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Which? guide to buying a tablet
What is a tablet?
A tablet is a touchscreen internet-enabled computer. They’re similar to touchscreen smartphones and equally handy for browsing the internet, but with bigger screen sizes of between 7 and 10 inches they are also popular for watching TV and films.
New tablets can cost anywhere from £150 to near £800. Which one is right for you depends on what you want to use the tablet for and whether you want Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android or Windows as your operating system.
Below we explain which features to look out for and how to decide which tablet is right for you.
Read the full Which? tablet reviews to find out which tablets are Best Buys
What can I do on a tablet?
You can do most of the things you would do on a laptop or PC, but often quicker. Tablets can start up almost immediately so are ideal if you want to fire off a quick Google search, find somewhere on a map or read an email.
Their snappy start-up also makes them popular for watching videos and catch-up TV, such as BBC iPlayer, as well as reading ebooks.
What can’t I do on a tablet?
While tablets are brilliant as a second screen, they are no replacement for a laptop or desktop. They don’t have enough memory or processor power to handle more complex tasks, can’t access full computer programs and usually lack keyboards – so they’re not suitable for work tasks.
What should I look for in a tablet?
Size - Opt for a 7-inch tablet if you want something super portable. Weighing in at around 300g, 7-inch tablets are slim, light and easy to carry around. Another bonus with smaller tablets is that they also tend to be cheaper than their 10-inch counterparts.
But if you want to play high-powered games or watch a lot of TV and film, a 10-inch tablet will give you a bigger, better screen for a more immersive viewing experience. The full-sized iPad and Google Nexus 10 both come with large high-definition screens and produce sharp, clear images.
3G or wi-fi - All tablets connect to the internet via wi-fi but some come with 3G mobile broadband too.
If you plan to use your tablet mostly at home, wi-fi will be fine. If you want to use it on the move 3G will suit you better - but be prepared to pay more for the tablet plus a monthly data plan.
Storage - Storage options range from 8-128GB. For browsing the internet and storing a few apps, 16GB will be about right. But if you plan to download space-hungry games and HD video you need at least 32GB.
How much does a good tablet cost?
The average price of a tablet is £297. While a top-end tablet can cost up to £800, there are decent 7-inch models for under £200.
Most 10-inch premium models fall into the £300-£400 bracket. Opting for one with a larger memory capacity or 3G connectivity will increase the price by around £100-£200.
Cheap tablets – how much should I spend and what does it buy me?
You can get a good tablet ideal for daily use for around £200. For this kind of budget you can expect:
- a 7-inch screen
- an Android operating system
- at least a 1024x600 resolution screen
- 16GB of memory
Premium tablets – what more do I get if I buy a top of the range tablet?
A premium tablet will cost upwards of £300. For this you can expect:
- a large high-definition screen
- long battery life
- 16GB+ of memory
- front and rear cameras.
Apple vs Android vs WindowsApple
The market-leader in terms of sales. The Apple range includes the full-sized 10-inch iPad and the smaller, 7-inch iPad mini.
Apple iPads – pros:
- Simple to use – part of Apple’s success with the iPad is that it is really intuitive; simply get it out of the box and you’re ready to go.
- Sleek design – the aluminium casing in black, white and silver is seductive and smart.
- Best stocked app store – no matter what you want to do there will be an app in the Apple app store to help.
Apple iPads – cons:
- More expensive than rivals – iPads come with a premium price tag.
- Closed OS meaning that you can’t customise it – unlike with Android you won’t be able to redesign the menu system – or any other element of the OS - to suit you.
Google’s Android OS is used by a variety of manufacturers such as Samsung, Amazon and Sony. Google has also developed its own tablets in the shape of the much praised Google Nexus range.
Android tablets – pros• Normally cheaper than rivals – it is thought that Google subsidises the cost of the tablet so that more people buy them. They then make this money back from users purchasing apps and content on Google Play. • Well-stocked app store – Android has grown quickly and there is a huge range of apps on the Google Play store. • Frequently updated OS – Android regularly makes tweaks to the operating system with the aim of providing a better experience.
Android tablets – cons:
- Apple tablets just edge ahead when it comes to ease of use – although the Android OS design is good, it’s not quite as intuitive as on the iPad.
- Most Android tablets lack the sleek design of the iPad – they are often cased in cheap plastic, meaning they don’t have the same finesse as Apple rivals.
There are two versions of Windows available for tablets - Windows RT, which is designed specifically for mobile devices, and Windows 8, which is the full operating system found on laptops as well as tablets. Microsoft has its own range of Windows tablets called Surface, but other manufacturers such as Samsung and Acer use Windows as well.
Windows tablets - pros:
- Designed for work – Windows 8 tablets can run full computer software. This means that you can use familiar programs such as Word and Excel.
- Windows RT runs a ‘lite’, app version of Microsoft Office. These apps come preinstalled and are great for looking at work tasks such as reviewing Word documents.
Windows tablets – cons:
- Fewer apps in the Microsoft app store – Windows tablets aren’t quite as popular as Android or Apple. This means that fewer apps have been developed for the store although it is growing on a daily basis.
- Often more expensive than Android – if you don’t need your tablet for work it may not be worth spending the extra.
- Best used with a keyboard – although some throw one in for free, in most cases you need to purchase one at an additional cost.
To find out which tablets survive our gruelling tests to become Best Buys, read our latest reviews.