How to Choose the Right Tablet

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In the years since Apple first introduced the original iPad in 2010, the tablet market has been growing at a rapid pace. According to the latest data from market research firm IDC, Apple remains the biggest tablet vendor in the world, with an almost 23% share of the market in the third quarter of 2014. However, over the last several years there has been a huge increase in the number of tablets being sold by competitors such as Samsung, Asus, Lenovo, and others. While the tablet market’s explosive growth has benefitted consumers by providing them with more options and lower prices, it has also made it more difficult for shoppers to find the right tablet for their needs among all the various brands, styles, and sizes of tablets now available. Here are several major factors to consider when deciding which tablet is the right one for you.

Media consumption vs. productivity tasks

Since tablets are operated through a touchscreen interface, the devices are typically used for tasks that don’t require lots of typing. For this reason, most people use their tablets for tasks such as reading email, playing video games, and watching movies. As a result, most tablets are designed with media consumption tasks in mind, rather than productivity tasks. Apple’s line of iPads and Amazon’s line of Kindle Fire tablets are two examples of tablet brands that are geared toward media consumption with access to large app and media stores.

However, there are some tablet models that are geared toward productivity tasks. Microsoft’s line of Surface tablets and other Windows-powered tablets may be the best tablets for productivity since many of them include full support for Microsoft’s desktop-based Windows software. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Office suite is also now available for both Apple’s iOS, as well as Android. If you are planning on using your tablet primarily for productivity tasks, you should make sure that the software you need is available on the tablet model you are interested in. Apple and Samsung — the two biggest tablet vendors in the world — have recently formed partnerships with IBM and BlackBerry, respectively, in order to improve their mobile apps and devices for enterprise users.

Finally, if you are buying a tablet for a child, you may want to consider the kid-friendly Nabi line of tablets made by Fuhu, or the Kids Edition versions of Amazon’s Fire HD tablets. Nabi’s tablets feature a special locked-down user interface designed for children, while the Fire HD Kids Edition tablets include a 2-year “worry-free guarantee” replacement warranty.

Apps shown on Apple's iPad Air 2


Operating system/platform and apps

Just like it is in the smartphone market, the two dominant operating systems in the tablet market are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. For some tablet shoppers, the choice will boil down to whichever platform they are already using. Apple users may prefer to use a tablet that works seamlessly with their other Apple products, while other users may prefer the flexibility that an Android-based tablet provides. Still other users may prefer the desktop-like computing experience offered by a Windows-based tablet.

When it comes to quality tablet apps, Apple’s iOS is still widely considered the leader with over one million apps available in Apple’s App Store. Although the Android-based Google Play store also has more than one million apps, some critics have noted that most of the Android apps appear to be optimized for smartphones, rather than tablets. However, Amazon’s Appstore has a large selection of Android apps that have optimized to be used with its line of Kindle Fire tablets.

It should be noted that apps for the iPad can only be officially acquired from the Apple App Store where they are subject to approval from Apple. Apps for Windows-based tablets from Microsoft’s Windows Store are subject to a similar curation process. On the other hand, Android apps are available at many other app stores beside the Google Play store and those apps are not screened by Google.

Screen size and resolution

Since a tablet’s screen functions as both a display and a user interface, screen size is one of the most important technical specifications to consider when choosing a tablet. Larger screen sizes generally make it easier to see and interact with displayed content, while smaller screen sizes offer better portability. Consider whether or not you plan on bringing your tablet with you everywhere you go or whether it will primarily be used in one location when deciding on which screen size works best for you.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Apple’s iPad line currently only features two screen sizes: 7.9 inches and 9.7 inches. But, there have been rumors that Apple is working on developing an iPad with a 12.2-inch or 12.9-inch display, as reported by Japanese tech blog Mac Otakara and Bloomberg. Android tablets run the gamut from close-to-phablet-size devices like Amazon’s six-inch Fire HD 6, to the gigantic 24-inch Nabi Big Tab made by Fuhu. Windows-powered tablets also come in a wide variety of sizes.

After size, resolution is probably the most talked about screen specification. Basically, the more pixels that are packed into a screen, the sharper a displayed image will appear. Most tablet vendors will provide a pixels-per-inch (ppi) number that helps consumers gauge the quality of a screen. A higher ppi number will produce a better quality image, but it may not be necessary to pay extra for the highest resolution screen. According to a retinal neuroscientist cited by The New York Times, anything over 220 ppi is already beyond what most humans can detect during normal computer usage.

While there are some low-end tablets that will fall below this threshold, most of the tablet models made by well-known manufacturers today already feature screen resolutions higher than 220 ppi. The best way for you to determine if a device’s screen resolution is good enough for you is to see it with your own eyes. If you can’t tell the difference between a 264 ppi screen and a 288 ppi screen, then don’t bother shelling out more cash for a few extra pixels.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Storage capacity

Another important consideration when choosing a tablet is storage space.  Tablets typically offer less storage space than desktops or laptops due to their slim design and a few of them do not allow users to expand beyond the built-in storage capacity. Apple’s iPads are available with storage capacities that range from 16GB to 128GB, although not every capacity is available for every model. The storage capacity for iPads is also not upgradeable, so the capacity you choose will determine how much storage space you have for the life of that device. While some low-end Android-based tablets may not offer the ability to expand memory capacity, most Android devices are outfitted with memory card slots that make it easy to add additional storage space.

If you are relying on cloud storage or plan to use your tablet mostly for streaming content, storage capacity may not be a major concern for you. However, if you plan on using your device offline a lot or just prefer to store your media content on your device, you may want to consider springing for a tablet with extra storage space.

Connection options

Since a tablet is a mobile device, it must rely on a wireless connection in order to access the Internet. Like smartphones, tablets can use either a Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. Tablet models are typically offered in both Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi-plus cellular versions. While it would seem to make more sense to get a tablet that offers both options, it should be noted that the cellular-enabled tablets typically cost more than the Wi-Fi-only versions. Apple currently charges a $129 premium for a Wi-Fi plus cellular version of its iPad Air 2, compared to the Wi-Fi-only version.

So if you know that you will only be using your tablet in places where you will have access to a Wi-Fi network, you may want to consider getting a Wi-Fi-only device. On the other hand, if you plan on mostly using your tablet on-the-go, you may want to ensure that you always have access to the Internet with a cellular-enabled device.

Finally, it should also be noted that you will need to get a service contract in order to take advantage of your tablet’s cellular capabilities. This is another expense that you should consider when choosing between a Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi-plus cellular version of a tablet.

Other considerations

For most tablet shoppers, a tablet’s operating system/platform, app selection, screen size, storage capacity, and connection options will be the most important factors to consider. However, there are other factors you could consider based on your specific computing needs. For example, if you know that you will be running applications or games that require an unusual amount of processing power, you may want to shop around for a tablet with an advanced processor. Similarly, if you know that you will be using your tablet on long trips, you may want to pay close attention to a device’s expected battery life. Finally, as previously noted, one of the best ways to find out if a tablet is right for you is to try one out in person. Happy shopping!

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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