Tablet or Phone: Which should you choose?

20th Dec 2013 | 14:22

Tablet or Phone: Which should you choose?

Its never simple, is it?

How to decide

There will be a lot of you out there who are already rocking a smartphone and/or a tablet, but for those of your about to dip your toe into the technologic water you may be wondering if you need both or just one.

Luckily TechRadar is on hand to help you make that decision, whether it's picking up your first mobile device or perhaps it's time to upgrade and you're unsure which direction to follow.

Of course you could make things easy and plump for both a shiny new smartphone and a tablet, but they don't come and cheap and for many of us we only realistically need one or the other.

There are numerous things to consider when it comes to choosing between a phone or table, but the key questions you need to ask yourself are; who is it for, what will it be used for, how much are you looking to spend and what screen size do you fancy?

The biggest difference in phones and tablets is obviously screen size. This distinction is forever becoming more blurred as supersized smartphones begin to encroach on the 7-inch tablet market.

Looking for the best of both worlds? Then you might want to check out the 6.44-inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra or the 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1520 - there's even the 7-inch Asus FonePad which is a tablet first and foremost, but also has calling and texting abilities.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

If plans for your new device centre around watching a lot of movies, reading books and magazines or browsing the web then we'd recommend buying a tablet.

While you can do all these activities on a smartphone, the smaller screen isn't as comfortable from a visual perspective, although phones are much better for music playback thanks to their portable nature.

We'd recommend a phone for those users who spend a lot more time on the go, for those who value portability as much as functionality. Tablets are becoming ever more portable, but nothing will ever replace the ease of being able to just pop something into your pocket.

Phones are the better messaging devices, so if you're going to be sending a lot of texts, constantly checking your email or spending hours on instant messaging services then you'll want to lean towards a smartphone. Tablets are able to manage emails as well as run some instant messaging services, but phones win out overall here.

We love take pictures, so if you want your new mobile device to also double as a point and shoot snapper you'll once again want to be heading to the smartphone side, as they pack better cameras than tablets while also being a lot easier to carry around.

Buying a tablet

Tablets taking your fancy? Well there certainly is plenty of choice available these days, from affordable, small size slates to larger tablets which offer you everything under the sun - for a cost.

One of the biggest differences between tablets is the OS, with Android and Windows 8 gracing numerous slates and iOS 7 featuring on iPads.

iOS 7 is the easiest to grasp for first time users with its system built around quickly accessing apps, with everything being on screen.

Android is far more open, with manufacturers putting on their own user interfaces, although these can be changed with third party apps on the Play Store.

Windows 8 is more of a compromise between tablet and laptop, being able to cover those that need something for work, and apps for those that want to sit on the sofa and mess around.

The iPads

If you're looking for the complete package look no further than the iPad Air. It certainly has a lot to shout about, from a superb design to a fluid, intuitive operating system, powerful innards and a stunning 9.7-inch display.

The big issue with the iPad Air however is its price. With it starting at £399 and skyrocketing all the way up to £739 for the full spec version (128GB of internal storage and 4G connectivity) you'll certainly need deeps pockets.

iPad Air

For those of you who have their heart set on a full size iPad, but simply can't afford the Air, Apple still sells the iPad 2, with the Wi-Fi only version rocking a slightly more palatable £329 price tag.

There is the iPad mini with Retina display (also known as the iPad mini 2) which offers up the same, slick user experience in a smaller body with an 8.9-inch display and slightly lower price tag, although it still starts at £319.

Sub £200

At the complete opposite end of the scale to Apple's premium offerings are a range of super cheap slates looking to give you the core tablet experience without the cost.

It's worth while being cautious at this end as low price can sometimes mean low quality - we advise you steer clear of the Argos MyTablet, for example, but the £119 Tesco Hudl is excellent value for money with its decent 7-inch display and powerful components.

Tesco Hudl

If you can stretch your budget a little further you'll be even more pleased with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 (from £169) or the new Nexus 7 (from £199), both of which offer fabulous 7-inch, full HD displays.

The moral of the story at the very low end of the tablet market is; do your homework. There are some great deals to be had, just make sure you're not buying something you'll regret almost immediately.

Google Nexus 7

You can sometimes pick up older tablets at relatively low prices, as the technology powering them is a year or two old. These tablets can provide a good return for your money, although you may have to trade off on an older operating system and the possibility of no support or future updates.

Screen increase

Larger screens tend to cost a little more, but there is generally an added bonus of higher all rounds specs, including faster processors and longer battery life.

If you're planning on doing a lot of web browsing or watching a lot of movies, the added screen real estate can prove invaluable. Screen resolution also becomes increasingly important as screen sizes grow.

Another area that will need a look at is the processor, as there are varying single, dual and quad-core processors, each with different RAM and GPU sizes.

LG G Pad 8.3

A greater number of cores means a faster speed, perfect if you do a lot of multi-tasking, gaming or movie watching, while the GPU helps with all the graphical processing, which is most prominent in games.

Tablets are generally media consumption devices; their large screens make them ideal for reading and watching movies. That doesn't mean they can't be used for content creation, though.

If you fancy a slightly larger screen, but still want your tablet to be relatively portable take a look at the 8-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, 8.3-inch LG G Pad 8.3 or Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (no prizes for guessing the screen size of the latter) - which offer direct competition to the iPad mini 2 at slightly lower price points.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Full size

Are there any tablets which can take on the iPad Air at the top of market, or are you just stuck with Apple's expensive, yet stunning slate? The good news is that there are, and one of the best examples is the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.

It's full HD, 10.1-inch display is fantastic and at just 6.9mm thick it's the slimmest 10-inch tablet on the market, as well as being rather lightweight too. It also has a microSD slot to expand your storage options - a rare option

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

This makes the Xperia Tablet Z very easy to hold for long periods of time - perfect for a movie marathon - while also making it surprisingly portable for such a larger tablet - it does however cost upwards of £350.

If you want a big screen, at a lower cost but don't want to compromise too much of performance the Google Nexus 10 could be the tablet for you, with a full HD display and a decent processor. It may be over a year old, but at around £280 it's hard to knock the Nexus 10.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Tablets are slowly replacing laptops, but there are some activities which demand a keyboard, which is where the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and Asus Transformer Pad Infinity come into play..

Both come with detachable keyboards to allow for easier text input, ideal if you're likely to be tapping away a lot of emails, with the Surface Pro 2 sporting the added benefit of the desktop version of Windows 8.1 - the same a computers and laptops use.

Buying a smartphone

If you thought there was a lot of choice when it came to tablets then prepare yourself, the world of smartphones is overflowing with options, big to small, expensive to dirt cheap. You name it, it probably exists.

The biggest topic that surrounds mobile phones is price, and the compromises you have to make if you opt for a more wallet friendly device.

Low and mid-range

Cheaper handsets are becoming increasingly more competent, with the mid range and budget markets being populated with both new devices, as well as last year's flagships.

There are some decent cheaper mobiles on the market, however. The likes of the Moto G, Nokia Lumia 520 and Huawei Ascend Y300 all provide a decent return for a smaller outlay.

Moto G

If you fancy a little more power and functionality then the likes of the HTC One Mini and the Galaxy S4 Mini are a good shout, while the Google Nexus 5 is also very reasonably priced, bringing high end specs to the budget conscious.

Tablet or Phone: Which should you choose?

The phablets

Screen size is just as hot a topic on phones as it is on tablets, as many manufacturers are pushing flagship screens as far as 5-inches. Phablets have also emerged intending to blur the lines between tablets and phones.

As a compromise device, a phablet might be just what you're after, although they tend to command higher price tags. The Galaxy Mega is available SIM free at around £440, with the more powerful Galaxy Note 3 requiring a heftier £630 outlay.

Whilst there is undoubtedly a link between screen size, power and price, you should also consider differences between dual and quad-core processors.

You should look for a compromise between the power of the processor, the GPU and RAM. Higher screen resolutions will need more power (and thus bigger batteries) to ensure everything chugs along nicely.

The flagships

The latest flagship devices come with oodles of power, but they also command a certain level of financial investment. The reward for this speaks for itself, just take a look at our HTC One, LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4 reviews.

Storage is also very important on smartphones, especially if you plan on filling one up with apps and/or media. This is highlighted by the lack of expandable storage on the likes of the iPhone 5S and HTC One.

iPhone 5S

Cameras are more important (and therefore also better) on smartphones than on tablets, as their smaller statures make them easier to carry. The best camera is the one that you have with you, and you're almost always going to have your phone with you.

The trick with smartphone cameras is not to be drawn into the pixel race, although that is still very prevalent. Nokia's Lumia 1020 comes with 41MP lens, the Xperia Z1 a 20.7MP camera, and both produce quality snaps, but you'll get decent shots from a high-end 8MP or 13MP rival.

Nokia Lumia 1020

OS choice is also rather important. iOS 7 is only available on iPhones, coming with its bright, simple to learn and use interface. It is also heavily locked down, meaning less customisation in a trade off for better security.

Android is far more open, and each manufacturer places their own UI over the top. These can be replaced via the Play Store however, along with features like the SMS app or even the keyboard.

Tablet or Phone: Which should you choose?

Windows Phone 8 and BB10 are both locked down systems, and are both a lot newer than the Google and Apple equivalents. As such, they don't have the same vast app offerings on their app stores, but this is changing all the time.

Finally, you should consider just how important 4G is to you. In the UK, the 4G roll out is still very much in progress, although it is far more prevalent in other territories. 4G is now available on a wider range of devices, with the cheaper Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 sporting LTE capabilities.

This technology is only really important when it comes to serious web browsing, as the 3G structure is still very capable of loading web pages smoothly.

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