Buying a Tablet? Things to Look for Before Purchasing

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As everyone knows, tablet computers are hot hot hot these days! Even people who previously had dismissed the gadgets as unnecessary in light of already owning a desktop/laptop computer and smartphone, are coming to the realization that these ultra-thin hybrids can provide a benefit over and above a smart phone or laptop.

A friend was one of those doubters, not sure what advantages if any he would gain by owning a tablet computer. I asked him for feedback about tablet computers in general and this is what he had to say:

 

Working in the IT industry and generally being a technology enthusiast, you would think that I would have run out and purchased myself a tablet as soon as they first appeared on the market years ago.  After all, I usually do that with my computer and phone. With those I almost become obsessed with having the latest advances and capabilities.

That wasn’t always the case though. Looking back, I remember being slow to jump on the whole mobile phone bandwagon, often declaring to friends that if I was not at home or the office when someone was trying to reach me, then I really didn’t want to be contacted. It was only after their constant prodding (and several situations in which the often unreliable public transport in London kept me from getting to appointments on time), that I finally gave in and got a mobile phone.

I was also a bit reluctant a few years later to make the upgrade from a regular cell phone to a smartphone, since I really couldn’t imagine using it for anything more than a routine phone call. 

But later, when I moved from the England to the Netherlands, I was forced into getting a new mobile phone in order in order to have local service. Once I was in the phone store in The Hague, I began to notice there wasn't that much of a difference in price between a standard cell phone and an iPhone, so I ended up leaving with an iPhone 3G.  Initially it was fun having a new gadget, especially getting used to the touch screen technology which had not been around for that long. Although I played with it, what I was doing was purely basic and I never looked deeper into its capabilities. I even started to somewhat regret my decision to go with a more expensive phone, thinking I could have gotten what I needed from a lesser mobile phone.

That was until I found myself stranded while on a trip to south-east Netherlands. I was on my way to a remote nunnery that was known for being able to train students how to speak Dutch quickly. While trying to find it, I became completely lost. I finally turned to the phone out of desperation to see if there was anything on it that could help me. And that was when I truly began to understand the wealth of information I could access. I found and downloaded a public transport app, I figured out how to use the geo-locator and began to truly appreciate the built in compass app and its functionality. It was the only thing that got me to where I was going.

A few months ago had you asked me, I would have answered that I was in no way interested in a tablet computer. I just couldn’t see what it could add over and above my iPhone (now a 5), desk top and lap top computer. But not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague who was going on holiday (and would be flying from the Netherlands to Brazil with her family). I offered to copy some of the animated movies from my movie collection onto a memory stick that she could then stick in her iPad and let her kids watch during the long flight.  She said to just take the iPad home with me and I could copy them directly onto it. It was a Friday and she wasn't going to need it that weekend. By Monday I knew I had to have one of those. 

Here are the qualities I found advantageous about a tablet:

Portability

Compared to a desktop or laptop, a tablet is much lighter. Granted if you add a cover that happens to come with a built in mini keyboard, it will double the weight. But even still, it will be lighter than just about any laptop.  Reaching for a tablet on the night stand when in bed, to browse the internet while waiting for a commercial break on the TV to be over, is certainly easier than getting out of bed, turning on a computer and having to wait for it to boot up.

Larger Screens

While a smartphone also offers easy access and instant-on, the ability to see an entire webpage at once on a tablet instead of having to scroll 15 times to see the same on a phone screen, quickly makes you realize how inefficient it is trying to do too much on such a small window. Plus there's something about being able to hold a Web page in your hand, just like you would a book, which you never realize if you have only ever used a desktop or laptop computer. It makes you feel like the future is here or that you’re actually living out an episode of Star Trek.

Productivity

I don't expect to type out a business proposal or develop a new application using my tablet, at least not at the moment. But using a tablet at work can be quite helpful for handling basic tasks, like checking e-mail, managing calendars, and transferring documents to for reading on the commute home.  A tablet can be used as a second screen when hooked up to a computer, which is a nice feature as well. Taking a tablet into a meeting to jot down notes becomes much faster than trying to do the same on a tiny smartphone. You can even get a tablet pen and just write in the notes on the tablet screen. 

Entertainment

A tablet is great for entertainment!  Since a tablet is basically just a large screen, it's a stellar device for watching movies and TV shows.  It is a much better choice, for example, for watching an epic like ‘Lord of the Rings”, than a smartphone with a 3.5-inch screen. With applications like Plex Media available for streaming media, you don’t even have to use a tablet’s internal memory to save video files. You can use a tablet as an e-reader for digital books. You can also play games on it in a much easier way than on a smart phone (think Angry Birds).  Having touch-based controls on a tablet forces developers to become even more innovative and creative.

The tablet phenomenon in the world today is fast becoming bigger than the size of its memory chip, more awe-inspiring than the speed of its processor—it is a wonder of our time, and in an ever more connected and computerized world, it may be the perfect tool for the industrious, creative, modern human.  It is a true hybred between a smartphone and a computer.

Only problem is now that I’ve gotten onto the tablet bandwagon, I already find myself wanting to trade-in my brand new tablet for one with more memory and faster processing speed. I’ve already looked into the upcoming Windows 8 version of Microsoft’s Surface which will allow users to operate a full operating system.  Not because my existing one is currently lacking, but more because I now understand all the additional capabilities the best ones have.

 

Once you decide you are going to buy a tablet, there are decisions you will need to make in regard to size, weight, internal storage, processing speed and capacity, what the primary use will be, and more…

1) Screen size – the most common size tablet computers are those with 7-inch screens and 10-inch screens.  There are some 8 and 9 inch screens on the market, but the most popular are the 7 and 10 inch version. If you are planning to use the tablet for reading books (i.e. as an e-reader), or reading emails, the 7-inch screen will be probably be more to your liking. If you plan on surfing the net, especially shopping websites, you may prefer the larger 10-inch screen versions to have a larger image of a product you may want to buy. The 10-inch screen size is also more appropriate if you expect to use it for business related functions, such as during a presentation where you want to display a full page on a website.

2) Processor speed/RAM – just like a computer, the more RAM the tablet has, the faster it is able to process data. If you expect to do more than one thing at a time (e.g. check email while also listeing to music), you'll want to make sure you get one that has at least 1 GB of RAM. If you are going to use it to read books, than one that has 512M RAM will suffice. 

3) Ports – tablets offer various ports with the most common being a HD port, a mini USB port and a standard USB port. These don't necesssarily all appear on one tablet, but usually two of the three will. Again, the importance of which ports it has really depends on how you will use it. If you are going to transer media onto the tablet, whether that be books, music, pictures, a mini USB port is important. If you are expecting to use it with a mini keyboard, than consider most of those have a regular size USB plug. 

4) Storage size – tablets always come with some amount of internal storage (commonly from 4-16 Gigs). Many also have a slot for a micro memory card so that you can increase that storage. Check for that, because you don't want to limit yourself to just the internal memory, especially if that memory is to the low end of the spectrum.

5) Operating system/software compatability – most non-iPads work on the Droid operating system. However, not all Droid tablets will give you access to the Google Play store (the equivalent of iPhone's App Store). Be weary of buying a tablet that is not compatible with the Google Play store. Although there are other suppliers of Droid-driven apps out there, Google is by far the main app store and you want to make sure you will be able to access it.

6) Camera – although you may not expect to use the tablet to make Skype calls, you NEVER know. Better to be safe than sorry and go with one that offers a built-in camera. For the most part, that is a fairly standard accessory these days. 

7) Price – obviously, the more you expect from the device, the higher the price is going to be. At the same time, unless you expect to be pushing the limits of what the tablet can do, you may not need newest model. In that case, you can usually find a very suitable tablet for your needs between $100-150.

 

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