What to look for when buying a tablet PC and how to choose your tablet. We explain tablet specs, tablet features, tablet prices and the best tablets in the UK in 2014. Here's our complete tablet buying advice guide.
Such is the huge growth in popularity of tablets over the past few years that there are now vast swathes of possibilities for a would-be buyer. In this article we’ll try to make things a bit simpler by taking many of the top models in different size categories and exploring what makes them worth your hard earned cash. The test is broken down into three sections which focus on large, around 10in, small, 7in, and dedicated children’s tablets. Before we begin though here are a few helpful tips that could make deciding on your tablet a little easier.
We have reviews of the best tablets you can buy in 2014 here: The best tablets of 2014 UK. You can refine the search by looking here Best Android tablets 2014 and here Best 10in tablets of 2014 and here: 10 best tablets for children, 10 best budget tablets 2014. There's a chart no matter what you're looking for.
Which tablet to buy? What you need a tablet to do
Tablets are fantastic portable devices which sport long battery life and easy to use interfaces. We love them. But they’re not necessarily for everyone in every situation. Like any computing device the first question you need to ask yourself is what you want to use it to do? If it’s a case of checking Facebook, surfing the web, email, reading, playing a few games, and things along these lines then a tablet is a superb choice - arguably better than any other type of computer. If you’re intending to replace your laptop with a lightweight productivity unit, then things are not quite so clear. Typing on a tablet is fine in short bursts, but you’ll quickly get a pain in your neck if you want to work on it all day.
Also the files systems are a little less accessible than on a traditional computer, especially on Apple products. It’s worth checking if the software you like to use is available in the relevant app store for your device (you can’t install anything that isn’t, well, not easily). You certainly can work on a tablet, but it might involve buying a Bluetooth keyboard and adjusting your workflow a little to achieve this.
Which tablet to buy? Screen size
Apart from a few outliers the tablet market has settled down into two main size categories - the large 10in models (iPads, Samsung Galaxy Tab, MS Surface) and the smaller 7in (Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle HD, iPad Mini Retina). However, more recently during 2014, the 8in size has grown in popularity with devices like the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, Tesco Hudl 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 to name just three. This is a happy medium if you're struggling to decide between the other two.
All run exactly the same software and apps as their differently sized siblings, and increasingly we’re seeing the internal specifications beginning to reach parity too. This means that now the choice is simply the size of the screen rather than power. If you want something that you carry everywhere with you, and is primarily a consumption device, then the smaller devices are an excellent choice. 10in tablets are hardly gargantuan, but they don’t easily slip into a coat pocket. What they do offer though is more screen real estate to display websites, movies, and word documents. So if your eyes aren’t what they were, or you want to do some work on your tablet, the bigger models are the way to lean. One important spec to look for is ppi - or pixels per inch - which shows how detailed the display is and how clear the text will be. Anything over 200ppi is decent, but with HD and Retina screens now available on many devices we’d encourage you to go higher.
Which tablet to buy? Storage options
Storage space is a very important consideration when buying a tablet. Most popular models - iPads, Nexus, Kindles - offer no way to increase the onboard capacity, so you need to decide how much you need before you buy. If you want to store all of your music collection and videos on the device then you’ll need to get the biggest model you can afford. Check the reviews for tablets with Micro SD slots, as these do give you the option of additional storage, sometimes up to 128GB more.
You’ll need to buy an SD card of course, but these are a great deal cheaper than the upgraded storage options on a tablet. If you’re needs are more modest, web surfing, social media, a few games, then the lower capacity models should be fine. We wouldn’t happily recommend going lower than 16GB, and bear in mind that the operating system and pre-installed apps will usually take up a few of those precious gigabytes before you even start.
Which tablet to buy? Android vs iPad vs Surface
There are currently three main flavours of operating system on tablets - Android, iOS, and Windows. Each has pros and cons. Android is the most popular mobile OS at the moment and boasts an excellent choice of apps and devices. It’s not quite as simple as Apple’s iOS to use, although you get the hang of it very quickly, and currently has fewer apps that are optimised for tablet, but this is increasing all the time. iOS has the Apple App Store on its side, which is still the best, allbeit by a much lesser margin than in the past.
Apps often come out on iOS first, some exclusively, and the interface is incredibly easy to get to grips with but as time goes on Android is being given equal priority. iPads are wonderful, but they do restrict how you use files and share data with other applications. This can lead to frustration if you want to do more than simply consume content.
Windows is more confusing. There are currently two types of OS to choose from - Windows RT or Windows 8.1. The former is Microsoft’s tablet specific platform, which looks pretty but prohibits you installing any traditional Windows software and has got to the point where tablet makers are ditching it. Instead you are limited to browsing the Windows App Store which is sadly bereft of many useful apps. Windows 8.1 is a full blown version of Windows running on a tablet, no small achievement there, but the models which include it are expensive. If you want Windows on the move then these are worth a look. One plus for Windows RT is that it comes with a stripped down version of Office, but the non-optimised nature of the software negates some of the advantages.
Which tablet to buy? Warranty
If you like to tinker with technology then you’ll be disappointed to find that your screwdrivers are useless on a tablet. Pretty much every model is sealed and has no user-serviceable parts. This means when it goes wrong you’ll need professional help. Apple has its high street stores which will often repair its devices for free while in the first year, it also sells an additional two years of support via its Applecare policy. Android and Windows devices are again covered by the manufacturers’ one year warranty, which usually entails sending the device back to them for maintenance. Shopping around for deals is a good idea, with companies such as John Lewis offering two year warranties on devices purchased from them.
Which tablet to buy? Children’s tablets.
Kids love using tablets, and often work out the OS quicker than their parents. Remember though that these devices are fully fledged computers, with access to the internet and your bank account. When buying for children you want a tablet that has the option of separate user profiles so you can restrict their access to certain types of web content and stop them buying £200 worth of Temple Run extras. In other instances you could go for a dedicated kids’ tablet which has parental controls built in, or even one that has a specific OS written for children - such as the Leapfrog devices. These restrictions might make the device redundant quicker than a traditional model as the kids grow up, but will keep them safe now. Of course you’ll want a hardy device too, as little hands have a habit of dropping those shiny, glass units. Most normal tablets have protective cases available, but kids’ tablets often come with them as standard.
Which tablet to buy? The best tablets of 2014
The large tablet market is maturing nicely, as can be seen by the amount of four and four and a half star reviews in this test. Apple's range of iPads is now bigger than ever with a total of five models to choose from brand new. The iPad Air 2 is seriously impressive while the iPad mini 3 is less so with fewer upgrades. Google's most recent is the Nexus 9 made by HTC but it outclassed by the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
Choosing between the smaller tablets was no easy feat either. The Nexus 7 remains one of the best tablets around but we've seen many decent ones launch at lower price points like the £129 Tesco Hudl 2, Amazon Fire HD7 and Asus Memo Pad 7.
Probably the most diverse category was the Children’s tablets. Purpose-built devices such as the LeapPad and Innotab 3S found favour with the kids who helped us test them, but their closed systems feel too restrictive to take the prize. Both awards go to tablets that can grow with their users, while still keeping them safe online. The Samsung Tab 3 Kids is a great little device which easily deserves the Recommended rosette, but Amazon’s inclusion of Freetime on the Kindle HD transforms a decent unit into a fantastic children’s tablet, making it a Best Buy for us.
We have reviews of the best tablets you can buy in 2014 here: The best tablets of 2014 UK. You can refine the search by looking here Best Android tablets 2014 and here Best 10in tablets of 2014 and here: best tablets for children, best budget tablets 2014.
Go to the next page for the tablet buying advice from 2012.