Tablet PC Buying Guide 2012

Tablet PC Buying Guide 2012

By Chris Messenger | Published 21/09/2012

 

When Apple launched the iPad back in 2010, few could have predicted the kind of impact it would have. Of course, portable computers where nothing new (in fact, by 2010 you were in the minority if you didn’t have at least one laptop in the house). Microsoft had released the ‘Microsoft Tablet PC’ in 2002, but it was met with about as much enthusiasm as a fart in church, before being quickly and quietly forgotten about.

 

The concept for the tablet computer went back even further than that, with numerous engineers attempting to create an interactive slate with all the attributes of a desktop PC many times over the years.

 

The best and most well known of these attempts was the ‘Dynabook’, a prototype computer designed by American scientist Alan Kay all the way back in 1968. Like many of Kay’s ideas, the ‘Dynabook’ proved to be considerably ahead of its time (and was never mass-produced), but you could still argue that it paved the way for both laptop computers and tablet PCs in the decades that followed.

 

Once the iPad’s release finally proved the commercial viability of such a project (under intense ridicule and scepticism from almost everyone else, it must be said), it seemed that every electronics manufacturer on Earth would release a tablet PC over the next two years.  The marketplace blossomed, and tablets became the darling of the consumer electronics world.

 

Tablets have become the missing links between smart phones and computers, with phone manufacturers taking tentative steps into the realm of computers and a wild, heady climate of cross pollination developing in the process.

 

With Industry Goliaths Microsoft largely looking the other way when it came to tablets, a host of other, wholly unexpected companies have launched their own computers. Google.com funded the development of the ‘Android’ operating system (an OS initially developed for smart phones) and released it commercially in 2007. Android has since become the de facto OS for the tablet PC. Next, Google joined first with HTC, then Samsung to produce their own line of ‘Nexus’ smart phones, eventually partnering with Asus to create their own tablet – a direct evolution of the Nexus line.

 

Not to be outdone, online shopping giants Amazon.com launched their own tablet, the Kindle Fire (currently in its second generation) in 2011. Companies like Motorola and Research In Motion (the makers of Blackberry phones) started putting out their own tablets, directly competing with the established computer industry players. Elsewhere, several new companies sprang up, seemingly out of nowhere, purely to create tablet PCs at budget prices, hoping to make a name for themselves in this glorious ‘opening up’ of the computer market. It was as if a virtual Berlin Wall had toppled and phone companies, web developers and computer engineers were rushing over the rubble at all angles to hug each other in the spirit of fairer competition and constant innovation (or something like that, anyway).

 

The development of the tablet PC has been meteoric, and yesterday’s ‘top level’ model can easily become today’s dog-eared, bargain basement offering. So, if you want to buy a tablet, but you don’t know where to start, we’ve put together an informative (but not overly technical) first time buyer’s guide.

 

What to look for in a new Tablet PC

OK, so without further ado, here are 5 questions you should ask of any salesman. Its pretty basic stuff really, but we’ll start easy and go from there.

 

What operating system does it run?

On any computer, the OS is important. The OS directly governs the way you interact with your computer. If you can’t get on with the OS, you are not going to get on with the computer you buy. We all know how to use MS Windows, at least basically, because we learn about it at school, use it at work and it is industry standard for pretty much all industries. Personally, however, I can’t stand its illogical layout and habit of overcomplicating even the simplest of functions. My preferred OS, then, is Apple’s equivalent; you’ll have your own preferences, too.

 

Most tablets run on some version of Android, which was developed for mobile phones, so if you already have an Android phone – you’ll have nothing to worry about. However, The Blackberry Playbook runs its own unique ‘Blackberry OS’ and there are quite a few other operating systems out there. It pays to have a play in the store, or at least check out some online videos, before committing yourself (or your money) to an unfamiliar OS.

 

How fast are the processors and what kind of memory does it have?

For a long time, tablet PCs were all pretty similar under the bodywork, at least on paper. Most tablets operated a 1.2 GHz processor and had between 512MB and 1GB of RAM. However, that doesn’t mean that they operated to the same standards. The vast majority of tablets employ a processor design that was pioneered by a company called ARM and then licensed out all over the world (hence the large discrepancy in performance/running speed). If I draw the blueprints to a new sports car and you build my prototype out of cardboard – I’m not responsible for what happens when you take it through the car wash, y’know?

 

ARM’s ‘Cortex A’ is the most commonly used processor design, but that has quite a few variations, all of which have positive and negative features. It isn’t necessary to know all of this, but a basic grasp of the different types will serve you well. For example, Coretex A5 is a single core processor, it isn’t the fastest, but it consumes power at a slower rate, leading to much better battery life. The Coretex A15, on the other hand, is the new kid on the block, running dual (or even quad) core and making your tablet very fast indeed. The current most popular design, however, is the A9, which is usually dual core and runs to about 1.2GHz.

 

Remember also that your tablet won’t have the same type of memory as your desktop computer. You won’t be able to store all your photos, movie files or music on it, for example. Even a mean machine like the iPad 3 (the newest of Apple’s world dominating devices) can’t cope with too much information clogging up its hard drive. The more you cram onto it, the slower your tablet will ultimately be.

 

What is the Screen Size?

With one or two exceptions, tablet PCs come in two major sizes, a 7” screen and a 10” screen. A 10-inch screen (like the iPad series) is great for video conferencing, watching movies and generally has a clearer touchscreen function (in my opinion). A 7-inch screen, however, is far more portable and travel friendly. 7-inch tablets tend to be lighter as well.

 

Also, please bear in mind that if you are buying a protective cover for your tablet, you will want to be very specific about the size. A 7.2-inch tablet is not going to fit on a 7-inch cover and many companies will not offer a refund for what is, essentially, your mistake.

 

What kind of camera does it have?

This is really only important if you’re planning on shooting videos (not recommended) or having video chats. For everything else, the camera on your phone, or a regular digital camera will actually serve you far better than your tablet’s equivalent will.

 

If you are planning on making a lot of calls, via Skype or whatever, then I strongly suggest you get a tablet with both front and rear-facing cameras. A tablet that only has one camera (especially a rear-facing one) can be frustrating and bothersome to use, as you’ll be faced away from it when making a call.

 

There has been a trend in recent months of companies putting out tablets that lack in cameras in order to sell them at a cheaper price. This is all well and good, but you’ll want to make sure you’re getting at least 1.2 Megapixels (5 Megapixels would be ideal) if you want to have a decent conversation.

 

What connectivity options are there?

Without the Internet, your tablet PC would effectively be an expensive paperweight. However, WiFi Internet is a tricky prospect and has yet to be totally perfected. The vast majority of complaints I read about tablets stem from bad Internet connection or sluggish WiFi. The sad truth is that you will experience these issues from time to time and that, for now at least, there is very little you can actually do about it.

 

A tablet that enables 3G connectivity (another legacy inherited from smart phones) in addition to a basic WiFi setup, is probably a better option than just the basic setup on its own. Most tablets access the Internet ably, but you may often find them to be slightly slower than your desktop computer.

 

 

Budget Tablet PC's

 

Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

The outer design is overtly phone-like, appearing slightly longer and more slender than the average tablet. An attractive silver frame lines the smart black outer casing and every effort has gone to making the screen as prominent as possible. Branding has been taken into consideration (perhaps a Google influence) and the product’s name is tastefully etched into the back casing.

 

Aside from that, the Nexus 7 doesn’t look radically different from any other tablet out there and, at first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t.

 

Weighing in at a cute 320g and measuring 180mm or so, the key words to use here are ‘compact’ and ‘lightweight’.

 

Both are positive attributes for a portable device and the Nexus 7 is perfectly in keeping with the lighter, smaller tablets on the market. It’s also not much thicker than a slice of roast beef, another pleasing design choice.

 

However, when it comes to tablet PCs at least, it’s the what’s on the inside that counts. The Nexus 7 is the first tablet (or any device, for that matter) shipping with Android 4.1 (or ‘Jelly Bean’, to give it its full name).

 

>> Read our review of the Google Nexus 7 Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Google / Asus

OS:

Android 4.1

Connectivity:

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Price:

£159

Processor:

Quad-core Tegra 3

Storage:

8 GB

Resoloution:

1280 x 800 pixels

Camera:

1.2 MP front-facing

Tabtech NATPC M009S

Tabtech NATPC M009S

Tablet PC standard, throughout the price range, is a 1GHz processor powering things. Presumably as a cost-saving measure, the M009s utilizes only 800MHz, which means that Tabtech aren’t expecting the M009s to compete for speed or processing power, but then, the M009s isn’t supposed to compete with anything at all on any level except price.

 

A measly 256MB of RAM is a little stingy, even by cost-saving standards and, when considered against the pitiful 2GB hard drive, even those who pinch the pennies so hard the Queen screams might be well-advised to splash out a little bit more.

 

Likewise, you’ll probably be unsurprised to know that the M009s only runs Android 2.2 when 3.0 is rapidly becoming Industry standard.

 

The real blow comes in the form of connectivity options (or rather the lack thereof) WiFi is all you get in this case. Forget Bluetooth, forget 3G and, if you need multiple connectivity options, forget the M009s.

 

Everything on the Tabtech M009s has been designed to save money, and we mean everything. Don’t expect the best components available and you won’t be disappointed. With a 7-inch screen that displays 800 x 480 pixels, the resolution could be a lot better, but, with a Tablet PC this cheap and cheerful, lets focus not on what could be better but on what is very good. The screen does what it is supposed to, it works well and gets the job done, nothing more, yet nothing less.

 

>> Read our review of the Tabtech M009s Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Tabtech

OS:

Android 2.2

Connectivity:

Wifi

Price:

£59

Processor:

VIA 8650 300-800MHz

Storage:

4 GB

Resoloution:

800 x 480 pixels

Camera:

0.3 MP back-facing

Mid Range Tablet PC's

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2

8GB is a perfectly respectable memory. Why, if I had 8GB of memory, I’d be able to remember important dates like Mother’s Day, my anniversary and my girlfriend’s birthday.

 

Running Android 4.0 (or as it is also, bizarrely, known: ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ – don’t ask) and therefore having access to some 40,000 apps, super fast run time and an improved user interface means that this thing is pretty good value for money indeed.

 

However, the Galaxy Tab 2 has clearly been designed as a ‘fun’ tablet rather than a ‘work’ one.

 

Why do I say this? Well, all the computer’s primary functions are clearly being made with an emphasis on ‘fun’. Samsung’s Music Hub gives the user access to 17 Million songs; the Video Hub offers over 1000 films for rent or purchase and elsewhere you can gain access to some 2.3 Million e-Books, 2000 newspapers and 35000 magazines (all in multiple languages). Add to this the voice messaging, video call and instant messaging functions and you’ll be much too busy reading magazines, listening to music, watching movies and chatting to your mates to get anything done at all.

 

The design is sleek and futurist, with an appealing silver frame and a crystal clear (1024 x 600 resolution) 7-inch screen. It also makes use of a 1.06GHz Application Processor with PowerVR SGX540, ensuring that you’ll be getting a machine that can handle all this fun without getting partied out and dying, Slurms McKenzie style, in your arms on your way to work.

 

>> Read our review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Samsung

OS:

Android 4.0

Connectivity:

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Price:

£189

Processor:

OMAP 4 Dual Core Processor

Storage:

8 GB

Resoloution:

1024 x 600 pixels

Camera:

3 MP Back / 1.3 MP Front

Motorola Xoom 2: Media Edition

Motorola Xoom 2: Media Edition

Pulling open the casing and finding the same 1.2GHz processor as the Xoom, backed by the same 1GB of RAM is hardly a shock, this is standard operating procedure in Tablet land, but the miniscule memory (16GB as opposed to the first Xoom’s mighty 64GB) is both a shock and a disappointment.

 

The Xoom 2 goes some way towards making up for this by running the Android 3.2 operating system (to put that into perspective, most newer Tablets are running 2.3 or 3.0). The Xoom 2 is also extremely good at connecting to networks and other machines, making excellent use of WiFi, Bluetooth and 4G.

 

>> Read our review of the Motorola Xoom 2: Media Edition Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Motorola

OS:

Android 3.2

Connectivity:

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Price:

£179

Processor:

OMAP Dual Core Processor

Storage:

16 GB

Resoloution:

1280 x 800 pixels

Camera:

5 MP Back / 1.3 MP Front

High End Tablet PC's

 

Apple iPad 3 (New iPad)

Apple iPad 3 (New iPad)

The New iPad uses Quad Core graphics processing, which only helps everything to look good on that beautiful screen. Frankly, unless your home entertainment centre is truly top of the range, this thing looks better than your telly.

 

Internally, the New iPad makes use of essentially the same set up as it predecessor, the iPad 2. Apple haven’t shifted anything around that much, the main innovations are the screen, the camera and the graphics. It does have a slightly meatier processor, but then, it would have to in order to handle such jaw-dropping visuals.

 

>> Read our review of the Apple iPad 3 (New iPad) Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Apple

OS:

iOS 5.1.1

Connectivity:

Wifi, 4G, Bluetooth

Price:

£399

Processor:

Dual-core Apple A5X

Storage:

16 GB

Resoloution:

2048 x 1536 pixels

Camera:

Vga front / 5MP back

Acer Iconia A200

Acer Iconia A200

At 720g, the Iconia is on the heavy side of light, (but there are much heavier 10 Inch Tablets out there), 720g is still portable, if not exactly pocket-sized.

 

The A200 has 8GB of internal memory, which is, again, far in advance of many of its competitors.

The Iconia A200 also makes use of a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 CPU processor, this ensures that the Iconia is a quick, responsive and trusty machine. Its unlikely to freeze up or crash without good reason and you should find that it will run nicely and smoothly for a long, long time.

 

Speaking of running smoothly, the A200 also has an impressive 8-hour battery life, which makes it an excellent travelling companion.

 

>> Read our review of the Acer Iconia A200 Tablet PC

>> Check latest prices

Manufacture:

Acer

OS:

Android 4.0

Connectivity:

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Price:

£237

Processor:

Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9

Storage:

8 GB

Resoloution:

1280 x 800 Pixels

Camera:

2.0 MP front-facing

 

You can follow us on Twitter, add us to your circles on Google+ or like our Facebook fan page to keep yourself updated on all the latest Tablet PC reviews.

 

Tags: Tablet PC Buying Guide, What Tablet PC Should I Buy, Best Tablet PC 2012

 

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