What to Consider in Choosing Your First Tablet
Pam is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Before you buy a tablet, think about how you are going to use it. If you think you just want internet access and email, anything will do. But, don't stop there. Owning a tablet is a potentially life-changing experience. It is difficult to imagine how much you can do with it. There are lots of reviews available, but they are only starting points. Based on my personal experience with two widely different devices, I will explore with you the possibilities and limitations of the myriad devices available. In the next article, I will explain your options for getting internet access at home and away and how to do it. But, if you really must have internet access everywhere you go, then you'll need a cellular-equipped tablet.
What Can I Do with a Tablet?
Tablets are more than electronic storage devices for books. Anything and everything you can do on a computer you can do on a tablet. Tablets come with cameras. You can have video conversations, take pictures and even video. The resolution on an i-Pad 3 at 5 megapixels is twice my Canon digital camera's. There are apps for photoediting, word processing, etc. But, in my opinion, tablets are best for things that don't require a keyboard, and they do those things better and more easily than a computer and are way more fun to use.
Tablets are the great equalizer—not discriminating against those who don't touch type or aren't thumb wizards (people who type incredibly fast with just their thumbs). Everything is about tapping, swiping and pinching or expanding. Voice recognition software allows you to just speak instead of typing, and it is far more accurate than most software used for handling phone calls. So, if you hate the voice recognition system used by your insurer, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. For example, you can say: “latimes.com” and the web browser will either take you directly to the Los Angeles Times website with the tap of a button or offer you several choices. You simply tap on the closest match, edit it if needed and tap on the Return key or its equivalent. It is possible to dictate emails, etc., but expect to do some editing. Touch typing is possible, but is easier on a 10-inch tablet than a 7-inch one. I find it easier to touch type on my i-Pad 3 when it is in its case which puts it on a slight incline than when it's lying flat.
For those accustomed to a computer keyboard, there are no CTRL or ALT keys and some keyboards don't even have a Tab key. But, you'll find you can live without them.
There really are apps for everything—games, cooking, health & fitness, music, photography, reference, travel, etc. Certain apps allow you to designate areas of interest to you and then they consolidate the appropriate articles issued today into your own personal newspaper, such as Zite. As you rate the articles you read, the program learns your preferences, delivering more of what you like.
Choosing a Tablet—The Operating System
Operating system? I thought you said tablets were fun? They are. Bear with me because this is a critical choice.
The operating system runs the tablet and there are basically 3 choices: Android from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) (used by most manufacturers), iOS from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Windows from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) (least common). The operating system not only determines how easy it is to use your tablet, but what apps will be available to you, how secure your device is from intrusion and ultimately, how much fun it is to use.
If you choose an Android device, be warned that not all devices running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS), are compatible with Google Play, Google's app store. Why should you care? Because the vast majority of Android apps are now available only from Google Play. These include not only those listed in their store, but apps from many other sources. If the device manufacturer doesn't pay Google's license fee for a particular model, Google bars those users from their app store.
You may be able to download and install the Google Play Store app, but it will not work properly. Rather than wasting time trying to get around Google's prohibition, check the list of supported devices and buy one of them if you want access to Google Play. You will find various fixes to this compatibility problem on the web, but in my experience, they either don't work or are too complicated for the average user. Besides, who wants the aggravation? Tablets are supposed to be fun.
I bought an Android tablet for my husband for Father's Day. I wanted something easy to use and inexpensive (in case, he hated it). So, I got a Skytex Skypad Alpha 2 with Android ICS for $99 through CNET. Skytex said it would not work with Google Play, but not knowing what that meant, I didn't care. With superb support from Tony Ng of Skytex, I got Adobe Flash Player, You Tube and Zite working. I downloaded all the apps he wanted from 1Mobile Market and he loves it. But, it took much more time to set up than my i-Pad.
Android devices need security apps. Norton makes “Norton Tablet Security” which costs $30 and has to be renewed annually. So, factor in this additional expense.
Apple makes a beautiful tablet, the i-Pad. It runs Apple's priority operating system, iOS, and after nearly 30 years using only computers running on Microsoft's operating systems (MS-DOS and Windows), I can't begin to tell you what a joy it is to use. Apple's App Store contains over 225,000 apps, less than Google Play's 600,000+, but I don't consider that a limitation, because so many of Google Play's apps are wallpaper (apps you can download to change the background shown on your tablet's home screen). If you're using your tablet, you won't be spending much time staring at the wallpaper.
The i-Pad does not require a security app. Apple controls which apps are allowed on its devices.
As for Windows as the operating system, well see above. In fairness, here's a review of new Windows 8 tablets. Since Windows gave birth to an entire industry of security software providers—anti-virus, firewalls, etc., I see no reason to expect better security on tablets than on PC's.
I-Pad 2 vs. i-Pad 3
The i-Pad 2 and i-Pad 3 appear identical and at $100 more, so why buy an i-Pad 3? Because in the fall, Apple will be releasing its new operating system iOS 6 to i-Pad 3 owners free. Among other things, iOS 6 will allow you to read articles on your Reading List offline. Currently, you need a 3rd party app to do that. In my experience, even the best of these can be maddeningly slow to provide access to your articles. So, I for one, am looking forward to iOS 6.
Choosing a Tablet—Storage
Small tablets come with 4 GB of storage. Larger ones come with a choice of 16, 32 or 64 GB of storage. Which is right for you? That depends on how you will use your tablet. Camera and video buffs need more storage.
My laptop has a 640 GB hard drive and I am using about 16 GB. I think 16 GB should satisfy most people's needs. If you buy a tablet with less than 16 GB of storage, I recommend buying a 16 GB sd card. You can find these online at Walmart, Costco, etc. Installing them is a breeze, you just insert them in the slot on your tablet. (Note: make sure your tablet has a sd card slot before you buy the card.)
You will use your tablet more than you can imagine. Use the links above to explore the various app stores to see what apps interest you. Consider security, ease of use, cost and quality of technical support. An inexpensive tablet like the Alpha 2, with patience and great technical support, may be a better choice than a fancier device with poor support. Factor in the money you can save by cancelling subscriptions to various newspapers and magazines, using apps instead to customize your reading content and have it delivered daily to your tablet. Finally, go to a store and play with the device. There's nothing like a test drive!
p366 owns shares of Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.