How To Choose The Right Tablet Computer | A Guide

Are you wondering how to choose the right tablet computer?  A few years ago none even existed and up until just recently the only choice you had was the iPad (and now the iPad 2).  But times have changed and there are now viable options you can choose from.  With all of the options available, how do you choose the right tablet? Here’s how to do just that.

How To Choose The Right Tablet Computer

You might think that I would immediately recommend the iPad 2, but not necessarily.  When you are faced with choosing the right tablet computer and also spending the money to do so, then you want to take many factors into account before investing your money and time into one.  Unless you are just a die-hard Apple fan then you want to take some time choosing your tablet since it might be with you awhile.

So what do you need to consider for choosing your right tablet computer?  I will assume you don’t own one and don’t really have a brand preference.

What You Will Use It For

The first thing you need to think about when choosing the right tablet computer is what you want to use it for.  Tablets are still new to the world of computing (relatively) and they are still finding their place in our lives but generally speaking they are not the perfect replacement for a laptop.  There are those power users who can turn a tablet computer into a laptop but it requires a lot of rethinking how you work and the applications you use.

One thing to keep in mind is that most people are finding tablets as the perfect way to consume content.  They are great for the following activities:

  • Surfing the web
  • Reading and replying to Email
  • Reading news feeds
  • Watching movies
  • Playing games

You might wonder about reading books.  Yes, you can read books using a tablet, but a lot of people have found that they revert back to a real book or their Kindle/Nook.  Why? Because of screen glare and size.  The e-readers are perfect for reading books with their digital e-ink and anti-glare screens.  Tablets are great for reading books but you need to be in just the right environment.

As you can see from the above list, tablets are used for consuming (80%) and the rest (20%) would be using it for doing actual work or creating things.  So ask yourself what you you want to do with your new tablet computer.  One thing to keep in mind is that you might have no clue what you want to use it for.  In that case, just think about the list above or realize that you can also do the following:

  • Videoconference
  • Compose documents
  • Keep a calendar
  • Tasks and To-Do Lists
  • Alarm Clock
  • Spreadsheets
  • Remote Desktop

Those are things in the category of “doing things” as opposed to consuming.  All of the above can be done on any of the tablets that are on the market currently. The bottom line is thinking about what you want to do with your tablet computer.  Since they are still so new and since there are tons of apps being introduced everyday and with new capabilities then ideally you just want to have a general idea of what you want to do with one.

The pros to tablets are the following:

  • Light and portable
  • No fans or noise
  • Perfect for consuming content
  • Access to apps that are affordable

The cons to tablets are the following:

  • Less storage than a laptop/desktop
  • Not perfect as an e-reader
  • Costly data plans (3G)
  • Virtual keyboards not as easy as real ones

Think about the pros and cons as this applies to all tablet computers.  And keep in mind that the cons are not necessarily a bad thing, they are just realities of tablet computers as they exist today.  But most of the cons can actually be overcome.

The other thing to think about here is where you will use your tablet computer.  Are you going to use it for business? For school? For writing? These are all very important things to consider but as you will see below, the software is what truly drives “how you will use it”.

The Hardware

blackberry playbookThis will be a bit controversial because I fully believe that the hardware is not as important as some make it out to be with tablet computers.  To be honest here, you want to look at the various hardware specs with an open mind.  Don’t get too caught up in the “specs” as you need to keep in mind that most mobile operating systems are (and should be) built differently than their desktop counterparts.  This means that they do not need or require the massive amounts of processing and memory to work efficiently.

We tend to read hardware specs and judge a computer based on what has the “most” or the “fastest” or the “largest”.  But when choosing the right tablet computer, try to choose based on what you want to do with it rather than the hardware specs.  If you look at this chart about the top tablet computers, you might notice that the hardware specs are nearly the same for all of the tablet computers.  This will continue to be true but there are a few things to really consider if you truly want to choose based on hardware specs:

  • Internal storage
  • Screen size
  • Ports
  • Connectivity

A lot of people will store most of their digital information online.  But then again, there are movies and music which are still not being stored online (yet) so if you plan to use a tablet computer for a lot of media then storage becomes very important.  Choose the right tablet that fits your storage needs.

Screen size has been an ongoing debate.  The iPad has a nearly 10″ screen.  Some say this is too big to take everywhere and use it.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a 7″ screen and there are those that love it because they can fit it in their pocket and take it all around.  The Xoom is in the 10″ screen size camp and the Blackberry Playbook will come in with a 7″ screen as well.   Now, here’s where you need to make a choice.  The 10″ screen size is far better for viewing documents, movies, and even for playing some of the nicer games.  While the 7″ size is a perfect size for taking the tablet with you and using in crowded spaces or keeping it in your pocket.

Ports are also an ongoing debate.  The iPad relies on the 30-pin dock connector with adapters you can buy for showing content on TV’s and screens or for transferring photos directly from a camera.  The Samsung Tap, Xoom, and the Playbook all have additional ports that include:

  • HDMI
  • Micro SD
  • USB

Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs The iPad 2To some, these are extremely important and they make the difference in what tablet computer you will choose. To others, they do not really care since all of the things you can do with these ports you can essentially do with adapters.  But, when choosing the right tablet computer and when considering hardware, you want to make the choice based on what these ports will or will not do for you.  One thing to think about is that if you choose a tablet computer without these ports, you might be spending money to buy adapters that give you this functionality.

The bottom line regarding hardware when choosing the right tablet computer is to pay attention to what really matters.  Most of the hardware specs are going to keep leap frogging each other.  And what really matters goes back to what you want to do with a tablet, then pick the hardware that fits those needs.

The other choice you want to consider is connectivity.  All of the tablet computers come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.  They also can connect via 3G (iPad), 4G (Xoom, Playbook) and they use various networks such as AT&T, Verizon or Sprint.  For an idea of what costs are involved, here is our article on 3G pricing with the iPad 2.  As you can see, there are so many options to choose from when it comes to pricing out your data plans.  And here are all the options for 3G connections.  These are iPad 2 articles but the concepts are the same for all tablets.  In terms of choosing the right tablet computer, however, make sure you look at each data plan in terms of the following:

  • How much data you can use
  • Overage pricing
  • Contract cancellation charges
  • Coverage

This makes a difference if you are going to be choosing to use your tablet on any other network other than just using Wi-Fi.

So now you have thought about what you want to do with your tablet computer and you have thought about the hardware.  You still have to choose one other component: the software environment.

The Software Environment

Knowing what you want to do with your new tablet computer and deciding on the hardware are two choices you have to make but choosing the right software environment may just be the last and most important aspect of your final decision.

One of the things people are finding is that the software (apps and operating system) are what drives the user experience on the tablet computer.  Let’s talk about these two.

The apps are arguably one of the most important things to consider when choosing the right tablet computer.  First of all, realize that most of the tablet computers you will buy have a default set of apps. But that’s not going to be sufficient if you plan to do anything with your tablet computer beyond the very very basics.  Apps are what allow you to do most of the consuming and creating on your tablet.  Currently, the Apple App Store has over 80,000 iPad apps.   A lot to choose from.  The Android market is still getting going with just over a hundred “tablet optimized” apps.

iPad 2 and iPad Questions, Help and AdviceThe Xoom, Tab, and Playbook all use Android apps and the Playbook will also use Blackberry apps.  The iPad and iPad 2 cannot use Android Apps but they do use apps from the App Store (and from the Cydia store if jailbroken).  To be fair, the Android app market for tablets is just getting started and as more developers come on board, we will see that marketplace grow.

If you are choosing a tablet based on the apps you can get, then you might want to head over to the Android Marketplace and then head over to the Apple App Store and browse around the various categories to see what fits your needs based on what you decided for your needs and hardware interests.

Additionally, you want to also think about the future when in comes to software on the tablet computer.  The iPad and iPad 2 are 100% Apple and thus, when there is a new version of iOS then you get that upgrade.  With the Android tablets, the vendor of your tablet (Motorola, Samsung, etc.) may choose to wait to issue an upgrade if Google releases a new version of their Android Operation System.  This may not even be an issue to most people so if you are choosing a new tablet computer, just keep this in the back of your mind but don’t let this be the final decision-making factor.

Choosing The Right Tablet Computer

Let’s recap.  There are essentially three areas you want to consider when choosing the right tablet computer:

  • What you will use it for
  • The Hardware
  • The Software (apps and operating system)

You need to think about these three things and make the choice which isn’t based necessarily on what is most popular but what fits your particular needs, hardware needs, budget, and apps that you want to use.

Currently, there are 4 main choices:

  • iPad and iPad 2 with iOS
  • Motorola Xoom (Android 3.0 Honeycomb)
  • Samsung Tab (Android 2/3)
  • Blackberry Playbook (Blackberry OS)

The iPad and iPad 2 are enjoying the largest market share, biggest Apps Stores and most developer interest/support currently.  And Apple does tend to make very high quality device with raving fans.  To get a more well-rounded perspective on choosing the right tablet computer here is our article on all of the various reviews of each one.  Read the reviews to help you make the right choice.

The bottom line here is that choosing the right tablet computer is a personal choice that you need to make based on your needs.  And if you don’t know what your needs are, then choose the one that interests you the most in terms of price, features, software, and finally the hardware.  They will be around for a long time and despite repeated claims that this is just a fad, once you use a tablet computer you will understand why they are here to stay – at least for consuming content.

Finally, here are the websites for each one so you can do a little more homework:

Which tablet did you choose and why?

Originally posted 2011-04-07 11:53:42.

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