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Apple may have made tablets mainstream again, but the iPad has little variety to speak of. Either you get the 10-inch iPad Air or the 8-inch iPad Mini, and the only difference between the two is size. There are a lot more options if you’re buying an Android tablet, so let’s make it easier to choose.
The Google Nexus series of tablets is as close as you’ll get to what the makers of Android imagine an Android tablet should be like. However, plenty of manufacturers do as good or a better job of making Android tablets. It all depends on what you are looking for.
Know What You Want to Do
Tablets will generally cost $200 or more, so you want to make sure you buy something that’s worth your money. And to do that, you first need to know what you want to do with the tablet and how you are going to use it. For example, your Android tablet can boost your desktop computer at work, but is that what you really want?
Most people who regret buying a tablet don’t have a clear idea of how they will use it, and so they end up purchasing a device that doesn’t fit their needs. Ask yourself these questions before you start looking:
- Do I want a tablet for entertainment or work?
- Will it be mainly for watching movies, or is it more for browsing the web, social networking, and reading articles and books? What about gaming?
- How much work am I actually going to do on it? Do I need a keyboard for my work?
- Will I carry the tablet everywhere with me or is it only a device for home usage and long trips? Do I already have a bag that I take around with me?
- What is the biggest reason to buy a tablet?
Answer these questions truthfully and have them ready for reference. It’ll help you make a good decision.
Hardware and Software
The answer “What is the biggest reason to buy a tablet?” is what dictates the hardware and software you need to go for. For example, if your primary reason is to play games on a bigger screen, then you need a tablet with a good GPU. If you are an Android fanboy, then you need a popular device with an unlocked bootloader and plenty of community support — not to mention a guarantee of getting the latest Android updates.
The safe option is to buy a Nexus device. The hardware is solid, you will get Android updates before most other devices, and overall it offers value for money. And there are some great apps optimized for the Nexus 7.
However, certain requirements might change what you need to buy.
Size and Aspect Ratio
The most important part of a tablet is the screen, so you need to pick one that is best for you. Android tablets come in various screen sizes, typically 7-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, 11-inch, and 13-inch. You will also find them in two aspect ratios: 4:3 and 16:9. A 4:3 aspect ratio is slightly square and mimics what an iPad screen looks like. A 16:9 aspect ratio is widescreen and looks like your laptop’s monitor.
There is no “ideal” size to apply as a generalized rule here. You probably have friends with tablets — ask to try out their devices and see what’s most comfortable for you. Similarly, you can go to a store and check all the different sizes and aspect ratios. This is also the point to hold the device and check its weight.
Don’t skip this step and don’t rely on online data alone. Like we said, the screen is the most important part of your tablet experience; you don’t want to regret your decision because you were too lazy to take a walk to Best Buy.
For what it’s worth, our preference would be 8-inch devices, and we loved the LG G Pad 8.3 in that class.
Where you plan on using your tablet largely defines the connectivity options you need. Here, look up what you wrote as an answer to “Will I carry the tablet everywhere with me or is it only a device for home usage and long trips?”
If the tablet is going to be mainly at your home and occasionally used on long trips, you don’t need a tablet with 3G/4G connectivity. As long as it has WiFi, you’re good to go.
If you plan on carrying the tablet with you everywhere, then definitely buy one with 3G/4G connectivity. It dramatically boosts the utility of a tablet.
Keyboards and Stylii
“How much work am I actually going to do on it? Do I need a keyboard for my work?” If your answer is that you’re going to use it as your primary work device, then yes, you need a keyboard for your tablet. If you’re going to carry your laptop with you because you can’t ditch a desktop OS like Windows or Mac yet, then no, your tablet does not need a keyboard. It’s that simple.
Where things get interesting is the stylus. It’s an element which you don’t think you really need until you start using it more and more. Only the Samsung Galaxy Note series and the Nvidia Tegra Note come with a built-in stylus in the tablet, which is also pressure-sensitive. This not only makes it great for drawing (and hence a cool device for artists), but also note-taking. Samsung, in particular, has done a great job with apps for digitizing handwritten notes and using the stylus in unique and useful ways.
Unique Features to Look Out For
To differentiate themselves from the competition, Android tablet manufacturers keep trying out new things. Some are great, some are ridiculous, but most of them do cater to some niche or another.
Mini HDMI port: If you’re a gamer and want a tablet for gaming, get one with a Mini HDMI out. This way, you can connect your tablet to your TV with a regular HDMI cable and use a Bluetooth controller to start playing games. It actually works well and is surprisingly fun.
Projector: The Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 tablet comes with a built-in projector to cast your display onto any flat surface. It seems like a silly thing till you go into a meeting, prop your tablet on the conference room table, and start your presentation on the whiteboard. And it’s pretty cool to show off those vacation photos too. Of course, you could always buy a pico projector like the AAXA P4X that we reviewed.
Calling: If the tablet is going to be your main computing device, then apart from 3G/4G connectivity, get one which also offers voice calling. This way, you can use apps like WhatsApp which require an active phone connection, and it can double up as a phone in case of an emergency.
The Price Is Right
Of course, the biggest thing you need to consider is getting a device for the right price. In most cases, your choice is going to boil down to whether you should buy a known big brand, like Samsung or Sony, or a little-known Chinese brand.
Our previous test showed that you shouldn’t spend money on cheap Chinese imports, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. Some Chinese manufacturers make tablets that are as good or better than the big-name brands, for a fraction of the price. For example, both Huawei and Xiaomi make brilliant tablets that are much cheaper. Asus is another big name brand that has managed to come up with value-for-money tablets, especially since it uses Intel processors.
You can generally rely on reviews from reputable websites to figure out whether a device is worth it or not. Whatever you do decide to buy, we’d advise you look at warranty and security issues before you make your purchase.
Once you do buy your tablet, here’s what to do first!
Which Android Tablet Would You Recommend?
Android tablet owners, we want to hear from you. Which tablet do you have, what do you love about it, and what is your recommendation to someone who wants to buy a new tablet right now?
Also, if you’re in the market for a new tablet and need help narrowing down your options, drop a line in the comments and we’ll try to help!