have an iPad. I have a Kindle 2. I was seriously considering upgrading to the G3 Kindle. But I don’t have AT&T in Montana, so what would be the point. That makes me sad.

  5. So, this clarifies things much better than Amazon’s own website. Now I know that as long as I’m at home with my WiFi connection, the cheaper model will work just fine. Nice explanation. It was what I thought it was, but I had to be sure. Thanks.

  6. I’ve had my K3g for almost a ,omth now. I love it’s smaller size and the buttons on both sides. My only complaints so far have been screne smearage (remedied by a microfibre lens cleaning cloth) and the fact that it has frozen on me a few times.

    Every time it freezes a little bit of fear runs through me, hoping that it’s only temporary and that I won’t have to send it back. So far so good! I heart my K3g!

  7. A very good expaination.
    I will opt for the WIFI for now as the extra can be used on other things. If i end up with a job traveling the world in a couple of years time then i will upgrade then.. Yes it is nice to have the 3G, BUT do i really need it. NO is the honest answer.
    Thank you.

    1. Yes, however the WebKit browser is slow on 3G. It’s quite fast on WiFi – but slow relative to a desktop browser.

      Also for some providers you’ll have to use the mobile versions of their sites. Yahoo, Google, Hotmail work – some other providers might not.

  8. Follow-up question to Gayle’s about receiving and sending e-mails with the Kindle 3G: if I am travelling can I get my e-mail if I use AOL at home for that purpose? That would be a deal-clincher for me if I can. Also, could I do things like go to priceline to reserve a room? If the answer is yes, how secure would it be to use my credit card to do this?

    1. Bob, don’t have an AOL email account so can’t check whether it works. You could ask at the kindle forum at – perhaps another Kindle 3 owner knows whether AOL email works.
      Yes, you could go to priceline to reserve a room.
      How secure would it be to use your credit card – If you’re using your Home WiFi or Kindle 3G – pretty secure.
      If you’re using a public WiFi hotspot – not secure at all.

  9. After reading this I’m going with the wifi only Kindle. Seems like the browser is pretty sub par and slow on 3G (which is the only feature I would see myself ever using away from a wifi network). Both me and my girlfriend have iPhones that are far more capable at web browsing over 3G. Plus, I’ll most likely load this thing with more than enough books manually by connecting it to my PC. I guess I’ll be saving $50!

  10. Maybe I should clarify my question. I have a macbook with wireless connection with airport express. Can I purchase the wifi version of the kindle and use airport express as my wireless connection or do I have to find a At&t hotspot instead.

    1. Julie, have been trying to find an answer but things aren’t very clear. It seems that Apple macbooks have a special card that lets them connect to airport express.
      Please check with Apple support.

  11. For clarification btwn WiFi and 3G+WiFi: If I am driving down the Southern California freeways, can I use a 3G+WiFi to browse the internet to identify traffic problems?

    1. Yes, if there’s AT&T connectivity. However, 3G is slow and the browser is basic and if you’re trying to use the Kindle while driving down the free way you’re unlikely to get wherever you’re going.

  12. Help! I want to buy my 83-year-old mother a Kindle for Christmas. She lives in a retirement community in Tucson. She will not be traveling away from home. She does not have a computer. She will want to buy books from Amazon via her Kindle.
    Which Kindle do I buy—and why?

    1. Kindle 3G. She can use the 3G and won’t have to depend on WiFi.

      She has the option of either 3G or WiFi. It would help if you checked with her whether her current residence gets AT&T wireless coverage or has WiFi. If yes for either then a Kindle 3G would be good.

    2. If the retirement community has WiFi available, get her the WiFi only version.

      If no WiFi, make sure there is AT&T 3G connectivity there, and get her the 3G version.

      If no WiFi or AT&T, think of something else to get her 🙂

  13. so … only $50 difference between wifi and 3g…no additional monthly service to at &T ..? why would you not get the 3g? even if the browser is slow..for that service on phones you need to pay a monthly service data plan. Can the 3g wifi serve as the browser for a laptop instead of wifi?

  14. I’m new to all of this. I want to buy a Kindle 3 for books, but I also want to use it like my desktop for internet access (like paying bills). I have AT&T DSL home service – they told me to buy their wireless router for $100, which doesn’t have good reviews. If I buy the 3G+WiFi, can I use it at home without having to have the WiFi router? If so, how safe will it be to pay bills?

    1. Lisa,
      the Kindle’s browser isn’t very suitable for things like paying bills. Please try and test out the browser at a local Target or BestBuy. Also, take a look at the Kindle Review Videos link at the top of the page and click on the Kindle 3 Videos link on that page. There are ones at the bottom that show the browser.

      Buying it for Internet Access in general is not a good idea.

      1. Thank you for such a quick response. I did watch some of the videos. I do have a couple more questions. Is the only reason it is not suitable b/c it’s slow b/w pages. I’m not worried about the speed. I just want an inexpensive device for internet access. I really can’t afford an iPad. Do you know of any other types of tablets for WiFi similar to the iPad? I really don’t know what to do. Thanks!

        1. Nook Color is a decent option.
          Based on what you’re aying your needs are the $249 Nook Color or the $139 Kindle WiFi would work.
          With Kindle WiFi you have a 30 day return period – so if the sites you want don’t work you can return it.

  15. Best Buy only have demo models of the Kindle 3G+WiFi, and the demos cannot browse for anything. They just have some preloaded demo software and no Internet connection. I have been to Target. Does anybody know if Target has fully functional demo Kindles?

    1. No Target Mngmt explained to me that Kindle has a very limited ALLOWANCE by specific contract as to what may or may not be done with the display. The display will put out a White Kindle and it will be in a locked clear compartment. You can then watch it as it does a preprogrammed loop. Another kindle will be on a chain to touch and feel. It will not be hooked up to WIFI. The display I saw at TARGET was, assuming it was dreamed up by a Marketing MBA, essentially “BRAIN DEAD” as to helping me decide if I want to buy it. Those of us who’ve tired of trying to read things online using one of Verizon’s and RIM’s crappy Blackberry browsers, we want to watch the browser work online. We want to READ a web page with the browser. (I’m leaving Blackberry over it–if they can’t make a blackberry browser that will let me seamlessly read the NY TIMES and LATIMES online, I am simply NOT interested in their telephones any longer. RIM is BRAINDEAD AND WAY, WAY BEHIND THE CURVE!

  16. I have generation one kindle and download books from Amazon directly to the Kindle (via Whispernet) without the use of computer. Can this be done No computer needed) on Kindle 3g? Thanks

  17. Very good article! I’ve been looking at articles all over the web for an easy explanation to help decide which to get and this really helped me decide. Thanks for writing in plain language for us pc dummies.

    p.s.-ignore the haters–u done good… ;0)

  18. I have been researching Kindle for hours. Your review is the only one I found that gave a clear description of what the difference is between 3G WiFi and WiFi. Also I appreciate the clear statement that if I will use my computer to download books that I do not need 3G WiFi. I’m a senior citizen on a limited income and $50 is a big deal for me.

  19. Hi,
    I just want to be sure.. If i buy a 3G + wifi model.. will i be able to switch to wifi from 3G as i will want ?
    I mean.. if i’m home, will i be able to chose between 3G and wifi, or wifi is just when 3G is not avalable ?

    An other question :
    I’m Canadian, I would like to know if i’ll be able to go on others site then just amazon site… like if i want see my e-mail on hotmail etc… will it be fees for it ? and what if I travel around the world.. will I be able to get on the internet (again to see my e-mail) ? or just amazon’s web site ??

    Thank you very much !

    1. No. There’s no option to switch from 3G to WiFi.

      Not sure exactly how it works – it seems to show WiFi on my Kindle in Montreal all the time.
      There is an option to limit bandwidth charges for personal documents. It’s on the Manage My Kindle page.

      You can access sites other than Wikipedia only via WiFi. On the Kindle Product page, in the ‘Kindle at a Glance’ section there’s a link ‘Check your Country’ under ‘Massive Selection’. Select Canada after clicking that link and you’ll get details.

      1. Ok, thank you!!
        So if i understood.. considering the fact that i’m canadian, living in Montreal, it is a better choice if i buy the wifi-only version, because i’ll don’t have access to 3G, at my home contry or elsewhere …

        Is that a correct conclusion ?

  20. so……..
    if we live in canada (or travel the world) g3 is not worth getting if you are wanting to access mobil web sites or to check your email?

  21. or……………..
    if we live in canada we need to have a friend (from the states) buy us one for xmas and then we get internet for free?

  22. Just one more time please.I have a cell phone (AT&T), & cable service.I do not plan to travel, and I don’t mind browsing from my computer.So I only need WI FI?—-Thanks

    1. Depends on what website. If your home country is US then you do get free 3G in countries where 3G is available. You’ll need to check the product page for which countries get it.

  23. Hi there,
    I live in New Zealand, what I understand from this is that I would not get free 3g internet access here, even though my hometown is covered by the AT&T GSM network, is that right? I don’t have wifi at home, and so would like 3g internet access. If I bought the Kindle in the US and then brought it here would I then be entitled to free 3g?
    Thanks for the article

    1. That’s correct. And you would have to pretend your home country is the US – even if you buy from the US you have to pretend you don’t like in New Zealand to get the free 3G.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply. If I were to pretend my home country is the US, are you able to access all websites like Facebook etc on the web browser?

        1. Yes. I haven’t used Facebook but people say it works. Sites using flash etc. won’t work. Most sites will. Mobile versions of nearly every site work.

  24. I’m trying to decide between the Kindle and the Nook. It looks like the Kindle has a larger screen. But what are the other differences between the two. And my other question is about actually buying ebooks. Are you limited to buying only Kindle if you have Kindle or can you download a Nook app onto Kindle and buy from Barnes & Noble too. How much storage does Kindle have? Nook?

    1. Cayte,
      Kindle and Nook have the same size screens. However, Nook is outdated. Please read this post – Kindle vs Nook – for details.

      Kindle – books from Amazon, books from stores that don’t have DRM (very few).
      Nook – books from anywhere other than Amazon.

      Nook supports library books. Amazon doesn’t.

      Kindle 3 has 3.3 GB of storage. Nook has 2 GB but it has a memory slot so you can expand it.

      If you feel Nook is a better choice I’d recommend waiting a few months as a Nook 2 might be on its way.

  25. The posted discussions go round and round and misses the precise understanding that is so urgently desired. Here’s a more precisely worded question. If someone answers it PRECISELY then the posts will make sense. WHAT I NEED TO KNOW TO DECIDE WHICH KINDLE I WANT–IF ANY AT ALL–IS THIS: With the Kindle WiFi ONLY can I connect to and surf the internet with a browser? Said another way, can I go to the NY Times and read it online on the WiFi only Kindle? Next, if I CANNOT surf and read NY Times with WIFI ONLY KINDLE, can I surf and read the NY Times online with the 3G WiFi Kindle? That’s what I want to know. I’m interested in Kindle IF I can go online (assuming connections) and surf internet and read newspapers etc on my new Kindle. If not, I’ll wait until they catch on that readers want to also read newspapers online. Looking forward to accurate reply so I can decide and buy my Kindle.

  26. I’m visiting the US and live in Italy. You can’t buy Kindle in Italy. I want to buy a Kindle whilst I’m here,. My question is, if Kindle 3G connects to AT&T or WiFi is it worth me buying the 3G? I don’t think I can get AT&T in Italy, we have other phone companies, TIM Telecom etc. Any help on this would be appreciated. I’ve read the reviews written by ‘switch 11’ and found them very useful. Most stores can’t even tell me for sure if the Kindle will work in Italy.

    1. If you’re here for a month or longer OR if you can have the Kindle sent to you – I’d recommend waiting a month for the new Kindle.

      Otherwise, I’d recommend getting the 3G with special offers for $139 if you don’t mind the ads.

      It’s always better to get the 3G because you never know when it might come in handy. Now the price difference is so low – there’s little point in saving a little bit to get WiFi when 3G could be helpful. For example, if you are travelling.
      Besides, at some point Amazon may expand to Italy. I think there is an Amazon Italy site so there’s no reason they wouldn’t want to expand Kindle 3G to Italy. If they are expanding as far as South America and Asia you have to guess they will get to all European countries sooner or later.

      My recommendation: Wait as long as you can and see the new generation models. If you can’t wait get the 3G model with ads.

      1. Thanks for all the very useful information. I won’t be here for much longer and have noticed that the prices are cheaper than if I bought in the UK for example.

        I do have a couple more questions though. Can I download books from and if I buy the Kindle in the US. It’s not as if you have to register the Kindle in the US, right? And do you think I’d have to pay a phone fee for using the 3G in Europe?

        If buy direct from and have themsend the Kindle to Italy I will pay heavy VAT. I have a credit note at Best Buy so would be purchasing from them, can you see any drawbacks? Price is the same. Unfortunately, the sales people are not very ‘worldly’ and could not guarantee that it would work in Europe and had no idea about phone fees 🙁

        I probably won’t be able to use special offer with the 3G connection in Europe as AT&T aren’t there, well I don’t think they are. What I don’t want to risk is having charges. But if I’m not obliged to use it, like you said, the price difference is worth buying the 3G anyway.

        I don’t know if you already know but in Italy we do not have walled phone contracts when you buy a phone. You can pick your phone company, buy any sim card and pop it in any phone. I was going to by an iPone here too but then found out it would be tied to a phone company in the US. I know you can find unlocked phones but it was a bit of a risk as I don’t live here.

        Thanks again for all your help. I look forward to your next message

      2. (Italy) just goes through, so whatever you buy comes from the US. Even do not ship to other countries. You always have to go through the .com website. Which means paying extra shipping and more tax.

  27. Can you switch off the 3G option and on use WiFi on Kindle? And are the ads on the reading pages or only when you download?

    1. Carol, there’s no way to specify that. If there’s a WiFi network available then Kindle uses that but if WiFi fails then it switches over to 3G.

      Ads are only on screensavers and at the bottom of the Home Page. There are no ads in the books themselves. The ads come with the Kindle so you will have ads for screensavers from the start.

  28. A superb write-up on the subject. I am very impressed. I’m most comforted by reading what others have either posted or questions they are asking and your responses to them. Who do you work for. They’re not paying you enough.

  29. Any chance that Amazon will update the Kindle browser to improve its download performance and one’s ability to navigate the screen.

    1. Unlikely given that it would increase 3G usage which costs Amazon and reduce reading time which leads to less book sales.

      Still possible given that Kindle4 has to improve and the browser is one area.

      Note: Nook 2 doesn’t even have a browser (it’s there but it’s hidden). So there is little pressure on Amazon to improve the browser.

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