Apple, Android, or Windows: How to Choose the Right Tablet

adeptlab-best-tabletsIt’s difficult to remember a time before tablets, but it’s been four short years since the original Apple iPad hit the scene, and the current tablet market was born. Since then, we’ve seen scores of manufacturers trying to snag a slice of the tablet pie. And the game is finally getting interesting: For the first time in 2013, Android tablet sales overtook the iPad. Growth is so rapid in the segment that some analysts claim tablets will make up half the PC market by the end of the year, and that’s the direction things are heading in as tablets continue to eat away at PC market share. There’s no denying the tablet is here to stay.
But which tablet is right for you? Whether you’re eyeing an iPad, one of the many Android tablets available, or a Windows model, here are the key factors you need to consider when shopping for a tablet:

What Do You Want to Do With Your Tablet?
Despite four years of refinements, tablets still can’t truly replace computers or smartphones. You can tackle productivity tasks on a tablet, but there are inherent ergonomic benefits to desktops and laptops. Plus, since we’re talking about slates here, we’re mostly talking about on-screen keyboards. There are plenty of worthy add-on hardware keyboards, especially for the iPad, but few will provide the same comfort you’ll experience with a laptop or a desktop. The main focus of the tablets we’ll discuss here is media consumption, rather than productivity. We’ll touch on lower-cost Windows tablets here as well, but if you want a convertible tablet with a laptop-grade processor for serious work, take a look at the top Windows 8 tablets we’ve tested—but be prepared to pay laptop prices, as many run around the $1k mark.

Choose Your Operating System
Just like with a full-fledged computer, if you’re getting a tablet, you need to pick a camp. And just like with a computer, your decision will likely come down to your gut feeling. Right now, the top contenders are Apple with its iPads and Android with its many hardware choices from the likes of Acer, Amazon, Asus, Samsung, and others. And we’re finally seeing affordable Windows 8 tablets built around Intel’s Atom processor from various manufacturers like Asus, with its excellent, under-$500 Transformer Book T100TA.
Generally speaking, the greatest strength of Apple’s iOS, the operating system on the iPad Air and iPad mini tablet lines, is twofold: It’s very clean and intuitive, and the wide selection of iPad apps that you can buy right on your tablet—more than one million iPad-specific titles at the time of this writing—work uniformly well with very few exceptions. (For more, check out our iOS 8 review.)
Google’s Android mobile OS gives you a choice of hardware from several different manufacturers and offers maximum configurability, a top-notch notification system, fast and smooth Web browsing, and seamless integration with Google applications like Gmail, Google Maps, and Hangouts for video chat. Android also includes support for multiple user logins so you can share your tablet with a friend or family member, a useful feature that’s missing in Apple tablets. (Android 5 “Lollipop” is on the way on Google’s forthcoming Nexus 9 tablet, but for now, check out our Android 4.4 “KitKat” review for more.)
Windows 8 comes the closest to offering a traditional computing experience with full x86 support for all of your Windows software. And you can run the full version of Microsoft Office when you buy a Win 8 tablet. Also, connectivity options and hardware add-ons for Windows models are also typically more plentiful than with other tablet types.

What About Apps?
What’s a tablet without quality apps? If you want every third-party app under the sun, right now, nothing out there beats the iPad with its one million programs and games designed specifically for Apple tablets. The App Store is well-curated and monitored, offers a deep selection, and includes every popular app you can think of. If a wide range of compelling apps that look good and work well your tablet is your main priority, Apple is your best bet.
Android has made great strides on app selection, courting more developers and offering more high-quality tablet apps, but its still nowhere near the number Apple offers. It’s tough to say exactly how many tablet-optimized Android apps are available, but it’s likely in the thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. There are also Android phone apps, which look decent on a 7-inch tablet, but less so on a 9- or 10-inch one, so you’re likely to have more problems getting high-quality apps for larger Android tablets.
Windows 8, meanwhile, offers an impressive array of more than 100,000 touch-screen-friendly tablet apps but don’t expect to get all of the titles your iOS- and Android-user friends will have on their tablets. But remember, you can also run all of your standard Windows-compatible programs.
Screen Size and Storage
This consideration is a bit obvious, but size—both screen real estate and storage capacity—is important to consider. First things first: When you hear the term “10-inch or 7-inch tablet” this refers to the size of the screen, measured diagonally, and not the size of the tablet itself. 7-inch tablets are considered small-screen, while 8.9- to 10-inch tablets are considered large screen. Apple’s iPads, Amazon’s Fire, and Samsung’s Note- and Tab-branded tablets all come in small- and large-screen iterations. And more than ever, phones are blurring the lines with tablets. Huge smartphones like the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, and the even-bigger 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1320 are challenging the need to carry a separate tablet.
Screen resolution is important too, especially for ebook reading and Web surfing. A sharp, bright display is key. Right now, the sharpest you’ll find is 2,560 by 1,600 pixels on the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9″ (339 pixels per inch; IPS LCD), the Asus Transformer Pad TF701 (299 ppi; IPS LCD), the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (288 ppi; AMOLED HD), and the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 with their 2,048-by-1,536-pixel Retina displays are no slouches either. If you’re in the market for a 10-inch Android tablet, look for a display with at least a 1,280-by-800 resolution. For small tablets: The 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire HD’s display is 1,280 by 800, and is perfectly viewable, even for ebook reading, but line it up side by side with the same-size Amazon Kindle Fire HDX’s 1,920-by-1,200 screen, and you’ll notice the difference.
The weight of a tablet is one definite advantage it has over a laptop—but with large-screen tablets typically weighing around a pound, they’re not cell-phone light. After you hold one with a single hand on a subway ride for 20 minutes, your hand will get tired. Setting one flat in your lap, rather than propped up on a stand, can also be a little awkward. And few tablets will fit in your pocket, unless it’s an extra large jacket. If you want pocketabiity, you might want to consider an aforementioned phablet.
Cloud (off-device) storage is an option for many tablets (iCloud for iPads, Amazon Cloud Storage for Kindle Fires, and OneDrive for Windows), but when it comes to on-board storage, more is always better. All those apps, when combined with a typical music, video, and photo library, can take up a lot of space. Right now storage tops out at 128GB of flash-based memory, and that’s only on the iPad Air and iPad mini lines, with most of the tablets we’ve tested available in either 16, 32, or 64GB varieties. Larger-capacity models can get as expensive as full-featured laptops, though—the 128GB Wi-Fi-only iPad rings up at $699; add 4G service, and you’re up to $830. Many non-Apple tablets have microSD memory card slots that let you expand storage.
Wi-Fi-Only vs. Cellular Models
Some tablets come in a Wi-Fi-only model or with the option of always-on cellular service from a wireless provider. If you want to use your tablet to get online anywhere, you should opt for a model that offers a cellular version, like the aforementioned iPads, or the Wi-Fi + 4G version of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX$179.00 at Amazon. Of course, this adds to the device’s price, and then you need to pay for cellular service. Generally, though, with a tablet, you can purchase data on a month-to-month basis, without signing a contract.
Another way to get your tablet online: Use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for your tablet. This won’t work with every phone/tablet combo, so you should check with your carrier before you seal a deal.
Finally, before you buy, if you can, head to your local electronics store to get hands-on time with some different tablets, so you can see which feels best. For the latest lab-tested tablet reviews, hit our Tablet Product Guide, and for the top models we’ve tested, check out The 10 Best Tablets.

Arwind Yadav

Arwind Yadav

Arwind Yadav, is a IT professional with over twelve years of experience in conceptualizing, designing and developing software applications. He loves building web apps and has also well versed with all the aspects of e-commerce solutions, mobile applications and automation.

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