8 years ago (30 May 2012 08:12)
Whether you opt for an Apple iPad or one of many Androids, choosing the right tablet isn't necessarily a snap.
Here's what you need to know before you hit the store.
First Off: Do You Even Need a Tablet?
Simply put, tablets aren't really filling a true needâ€”they're neither replacements for full-fledged computers nor smartphones. A tablet is a touch-screen media device that is actually most similar to a portable media player, but with a larger screen. Many tablets have mobile service features, but they don't make phone calls via a traditional mobile provider. And while you can tackle productivity tasks on an iPad or an Android tablet, you won't get a desktop-grade operating system, like you'll find on a PC. Plus, since we're talking about slates here, there's no hardware keyboard. The main focus of the tablets we'll discuss is media consumption. Tablets have an advantage over both laptops and phones, offering a portable way to check email, browse the Web, video chat, watch movies, listen to music, and play games, but with a bigger screen with more real estate than your smartphone can provide. Even so, you probably don't need one, but if you want a tablet, read on.
Pick an Operating System
Just like with a full-fledged computer, if you're getting a tablet, you need to pick a side. Right now, the main contenders are Apple with its iPad, and Android with its many hardware choices from the likes of Amazon, Asus, HTC, Samsung, Toshiba, and others. (Check back next year, and Microsoft, with Windows 8, its tablet-friendly Metro interface, could be a serious contender.) Apple's iOS is the mobile platform used by the iPad, as well as the iPhone and iPod touch. On the iPad, iOS works very similarly to the way it does on the iPhone, with certain tweaks to take advantage of the tablet's larger 9.7-inch screen. The built-in iPod app on the iPad, for instance, has an extra side menu for additional navigation options that wouldn't fit on the iPhone's screen. Generally speaking, the great strength of Apple's iOS is twofold: it's very intuitive, and the wide selection of iPad apps that you can buy right on the tabletâ€”more than 200,000 iPad-specific titles at the time of this writingâ€”work uniformly well with very few exceptions. Google's mobile OS, Android, is a more complicated story. Besides having your choice of hardware from several manufacturers, there are a few iterations of Android floating around on tablets right now. The latest version, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which merges Gingerbread (the phone OS) with Honeycomb (the tablet OS) into a single operating system for all Android devices, was released back in November, but we've only seen it on a couple of tablets so far. Most manufacturers have made the move to Honeycomb, but some are still making tablets with previous versions of Android that are meant for phones with smaller screens. Amazon with the Kindle Fire, and Barnes and Noble, with its Nook Tablet, each use its own highly customized version of Gingerbread, which, for the most part, in the cases of these smaller 7-inch tablets, is successful. But for larger screen tablets, ideally, you want Android 4.0. The good news is that most Honeycomb tablets will be upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich. Just when is the question. Android is infamous for painfully slow OS updates.