Tablet Buying Guide
By Will765 On 19 Sep, 2011 At 08:14 PM | Categorized As Guides | With 0 Comments

So you’ve decided it’s time to get yourself a tablet. The problem is, with so many choices, how do you figure out which one is right for you? There are many factors involved, so many that it can be difficult to make a decision.  Let’s try to break it down into easy steps.

Operating Systems

First thing to decide on is an operating system.  There are really 3 choices-Apple IOS, Microsoft Windows, or Android-based.  The Apple IOS found on IPads is the most successful tablet OS.  With around 30 million IPads sold, there is a huge user base already in place.  Of course, with Apple controlling every aspect from design, manufacturing, and operating system, to apps, you end up with a pretty rock-solid experience.  For an easy to use, out of the box experience, the IPad is hard to match.  Those users who are looking for something simple, and have no desire to customize their device at all, will probably be happy with an IPad.  However, if you are looking for a device that you can play around with, and make your own changes to basic features, then the IPad is not going to satisfy you.

Microsoft Windows tablets currently use Windows 7, which is not the most tablet-friendly operating system.  Although having the ability to run the same programs that are on your windows pc is nice,  the tablets are usually somewhat underpowered, as Windows 7 likes a lot of processing power and memory.  To get decent performance, especially from a 64-bit setup, ends up costing you battery life.  Also, these tablets are generally more expensive than IPads or Android ones.  With the upcoming release next year of Windows 8, plus low power-consuming but more capable processors, expect the tablet-optimized OS to gain a significant share of the overall tablet market.  But for now, any Windows tablet is not going to as useful as they will be once Windows 8 arrives.

The final choice, Android tablets, provides by far the most customization, and the widest range of options. These tablets are generally cheaper than the other two providers and can usually be modified to run on different operating system versions, as well as custom ROMS.  A custom ROM is generally based on some stock version put out by the manufacturer, which has been modified by a developer(s) to provide a totally different level of control to the end user. There have been several different default operating systems for Google Android including 2.2 Froyo,  2.3 Gingerbread, along with 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2 Honeycomb. The first tablet based operating system was released with the introduction of Honeycomb, and a new OS, “Ice Cream Sandwich”, is set for release in October or November. While these default operating systems run well on their own, many people tweak and change aspects to create their own OS and generally an overall better product. When you have the option of installing custom ROMS, the tablet experience becomes completely different from what you could have with an Apple or Windows tablet. While Android tablets are decent out of the box, the custom ROMS extend their capabilities and help to improve the experience of owning an Android tablet.  And there are several android-based options, including the Blackberry tablet OS, HP’s WebOS(although discontinued, there’s a lot of them), and Fusion Garage’s new GridOS, with each trying to offer a different flavor of android to differentiate their product.  All of these options show how versatile the android operating system is.  For the user who is willing to invest some time in their device, you will end up with a product that is closer to what you want, versus what a manufacturer has decided you want.

Form Factor

This relates to both screen size, and whether the tablet is “thin” or “thick”.  Generally android devices give you a choice of 7 inch or 10 inch tablets.  There are a few in-between tablets, like Samsung’s new 8.9 inch Galaxy,  but most manufacturers seem to follow the rule.  Apple’s IPads only come in one size, 9.7 inches.  Windows tablets are mostly in the 10 inch size, or even larger-some as big as 12.1 inches.  Another exception is the HP Slate, an 8.9 inch Windows tablet.  The smaller size units are all fairly thin and lightweight, while the larger ones have more variation.

Since Apple and Windows tablets are really only the larger size, we’ll be referencing Android tablets in regards to size.  So do you go with a 7 inch, or 10 inch tablet?  The smaller size does give greater portability, and is easier to handle for longer periods of time.  However, most smaller tablets run on Android 2.2 or 2.3, not a tablet-optimized OS like Honeycomb.  There is always the exception, with the recently released Acer Iconia Tab A100 coming to mind.  Having an older android version on a 7 inch tablet is not a terrible experience, though, by any means.  The Nook Color has gained widespread usage as an android tablet, with developers putting Gingerbread roms out for the device, which work very well.  A larger tablet will usually get you more processing power, more storage, and a larger number of ports, which increases it’s potential productivity.  How to choose, then?  A 7 inch tablet is more useful as a device to complement other, more powerful tablets and personal computers, while a 10 inch tablet can replace many of the functions usually done on a PC.  If you just want to surf the web, check email, and play some games, a 7 inch tablet will do the job.  But for more productive usages, you will need to buy a 10 inch model.

The original IPad set the standard for tablets, with it’s 1/2 inch thickness(or thin-ness) and weight of 1.5 pounds.   With the IPad2 slimming down to .3 inches and 1.3 pounds, many tablet makers have copied the look and feel of  IPad.  This has not always gone well, as Samsung is being sued by Apple worldwide for copyright infringement, and has been ordered to stop selling tablets and phones in several countries.  Other makers, such as Toshiba, have decided to create a more sturdy-looking product.  The Toshiba Thrive is .62 inches thick,  twice that of the IPad2.  So what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

A thin tablet has one obvious benefit-it is easier to handle, and hold in your hands for longer periods of time.  If you’re going to be walking around with your device all day, the lower weight is going to make a difference that can be a deciding factor in purchasing a tablet.  And, let’s be honest, a thin tablet looks more hi-tech.  But, there are trade-offs.  Except for Ipads, a thinner tablet will generally have less room for it’s battery, leading to shorter run times.  Apple has managed to set the bar so high with over 10 hours of use, and 30 days of standby, no one else comes close.  But there are limitations to the thin design.  One of those is the availability of ports, and whether those ports are full or mini-sized.  The IPad has no usb, sdcard, or HDMI ports.  This severely limits expandability and storage, as well as outputting of video to a TV.  You can buy a camera adapter accessory which lets you connect any USB camera or a memory card, but it is not a very elegant or practical solution.  Windows tablets will mostly have the same connectivity as android ones, which gives the user greater flexibility in how they are going to use their device.  If your plan is to use your tablet mostly for casual, light computing, the thinner form is probably okay.  For those looking to get the most from their device, having the ability to use USB memory sticks, drives, keyboards, and modems, as well as sd cards,  makes a thicker device with full-size ports  the way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screens

Possibly the most important aspect of any tablet is how good the screen image is.  After all, that is what you’re going to be looking at every time you turn it on(stating the obvious!).  Let’s look at some of the various technologies, and their benefits.  The IPad uses IPS technology in their 9.7 inch, 1024×768 display.  Without getting too technical, IPS, or In-Plane Switching, gives the IPad extended viewing angles-up to 178 degrees.  Being able to see a clear image when your tablet is held at various angles was a big priority for Apple, and they have succeeded with the IPad.  By all accounts, the display is sharp, vibrant, and viewing angles are great.

Many 10 inch tablets, both Windows and android, use backlit LED or LCD.  The better ones come with 1280×800 resolution, the less  expensive models will have 1024×600.  The difference between the two, although it doesn’t seem like much, is noticeable.  The better screen will provide a sharper image, making it easier to look at for extended periods of time.  One thing that is harder to measure is how “good” a screen’s color and image looks to each individual.  If at all possible, the buyer should see the device they are thinking of getting prior to purchase.  What may look good to one person, may not look the same to someone else.  It is a very subjective subject, and if you are going to buy over the internet, sight unseen, you can easily be disappointed.  As for 7 inch tablets, basically you get what you pay for.  The cheapest models will only have 800×480 resolution, while many have 800×600, and the most expensive models sport 1024×600.  Another important factor is whether the screen is capacitive or resistive.  Capacitive screens respond to a finger touch, resistive needs a fingernail or hard stylus.  Only the cheapest, knock-off 10 inch tablets will have resistive screens.  If you are looking for a bargain tablet on the web, especially 7 inch ones, be careful to read the descriptions fully to make sure you get a capacitive screen.  Resistive screens are notoriously difficult to use, and are often laggy in response.

An interesting technology is the Pixel Qi screen.  Nearly every screen becomes unusable in direct sunlight, but the Pixel Qi actually makes use of it.  Users of the Notion Ink Adam were the first to be able to buy this technology, and for many it is the best feature of the tablet.  While the backlight is on, the colors are not as vibrant as a standard LCD screen.  However, in an out door, sunny environment, where most screens become washed out, the reflective mode allows the user to see the screen clearly.  The technology also uses less power, which is an important consideration when dealing with a battery-operated device.  For now, the availability of Pixel Qi is limited.  However, 3M recently invested in the company, raising hopes that it will be adopted into more devices soon.

 

 

 

 

Internet Purchasing

Everyone likes the ease with which you can buy items over the internet.  It’s often cheaper than what you pay in stores, and lets you research a wide variety with little effort.  As stated above, however, it can be tricky to buy a tablet via the web.  Even if you read all the reviews, and compare specifications, nothing can replace holding the device in your hands.  How the screen looks to you, the feel of the tablet’s texture, and it’s weight distribution are all things that should be, if at all possible, experienced by the buyer.  Go to your local electronics store and spend some time trying out the tablets they have in stock.  Play with the user interface, and see if it feels like what you’re looking for. If, after you check it out at a store, you then use the web to find the lowest price, that’s smart shopping.  But if you purchase something without ever seeing and holding it, don’t be surprised if you end up disappointed with what ends up on your doorstep.  And if you decide to buy some no-name device from China, all bets are off.  Support will usually be minimal, and often the tablet itself will come with no instructions in your language.  While devices from major name brands often have a premium price, they come with good customer support, warranties, and a company that will support the device for some time to come.

Pricing

IPad2s are locked into their prices, with the 16GB versions $499, 32GB going for $599, and the 64GB ones will set you back $699.  That is a pretty hefty price compared to Android 3.0 Tablets.  You can get an Asus Transformer with 16GB for $399, which is a very well reviewed tablet.  While lacking a USB port, it does have sd card and HDMI capability.  It also can be placed into an optional dock,  which has 2 USB ports, and SD card reader, keyboard, and an additional battery.  For about the same price as a 16GB IPad2, you get a lot more for your money.  The Transformer may be the best android tablet on the market today.  Of course, you can get cheaper tablets, but without all the capabilities.  Lenovo just introduced the $199 Ideapad A1.  At 7 inches, with Android 2.2 and 8GB storage, it isn’t the latest and greatest thing to hit the market.  For the price, though, you get a very decent tablet, which will serve your basic needs.  It just might be the cheapest android tablet from a major maker.   One well reviewed Windows tablet is the Acer Iconia Tab W500.  Selling for about $500, this 10.1 inch tablet has Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit, 32GB storage, and a dual-core AMD processor.   Like the Transformer, it has a dock with a keyboard.  Of course, there are many choices for android tablets, and even the Windows tablets have a fair number to offer.  Once you have decided what type of tablet fits your needs, there are many to choose from, so shop wisely.

Tablet Applications

If you purchase a Windows tablet, and own a Windows PC, then pretty much everything you use on your desktop will run on the tablet.  There will be no surprises, and no incompatibilities.  When it comes to Apple’s IPad, every app in their store has been verified by Apple.  You can be sure that it will run on your device without problems.  While not every app was written with the IPad in mind,  the vast majority will work just fine, thanks to IOS being the same for all Apple mobile devices.  When it comes to Android tablets, things are a little more chancy.  While there are over 250,000 apps in the Android Market, only a small fraction are designed to run specifically on Honeycomb, Google’s tablet OS.  Many apps written for earlier android versions will work,  but there are a lot that won’t.  And several that do work, will not scale to the screen properly.  With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, this problem will be corrected-apps will size themselves to fit the device they are on.  But for now, it is often a trial-and-error process to use non-Honeycomb apps.  If you purchase a tablet using Android 2.2 or 2.3, you won’t be able to run Honeycomb apps.  But you will get more compatibility with older apps, even if they don’t size properly.

Accessories

Once you’ve made your purchase, it’s time to think about accessories.  One of the first items to consider is a protective case.  If you get a tablet from a major manufacturer, there are likely to be several good options available to you.  One popular case includes a USB keyboard integrated into the case, which gives you a laptop-like experience, assuming your tablet has a USB port.  You can find cases from a cheap, generic sleeve-type up to rather expensive, custom-fit leather ones.  After a case, getting a screen protector should be next.  There are usually ones available from both the manufacturer and after-market sellers.  This can help cut down on fingerprint smudges, and maybe prevent scratches.  Then you should look at, if your tab supports it, getting an SD card.  You can load movies, music, and other files onto several cards, and swap them out to give your tablet greater flexibility. If you plan to do a lot of typing, a USB keyboard is a good investment.  Another useful add-on is a USB hard drive.  Unfortunately the IPad has neither USB nor SD card slots, so this applies only to Android and Windows tablets.  A stand is a nice accessory to add to your collection.  It can provide a good spot to place your device while charging, as well as taking the load off your hands while watching movies or listening to music.  Capacitive stylus are available for use with the touchscreen, but  they do not, in general, have a fine enough control to do something like drawing.

Conclusions

Buying a tablet requires you to do some legwork first, if you want to be satisfied with your purchase.  First you need to figure what you want to do with the device, and then decide which operating system fits those needs best.  Windows 7 tablets, for now, are somewhat clumsy devices, due to not being tablet-optimized.  That should change with Windows 8, but for now, I would advise against purchasing one, unless you absolutely need programs only found in Windows.  Apple’s IPad is geared towards being a content-consumer device.  What this means is, if you are just looking to surf the web, watch videos, play games, etc., and have no interest in customizing your device,  this is the tablet for you.  However, for real productivity, the Android tablets offer greater content-creation possibilities.  With it’s open operating system, greater connectivity, and wide variety of devices with varying specifications to meet any need, the android platform is positioned to be the device which can satisfy the needs of most users.  The release of Ice Cream Sandwich should provide much-needed uniformity to the somewhat messy mix of android versions on the market today.  Sometimes too many choices can lead to market fragmentation, as is the case now with android tablets.  By having one operating system-Ice Cream Sandwich- that works with both tablets and phones,  this should lead to Android tablets finally becoming a real competitor to the IPad.

Another consideration when buying a tablet, especially android ones, is how much of a following it will have.  Buying from a mainstream manufacturer practically guarantees the device will have a large following.  This will then encourage developers to create roms and apps to further support the tablet, giving the user more options than would normally be possible.  Communities spring up to support such devices, even discontinued ones like the HP Touchpad.   So it is advisable to do some research on the web for such communities, like Tabletroms.com for example.

 

 

 

 

 

About - Bill Anderson posts under the clever alias will765. Gets to work from a home office for a piano moving company, in glorious Lake Hopatcong, NJ. Pretty new to android, but love technology and have been building my own(and friends)pc's for about 15 years

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