The following is a guest post by Dave Martin. Dave is a technology enthusiast who writes about electronics and gadgets as well as smart shopping and money management.
Tablet computers—the latest generation of home computing devices—hit the market a few years back, and sales have skyrocketed ever since. More than 195 million units were sold around the globe in 2013, according to Gartner, and another 263 million are estimated to be purchased this year. As consumer options widen, so should the research and time consumers devote to selecting the right product. Here are nine things to investigate when purchasing your tablet computer.
If you watch movies, play games, or prefer a good-size on-screen keyboard for convenience with typing, go with a 10-inch screen or larger. If portability is more important to you and your vision is good enough to comfortably view content on a smaller screen, something around seven inches might better suit you.
2. Operating System
The most common operating systems for tablets are Android, iOS, and Windows. The choice you make is based in large part on user comfort and familiarity. If you run a Windows-based PC at home, you may prefer a Windows tablet. The same goes if you own an Apple computer, or even an iPhone, which has many similarities in look and function to the iPad. Each of these systems comes with advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to explore them all at a local retailer and base your choice on research, recommendation, and, perhaps most importantly, instinct.
3. Amount of Memory
When reviewing the amount of memory on any tablet you’re considering, there are two things to look at: the amount of internal memory and whether or not the device has a slot for a microSD card so you can expand it if necessary. For example, the internal memory on an iPad is not expandable.
4. Weight and Thickness
The differences in weight and thickness between tablets are not very significant, but they can be felt by a user, especially if you’re holding it for long periods of time. Some options are as thin as 0.35″ (9mm) and weigh just under a pound (0.88 lbs / 400 grams). Others go up to 0.43″ (11mm) in thickness and can weigh over 1 1/2 lbs (700 grams). When doing your shopping, be sure to pick up and feel out a few tablets, experimenting with various apps and holding them in several positions, to get an idea of your comfort level.
5. Battery Life
If you travel a lot or expect to be in a position where you can’t charge your tablet regularly, battery life is a critical factor. The Google Nexus 7 boasts over 11 hours of battery life—your bare minimum should be eight hours. Once you decide on a tablet, keep it out of the sun whenever possible, scale back the screen brightness, and never let it completely run out of power. All these practices improve your battery life.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Sign up for email updates from websites like FatWallet, which send you updated information on tablet sales and discounts. Check the Tech tab at the website Woot and you might be able to score a deal there, as well. No matter what, don’t spend beyond your means. You may look cool and trendy strolling around with the latest iPad Air, but if it leads you down the dark road toward credit card debt, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
7. Availability and Security of Apps
There are over one million apps available for both Apple and Android devices, so you should be able to find what you’re looking for with either type of product. Be aware, however, that the analytics company Crittercism recently released a report stating that iOS apps crash more frequently than Android apps, so bear that in mind when deliberating over your purchase.
8. Camera Quality
Virtually all tablets come standard with cameras, but there’s no such thing as standard quality between competitors. The Sony Experia offers an 8MP rear-facing camera and a 2MP front-facing camera. The Dell Latitude 10 tablet offers those same specs. If you intend to take a lot of photos and videos with your tablet computer, this should play a big part in your decision.
9. Customer Support
If you don’t consider yourself computer-savvy, be sure to choose a tablet with solid customer support. The best bet for the technologically challenged is the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. If you need help with setup, usage, or just about anything else, click the Mayday button for live video chat help.
It’s also worthwhile inquiring as to the level of customer support available through the retailer that sells you your tablet. If you’re told simply to contact the manufacturer, you might want to shop elsewhere.
Until retailers catch on and adjust their pricing, there’s nothing wrong with “showrooming” a tablet—test-driving it at a brick-and-mortar retailer, then purchasing it online at eBay or Amazon for a lower price. Bear in mind, though, that traditional retailers usually offer much better customer support if any problems should arise with your device—something you won’t find through eBay or Amazon. Purchasing the right tablet at a good price is important, just understand the customer service limitations of certain retail websites.