If choosing a tablet leaves you befuddled, you’re not alone. Tablets are no longer one-size-fits-all, you have lots of options when you’re deciding which tablet is right for you. You need to know what you’re going to be using the tablet for, what each tablet has to offer and what your price range is.
Choosing a tablet is more complicated this year than ever, with the entrance of new tablets on the market. Three years ago, tablets weren’t a hot seller, two years ago the iPad was the only serious contender. Now a variety of tablets are worthy of careful consideration.
Choosing which tablet is best for you involves knowing how you’ll use the tablet, how much you want to spend, and which tablet most closely matches your criteria. This guide will help you sort through the iPad, Nexus, Kindle Fire and Surface tablets so you can see which one is the best fit for you.
The least amount of money you should budget for a tablet is $199, the price of both the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7. Less expensive tablets exist, but won’t give you the quality you want. The exception to this rule may be the Kindle Fire for $159, but for $40 more, the investment in an HD screen seems like a bargain.
As tablets increase in screen size, storage ability and features, the price of the tablets increases correspondingly. Some features can’t be added later so make sure you get the features you want when you purchase your tablet so you don’t have buyer’s remorse long after you’ve forgotten the price of your tablet.
Lowest List Price for Tablets:
- $329 – iPad Mini – 16 GB
- $199 – Nexus 7 – 16 GB
- $199 – Kindle Fire HD- 16 GB with ads
- $499 – Surface – 16 GB
Tablets come in two basic sizes: small (7-8″) and large (8.9-10.6″). The size you choose will depend on how much you value portability over readability. If your tablet is going to be a workhorse, a smaller screen may not be practical. If you need to take your tablet with you everywhere, you may value being able to slip it in your pocket or purse without a second thought.
Before you decide whether you want a large or small screen, check out tablets at a store. A 7″ screen gives you much less viewing space than a 10″ one.
The iPad, Nexus and Kindle Fire HD all come in small and large sizes. The Surface only comes in one size, 10.6″.
You may be able to get away with a smaller tablet if the screen resolution is especially sharp. The Kindle Fire HD and Nexus have exceptionally sharp screen resolution.
Wi-Fi Only vs. Wi-Fi + Cellular Data
If you’ll be away from Wi-Fi networks when you need to connect to the Internet, or find hotel and public Wi-Fi networks unbearably slow, you may want a tablet that has a cellular data plan available.
The iPad (large and Mini) and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ have models with either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + cellular data. Figure on $130 extra for getting cellular data capabilities on the iPad and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″. This is a feature that you can’t add after you have made your purchase.
Compare data plans as well. The price of the data plans for the iPad vary based upon the carrier you choose.
Check coverage in the areas where you will be using your iPad, as well as any charges carriers impose for canceling your data plan.
The price of a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ data plan is:
– 250MB month for 12 months for $49.99/year (no monthly payments). 3GB and 5GB monthly plans are also available.
– $49.99 package also includes: 20GB of additional Cloud Drive, plus a $10 Amazon Appstore promotional credit.
You don’t have to buy a cellular data connection until you need it.
Another consideration is whether your smartphone has tethering capabilities. If you can use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, you may not need cellular data capabilities for your tablet. Check with your mobile phone carrier to find out whether you can add tethering to your smartphone.
If you like to load your tablet with apps, photos, video or other space-hogging files, you’re going to want to get as much storage on your tablet as you can afford.
The smallest size of most of these tablets is 16 GB. If you store most of your files in the cloud, you may be able to get away with 16 GB but apps are getting larger. A recent study by ABI Research showed that the average file size for gaming apps increased by 42% for iOS apps and quadrupled for Android apps, from March to September of this year.
The Surface tablet starts at a minimum 32 GB size, but the Windows RT operating system and Office take up about half of that space, leaving you with 16 GB available for your files. The good news is that the Surface has an SD slot so you can expand your storage beyond what comes on the tablet.
While you might use your tablet to browse the Internet and read emails, chances are you will be using apps on your tablet as well. Unlike computers where you can download software programs from many vendors, tablets are mostly dependent on apps from dedicated app stores.
Each tablet has its own app store, although you can load third-party apps onto the Nexus. The most populated app store is the iTunes App Store with over 275,00 apps for the iPad and 600,000 apps for the iPhone, which will also work on the iPad.
The Android App Store, which provides apps for the Nexus, has 500,000 apps but very few of them are dedicated to tablets. The Kindle Fire HD uses the Amazon Appstore for its apps, but those apps also work with most Android phones.
The Surface gets its apps from the Windows store which is brand new and sparsely populated with apps for the tablet. While the selection is expected to grow, check to make sure your essential apps are available before you purchase a Surface.
A camera adds expense to a tablet for something you may never use. If you have a smartphone, you may already be carrying a camera that is better than the camera you would be getting on a tablet. That being said, you may want a front-facing camera for video chats.
The Nexus, iPad and Surface all have front and rear-facing cameras. The Kindle Fire HD has only a front-facing camera for video chats, it does not take still pictures.
Battery Life on these tablets is fairly comparable. Using cellular data, graphics-intensive apps and watching video can be a strain on battery life but you should be able to have your battery last during a cross-country flight.
These charts show you a side-by-side comparison of the specifications of the large and small tablets.
Compare larger tablets:
Compare smaller tablets:
Each of these four tablets has its benefits beyond what the specifications will tell you. Your lifestyle may determine which feature is the most desirable, your “killer” feature.
For example, the iPad has iMessage, FaceTime, Find My Friends, Airplay, and Siri, plus integrates well with Mac computers. The iPad also has the most apps, which may mean the greatest functionality for you. iPads come with the new Lightning dock connector so older accessories may need a converter or may not work with the new iPads.
The Nexus tablet gives you a lot of tablet for the price and integration with Google services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive and Google Now.
The Kindle Fire has features for content consumption, such as Immersion Reading, FreeTime, and X-Ray. Amazon Prime members get free videos and books to keep your tablet well supplied with content.
The Surface has hardware that is closer to a computer, with a USB port for connecting peripherals such as a mouse, keyboard, or printer. You can also use the USB port to charge your other devices and use the tablet as a remote for your Xbox 360 gaming console. Microsoft is scheduled to launch another version of the Surface with the Windows Pro 8 operating system in early 2013.
Which Tablet Is Right For You?
iPad – This tablet has the most versatility of use due to the large number of apps in the iTunes App Store. The iPad may be best for you if use a lot of apps or who want your tablet to be compatible your Mac computer. If you already have a lot of iPhone apps, your iPad will be off to a head start.
Nexus – This tablet may best for you if want a powerful tablet at a low price and if you’re a heavy user of Google products. If you have an Android phone, you may already be well supplied with apps you can use on a Nexus.
Kindle Fire – This tablet is best for you if you want an inexpensive tablet with parental controls and innovative reading features. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get thousands of free videos and Kindle books for your Fire.
Surface – The addition of a keyboard in the cover may make this tablet the best for you if you will do a lot of typing on your tablet. This tablet is best for those who want their tablet to substitute for a laptop, though those with a larger budget may want to wait for the Surface Pro arriving in January.
Also note that if you’re buying a tablet for your children, make sure to ask for their wish list before you make your purchase. According to a recent Nielsen survey, kids ages 6-12 in the US want an iPad more than any other electronic device. Consider advice from Rob Walsh of Today in iOS, “Don’t be the parent who buys their kid an Action Jackson when what they really want is a GI Joe with a Kung Fu grip. Get the iPad.”
While competition is a good thing, the number of new tablets on the market can make your buying decision challenging. Consider how you will use your tablet and the features and specifications of each tablet. If you can see them in person and try them out you will be better able to decide which tablet is best for you.
Are you in the market for a tablet? Do you or your child have a tablet on your wish list? Which tablet is best for you? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below!