The Tablet Buying Guide

TabletsBack in April, 2010 when Apple launched the iPad, no one had a clue what to do with it! Today more than 140 million people around the world are using tablets for number of things. The tablet category is growing faster than laptops and desktops and is expected to surpass laptop shipments by 2016.

It is evident that tablets are the growth engine for computer manufacturers for next few years until the next innovation comes along. While Apple and Google enjoy a duopoly on the software front, the competition on the hardware front is intensifying and opening up. In Oct/Nov 2012 alone, we saw number of major tablet launches including iPad Mini, iPad 4th Gen, Asus Nexus 7, Samsung Nexus 10, and Microsoft Surface.

This tablet frenzy has left buyers confused. In this post I have attempted to simply the tablet buying process for potential buyers. To start this simplification process, have a look below at the most common uses of tablets

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1. Social Networking

No surprise here, but people do use tablets for social networking the most. The user experience of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc) and chat applications (Skype, Yahoo Messenger, Viber etc) is almost undifferentiated on iOS and Android. While all tablets are good enough for social networking, but a good front facing camera for video chatting and cellular data connectivity for on-the-go use are two important hardware features to consider.

2. Book Reading

Amazon created the niche of e-readers with Kindle. Over the time the distinction between e-readers and tablets has blurred but Kindle devices are still the best if you are looking for a tablet to replace your physical book shelf. Kindle Paperwhite is probably the best choice for book reading only.

3. Browsing

The term ‘Browsing’ here encompasses reading news, blogs, magazines, online shopping, surfing websites, and even using apps. Flurry Analytics reports that an average mobile device user spends 94 minutes a day on apps versus 72 minutes on web. This demonstrates that people consume information more through apps than the web. The apps race is pretty much poised evenly between Android and iOS. Both boasting app counts of over 700,000+ and monthly downloads of 1 billion apps (at the time of this writing). iOS however has a greater market share with over 30 billion downloads as compared to over 10 billion downloads on Android. From the hardware perspective, processing speed and screen size are factors to be considered.

4. HD Viewing

Downloading, renting, and streaming of HD content is one of the most prolific uses of tablets in my view. At the time of this writing, Apple boasts over 45,000 movies and over 85,000 TV shows available in HD and SD. Amazon Instant Video store has over 52,000 movies and estimated 9,000 TV show titles. There are no specific numbers available for Google Play but it is number three in terms of the catalog size. One remarkable difference however is that content purchased or rented through Amazon Instant Video or Google Play can be streamed instantly on compatible devices while content purchased or rented through Apple iTunes has to be downloaded first. The deciding factors for HD viewing are HD display, screen size (bigger the better), download speed, and size of the content catalog. The 4th generation iPad with Retina Display is probably the best in this use category.

5. Business/Education

Use of tablets in Business/Education is in nascent stages but it promises to be one of the key areas of growth and differentiation for tablet manufacturers. Apple iTunes has a dedicated section known as iTunes U that offers free academic resources/courses from number of universities, making it the platform of choice for individual users. Businesses on other hand would choose the OS that is seen as most viable for custom apps development and use. Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 can be an interesting choice due to interoperable nature of apps on Windows 8 PC, tablets, and phones.

From the classification above it is easy to decide on a tablet if you are only going to use it for reading books (Amazon Kindly Paperwhite) or if your primary purpose is to watch HD content (iPad 4th Gen with Retina Display). However usually customers are looking to buy a tablet for more than one uses mentioned above. The purchase decision in this case comes down to budget, the need to make a style statement and if it’s a laptop replacement or a complimentary screen for on-the-go use. The below illustration is an extension of the illustration above to help narrow down the tablet selection process.

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Using Tablet as Primary Screen

ipad4_1If you are looking to replace your laptop with a tablet that does the most for you when you are away from your work PC or even if you don’t use the PC at all then it only makes sense to go for the large screen size. If still you are going to choose the small screen size then price should be the deciding factor. Here is an in-depth comparison of my top 3 picks for this category plus the budget value option.

Using Tablet as Secondary Screen

nexus 7If you spend significant time on your PC/laptop or smartphone doing social networking or browsing then you should be thinking more in terms of a complimentary screen that helps you get through your requirements when you are on-the-go and away from PC/laptop for any reason. Small screen tablets are a good fit not only because they fulfill the need but they are smart and inexpensive too. Having cellular data is also a key point here for on-the-go usage. However if you can afford, going for top of the line large screen model is always going to be a rewarding option. Here is the detailed comparison of the top 3 along with the all-round best option.

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