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 2015. 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 2015 here: The best tablets of 2015 UK. You can refine the search by looking here Best Android tablets 2015 and here Best 10in tablets of 2015 and here: 10 best tablets for children, 10 best budget tablets 2015. 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 2015
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 2015 here: The best tablets of 2015 UK. You can refine the search by looking here Best Android tablets 2015 and here Best 10in tablets of 2015 and here: best tablets for children, best budget tablets 2015.
Go to the next page for the tablet buying advice from 2012.
NOTE: The following article is provided for buyers of second-hand tablets, and should not be used as a guide to buying a brand new tablet in 2014. The information may prove useful if you are on a tight budget and need to choose between older tablets. END OF NOTE.
Author: Matt Egan
Tablets such as the Kindle Fire HD, iPad mini and Nexus 7 are hugely popular right now. But which is best for you? We explain which tablet you should buy, depending on your budget and interests. (See also: Kindle Fire HD vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 review.)
What tablet should I buy? The story so far
Here's a fun game. Ask the person next to you when the iPad was first announced. Then watch them look surprised when you reveal that Apple's iconic tablet was first launched as late as 2010.
Tablet computing has been around for a long time, of course. PDAs were popular in the 1990s, and Microsoft was heavily pushing tablet PCs from as far back as the start of that decade. But until the iPad changed everything tablets occupied only a tiny niche of the wider personal computing market. The current tablet boom has grown from next to nothing to its current staggering pitch in just two-and-a-bit years.
Following the never-to-be-surpassed success of the iPad, tech hardware manufacturers rushed to capture a slice of the pie with what turned out to be inferior devices. Throughout most of 2010 and 2011 the iPad had no rivals that could match its combination of high-end software and good-looking, stable and seemlessly integrated platform. Android tablets were hobbled with, in essence, an outsized smartphone operating system, and the best ones cost the same or more than the iPad anyway. Windows tablets were heavy, shrink-wrapped laptops with poor battery life and a desktop OS. BlackBerry managed to launch a great tablet in the PlayBook, just as smartphone users were turning their back on BlackBerry phones, and with barely an app worthy of the name to make the PlayBook useful or fun.
As of the end of 2011 there was only one answer to the question 'what tablet should I buy?' - the iPad. (See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?)
What tablet should I buy? All change
That all changed in 2012, however. For one thing Apple release an unprecedented three tablets in the year, including its first 7in device, meaning a broader choice for iOS users. Meanwhile Google pulled off the neat two-card trick of finally creating a true tablet OS in Android 4 Jelly Bean, and then subsidising hardware makers to produce in the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 genuinely high-quality products at a staggeringly low price.
In Windows 8 Microsoft has an OS fit for tablets, and in the Surface RT the ARM-based hardware to match. Meanwhile the eReader makers Amazon and Barnes & Noble have brought to the UK their own subsidised devices, the Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD. Both offer high build-quality and easy access to content - in theory.
What tablet should I buy?
As I write Christmas 2012 is rapidly approaching and the range of tablets available has never been bigger or better. The Kindle Fire HD is set to be this year's must-have present, closely followed by Nexus 7, iPad mini and Barnes & Noble Nook HD. At the top of the range sits Apple's fourth-generation full-sized iPad, under some pressure from the Nexus 10. The Surface RT means Microsoft has added its own intriguing device to the mix, with Intel Windows 8 Pro tablets to follow in the new year offering another exciting new development. Meanwhile a plethora of Android devices of varying quality plug every price point... and we haven't even mentioned BlackBerry, set to relaunch in the new year with BlackBerry 10. Don't write off BlackBerry just yet.
For children there is a dedicated category of specialised kid's tablets, and laptop makers are beginning to launch hybrid devices that offer the benefits of both tablet and PC. See also: TOP 5 CHILDREN'S TABLETS.
Tablet sales are set to go through the roof this Christmas which can only help to push app, movie and music makers into creating more content and software to be enjoyed on these devices. So expect 2013 to be the year tablet computing really matures, and these truly portable computers become capable of being your only entertainment device or workstation. Which leads on to the question, which tablet is right for you?
What tablet should I buy? Mini/7in tablets
The Nexus 7 changed the tablet market, bringing to the market iPad-like build quality, an easy way to purchase movies and music, and a good tablet OS at a staggeringly low price. It also relaunched the 7in tablet.
That size change from the 10in form factor of the original iPads makes a big difference: mini tablets are great for reading on and using on the move, fitting into a handbag or suit pocket. They are less able than full-sized tablets when it comes to creating or editing documents, and the smaller screens can make for a less satisfying movie-watching experience. But if you are watching on the move you'll find that holding a 7in device in one hand is a lot more fun that taking on a wrist-aching 10in tab.
The Nexus 7 is an utterly brilliant media consumption device, with which you can also email and web browse, as well as edit documents and photos and so on. You probably won't want to use it for anything more complex than that, but at this price why would you? The Nexus 7 is cheap enough that you could buy it and a cheap laptop and it will still cost you only about the same as a top-end iPad.
Further along the same media-consumption road is the Kindle Fire HD. This is set to be the biggest seller this Christmas, priced to shift and well built. You can web browse and email, and consume all the media you want. In fact it seems too good to be true and to an extent it is - but only if you are looking for a full-featured tablet. The Kindle Fire HD is made by - and subsidised by - Amazon in order to drive sales of books, music and movies. It is very easy to use, but only if you are happy to buy your books from Kindle and our films from LoveFilm. As such it will make a great gift for that person who doesn't want a computer, but does want a brilliant gadget. For more see: Google Nexus 7 tablet vs Amazon Kindle Fire HD comparison review.
A similar proposition is the Barnes & Noble Nook HD. It is also a well built and easy-to-use tablet made for the consumption on the move of movies, books, music and so on. But like the Kindle Fire HD it is locked down, in this instance to B&N's own Nook store.
Should you want a 'proper' tablet at this size the iPad mini is probably better even than the Nexus 7. But it costs more than £100 more, and we're not sure that it is worth the extra cash. Buy one, however, and you are unlikely to be disappointed.
There are other, cheaper, 7in Android tablets such as the Acer Iconia Tab A110. There's nothing wrong with such devices, but in the tablet world you get what you paid for and we think that in the list above there is a device for everyone. For the best cheap tablets, read our story: Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?
What tablet should I buy? Full size/10in tablets
The iPad remains the best full-spec, full-sized tablet there is. If you want the best tablet on the market, get Apple's fourth-generation iPad with Retina display: the so-called iPad 4. It is a beautiful device with unsurpassed build quality. And the iTunes market offers more quality apps than any other platform. But you pay a premium for quality, and you will find that you are pretty much locked into Apple's world when it comes to purchasing music and movies.
Apple still sells the iPad 2 at a discounted rate, by the way, and it remains a great tablet. So if you want an iPad but don't want to pay the full price it is worth checking out.
The list of alternative 10in tablets starts with the Nexus 10. Google's new Nexus 10 Android tablet has an impressive PLS screen with a resolution of 2560x1600. The Samsung manufactured device is also thinner and lighter than Apple's iPad, runs Jelly Bean 4.2 and for £400 is a bargain.
Samsung has two other 10in tablets in the Android tablet market, both are solid competitors: the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1. With pen input and a highly customized version of Android 4.0, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 distinguishes itself in a crowded market, but at £500 you'll have to really want pen input before it makes sense to choose the Note. Meanwhile the Tab 2 10.1 is like the iPad and the Nexus 10, only not as good. Unlike its predecessors, however, it is cheaper. For £299 it will make all but the most stringent tablet fans happy.
Honestly, unless price is your primary driver, we wouldn't recommend other Android devices such as the GoClever Tab R974, Toshiba AT300, Archos 101 XS and Disgo 9104. In the 10in tablet market you get what you pay for. It doesn't make them bad devices, but you should know that you are making a compromise.
There are two alternatives, however, both intriguing. The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ is a 10in tablet with expandable storage that costs only £229 inc VAT. It runs Barnes & Noble's locked down, stripped down version of Android, and shares the Nook HD's high build quality. Like that device and the Kindle Fire HD the price you pay for such value is that the Nook HD+ locks you into Barnes & Noble's world, all-but forcing you to buy books, music and movies via its store. But it is a quality device at a great price, and less technical users may actively enjoy the ease of use in a closed market.
Last, but far from least, is the Windows option. Microsoft's Microsoft Surface RT runs a version of Windows 8 on hardware not dissimilar to the iPad or Nexus 10. It isn't without flaw, but it is well priced and a very solid option for those who want a tablet on which to work. Keep an eye out for the Surface Pro, however. This is the Intel version of the Microsoft Windows tablet, and should launch early in the new year. It should be the perfect alternative to an ultraportable laptop, but the US price is $899, so expect it to be expensive!