Choosing a tablet is as bad as buying a car

ipadminiSo, this is the time of year when shopping is in full swing for the holidays.  Every year, there seems to be that one standout, must have category and, so it seems, this year it is the tablet computer.  As such, I thought I would give some pointers on how to shop. I don’t want to come out and recommend a specific tablet, but I will share my thoughts on several categories of tablets.

How to determine which category you belong in

First thing to decide is who is the tablet going to go to, it is the important part of the puzzle. If it is going to a child, then skip ahead.  If to an adult, or yourself, then you need to know the following:

  • Does the recipient have an iPhone already? If they do, they, likely, already have a multitude of accessories and applications.  Things like power adaptors, bluetooth keyboards, cables, etc. will work on the iPad and, if they do not have one, that it is the best and easiest way to go.
  • Does the recipient have an Android phone? If yes, then skip to the buying an Android tablet.
  • Does the recipient have a Kindle or use the Kindle software? If yes, there are three choices: the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 inch or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch.  Here’s where you need to figure out which is better. If they have a hard time seeing, then get the 8.9 inch otherwise, the 7 inch is probably the best way to go.  Amazon has a nice ecosystem already and if they use Amazon Prime, then there is a whole world of streaming possibilities. Plus, anything you purchase from Amazon (like apps or media) will be store in the cloud and the device.
  • Does the recipient need or want an e-reader more than a tablet? If yes, then the aforementioned Kindle Fire or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD are good choices.  The Nook runs a more standard Android operating system while the Kindle Fire (and HD) run a modified Android OS.  Also, there is the KOBO e-reader with table like features and the low end Kindle and Nooks (with some tablety features) for under $80.
  • Does the recipient eschew Android and iOS (the operating system of the Apple iPad) and want something different? Well, if so, there are not many choices. You have Windows 7 tablets, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. The Windows tablets are still on the pricey side, however if you want something more like an iPad, but not iPad, the Windows RT tablet may fit the bill. There are several brands, including the MIcrosoft Surface as well as one from Asus.  Keep in mind, Windows 8 RT Store is rather new and no where near as complete as the Android and Apple’s App Store.

If an Android tablet is in the offering, then read on…

Buying an Android Tablet

Android tablets are plentiful and run the gamut from 1.0 to 4.1.  Price is a big factor here, the cheaper the tablet, the crappier the tablet, with a few exceptions.  Generally speaking, stay away from brands that you have never heard of, as well as low end names like Craig, Emerson and, sadly, Sylvania.  These are going to be cheap, slow, lack performance and battery life and, likely, the Google Play Store.  You will have to get your apps from, shall we say, more questionable sources. Plus, many of these tablets will run older versions of Android (CVS carries one – a Craig – with Android 1.6) which may be wholly incompatible with most apps.

It is better to stay with names you know, like Motorola, Samsung and LG.  Samsung has the best Android tablet, the Galaxy 10.1. It rocks the latest Android, has the performance and battery life to make it useful.  Motorola’s tablet is nice, but lacks some of the prowess of the Samsung. Others to look for include Acer (which always makes good products) and Asus.  These are going to be pricier tablet, in the $300 to $600 range, but will be worth the cash.

Stay away, far away…

…from places like CVS, Big Lots, Wal-Greens or any such store.  They are likely to have the aforementioned low end brands and nothing worth laying down your cash. (One possible exception is thesylvania7 Sylvania 7 inch in the BLACK BOX. I don’t have the model number, but it has Android 4.1 and sports a 1.2ghz processor and seems fairly responsive. I would ONLY get this if you need a spare device to use for music or internet and it’s under $80.)  Be careful if you do decide to get a tablet at one of these retailers (which I really have nothing against, they just aren’t the place to go buy a tablet) since some tablets are being sold with WINDOWS CE. Read the box, carefully. You DO NOT WANT WINDOWS CE.  Not in a tablet, phone, ‘netbook’ or anything else. Trust me on this, that is one dog you just do not want.  Also, Pandigital is a brand to now stay far away from as they are no longer an active company. You can still find their stuff in the channel, but you will get NO SUPPORT. And, I’m pretty sure that most of the other tablets will render you supportless as well.

Buying for a child or for a family

There are many tablets for children that are really nothing more than toys. Some of these are fine and are inexpensive, like the Innotab. However, if you want a real tablet that is safe for kids, your choices are limited.  Ideally, you will want a tablet that lets you set up profiles for the kids and profiles for the adults.  Currently, the Kindle Fire and FIre HD will do this, as will the Nook and Samsung Galaxy (a combination of manufacturer software and Android.)  The Windows tablets will as well, but they are far too pricey for kids. iPad does not currently do this, but it does have the best selection of children friendly games and software, bar none.  The Kindle offering has a good selection as well.  Another thing to consider is durability. Currently, there are bumpers and cases for the iPad, Galaxy and Fire that will protect the tablet from drops and other oopsies.  Price is also a factor as well as size. The bigger the tablet, the harder it is for them to hold.  Here, the iPad MIni is a great choice. Children’s eyes are usually better than ours, so the difference in the screen won’t mean much. It is also cheaper than it’s much larger brother.

Ok, I’m still not sure what to get…

surfacertAlright, let’s look at it a different way…what does the recipient do most: play games, use Facebook or other social network, surf the net, be productive?  For simple net surfing and Facebook, pretty much any of the under $200 tablets will do that, hell, even those cheap ones I just warned you about will do that (still, stay away from them) but you want to get one that COULD do more,  Here’s where the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Nobel Nook HD would be excellent choices. Both are under two hundred bucks, both have a fairly decent ecosystem, both are easy to use.

If the recipient wants to play games, again most of the mid to upper end units will work, but the iPad has the advantage here. Every major game publisher supports the iPad and you can bet they will for a long time to come. Forget the iPad mini and get the real deal and go for the 32gb version, they will burn through 16gb in no time. The Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire and Fire HD and the B&N Nook HD also make nice game players. Not sure about Windows RT as the RT market is rather limited at the moment.

Being productive is the big limitation here.  This is the area where the Windows devices shine best. The Windows 7 tablets, while functional, should be ignored as they are nothing more than Windows 7 computers shoehorned into a tablet. Get a Windows 8 Pro device. You can use full size keyboard and mice and also use them as full desktops. Plus, they have the mobility factor.  The Windows RT devices CAN be used this way, but the PRO version is better. Also, iPad and the Samsung Galaxy are good, if not incomplete, choices.sylvania10inch

Ultimately, money is likely your deciding factor. Get the most for the least is my motto and you can do that with tablets, but you have to shop around. Best Buy will have most of them out so you can at least play around with them and their prices aren’t awful either.  Surprisingly, Target is another place to purchase them, but the selection is extremely limited.

A good resource to use for comparing features and reviews is CNet. Amazon is decent too, but can be confusing.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

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