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It used to be that if you wanted a tablet, you’d go out and buy the latest iPad — but as tablets have become more popular and ubiquitous, options have proliferated.

More manufacturers are making tablets, more models are available, and the buying process has just gotten more complicated. To simplify it, ask yourself these questions before you buy.

1. Do I Want an iPad?

ipad-air

This might seem like a silly question to start out with, but if you’re thinking about buying a tablet, and what you really want is an iPad, that can make your decision a lot easier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting an iPad because it’s an iPad — they work great, the App Store has tons of great apps, and they’re phenomenally well-designed. If you’re a diehard Apple fan and you want an iPad, that’s fine — go for it.

If you’re not sure if you want an iPad or an Android tablet Which Android Tablet Should I Buy? 7 Things to Consider Which Android Tablet Should I Buy? 7 Things to Consider If you're thinking about getting an Android tablet, these are the things that you need to take into consideration. Read More  (or even a Windows one!), though, read on and the decision will get easier.

2. What Will I Use It For?

What made you want to get a tablet in the first place? Will you use it for work? Do you want to play games on a bigger screen than your cell phone? Do you want to read e-books? Or just have an easily transportable alternative to your laptop Can You Use a Tablet as a Laptop? The Essential Apps and Gear Can You Use a Tablet as a Laptop? The Essential Apps and Gear Want to use your Android tablet as a laptop replacement? Here is your comprehensive guide to the necessary hardware and software. Read More for writing emails? These are all viable reasons for owning a tablet, but your primary purpose for getting one could make a big difference your choice.

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tablet-on-airplane

For example, if you’re going to be using it for work, you should consider the very powerful Microsoft Surface or Surface Pro The Laptop And Tablet Killer: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Announced The Laptop And Tablet Killer: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Announced Available for pre-order on May 21 and hitting store shelves on June 20 is Microsoft's brand new Surface Pro 3. The device features a 12-inch 2160x1440 display, significantly larger than the previous Surface Pro 2's. Read More , as it supports the full Microsoft Office suite (you can use other apps on other tablets, but if you want Office, you can have Office). Just about any modern tablet from a major manufacturer will be good at playing games. Apple’s Metal graphics technology What Makes Apple’s Metal Graphics Technology So Special? What Makes Apple’s Metal Graphics Technology So Special? Earlier this year, Apple made a big announcement: Metal graphics would now be used in OS X — but what does that mean, and why should you care? Read More makes for fantastic-looking games on the iPad, too. For e-books, any tablet will work, but the Kindle Fire has direct integration with Amazon, so it’ll be easier to shop the Kindle store. And if you just want to send some emails or read the news, you could really go with just about anything.

3. Which Size Tablet is Best?

Obviously, there’s no single size that will work best for everyone; it depends very much on your answer to the last question. If you’re going to be working on a tablet, you probably want a lot of screen real estate so you don’t strain your eyes while trying to focus on small type. A 10-inch tablet, like the iPad Air, Galaxy Tab S, or Google Nexus 9, will give you a big screen to work on. If you’re going to be watching a lot of movies, a large screen will also be beneficial.

tablet-sizes-compared

Smaller tablets might appeal to people who will be doing a lot of traveling; the iPad Mini, the Kindle Fire HD 6, or even the ASUS Fonepad Note 6 —– which gives you calling capabilities along with a 6-inch screen — will be small enough to pack in a backpack or purse without adding much weight. And if you add a Bluetooth keyboard, they’ll be easier to type on, too.

4. Do I Need Wireless Data, or is Wi-Fi Sufficient?

This is another question that may depend greatly on how much you plan to travel with your tablet. While having 3/4G connectivity is nice, it’s another expense, and a data plan The 10 Cheapest Mobile Phone Plans in the US Right Now [Cheat Sheet Included] The 10 Cheapest Mobile Phone Plans in the US Right Now [Cheat Sheet Included] There are plenty of cheap mobile phone plans available if you know where to look. Read More could cost you $20 or $30 per month, depending on your provider and how much data you need. On the other hand, if you need access to the Internet from anywhere in the country, without searching for a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, wireless data will be a lifesaver.

tablet-at-beach

Many people, however, will be fine with just Wi-Fi connectivity. Between your house, your workplace, and the coffee shop where you like to hang out, you should have an available Wi-Fi network pretty much all the time. Not only does this remove the cost of the data plan, but Wi-Fi-only tablets are usually cheaper, too.

5. How Much Memory Should It Have?

Tablets come with a wide variety of storage space; one version of the Kindle Fire comes with 8GB of memory, while the iPad Air and a number of other tablets pack 128GB. Many Android tablets are also expandable, so you can use an SD card to increase the storage beyond that. So how do you choose?

sd-card-laptop

Think about what you’ll be putting on your new tablet — are you going to play big, expansive games that will take up a lot of space? Will you want a lot of music and movies available at all times? Will you be using your tablet to show off lots of photos? Will you be downloading magazine issues Top 5 Best Android Apps For Reading Magazines Top 5 Best Android Apps For Reading Magazines For reading magazines on your Android tablet or phone, you will want these apps. Read More ? If you answered “yes” to any of these, you should consider getting a tablet with 64GB of storage, or even more. That sounds like a lot, but you might be surprised at just how fast you can fill it up.

Find the Perfect Tablet

Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll have a solid understanding of what you want from your tablet, and then you can start shopping around. It’ll be much easier to dismiss some options because they don’t fit your needs, while others will get put on the shortlist. In the end, you’ll just have to make a decision (often between paying more for an iPad or less for an Android tablet), but it should be a lot easier after going through this list.

What factors do you use to decide which tablet to buy? Which features have you found to be very important? Which ones less so? Share your experience below!

Image credits: Burlingham via Shutterstock.com, Martin Voltri via Flickr.com, Syda Productions via Shutterstock.com, Ensuper via Shutterstock.com

  1. Jon Steedley
    November 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Hello, all.
    The author seems to neglect the fact that a large number of tablets, & especially the less expensive ones, often have low/short battery lives. My wife had one that only lasted 4-5 hours when new; As it aged, the battery life declined/shrank until it had to be plugged in constantly.
    I can change or add a battery to a tablet, but not everyone can, so battery life is pretty important.
    Something to consider when considering a tablet.

    • Dann Albright
      November 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      Which tablet did your wife have, and when did she get it? And how did it take for her to need to plug it in at all times?

      Battery life is indeed important, but most tablets now (at least the ones from major manufacturers, to my knowledge) have a pretty decent battery.

  2. likefun butnot
    November 13, 2015 at 1:51 am

    There aren't very many tablets in the 8" - 9" range, but over time I've found those to be the sweet spot in terms of screen size, pixel density and weight. I think 10" devices are a bit too heavy to comfortably hold in one hand, which makes gamnig, reading or browsing more of a chore than it needs to be.

    The author's heading conflates storage space and RAM. Those are two different concepts. Tablets and phones most certainly DO have RAM, just like desktops and laptops. I wouldn't consider a device with less than 2GB RAM, nor would I look at a device with less than 16GB of internal storage unless it also had a storage expansion option (i.e. a card reader). Low-spec devices that don't have enough RAM will be sluggish and users may find that apps crash more often as the device runs low on RAM. I realize that not everyone is a storage hog, but remember that a tablet will probably be kept for several years and that standards for app sizes and video quality change over time.

    A low-spec tablet is kind of its own punishment. There's no way to improve a tablet (unless it has a card reader) once you've purchased it. They're also relatively reliable devices and hardware other than storage and maybe screen resolution doesn't change all that often, so chances are any tablet purchased will be kept for years. Given these factors, I do think either a card reader or at LEAST moving up from the base storage tier is a critical factor in a tablet purchase.

    • Dann Albright
      November 17, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks for the input on the size; I totally agree that 10" tablets are a bit big for one hand. I've never used an 8" tablet, but I'd definitely be interested in checking one out, especially for all the reading I do on my tablet. I think games benefit from a larger screen, but if there's a sweet spot in the middle, that'd be great!

      Also, I'm not sure why you think I conflated RAM and storage space in the heading. I know that these aren't the same things, and that they're both important. Why do you think I conflated those?

      And yes, increased storage space is always a good idea. I maxed out the 16GB on mine really fast, and I'll be going for at least 64GB next time, if not more.

  3. Hildegerd Haugen
    November 13, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Nope, no tablet for me. I like laptops and smartphone and who needs a tablet when you can get a phablet anyway? I mean every platform offers huge smart phone models now.

    • likefun butnot
      November 13, 2015 at 1:55 am

      @Hildegerd Haugen

      There's something to be said for a larger screen, even just for comfortable reading. The laptop isn't a comfortable form factor for enjoying an Ebook and most won't run 8 - 10 hours without being plugged in. Each device has its place, but I'd most quickly omit a laptop in favor of tablet and desktop any day of the week.

    • Dann Albright
      November 17, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      I definitely agree with likefun butnot here; a phablet and a laptop isn't an ideal combination for everyone. The phablet is a weird size that a lot of people don't like, and a laptop, as mentioned previously, isn't great for things like ebooks. And it's often not very good for games, either.

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