Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Buy a Tablet

Buying a tablet could be a difficult decision. Our how-to guide makes it easier for you to buy your next tablet, make informed decisions and ask the right questions.

Tablets come in a dizzying array of styles, operating systems and sizes. Some manufacturers provide various options, some are needed and others are entirely unnecessary.

In 2011, vendors are planning on shipping a huge number of additional tablets to the already crowded market. The current leaders include the Apple iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, RIM PlayBook, SAMSUNG Galaxy, and the Slate.

The key to purchasing a tablet is not about the price, its about the functionality and operating system. A good example of investing in the right operating system is the recent situation with the HP Touchpad. In July of 2011, the HP TouchPad was available from U.S. retailers, with the option of either 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage for $499.99 and $599.99, respectively, equipped with the WebOS software platform. The WebOS operating system was the software used on the Palm Pre phones, a company HP acquired. Unfortunately, in August of 2011, HP announced they would drop all development of WebOS and would spin off the PC side of their business. The price of Touchpads were immediately dropped to $99.

If you are looking to purchase a tablet, you should ask yourself the following questions.

1. Are you replacing a laptop? Do I need power?

For many consumers, particularly those who use a standard laptop or maybe a netbook for e-mail and Web browsing, the answer could be yes. Tablets are highly portable computing devices that give you full control of the screen, features and applications. By using your finger or a stylus, you can directly touch the screen to make gaming more interactive, and the hands-on approach provides a more tactile experience than a mouse for drawing and illustrating. Compared to laptop computers, these products are small. Most tablets offer anywhere from a 7-inch to a 10-inch display screen and weigh less than 1 pound. You can store all your music, capture photos or videos, video chat and even read books on built-in eReaders. You do however need to take special precautions in the care of your tablet. If the touchscreen is damaged, your device could become useless. You can buy a case to protect the screen, but these are not included with the product and require a separate purchase. For overall computing, most tablets are not equipped to be laptop replacements, They also do not have all the horsepower of a netbook or laptop. The typical tablets you advertised offer limited processing power, memory, display quality, or responsiveness to provide a satisfying experience. Not that tablets should be all about specs, but right now, if you're going to buy, do pay close attention to them. Single-core models, or ones with CPUs less than 1GHz, are going to be slow. Try to find a tablet with a dual core processor. Also watch out for resistive touchscreens, which generally lag in responsiveness, and for low-resolution displays, look for a tablet that offers a capacative display.

2. What Operating System should I Use?

Apple is the leading tablet vendor today and every one is rushing to the market to provide a competitive product. The Apple operating system has many positives including the largest array of software vendors providing applications for the Ipad. The negative for the Apple OS is its closed environment, no tethering, no flash support, no USB port, and no 4G support. The Samsung Galaxy and the Motorola Zoom use the Google Android OS, this operating system is more open which provides more flexibility, wide array of software applications and flash support. Some tablet vendors are offering alternate Google app stores. If its not the official Google Android Market, dont buy the tablet. Having Android Market on the device makes the experience of using the tablet more fluid, and stronger on the whole. The Blackberry Playbook offers the QNX operating system which has limited software applications. The Playbook is preferred by enterprises that have deployed Blackberry servers and businesses concerned about security. Unfortunately, a small number of developers are working on applications for the Playbook and the tablet is limited only to browsing and email.

3. Should I buy a WIFI only or Mobile tablet?

Most carriers sell tablets with a contract. The reality is that many tablets are tied to contract obligations with mobile broadband service carriers that heavily subsidize the tablet. That means that if you buy a tablet today with a carrier contract, you're not going to be eligible for an upgrade anytime soon. Never mind the waiting for a contract to expire. Tablet technology is evolving so rapidly that the market will shift again in six months, let alone a year or two from today. In addition, most tablet plans do not offer unlimited service and are tied to tiered 2GB or 5GB plans. So before signing up, make sure that the unit you are buying is the one you want, and not just a temporary toy until the next great tablet is launched, possibly in the next few months. The amount you save up front may not offset what you'll pay down the road.

4. Do I need the latest tablet?

The first generation tablets offer a significant advantage on price. Many companies are offering huge discounts and clearing out stock of the first generation tablets. Those tablets were heavier, lacked dual cameras or dual-core CPU's. A first generation tablet is the most cost-effective way to get a good tablet today, unless you need the latest toy.

5. Why am I using a tablet?, can I use my phone?

Most smartphones offer the same operating systems and applications available on a tablet. So what is the need for a tablet when you can get all of the same features in a phone. A good solid smartphone can come equipped with a dual core processor, the ability to add huge memory cards and 4 inch screens. So having a tablet would only be necessary for heavy data and browsing. Some carriers still allow for unlimited data on smartphones which can lower your costs.

6. Do I need a 7-inch or 10-inch screen?

The iPad is easier to carry than a laptop, but it's not portable enough to pop into a bag, or jacket for a full day on the road. The ipad is great for reading, web surfing, viewing photos, listening to music and watching TV. The ipad as its 10-inch competitors are not small enough or light enough to be on the go. Apple’s Steve Jobs has been no fan of the smaller 7-inch form and has uttered harsh criticisms of the form factor on numerous occasions. Analysts do perceive advantages as well as disadvantages to the 7-inch form factor. The major pluses include lighter weight and greater portability. Smaller tablets also tend to be better on battery life, since they use less power. The 7-inch tablets are generally better suited to gaming and taking photos, but are less useful for web browsing, and the on-screen keyboard can take up too much real estate if you type heavily. Portability is definitely a plus for the 7-inch tablets. The question is do you favor portability over the larger screen.

7. What type of RAM and Storage do I look for in a tablet?

Typically, most lower end tablets come with 512M of RAM. This would work well for basic applications, email and web browsing. We do however recommend that you find a tablet with at least 1GB of RAM to help speed up your applications and ensure the fastest connection. As for storage, the ipad 2, Samsung Galaxy 10 and the Blackberry Playbook come in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions. The Android Xoom comes equipped with 32GB of storage and the Samsung 7 comes with 16GB and 32GB of storage, both offer micro SD card support for up to 32GB in additional. Ideally, look for a tablet with the most storage. Applications, video, photos and music can easily eat up a significant amount of storage and render your tablet a paperweight when you exceed its capacity.

8. How much should I spend?

It depends on the type of tablet you are purchasing, but a ipad 2 wifi tablet should sell for no more than $ 699 and a 3G version for no more than $ 829, these prices are fixed by Apple. A Motorola Xoom wifi sells for $ 499 as does the Blackberry Playbook. The lowest cost tablet with 3G is the Samsung Galaxy 7 tablet from Sprint at $199.99. The tablet is heavily subsidized and offers Android 2.3 OS, 16GB storage, email, dual cameras, GPS navigation and web browsing. Overall a best buy as the cost for the device plus the $19.99 monthly fee for 1 GB broadband service allows you to browse on the road at the same cost for a Wifi only device.

We hope that this guide can assist you in selecting your next tablet.

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