Buying a Tablet Computer

Category: Gadgets

I'm interested in a tablet, but a little confused by all the options. Should I get an iPad, one of those Android tablets, or a Windows-based tablet? I'd appreciate a little advice on which platform is best, and what features to look for.

Which Tablet Should I Buy?

A lot of people are buying tablet devices these days. You may wonder why. Also, the number of tablets on the market is mushrooming, so choosing a tablet is a bit confusing. Here's the down-and-dirty on tablets.

Tablet PCs are not replacements for desktop or laptop computers. Tablets lack a keyboard, for one thing, making them unsuitable for writing a business plan or Ph.D. dissertation. Some low-end tablets even lack local storage; instead, they rely on "the cloud" to store movies, photos, documents, etc. So what are tablets good for?

Tablets are best at mobile communications. They're small, lightweight, and easy to use. They're mainly used to check email on the go; look up things on the Web; watch streaming video; and play games. That may not sound like much, but tablets are the fastest-growing part of the personal computing market.
Buying a Tablet

When shopping for a tablet the first choice you will make is the tablet's operating system. Apple's iOS runs only on iPads and other devices made by Apple. But iOS was designed from scratch for the tablet platform, so it is intuitive and a joy to use on a tablet.

Microsoft Windows is not optimized for tablets, although rumor has it that Windows 8 will feature tablet-friendly options. We'll have to wait and see. Another one I'll leave in that category is the Blackberry Playbook, which is not yet released. If you own and love a Blackberry smartphone, this may be worth waiting for, as the two devices are said to work well together. The Playbook will be able to connect wirelessly to your Blackberry phone for access to the Internet, email, your calendar, and address book.

iPad or Android Tablet?

That leaves Google Android, which was designed for smartphones. It's closer to a tablet-friendly OS than Windows, but not quite ideal. There are quite a few Android-based tablets on the market, but you should watch out for those that run outdated versions of the Android OS. My advice would be to stay away from tablets running Android 2.1 or lower.

The next generation of Android, dubbed Honeycomb, was designed with tablets in mind. Motorola's Xoom tablet, featuring the Google Android 3.0 tablet-ready OS, recently hit the market and the device is getting good reviews. Another worthy contender is the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The availability of apps that run on a tablet is a key factor in most purchases. Apple has a commanding lead in its App Store, which features hundreds of thousands of apps. But the open source Android platform has a legion of app developers writing apps for Android, so it may catch up very quickly.

Tablets aren't much use without connectivity. While some tablets come with WiFi connectivity built in, many people opt for the more expensive and restrictive option of a cellular voice/data plan. An unlimited-use plan can cost you up to $100 a month. If you will be using your tablet in an area where wifi is available, you can save money on the device, and forego the expensive data plan.

The sizes and weight of a tablet are always a compromise between usability and portability. The current ideal trade-off seems to be around 1.5 pounds with a 9 to 10 inch (diagonally measured) screen. Test-drive tablets in which you are interested to see how bright their screens are; how responsive the screen is to touch commands; and how vivid the colors are.

Video and still cameras are a big feature of tablets. Cameras enable those "precious moments" shots that you can post to YouTube or social networking sites to show everyone the latest weird thing that happened to you. Two cameras, on front and back of the tablet, enable video chat sessions and point-and-shoot picture taking.

You get what you pay for in tablets, as in everything else. There are tablets advertised at under $200, but these low-end models tend to lack desired features such as multi-touch, accelerometer, GPS and adequate storage. Issues such as screen size, resolution and quality may also make buyers regret their purchases. The iPad gold standard sells for around $600 these days, and you can expect to pay about that much for state-of-the-art Android tablets as well. But if you can wait, prices will surely drop as the competition heats up.

Do you have a tablet computer? Post a comment and tell me why you like (or dislike) it.

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Most recent comments on "Buying a Tablet Computer"

Posted by:

13 Apr 2011

I have the original Ipad but it was plagued with WiFi connectivity problems which Apple never fixed. I wasn't the only one having the problem. SO when it came time to consider another Tablet, I went with the Xoom. I love it. Always connects without a problem, it has Flash which Ipad doesn't and that's important to me as I read magazines online. It is very customizable and works flawlessly for me. It's fast and much more like a laptop than the Ipad was. I couldn't be more pleased. Android is easy to learn and will be the leader in the field.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2011

Thanks, Sherry, that was informative. I've been looking at Tablets for a few weeks and haven't made the decision yet, but Xoom has been at the top of my list of performers. I appreciate you taking the time to describe your experience.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2011

I had thought of waiting for the Blackberry Playbook but then saw an ad for the new Dell Duo. Looked it over and bought it for my wife. Nice little 10.1" netbook that converts to a Tablet by rotating the screen. Rotate back and there is a full netbook with W7 Home Premium, 2 GB DDR3 RAM with 320 GB HDD. Regular keyboard available or in touch screen keyboard in tablet mode. Touch screen in both modes. Nice option to a tablet even if a bit heavier and shorter battery life. Nice cam, mic and speakers too.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2011

My first tablet was an Android 2.1. I ordered from an online U.S. company. I enjoyed all the tweaks I could do with it, and the flexibility of it. I wanted to upgrade to a better quality tablet, so I bought an Archos 101 with Android 2.2 which I loved for two weeks, then the usb port quit working, which is a known problem with some of the units.

I sent the Archos back for exchange and waited almost four weeks, not hearing anything except that they received it and it could take 10 to 15 days to process it. I finally called their customer service and requested a refund because they were out of stock, then I did research for a 3.0 Android version and read about the Acer Iconia A500 which sounds identical to the Xoom, but has 16 gig instead of 32 gig, and cost $449. on pre-order at Best Buy and due for release April 24th.

While I'm waiting for my Acer, I'm using my first tablet purchase, the Android 2.1, zt-180. It does everything I want it to do except Flash, and there are very few apps I downloaded that wouldn't run. It's a decent tablet, but I can't wait for April 24th!

Posted by:

14 Apr 2011

I purchased what I thought was an i.robot for my grandson last christmas 2010. It was supposed to be unbelievable value for money according to one of our sunday Newspapers(in the UK)as the paper was promoting it. It is 2.1 (1.72)it cannot download most of the apps on the android market, picks up wifi when it feels like it and even when I put a micro sd card into the tablet with data, such as photos, songs etc., it cannot read them. My grandson uses it as an alarm clock as that is all it is good for. He hates his present I am £100.00 worse off. Have even tried to get a tutorial from youtube to find out how to work the thing as the manual is chinese translated into English, and we all know what that means. All I know now is the "thing" is a 7" MID. If you can help me I would be grateful.

Posted by:

17 Apr 2011

I travel quite a bit for work and often need to give PowerPoint presentations (the non-boring kind though!). What tablets would enable me to use PPT and connect to a data projector? I also like to use a Logitech Cordless 2.4 GHz Presenter that plugs into a USB port, but which tablets have USB ports?

Posted by:

17 Apr 2011

I have an iPad and an Android phone. I can't wait for the Android tablets to mature a little and the apps to catch up. With the iPad, you are dependent on iTunes. Dealing with iTunes is a PITA so I intend to switch tablets, probably sometime later this year.

Posted by:

10 Nov 2011

There are other factors when deciding on a tablet. I got (from credit card point) Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 with Honeycomb 3.1 Wi-Fi only. There is one BIG thing that is horrible on the Galaxy Tab: it won't recharge the batteries if you use it while plugged into a USB port. The cord is way too short to check if ok plugged in to AC outlet. No one has mentioned it before (on any reviews that I read prior to owning), because it is a big issue, so it must be ok with AC adapter. Luckily, battery life is good. But if I plug it in and use it all day, it will be dead by the time I reach home.

Caveat: I got the Galaxy Tab after seeing a friend's Galaxy S phone. I really want an iPad, but the Galaxy Tab cost me less points than an iPad and my credit card company did not have a 16GB Wi-fi only version. All higher memory with Verizon and way more points. Now I can comfortably wait for iPad 3. Even if it comes out late next year. The main thing that I needed was a larger form factor (than my iPhone) for loading PDFs (this I need for work) and getting my work e-mail on the tablet (I already had it on my phone).

Posted by:

27 Feb 2012

Do you plan on doing an update to this article "Buying a Tablet Computer" from April 2011? I ask this specifically as the Android Tablet World has matured quite a bit in the last year. Or maybe a Top 5 or Top 10 Tablet article?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Good idea, thanks!

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