Tablet buying guide: everything to know before you buy a tablet

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Step 3: Features you’ll want in your tablet

When you get down to choosing your tablet, there is no shortage of choices, but you cannot trust store employees to know what they’re talking about. Here are some features that you should look for in your next tablet.

Screen Size: There are a wide variety of sizes for tablets, from 7 inches all the way up to 13 inches. The iPad is in the 10-inch category. There was an early wave of 7-inch Android tablets, but more recently we’ve seen a number of tablets that fall somewhere in between 7 and 10 inches. Everyone is different, but to us, 7 inches is a bit too small to not really be just a bigger smartphone and 10 inches can be a bit uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time. Try a few out though. The choice is yours.

samsung galaxy tab a

Resolution: Pay close attention to the resolution. For entry-level tablets, you want at least 1280×800 pixels for a decent experience. Tablets with 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) or higher resolution are much better. You might want to look for the PPI (pixels-per-inch) to get an idea of how sharp the picture will be. For example, the iPad Air 2 has a 2048×1536 pixel resolution which translates to 264ppi, whereas the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 has a resolution of 2560×1600 which is 339ppi.

Performance: If you want to run the latest apps and games smoothly, then go for a quad-core processor. Generally-speaking, the higher the GHz, the better. You’ll also want a decent amount of RAM, at least 2GB. The specs don’t tell the full story, though, so make sure you check out some reviews and look at benchmarks to see how tablets really perform. Apple is particularly good at getting better performance out of ostensibly lower end hardware. Ultimately, the more horsepower your tablet has now, the longer it will last before it starts annoying the hell out of you.

Wi-Fi only: If you can afford the premium price for a 3G or 4G LTE connection and want to pay a monthly data bill to a wireless carrier, then, by all means, purchase a tablet with a data connection (we recommend 4G). If you need to use your tablet outside of your home a lot, there’s a good reason right there. However, for the rest of you, opting for a Wi-Fi only model will save you a lot of money. You’ll just have to find a Wi-Fi hotspot when you’re outside of your house. (Not really a problem.) For the best Wi-Fi experience, look for dual-band support and the latest 802.11ac standard.

Upgrades: If you’re buying an Android tablet, you want one with Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or a clear date when an upgrade will arrive. If you’re buying an iPad, make sure it’s at least a fourth-generation model. If you opt for a Windows tablet then you may want to make sure that it can be upgraded to Windows 10. Unlike phones, tablets tend to get upgrades, so make sure your new tablet is, at least, on the current operating system when you buy it.

Amazon-Fire-Tablet-Couple-Kitchen

Battery: Ask about this or look it up. The difference between a tablet with great battery life and a tablet with poor battery life is night and day. The iPad gets 10 hours of battery life, so that is the benchmark you’re looking for in any other device. Keep in mind that if your tablet cannot hold a charge for a few days when you buy it, it’s going to be much much worse in 12-18 months.

Connectivity: What you need will depend on how you intend to use it, but generally, the more ports and ways to connect it has, the better. Make sure it supports the latest Bluetooth standard. Expandable storage via SD (or microSD) could be nice, USB or MicroUSB is essential, and Micro HDMI is nice as well. You may want NFC support, and wireless charging could be worth considering for convenience.

Storage: You’ll often find that Android and Windows tablets offer expandable storage. Adding more space with a microSD card is cheap and easy. Apple and Amazon don’t support microSD cards in their tablets, so you really need to think carefully about what model to buy. If you’re downloading games and storing movies, 16GB can fill up surprisingly quickly. You can find some free cloud storage on each platform, but that won’t suit everyone.

Webcam: Only you know if a rear camera is important to you. If it is, you’ll probably want to get an iPad. We only recommend that you make sure it has a front-facing camera you can use as a Webcam. You never know when Grandma will learn how to Skype.

Keyboard: There are a host of Windows tablets that allow you to dock your tablet into a keyboard, so you can type more easily. If you want to replace a laptop, then that could be important. You’ll also find Bluetooth keyboards out there will work with any tablet. If typing is something you plan to do, then make sure the tablet you choose has a good option for an external keyboard. Few do.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Now you’ve worked out what you want, it’s time to shop! We have a list of the 10 best tablets you can buy and a list of the best Android tablets that we update frequently, and you’ll want to keep an eye on our tablet review section for the lowdown on all the latest releases.

Updated on 6-24-2015 by Simon Hill: Updated the text, updated the images, added Windows tablets, and storage section.

Article originally published 5-18-2012.

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