It’s that time of year, when all the major electronic device makers of the world, surprise and delight us with their latest and greatest offerings. This year, the give of choice is the humble computer tablet. That’s right! It’s finally time for you to get a tablet. I checked the technology barometer (my Dad) and he has two tablets now. That means they’re totally main stream, and you’re missing out if you don’t have one. So which one should you buy? There are so many of them, and they all look like tablets. So how do you decide, and what should you think about when you’re shopping around.
Those of you who already have a tablet, this isn’t for you. You’ve already made all these choices, and will know what you like, or don’t like, about the table you already have. This is a guide for people looking to take their first step into the world of tablets.
At the moment, there are three major contenders in the table market. Apple, Google, and Amazon. Of course there are tablets made by other people. As soon as I see one worth using, I’ll let you know. So far, any competition to Apple’s iPad, has been in the form of Android devices. And so far, they suck. Samsung just can’t get their act together, even though they’re the biggest game in town when it comes to Android phones. I’ve spent a little time playing with the latest line up of Galaxy Tabs. Not a single usable device there. You know how your computer slows down over time, and eventually things take ages to load, responsiveness drops away to nothing, and even basic screen animations stutter and drag along? That’s the Galaxy Tab 2 right out of the box. Just leave them alone.
We’ll take a look at the two ranges of tablets, the ten inch, and the seven inch. It’s fair to say that these devices have different use cases. So it’s important to think about what you’d like to do with your tablet once you have it. Personally, I think that the most important aspect of this is location. If you think you’ll mainly use your tablet at home, or in a few different static locations, then go for the bigger ten inch. If you’d like to use it on public transport, or while you’re out and about in town, then you’d be better served by the smaller seven inch. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that three inch difference, is the difference between portable, and mobile. See the difference?
If you’re wanting to tablet on the train, then the chances are that you want to read, maybe watch a movie, maybe use maps. It’s all consumption. If you’re tableting at home, then a bigger web browsing experience is always nice, and using Photoshop Touch is just all together better on a bigger screen.
Please also do yourself the service of avoiding thoughts about making do with a cheaper device. Inexperienced or unconfident users of technology are far more likely to be annoyed and beaten down, by sub-par user experiences. Don’t just buy the cheapest device you can find and expect it to be enough. Just because you’ve never used one before, doesn’t mean you’ll only want to use a few of the features.
Let’s start with the ten inch category, as there are fewer players in that space. There is the iPad, and the Nexus 10. Both devices have just received a refresh, and now come sporting the fastest processors, lots of memory, lots of storage, and great screens. You’ll find what Apple call a “retina” class screen on the Nexus as well as the iPad, so in terms of hardware, the two are very evenly matched. I haven’t held a Nexus 10, but everything I’m reading about them, says they are of a good build quality. That said, I’d be shocked if the Nexus was as sturdy as the iPad 4. Of course the big selling point that Nexus holds over the iPad, is that it’s £100 cheaper. If all that mattered was the hardware, then the competition would be over, no contest. Unfortunately things aren’t all that simple.
When you get your tablet, you need apps to run on it. In many cases, the software available for the Nexus just doesn’t compare to that of the iPad. It’s fair to say that Android and iOS are matched in terms of gaming and web service software (stuff like Facebook, Flickr, and Evernote), but when it comes to other stuff, things are much more in favour of iOS. iPhoto is an absolute dream to use, and the choice of video editors, photo editors, text editors, and even music apps, have no equal in the Android universe. Despite the price difference, if you’re planning on doing anything beyond media consumption and web browsing, there really is no choice. You need an iPad. Like I said on the last Tech It Or Leave It, next Christmas is when you should start considering the bigger Android tablet. Maybe after a year of a good, big, tablet being available, we’ll start to see apps that compare to what Apple are offering. Until then, you won’t regret iPad.
Please note, that I haven’t really mentioned the iPad 2, which is still on sale. I really don’t see it as worth bothering with. I said it before and I’ll say it again now. Less experienced users need more powerful and competent machines to use. More experienced users are much better placed to understand and deal with any problems they may face using an underpowered computer.
Now let’s move onto the seven inch devices.
Here we have the expensive iPad mini, the Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire HD. If you’re in the USA, you also have the choice of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which is a slightly bigger version. Seeing as it works exactly like the smaller model, we’ll group them together for the purposes of this discussion.
Personally, I think that the iPad mini, is just too damn expensive. The basic 16GB model is selling for £269. Compare that to £159 for the Nexus 7 and £159 for the Kindle, and it really is far too expensive. Actually it gets worse than that. The 32GB Nexus 7 is £199, and the 32GB iPad mini is £349. Imagining that you’ll be using your seven inch tablet for media consumption, there’s just no way that can say to you that the iPad mini is £150 better than the Nexus 7. It just isn’t. The build quality of the mini is superior to the Nexus, but £150? That’s pretty much a second tablet right there. If you add to this the fact that I’d seriously recommend that you get a seven inch with celular data built in, there you’re looking at £239 for the 32GB with 3G Nexus 7, and £449 for the 32GB with 4G iPad mini. I understand that the iPad mini has 4G data compared to the 3G data in the Nexus, but we haven’t yet seen pricing of the 4G service in the UK, and unless you live in, or are going to one of the ten cities that actually have 4G, I wouldn’t be losing sleep over this one just yet.
I’m forgetting the Kindle Fire HD so far, and so should you. It’s exactly the same price as the Nexus 7, and although it’s technically an Android tablet, it doesn’t work like one. If you already have an Android phone and you’re thinking you’ll bring all your Android apps over to it, think again. There’s no Play Store, no Gmail, no Google Calendar. Absolutely nothing that would make you think that the Kindle is an Android device. That’s not the end of the world, it’s just that if you’re expecting an Android like experience, then the Kindle will disappoint you. The Kindle will play movies that you get from LoveFilm just fine, and it will show you Kindle books brilliantly. But imagine this senario. You’re in the market for a new car, and the dealer has two cars that fit your price. Actually, both these cars are exactly the same price. They both look nice, get the same millage, have the same stereo, go as fast as each other, and are equally reliable. However, one of them can only drive to your house, workplace, local supermarket, and your kid’s school. Being able to drive to those four places is going to cover 95% of the trips you make in the car. Maybe you even dismiss this as problem, because you rarely drive anywhere other than those places, so you buy the Kindle car. See what I did there? The Kindle Fire is like a car that only goes to the four places you go the most. Sure it will get you there with no problems at all, but why not buy the car that goes anywhere, for exactly the same price? And remember that the Nexus car drives to all the same places as the Kindle car. You can get the Kindle app and the Amazon music app, and apps for all the other Amazon services. I just don’t see a single compelling reason to buy a Kindle Fire.
When it comes to seven inch tablets, get the Nexus 7. I very very seriously recommend that you get the one with 3G.
One more thing before I leave you. Don’t mess about with small amounts of storage in your tablet. Don’t be thinking things like “Oh I won’t ever need 32GB of space on MY tablet” because you will. Get the most storage you can afford. For serious.
To sum up…If you want a ten inch tablet, get the iPad with Retina Display. Get the 64GB model if you can. I’d understand if you got the one with mobile data, but think hard about where you intend to use it, and consider the possibility of tethering your iPad to your phone when you’re out and about.
If you want a seven inch tablet, then the best one in my opinion is the Nexus 7 32GB with 3G. If you already have a load of iOS apps and you don’t care when you lose money, get robbed, or accidentally set fire to your wallet, then I think you might enjoy the iPad mini.