The tablet computer market has come a long way since Apple introduced the iPad in early 2010. While the iPad wasn't the first tablet ever invented, its sleek design and successful marketing quickly made it the year's must-have item for gadget lovers, and the tremendous popularity of the iPad and iPad 2 has helped to make tablets the fastest growing segment of the personal computer market [source: Indvik].
Today, there are scores of different tablet models available from at least a dozen different manufacturers, and while all this choice is a good thing, it can also make selecting the right tablet seem like an impossible undertaking. With so many tablets on the market, there's sure to be one that fits your needs and your budget, but how do you find the one that's best for you? Read on to get our five tips for choosing the right tablet.
Think About How You'll Use It
If all you want to do on your tablet is browse the Web, check e-mail, or watch movies and other streaming content, just about any model out there (or any smartphone, for that matter!) can probably do the job. But once you give some thought to the specific ways you expect to use your tablet, you may find it easier to narrow the field.
Will your tablet be primarily for work, school or personal use? Will it take the place of a laptop, or will you use it in addition to an existing laptop or desktop? Do you want to use your tablet for lots of gaming and movie watching, or is it for more general home use, like browsing the Web or checking e-mail and Facebook?
Your answers to these questions can help you determine everything from the best operating system to the ideal screen size, so begin by making a list of the tasks and activities that are most important to you, and then, keep those priorities in mind as you read through all the different tablet features on the next few pages.
Compare Apps and Operating Systems
One of the first decisions to make is which operating system is right for you. The most common are Android, Windows and, of course, the Apple iOS that powers the iPad and iPad 2. The BlackBerry PlayBook runs QNX, a tablet operating system developed by BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion. While iOS is specific only to the iPad and QNX is specific only to the PlayBook, Android and Windows operating systems can be found on tablets from several different manufacturers.
Generally speaking, if you need to get a lot of work done on your tablet, especially creating or manipulating documents and spreadsheets, a Windows tablet might be the way to go. While you can easily read Word documents on an iPad, you need a paid app such as Quickoffice to edit them, and the process can still be somewhat clunky [source: Wilson]. Tablets running Android 3.0 (also called Honeycomb) can handle Office files with the help of a paid app like Documents To Go 3.0, which allows users to create, view, and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations [sources: Brent; Dolcourt].
The iPad is still the favorite for gaming and media playback, although Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy and Motorola Xoom now meet or exceed the iPad's screen resolution and processing speed [sources: Bell; Tablet PC Comparison]. Of course, the one area where Apple is the indisputable leader is its app store, which offers more than 140,000 apps for the iPad as of November 2011. If you know that there are certain apps or programs that you want -- or that you'll need for work or school -- be sure to find out whether they're available for the tablet you're considering.
Once you've decided on an operating system, your list of choices starts to look a little more manageable (and if you've decided to go with iOS, your list will be very short indeed), making it easier for you to focus on the different features you'd like your new tablet to have.
Even if you go with the iPad 2, you'll have a choice between a standard Wi-Fi model, which needs access to a Wi-Fi network to connect to the Internet, and a 3G model, which connects via 3G when Wi-Fi is not available. With either model, you then have a choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of storage. From there, it's really black or white (your two color choices!), since all iPad 2 models share the same screen size and include front and rear cameras for still photos and video recording.
If you choose to go with an Android or Windows tablet, you'll want to compare features across the various manufacturers to see how each tablet stacks up. Look at specs like battery life, Wi-Fi versus 3G or 4G access, storage capacity and processing speed, as well as extra features such as cameras and add-on accessories. Many tablets (including the iPad), now have both front and rear cameras so you can see your screen when you participate in Web chats (and see what you look like before you take a picture of yourself), as well as accessories like stands, wall mounts, remote controls, speakers and full external keyboards that can turn your tablet into a media center or a more productive work station.
If all your information gathering about tablets has been over the Web up until this point, now might be the time for some hands-on research. Read on to find out why.
Compare Size and Appearance
Even if you plan to purchase your tablet online, it's a good idea to head out to your local Apple store or other electronics retailer to get a closer look at the tablets you're considering. Before you go, give some thought to the tablet size you're looking for, if you haven't already.
Do you want the largest screen possible, or do you want a tablet that easily slips into your purse or backpack? Do you need something a little bit rugged that you can take into the field for work, or do you want a tablet that's as thin and light as can be? Will it be used only by adults, or will you want to let your 3-year-old use it to learn her letters?
You may already have an idea as to whether you want the biggest, the smallest or something in between, but there's really no substitute for getting your hands on the tablet to see how it feels. Tablet screens range in size from 7 inches to about 10 inches, and weights vary from slightly less than 1 pound to more than 2.5 pounds, but chances are one of the models you hold will just feel "right" to you.
Do the case and the controls feel comfortable and sturdy in your hands? Is the touch screen responsive? How's the virtual keyboard? If possible, look at a few models next to one another to see how their screen brightness and resolutions compare. Once you've settled on a favorite, or at least narrowed it down to a few, there's still one very important aspect to look at before you buy. We'll discuss that next.
If you've set a budget for your tablet and your favorite model falls within that range, you're in great shape. But sometimes you find yourself debating between a pricier model than you really, really want and a more affordable model that feels like a compromise. Before you make your final decision, make sure you're comparing apples to apples (or Androids to Androids) in terms of storage, processing speed, Internet access and size, since even tablets within the same product line often come in different models and performance levels.
Besides the cost of the tablet itself, you'll want to consider the price of any accessories or components that you may need to use your tablet the way you want to. Also, don't forget that for 3G and 4G access, you usually need to pay for a monthly wireless data plan, which in some cases requires a long-term contract. Think about any apps or software you might need to buy. Find out what the warranty period is for your tablet, as well as what's covered and what isn't. Finally, it's worth checking out online reviews from an objective source to see how your favorite tablet performs in terms of reliability and stability.
For more information to help you choose the right tablet, visit the links on the next page.
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- Bell, Donald. "Tablet Buying Guide." CNet.com. Nov. 18, 2011. (Nov. 27, 2011) http://reviews.cnet.com/tablet-buying-guide/
- Dolcourt, Jessica. "Documents to Go for Android." (Nov. 27, 2011) http://download.cnet.com/Documents-to-Go-for-Android/3000-2369_4-10965104.html
- Indvik, Lauren. "Forrester: Tablet Sales Will Eclipse Laptop Sales by 2015." Mashable.com. Jan. 5, 2011. (Nov. 27, 2011) http://mashable.com/2011/01/05/forrester-tablet-sales/
- Rose, Brent. "10 Hot Honeycomb Apps for Business." PCWorld. June 19, 2011. (Nov. 27, 2011) http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/230180/10_hot_honeycomb_apps_for_business.html
- Tablet PC Comparison.com. "Comparison List of Tablet PCs." (Nov. 27, 2011) http://www.tabletpccomparison.net/
- Wilson, Jeffrey L. "Quickoffice Pro HD for iPad." PCMag.com. Nov. 15, 2011. (Nov. 27, 2011) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2396440,00.asp