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5 questions to ask before you buy a tablet

Make sure you get the tablet that fits your lifestyle

Published: August 05, 2014 01:45 PM

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Thinking about buying a tablet? There’s quite a variety, and if you don’t do a little prep work before you walk into the store, you might find the choices confusing. Ponder these five questions before you make a decision.

Apple, Android, or Windows?

If you’re committed to an operating system because of the smart phone and computer you’re already using, this should be a pretty simple decision. Stick to the same OS for all your devices, and you’ll be able to use the same apps—and sync them from one device to another. You’ll also be able to sync all your devices in a variety of ways. For example, with Apple devices, you can get text messages on your phone, tablet, and computer. Finally, you’ll be using an interface you’re already familiar with. (But if you’re using a version of Windows prior to Windows 8, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve to get up to speed with the new OS.)

If none of that matters to you, you should still understand the differences among the various operating systems. Android and Windows have more flexible interfaces than Apple. That means you can change your home screens around more to your liking with Android and Windows. In addition, many Android tablet makers add their own custom interfaces on top of Android.

Apple is the only manufacturer of Apple tablets, so there’s much less variety among iPads. Your big decisions there are small or large, lower- or higher-resolution, and 4G or no 4G.

Windows and Android tablets, on the other hand, vary widely, since they’re available from different vendors. Many have memory-card slots and USB ports, which you won’t find on Apple’s iPads. Consider that if you want more connectivity and storage options. They also come in a variety of sizes, from 7 to 13 inches and everything in between. (See the next question for more help on that.)

Once you've figured out the answers to these five questions, take a look at our tablet buying guide to better target your search.

Large or small?

Many tablets offer a larger and a smaller version, such as the Apple iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display. The sweet spots are 7 and 9 or 10 inches, although you might like an 8-inch tablet that straddles both sizes.

Think about a smaller one if you’re planning to take pictures with the tablet; a larger tablet makes it more pleasant to read magazines and other publications.

Remember that you’re going to be holding the tablet for long periods, and carrying it around. If you want the very lightest, stick with a smaller size. But even a 10-inch tablet can be quite light. The Sony Experia Z2 Tablet has a 10.1-inch display and still weighs under a pound (and it’s waterproof!).

There are even larger models, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which features a 12-inch screen. Sure it’s great for watching movies, but it’s also bulky to hold for long periods. Of course, the adjustable stand that’s built-in really helps.

Budget or all-out?

The Apple iPad Air starts at $500. But the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 beats that, starting at $650. What do you get with these higher-end tablets? With the Apple, you get a great, cutting-edge app market and a top-performing tablet. The Samsung is also a top performer, the Android app market is catching up to Apple’s, and it’s designed to be more of a worker bee, with included office software and a stylus.

Then again, Windows tablets can also be costly. That’s often because they have great Intel processors, such as the Core i7, powering them, making them more like a laptop.  

But for those just looking for a tablet on a budget, you don’t have to make a lot of sacrifices. If you don’t mind a smaller tablet, Windows users can choose the Acer Iconia W4-820-2466, an excellent performer (so you can play the toughest gaming apps) that starts at $300. For Android users, there’s the HP Slate 7 Extreme, also an excellent performer, starting at just $170.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 has a great optional keyboard called the Type Cover ($130).

Will you need a keyboard?

A keyboard lets you use your tablet more like a laptop. It’s essential if you’re planning to do more than a little typing. A few tablets, such as the HP Split 13, are actually detachable laptops that come with a keyboard included in the price. Others, such as the Surface Pro, have keyboards made especially for them. The Surface Type Cover costs $130, but it’s a full-sized keyboard that’s thin, light, and pleasant to type on. For the rest, you should be able to find a compatible Bluetooth keyboard.

4G or Wi-Fi only?

This is probably the simplest question of all to answer. Unless you’re going to be traveling a lot without easy access to a wireless connection, stick to the Wi-Fi-only models. You’ll save yourself a lot of money, not only for the initial cost of the tablet, but in monthly data fees too. Of course, you should always remember to be safe when surfing on public Wi-Fi networks.

—Donna Tapellini

   

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