Tired of looking for WiFi hotspots? 3 tips for choosing the right monthly data plan.

Now that Verizon has jumped into the “laptop data plan” game, six different carriers are offering all kinds of options that let you stay connected.

Monthly fees range from $25 to $85. Monthly data use starts at 200MB. And download speed claims are as high as 14.4 Mbps (Megabits per second).

Here’s how to know which is right for you.

First, figure out how much data you need by understanding how you use your laptop. For example, do you use programs like Pandora for streaming music or Apple’s MobileMe for continuous syncing? Do you keep Facebook or Twitter open? How about your email program — always on?

With WiFi, you don’t have to think about data use so it’s important to understand how data transfer is measured: in Megabytes and Gigabytes…and a Gigabyte is 1024 Megabytes. So, while 200MB may sound like a lot of data each month, consider it takes about 2MB to download an app and about 600MB to download a TV show. Most of the eight laptop data plans presented in engadget.com’s comparison are either 200MB or 5GB, and some have 10GB or an unlimited option. But remember: there’s no “rollover” with data!

Second, consider how important Internet speed is to you. How aggravated do you get while waiting for images to download? How quickly do you need to upload that report? Differences between the slowest and the fastest speeds are pretty significant. Also keep in mind these are “claimed” speeds. Your results may vary. Considerably.

Third, how much is constant connection worth to you? For some, staying connected can make or break business deals. For others, a smartphone covers most of the bases and adding a laptop data plan is simply an added convenience. Some plans don’t require a contract so you can check out the value of laptop data without committing.

No matter which data plan you choose, you will become your very own hotspot. You’ll get a nifty little USB stick that acts as your laptop’s antenna and, depending on which plan you choose, may even act as a “MiFi” hotspot that other devices can use, too.