It’s easy to walk into just about any random electronics store and feel compelled to pick up a new tablet as an impulse buy. They’re all basically the same anyway, right? Not exactly. Indeed, just as you should spend some time doing your research before you buy a smartphone, a television, or a new car, you should be taking the same kind of due diligence for that tablet.
The impulse buy is not the most intelligent way to go shopping, because you could ultimately regret it. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to take the smart way to shop for a new tablet. What sort of questions should you be asking? What features are the most important to consider? What features don’t matter as much but would be nice to have?
Assuming you’ve already decided that you indeed want a tablet and it will indeed fulfill a particular need in your life, the next question you’ll need to ask is which platfom you want to get. It’s easy to turn to iOS and the iPad, since there are so many apps available for it. Getting an Apple iPad also means that you’ll have access to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store if you need any help and Apple has a good history of keeping up with warranty issues and that sort of thing. The iPad family will also suffer far less from fragmentation.
Of course, Google Play Store now has tons of apps itself and so an Android tablet could be a seriously solid choice too. Part of the problem, if you consider it a problem, is that not all the apps are optimized for tablets, so you could get stuck with a “stretched-out” smartphone interface. However, Android is incredibly versatile, easily modified, and boasts an incredibly robust community. Bear in mind that while the Kindle Fire runs on Android, it’s an altered version with only access to the Amazon AppStore and not Google Play.
While there are some other platforms you might consider, those are the main two. Another couple of possibilities, though, are Windows RT and Windows 8. These offer the familiarity of Windows but in tablet form. The app selection is currently more limited with Windows RT, but Windows 8 will run any native Windows program as you would have on a laptop or desktop PC.
Screen Size and Resolution
After you’ve selected your platform, you’ll then have to decide on the size. By and large, most tablets will fall into two main ranges. You have the smaller tablets with screens between seven and eight inches in size. These would be offerings like the Google Nexus 7 and the Apple iPad Mini. Then, you have the larger tablets that are typically in the nine to ten inch range. These would be like the main iPad and the Microsoft Surface.
In addition to actual size, you’ll also have to consider the dimensions and the resolution. The Nexus 7, for instance, has more of a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio whereas the iPad Mini has a 4:3 aspect ratio. This makes for quite the different user experience, but it’s really a matter of personal preference.
Processor and Performance
You might not need a heck of a lot of horsepower to update your Facebook or play some simple games, but you want to make sure that your tablet is at least adequate for the tasks you need it to do. Pay particular attention to the processor and the RAM. Look for benchmarks online, particularly if you’re interested in 3D gaming.
By and large, most tablets will start in the 16GB range and there may be versions with larger capacities. It’s noteworthy that the iPad family does not have a memory expansion slot like how you’d find on many Android tablets, so unless you rely on cloud storage, the capacity you buy is the capacity you’ll have.
WiFi or Cellular
When you shop for a new tablet, another consideration is whether you want the WiFi-only model or, if available, the version with a cellular radio in it. This could be simple 3G or it may be 4G LTE. In any case, be prepared to pay a premium for that, as well as paying for the wireless data and being aware of which carriers are compatible.
Sometimes you only have so much money to spend. Maybe you just want to make sure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Whatever the case, there may be sacrifices to be made. If you really want an iPad, but can’t afford the full-size version, then an iPad Mini might do. If you really want a certain tablet, but can’t afford the highest model, you might opt for a lower-capacity WiFi-only model.
Whatever you end up choosing, be sure to do some smart shopping to find the best possible deals. Look for coupons, specials, and sales. The way you shop for a new tablet really shouldn’t be all that different than how you shop for any other higher ticket electronics.
Image credits: mecookie, cmmorrison / Flickr