Tablets Buying Guide

Smaller than a notebook but bigger than a smartphone, a tablet is compact enough to carry around. And with mobile connectivity, tablet computers combine performance and portability. Learn about iPad, Android and Windows tablets, plus more.

What's A Tablet?

  • A tablet is a wireless, portable computer operated via a virtual keyboard integrated into the touch-screen, rather than an actual physical one built-in (you can connect a keyboard via a wireless link or USB)
  • Compact and light enough to take almost anywhere, many tablets feature up to 10 hours of battery life. It's a great mix of computing power and portability
  • Throw in Wi-Fi or, in some cases, 3G technology which is run on a SIM card and a tablet offers entertainment on the go and music at the palm of your hand

Operating System? Please Explain...

An "operating system" (OS) is the program that runs your computer's software and hardware, giving your device its on-screen look and feel. Different operating systems have their own unique features, tablets generally follow the same basic user interface design irrespective of the OS used — that is, a series of 'home screens', similar to computer desktops, with shortcut icons.

In the case of tablets on the market today, there are three main operating systems:

Android is an operating system created by Google

  • Allows hardware enthusiasts to create additional buttons, including keyboards, and have different form factors with screens of various sizes
  • The software progressive framework has been engineered to deal with a hardware eco-system that is diverse and always evolving

Windows Runtime (RT/8) is only available pre-installed software on tablets powered by ARM processors

  • It includes touch-optimised desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote
  • Owners of Windows RT/8 tablets and other Windows 8 PCs can sign in with their Microsoft account across different devices and view the same settings and preferences
  • It is important to note that Windows RT may not have the same functionality as Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro

Apple iOS is the operating system used in the iPad, as well as iPhone and iPod Touch. The biggest advantages of iOS are:

  • Its user-friendliness
  • Smooth integration with other Apple products
  • Over 500,000 apps available through App Store

iOS looks good and works well, but you can't customise it a great deal and it won't play Adobe Flash content

What Can A Tablet Be Used For?

Portable, practical and permanently connected, a tablet has so many benefits you can enjoy just about anywhere:
  • Work and play: Check emails, connect to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, watch YouTube and video streaming, play your favourite music and the latest games
  • Apps: Hundreds of thousands of applications let you download games, music, news, business tools and more
  • eReader: Like a mobile library at your fingertips, you can download and store your favourite books, magazines or newspapers and read them on the go
  • GPS: Some tablets offer satellite navigation with the latest maps, street-by-street directions and up-to-the-minute traffic conditions

Advanced Camera Integration

  • Most tablets have two built-in cameras: a front-facing one for video-calling using Skype or FaceTime (Apple), plus a rear-facing camera for photos and video
  • The ability to play augmented reality games, translate text and get notifications via camera flash are just a few of the advancements we’ve seen in the past few years
  • Your tablets camera also doubles as a handy video camera, in fact most newer devices can even record in high definition

The Skinny On Size, Screen And Storage

The size of the tablet you choose will depend on just how portable you need it to be. Its physical dimensions are important the longer you use your tablet and carry it around. Second-generation Android tablets in particular are thinner and lighter than ever before.

  • Most tablets are approximately 1cm in thickness, weigh less than 1kg (some as little as 400gm) and come in screen sizes from 7-inch to 12-inch
  • Multi-touchscreens can detect more than one finger at a time for two-fingered scrolling, pinch zooming, two-finger tapping and swipe-style gestures

Tip! If you're planning to take your tablet outdoors, choose a less reflective screen for use in sunlight.

How much storage you need depends on what you use your tablet for.

  • If you intend to just surf the web, collate photos and music, and other basic tasks, a 16GB hard drive should do the trick
  • On the other hand, if you'll be storing lots of large applications, high definition video and other media, more memory will be required
  • As an approximate guide, a two-hour HD film uses about 3.5GB, whereas 12 music albums use about 1.5GB. Most tablets also come with a memory card slot, useful for transferring files and additional storage space
  • The better-spec tablets have a battery life of 10 hours or more

Tip! If you find yourself short on battery, turn the screen brightness down and, if convenient, switch off any wireless connections like Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth.

The Importance of Apps

In order to gain the best experience from your tablet, you will need to invest in a few apps.

  • The Apple App Store has been designed specifically to offer a large selection, and includes every popular app you can think of
  • Google Play is similar to Apple in regards to ease of use. Including anything from Excel, TV shows, magazines, and games to GPS navigation, the clarity and efficiency of apps are of a high quality
  • Microsoft’s Windows RT/8 app store is designed for the professional in mind. Whilst social networking sites are accessible, it is not a main feature
  • The Surface Pro is a little pricier; however it allows users to run full-fledged Windows 8 desktop apps

What's The Connection?

WiFi and 3G are both wireless methods of connecting to the internet on the go:

  • All tablets support Wi-Fi, so you can link to the internet — minus the tangle of cables — when within range of a wireless network at home, cafés, work, school, and so on
  • Some tablets are 3G-enabled, so with a special SIM card in your tablet you can connect to the internet anywhere you get a 3G signal via a mobile internet network
  • Upload music, images and other documents by connecting additional devices (like iPods, digital cameras and the like) to your tablet via USB cables
  • Bluetooth technology is commonly used for connecting peripherals in place of a wired USB connection. Tablets also feature HDMI ports, so you can watch videos stored on your tablet with high quality pictures and sounds through your flat-screen digital TV
  • Another way to get your tablet online is to use your 3G or 4G phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your tablet. Simply type in the details from your phone and secure the connection

Tip! This might drain your phone battery, so have a charger nearby.
Tip! Not all phones and tablets are compatible, so check with your network carrier that this feature is available.

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