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Why Buy a Tablet?

There’s never been a better time to buy a tablet, with plenty of variety in the marketplace, from a basic, six-inch model to a top-of-the-range, 12-inch tablet that can run several apps at once.

If you haven’t used a tablet before, you may be wondering why you should choose one over the many compact computers and laptops on offer. The answer is simple: tablets have evolved in leaps and bounds in recent years and can now perform the same functions as a laptop, but with the added bonus that they are truly portable and can be taken anywhere.

Whether you enjoy reading eBooks in bed, playing games on the train, or running your business on the move, there’s a tablet to suit your needs.

The beauty of tablets is that they’re so easy to use, just tapping the screen to open an app and moving through screens and apps in an instant with a few simple taps. If you’re not keen on using touch screen, you can use many tablets with a Bluetooth keyboard. You can also buy a protective case including a stand and keyboard for some tablets.

Choose your operating system

With many different types, sizes and operating systems, it may seem a daunting task to choose a tablet. One difficulty is working your way through all the information, so here is a concise guide to what you need to consider when thinking of buying a tablet.

First, look at the operating system; this controls the tablet’s functions and is an interface between the microprocessor and user. The operating system dictates how you interact with the tablet and also the games and apps you’re able to run. There are three main options for your tablet’s operating system: Android, Apple and Microsoft. Within these, there are several variations.  

apple

Apple iOS

This system is exclusive to Apple iPads, iPod music players and iPhone smartphones. Simple to use, it features an easy-to-use interface, a large number of downloadable games and apps, and smooth aesthetics.

Apple iOS comes as standard with Apple’s App Store, which offers apps guaranteed to be of a high standard because they’ve all been extensively tested and approved by Apple.

Often considered the leading platform for games and apps, iOS frequently has apps and games for iPads before they are available on other tablets. This is because it’s easier to design apps and games for iOS, mainly because iPads are available in only two standard sizes and resolutions. Consequently, it’s possible to access a host of movies, music, eBooks and television shows through the iTunes store.

Already installed in iPads are Siri, FaceTime and iCloud, plus other apps, such as Apple Maps, video, music and organisation apps.

A video and voice-calling app, FaceTime transmits your phone and video calls through the internet to other FaceTime users. Available on iPod touch, Mac computers, iPhone and Apple iPad, it gives you the chance to keep in touch with other Apple users around the world, at no extra cost. The separate Messages app enables users to send brief text messages to fellow Apple users.

Ask Siri a question and it will answer! It’s a personal assistant which is voice-activated. When you ask Siri something, it searches the internet for answers, whether your question is about the weather or football scores. Siri will locate emails for you, contact people through FaceTime, organise your calendar, open and interact with apps, and much more.

Through iCloud, your contacts, calendars, music, apps, photos and more will be automatically backed up and synced to the cloud through your Apple ID. The advantage is, any time you need to back up, you don’t need to connect your iPad to a computer to sync your account. You’re able to download to other iOS devices and also to Mac computers which operate OS X Lion 10.7.2 or later. You will have the ability to store up to 5GB of data free of charge. For a fee, you can upgrade to 50GB.

windows

Windows 8

Windows 8 has an interface ideal for tablets, as it has a greater emphasis on touch-screen browsing. In fact, it was designed with a view to bridging the gap between traditional computers and tablets.

A number of Windows 8 tablets, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro, are as powerful as their laptop equivalent – and some desktop computers too – because they boast a larger amount of RAM than is normally found in tablets and also impressive processors.

As Windows 8 boots up, the first thing seen is the Start screen, which allows immediate access to apps, via Live Tiles. These are icons which you can set to update in real-time and display information. This means you don’t need to enter a social networking app to catch up on family and friends’ latest news.

The Windows 8 system also features the desktop, as in previous Windows versions. You can navigate this using a mouse as well as by touch.

This OS runs two different types of apps. First, there are those you can download through the Microsoft Store. Designed specifically to use with Microsoft’s new operating system, these are usually made for touch-screen control, running from the Start screen. Secondly, apps can also be downloaded from the internet to run through the desktop screen. They are not specifically designed for use with the touch screen and work like programs from previous Windows versions.

You can also run Legacy apps, those programs previously compatible with Vista, Windows 7 and XP, including Microsoft Office.

For users who like to play and work using the most powerful tools, Windows 8 tablets are perfect.

android

Google Android

A large amount of tablets use the Google Android operating system, including the Nexus tablet, manufactured by Google. Using Android lets you choose how information, games and apps are displayed, offering a fully customisable experience.

This system names major updates in alphabetical order after desserts and sweets. So if you have seen tablets advertised with Jelly Bean or Kit Kat, for example, this is what it means. Each update provides new and more intuitive methods of interacting with your system.

There are a number of apps already installed on Android tablets and in addition, manufacturers add their own software.

The standard hub on Android to download games, apps, eBooks and movies is Google’s Play Store, containing thousands of apps, enabling you to get the best use out of your tablet. It is worth noting, however, not all apps are compatible with all Android tablets. This is due to the varied range of specifications between devices.

Widgets are used to give users live updates. They are located on your home screen, updating everything from sports scores and the television listings to the weather and appointments. They are designed to save you having to enter an app. Often, they have an attractive design to enhance your home screen.

Android tablets, unlike iOS devices, store all games and apps in an ‘app drawer’, allowing the user to choose which are visible on the home screen. You can also swipe down the notification bar, giving easier access to settings and making it more convenient to view updates from apps and new emails.

Apps can be downloaded from the Google Play Store to customise your tablet. For example, there is a choice of home screens, menus and icons. You can also choose which apps are used to access other information and emails. Android tablets allow you to set different user profiles. This enables family members to each enjoy their own personal experience, with their own individual apps, when logging in.

Variations on Android

Manufacturers are able to license Android direct from Google. They can then customise it as they choose. Some manufacturers do little to alter the experience, adding only a few apps, while others add an overlay and more of their own apps, while still keeping the Android basics. Some manufacturers completely customise the Android interface, applying their own interface which favours their own apps.

windows10

Windows 10

Microsoft’s newest version of Windows, Windows 10, was announced in July 2015. It has improved on Windows 8 by integrating the Start menu with the Start screen. This produces a seamless interface, both for traditional programs and apps. Windows 10 is an operating system which is cross-platform. Whether you have a tablet, PC, smartphone or laptop, one operating system is tailored to each device.

It also has a personal assistant, Cortana, plus several enhancements, including the new Microsoft Edge web browser.

It is compatible with Windows 8 devices, although additional hardware is required for some new functions, including dual microphones for Cortana.

Windows 10 is offered as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 users until July 2016, enabling users to buy a Windows 8 device and then update to Windows 10 at no extra charge.

Features to look for in a tablet

feature

Screen size

Tablets’ screen size is measured diagonally, corner to corner. You can buy the smaller tablets, palm-sized, at seven inches wide or even less. These are ideal for accessing social networking sites, web browsing and reading eBooks.

Slightly larger tablets, measuring between 7.1 and nine inches, offer additional screen space without the extra bulk. These are good for playing games or watching videos, for example.

Medium size tablets of between 9.1 and 11 inches – averaging at about 10 inches – are also good for gaming and watching movies, though are better too if you wish to work with documents.

There are also large tablets which are bigger than 11 inches. Usually more powerful, they offer additional space for multitasking. They are also ideal for entertainment and for photo and video editing. Often, the tablets at the larger end of the spectrum have a detachable keyboard, enabling them to be used as a convertible laptop, making them even easier to use for work on documents.

screen res

Screen resolution

The screen resolution of a tablet is measured in pixels. The resolution is important for certain apps – for example, it helps to determine how sharp videos, photos and games appear on the tablet’s screen.

There are multiple variations in screen sizes. The standard for measuring them is pixels per inch (or PPI) and the way to understand these measurements is to remember the higher the PPI, the better the clarity and detail will be on your screen. In simple terms, a higher PPI means there are more pixels, creating a better appearance on-screen.

An example of utilising PPI is if you think you’ll use your tablet more for watching movies or photo editing, then you should find one which offers a minimum of 200 pixels per inch.

storage

Storage

Always find out the internal storage capacity of your tablet, which is the amount of space available to store your own documents, images, music and videos. Also remember storage capacity is calculated before any apps or the operating system are installed. This means you may find you have less storage capacity than you first thought.

Usually, you will find the tablets operating Windows 8 need more extra space than those operating iOS or Android, although the amount of space already in use through the operating system varies considerably depending on the tablet.

Another feature you should look out for is a memory card slot, which is included in many tablets. This will allow you to add extra storage capacity, enabling you to double or possibly triple your storage space. Some tablets will accept memory cards up to 64GB, which is pretty large. Internet-based storage space – for example, cloud storage services such as iCloud on the iPad – will also subsidise your available storage space.

intel

Processor and RAM

The tablet’s “brain” is called the processor, which drives all the various functions. The processor’s abilities are measured in “cores”, which dictate how the tablet performs a task. For example, a single-core processor is pretty basic. It is functional mainly for accessing basic apps, writing emails and browsing the web.

The next step up is the dual-core processor, which is more popular and produces faster performance with smoother visuals. A further step up is the quad-core processor, which is necessary to run the high-end apps, including functions such as photo and video editing, or for playing 3D games, for example.

The amount of “brain space” used for running processes is known as random access memory (RAM). If your tablet has more RAM, your apps will perform more smoothly if you have several open at the same time.

resolution

Two-in-one or convertible tablets

Devices which can function as either a laptop or tablet are known as two-in-one or convertibles. They are versatile and how you use them depends on your requirements. These are particularly useful if you need to utilise the typing performance of a traditional keyboard with the versatility of a tablet.

wifi

Connectivity: 3G, 4G, cellular or Wi-Fi?

If you want to get the most out of your tablet, internet access is vital. The majority of tablets come with built-in Wi-Fi so you can access the internet via your wireless router at home, or via public Wi-Fi networks which are increasingly common in hotels, cafes and even supermarkets.

Cellular connections, which can include 3G and 4G, use the same signals that mobile phones use to connect to the internet. These services require you to put a SIM card into your device and either sign up to a contract or choose a pay as you go model through a network provider.

Some devices are Wi-Fi only, which means you can access the internet either at home, or from a public place where you can connect to Wi-Fi. However, you will need cellular, 3G or 4G connections if you require internet access on the move. Connections of this type are available anywhere there is network coverage from your provider.

Cellular and 4G models provide users with the most modern and therefore fastest internet speed. You will need a 4G contract to enable you to access the faster speeds. The older 3G connection can be somewhat slower. Cellular and 4G connections can use the older 3G technology. However, a 3G contract will enable you only to connect to 3G signals. If you are not sure, it’s worth discussing this with your service provider before you sign on the dotted line, to make sure your device and your district receive the coverage you require.

bluetooth

Bluetooth

Bluetooth enables users to exchange files with other Bluetooth devices. It also enables the streaming of music and videos from the tablet. Many tablets today come with Bluetooth as standard. Some may utilise NFC, allowing users to connect wirelessly to NFC devices simply by tapping them together.

Tablets have a number of physical connections too. All should have, as standard, a 3.5 mm headphone port. They should also have a USB port for connection to a computer, a plug and any other devices supported by USB. Some also have a port allowing connection of the tablet to an external HDTV, monitor or projector through an HDMI cable, or a mini HDMI cable.

battery

Battery life

With the majority of tablets, the battery life should be a minimum of around seven hours. This calculation is based on web browsing over Wi-Fi continually, using average settings for volume and screen brightness.

However, if you are browsing with a cellular connection, or watching HD videos, this can shorten the battery life. For frequent tablet use during the day, a battery life of nine to ten hours is preferable.

It’s possible to get extra life out of your battery by switching on the “sleep” button on your tablet when it’s not being used.

camera

Camera

Many modern tablets include two cameras, one in the front and a second, rear-facing, at the back. All tablets have at least one camera (front) which can be used with FaceTime or Skype for video calling on your iOS tablet.

A rear camera can be used for taking photos, or for filming short videos to share through social media. Your videos and photos will capture more detail if they have a higher megapixel count.

Before buying, think about how you’re going to use your tablet’s camera.

business

Business

If you’re planning on running a mobile office from your tablet, you’ll need a larger screen, minimum 8.9 inches, for optimum use, maybe with an external keyboard. Some of the best tablets to consider include the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which has pre-loaded Microsoft Office; the Google Nexus 10 with its 10-inch screen; or the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with a 12-inch screen, offering the power of a laptop in a portable format.

mobile

Gaming

Apple’s iPad App Store has a massive selection of high-quality games and for many gamers, is the first choice. However, the Google Play Store has increased its selection and the Google Nexus 9 is a favourite with gamers. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has again scored a hit with gamers, capable of running the majority of the most popular PC games.

family

Family sharing tablet

A priority for a tablet that’s being used by kids is protecting them from inappropriate content, so one with superior parental controls is preferable. Apple’s iPad offers protection and also family sharing for app and iTunes purchases.

Tablet accessories

bags

Bags and cases

You should invest in a case for your tablet. This protects it from bumps, scratches and scrapes. Although modern tablets are sturdy, they still benefit from this extra protection.

Many modern cases also double up so you can use them as a stand as well. This will enable users to watch movies or play games without buying a separate stand or having to hold on to your device. Look around for a case which has a built-in keyboard too, as this is useful if you type a lot on your tablet.

extra storage

Extra storage

If you’re looking to expand the available storage on a tablet, it’s possible to buy a microSD card for those models which have a memory card slot. If your tablet doesn’t have a slot for a memory card, you can always purchase a wireless storage drive, which you can access with Wi-Fi.

cables

Cables and adapters

You can purchase adapters and cables which can be used to connect a tablet to many other devices, including speakers, televisions, computers and electric instruments, for example.

For further information please see our Glossary.