Tablet buying guide: 10 things to look for
11th Jul 2011 | 09:00
How to choose the right tablet for you
With more tablets arriving on the market, how do you choose which is best for you?
Here's our quick and easy guide to choosing your perfect tablet.
1. What operating system does it run?
There are various different operating systems available for tablets.
By far the most popular is iOS - the Apple option found on the iPad and iPhone. Many of the tablets due out during 2011 will run Android 3.0 - a new purpose-built version of the Google-backed operating system found on many phones. See our article What is Android? for more.
Other operating systems are on tablets from Blackberry and HP. Although there are some tablets that run Microsoft's Windows 7, this operating system isn't specially designed for tablet use but Windows 8 is looking increasingly tablet-friendly.
For more on tablet operating systems, check out Tablet operating systems compared.
2. How big is the screen?
The screen size is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding which tablet is best for you. Obviously, the size of a tablet that you go for depends on just how comfortable you are with the various sizes - or how portable you need it to be.
The iPad 2's screen is identical to the original iPad at 9.7-inches, mostly because it proved such a popular size. Many of the new Android 3.0 tablets are bigger with 10.1-inch displays.
However, some smaller options exist - 7-inch is another popular size; the Dell Streak 7 and Blackberry Playbook are good examples. Smaller tablets do exist but there's a thin line between a 5-inch tablet and a smartphone.
3. What processor does it run?
All tablets are based on ARM processor technology - the same as virtually all mobile phones. Different companies have produced their own versions of the ARM chip design and many of them are now dual-core, like a lot of PC processors.
Apple's iPad 2 runs the Apple A5 chip, while Android 3.0 tablets generally use Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor.
You can read more about the technology in different tablets in Tablet tech explained.
4. Do you need a 3G tablet?
All tablets support Wi-Fi so you can wirelessly connect them to your home network. However, many tablets come in two versions. And, as well as Wi-Fi, one of those versions will also support 3G so you can put a mobile internet-enabled SIM card into it and use the internet while on the move.
The 3G versions are generally more expensive and you also have to have to sign up to a data contract. The good thing about this is that many stores offer tablets at subsidised rates just like they do with mobile phones.
5. Does it have cameras?
The new iPad 2 has two cameras, as do many Android 3.0 tablets. The purpose of the front-facing camera is for video-calling so you can use Skype or apps such as Google Talk. The rear-camera can be used to take pictures or, as on mobile phones, video.
Indeed, many tablet cameras are capable of taking 720p high definition video, so check that out if it's important to you. Most new tablets have two cameras too - but it's worth checking out before buying.
6. How many apps are compatible with it?
The Apple App Store has the most apps, with over 300,000 now available. The iPad 2 runs almost all of them but there are around 65,000 specially designed for the iPad. For Android, there are only a couple of thousand 3.0 apps, but still they cover all the main bases. Older Android apps also work on Honeycomb though.
Other operating systems also have app stores, but they are small in comparison. However, for all but the most obscure operations you should still find apps to do what you need.
7. How much storage space does it have?
How much storage you require depends on what you want to use your tablet for. 16GB is more than enough for storing a load of music and photos, but large applications and HD video require a lot more memory.
If you're not going to store a lot of music or video, the smaller sizes will be fine. The iPad doesn't have a memory card slot but many of the other tablets have microSD/microSDHC slots, so you can expand the storage.
8. Can it connect to your TV set?
Many tablets can also connect to monitor displays and televisions via an HDMI cable. This is great if you have video content on your tablet that you can then play on the bigger screen.
If this is important to you, look for a full-size or mini-HDMI output, available on many different tablets such as the Motorola Xoom. You will need to buy a cable to connect your tablet to the TV. In the case of the iPad 2, there is a special kit (pictured) for connecting your tablet to an HDMI display. The catch is that it'll cost you an additional £35.
9. How thick is it and how much does it weigh?
While a lot of noise has been made about the iPad 2 weighing just 601g and being 8.8mm thick, other tablets more than hold their own.
It's no longer the thinnest or lightest - the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 weighs 595g and is 8.6mm thick.
The 7-inch Blackberry Playbook is a mere 9.7mm thick and weighs just over 400g as it's smaller. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, meanwhile, is 10.9mm thick and weighs a mere 599g, while the Motorola Xoom is surprisingly heavy at 730g.
Weight and thickness is more of an aesthetic concern than anything else, but if you're going to be holding your tablet for a long period of time (or in one hand) you'll certainly start to notice heavier models after a while - ditto if you're going to be carrying it around in a small bag.
10. Do you actually want a laptop?
Don't get us wrong, we think tablets are amazing. But while there are productivity applications - like word processors and spreadsheets available - as well as image editing tools and online apps like Google Docs, don't expect miracles from a tablet in terms of work.
A tablet can be a great addition to your tech armoury, but it can't replace a full-blown Mac or PC with powerful desktop software. Replacing a netbook- now that's a different matter. Tablets really are a whole new category of computing.
First published in TechRadar Tablet Buyer's Guide
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