2015 Tablet Buying Guide

Tablet Basics

Tablet Basics

Shoppers who are out looking for a new tablet are met with a seemingly endless supply of options. Those looking to buy their first tablet definitely have a variety to choose from, but may find it difficult to understand the differences between tablets and what should or should not be considered a deal breaker. Here are a couple of important things to consider when making your choice.

Operating System

Probably the most important choice you'll make is choosing the operating system of your new tablet. Once you choose between iOS, Android, or Windows 8.1, a majority of your choices are immediately eliminated. So how does one choose between the three? The choice may be simpler if you've already got a smart phone, since all your music, video, and app purchases will be accessible to your new device if you stay with the same OS. If you're coming in fresh, the choice is a bit more difficult, but there are a couple of universal truths about each that could make it a bit easier to pick.

Apple iOS is available only on devices made by Apple, which limits the choices when shopping for a tablet: its iPad, iPad Mini, or nothing. Sometimes referred to as a "walled garden", iOS devices feature only apps that are available on Apple's App Store. Even though Google and Amazon both have popular app stores, they are completely unavailable on iPads, iPods, and iPhones. This gives users an additional layer of security, since only apps that are approved by Apple can be installed. iOS is generally considered to be easier to use than the alternatives, so if you're shopping for a novice, an iOS device is an ideal choice.

Android is Google's answer to iOS. It's a mobile operating system that is available on devices made by a variety of hardware developers such as Samsung, HTC, and LG. This means a huge variety of choices when shopping for an Android tablet, but it also means the quality of the tablets vary from device to device as well. Apps can be installed from any source, giving Android devices freedom to choose from different app stores and vendors, but this also opens the devices up to malware or viruses. Someone who is more technically minded or loves to customize their experience with tech devices would be delighted with an Android device.

Windows 8.1 tablets are in a bit of a class of their own. While the Windows Store's app selection is downright paltry compared to that of iOS or Android, Windows 8.1 tablets have the ability to run the endless amount of Windows programs most of us have amassed over the years. That's right, Windows 8.1 tablets allow you to install just about any Windows program, and take it with you right on the tablet, offering the ultimate in on-the-go productivity. Beware, however, of tablets touting Windows RT. The new defunct OS looks and acts like Windows 8.1, but only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store.

Screen Size

Screen size seems pretty self-explanatory; the larger the screen size, the larger the text and images are on the screen, and the easier it is to read. But larger screen sizes also mean larger and heavier tablets that may not easily fit into a purse or book bag. If you're looking to do light work or surfing just while on the go, or if portability is of the utmost importance, a smaller 7" or 8" tablet is the way to go. Conversely, shoppers looking to use their tablet to replace their laptop entirely or plan on using their tablets for extended periods of time will probably benefit from some extra screen real estate.

Screen Resolution

Now that you've decided on a screen size, you should know that not all screens are created equal. A new 7" thin and light tablet may sound ideal to you, but a low resolution screen can make it a chore to read text on a diminutive screen. Lower resolutions on a larger screen can be problematic as well since photos or video may appear blurry or lack crisp detail. Check the resolution listing on the product listing or store display to see if the screen is listed as HD, or if common HD resolutions are listed such as 1280x720 or 1920x1080. If you're comparing two HD screens that don't have a resolution listed, look for a listing of the product's pixels per inch, or ppi. This number tells you how many pixels are crammed into each inch of screen real estate. The higher the number, the smaller the pixels, and the more detail you'll see on screen.

Storage and Connectivity

Storage is fairly simple to comprehend. Measured in gigabytes (GB), the more storage space you have, the more room you've got on your new tablet to install apps, download music and movies, or take photos and video. Lower cost tablets start at around 16GB, which is sufficient for many, but the important thing to look for is how to expand that storage if you need more. With Apple devices, you're out of luck, as there are no expandable storage solutions. With Android and Windows 8.1, most devices feature expandable storage by way of a removable SD, or MicroSD, slot. If expandable storage is an important feature, make sure the product listing explicitly states that this feature is available. While you're checking that product listing, find the connectivity options and make sure the tablet has got what you need. All tablets have 802.11 wifi, but many don't feature popular options such as 4G LTE, Bluetooth, or Near Field Communication (NFC). These are considered to be premium features, so if you've found a bargain basement price on a tablet, there's a good chance it's lacking one or more of these options.

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June 29, 2015
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