Buyer's Guide - Tablets
The tablet market continues to quickly grow and there has never been a wider variety of options depending on which price point, size, functionality, and operating system you are interested in and comfortable with. Below are some tips to steer you in the right direction.
1. How are you going to use it?
- Schoolwork/Productivity: Invest in a full-size tablet (9 inches or larger) and possibly an external keyboard. Also consider a tablet that comes preloaded with Microsoft Office; there are several Windows 8.1 tablet choices to consider such as the Dell Venue Pro 11. The Apple iPad Air, with its free iWork suite, is another option.
- Gaming: Consider the apps that are available. The App Store has an array of high-quality games which would steer you toward an iOS (Apple) device. However, the Google Play store is also an option if you are interested in an Android device.
- Media Consumption: For movies, TV, and books, again, it largely comes down to the content you are interested in accessing. Consider Amazon Prime or iTunes which both offer a huge library of content. On the Windows front, you'll enjoy Xbox integration with your tablet.
2. Choose the right size
- 7 inches: If you're looking for a lightweight device that fits in a purse or bag and allows you to read and watch video on the go, you'll want to consider a 7-inch tablet. Weighing less than a pound, 7-inch tablets are easy to hold with just one hand, but they don't provide the most immersive experience.
- Up to 8 inches: Stepping up to an 8-inch tablet like the iPad mini provides more real estate for apps, games and movies while still being quite portable. However, these slates aren't quite as easy to hold with one hand.
- 10 inches or larger: A 10-inch or larger tablet provides a bigger canvas for surfing the Web and editing documents, making them the best choice for productivity. With a typical weight of 1 to 1.6 pounds, larger slates aren't as portable as 7-inch tablets, but they easily fit into a bag or sleeve.
3. Which operating system is right for you?
- iOS 9: Apple's mobile operating system powers all the various iPad models. iOS 8 has a user-friendly interface and a plethora of apps available within the platform.
- Android: Android is a more customizable operating system ó both by tablet makers and consumers. Android offers plenty of widget options, as well as launcher apps that can change the look and feel of your device.
- The world of Android tablets can definitely be confusing. On one end of the spectrum, you have slates that offer a pure version of Google's OS, such as the Google Nexus 7.
- Other companies 'fork' Google's operating system with their own overlays, such as Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX. There are benefits to the Fire OS, such as advanced parental controls and unique features, like the Mayday button for live tech support. However, the platform lacks Google apps and Google Play store access, relying instead on Amazon's store.
- In between are such tablets as the Samsung Galaxy line, which provides full access to the Google Play store.
- Google Play is similar to iTunes in that it offers music, movies, TV shows, books and magazines. However, while there are more than 1 million apps in Google Play, many haven't yet been optimized for tablets.
- Windows 8.1: You'll find all kinds of tablet-laptop hybrids as well as familiar slate designs utilizing the Windows 8.1 platform. Microsoft's Live Tile interface is dynamic and easy to customize. The app store for Windows 8.1 currently has about 145,000 options.
4. What kind of apps and content do you want?Because content is king, the baked-in media and apps store should influence your purchasing decision. If you are partial to iTunes, you'll want an iPad Air or iPad mini so you can easily purchase and enjoy music and videos from Apple's store on your tablet. You can use that same iTunes account to purchase apps, books and magazines. And you can download apps to access your Amazon books, as well as Amazon's video service.
On the Android front, you have several options. There's Google Play, with its growing selection of music, movies, TV shows and magazines. This is the most common app store, found across most Android-powered devices.
Amazon's Kindle Fire line is compelling because of its access to Amazon video on demand, as well as Kindle books, magazines, apps and music. And if you're an Amazon Prime member, you'll also enjoy free access to the company's e-book lending library and Prime video service.
You can access your books from Amazon or Barnes & Noble on Windows 8.1 through Nook and Kindle apps, just as you can on the iPad. But Microsoft has media for sale itself as well, thanks to Xbox Music and Xbox Video.
5. What specs do you need?
- Processor: On the Apple front, the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display pack are considered powerful devices because of their 64-bit A7 chip. (The iPad Air 2 has an even faster A8X chip.) But that's far from the only chip on the market. Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 is a superfast option as well.
- Other options include Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor (in the Surface 2 and several Android slates) and Intel's Bay Trail chips (in Windows 8.1 devices now and Android soon).
- RAM: You'll definitely want at least 1GB of RAM in your next tablet, but 2GB would be better. The more RAM a tablet has, the more responsive it will be in performing the tasks you need it to. When you don't have enough, you'll find loading and closing apps, as well as switching apps, to be sluggish.
- Internal Storage/Expandability: The memory of some Android or Windows tablets can be expanded with a microSD card. That can be particularly helpful if you plan to download a large amount of data. But for internal storage, you should look for a minimum of 16GB.