What Is an Android Tablet?

Here's what you should know before buying an Android tablet

Android Tablet

Photo from Amazon

If you're thinking about buying a new tablet, you have many choices, including the Apple iPad, some cheaper tablets, and Android tablets. If you're considering an Android tablet, there are a few things to consider.

Not All Tablets Have the Latest Android

The Android mobile operating system is mostly open-source; anyone can download it and design a device around it. That's why there are so many devices with Android or variations of it, and why many phone manufacturers (Apple excluded) make Android devices.

Marshmallow, an older Android version
mammela / Pixabay

The wide array of Android manufacturers means there's no standardization in the Android world. So, it's easy to find tablets that run an Android version that is one or two releases old. That's usually not a huge deal, but you could find yourself with a tablet running a version that's no longer supported.

Not All Tablets Connect to Google Play

Because anyone can make an Android tablet, some manufacturers, such as Amazon, use the mobile operating system to build an entirely different platform. This means they can choose whether or not to include the Google Play Store, the official app store for the Android operating system.

Amazon Fire Tablet running Android
Photo from Amazon

Amazon's popular Fire devices, including Fire tablets, are based on Android but don't have access to the Google Play Store. Instead, these devices are set up to use the Amazon Appstore. It's possible to modify these devices to gain access to the Google Play Store, but that requires advanced technical knowledge. The bottom line: make sure the tablet you purchase has access to the apps you want.

Some Tablets Require a Data Plan

Android tablets can be sold as Wi-Fi-only ​or with 3G or 4G wireless data access. Often these tablets are sold at a discount in exchange for a contract with a cellular service provider, the same as phones.

Read the fine print when you check the price to see if you're committing to two years of payments on top of the price of the device. Also, check to see how much data is included in the plan. Tablets can use more bandwidth than phones, so you'll need a plan that expands if you need more data.

Is There a New Model Coming Soon?

Before you buy a new Android tablet, find out if a newer version is due soon. If you like or need the new features offered by the next model, wait for that one; it may be available at about the same price. If you don't need those features and you're happy with the current model, wait for the price to drop following the new release.

Beware of the Modified Android

Just as device makers are free to modify the Android user interface on phones, they're also free to modify it on tablets. Manufacturers say this sets their products apart, but there are disadvantages.

Samsung tablet with modified UI running Android
FirmBee / Pixabay

On devices with a modified user interface, such as the HTC Sense UI or Samsung One UI, apps may need to be rewritten to work properly. When someone shows you how to do something on Android, it won't always work the same way for a modified version. You'll wait longer for OS updates since the update must be rewritten for the user interface. This isn't a common problem, but it's something to be aware of.

Gear, Accessories, Features, and Capabilities

Do you want a case for your tablet? How's the tablet's camera? Would you like your tablet to fit in with other devices you own? These are all concerns you should think about before purchasing a tablet.

Android tablet with case
kaboompics / Pixabay

Samsung is one of the largest manufacturers of Android devices. When someone makes a case or accessory for Android, they usually consider Samsung first. Samsung has also built a strong ecosystem around its products, with exclusive apps, integration with smart devices, and wearable tech. A smaller device manufacturer probably won't be able to offer as much support.

Consider the other devices you own, as well. Maybe you want to control your smart TV from your tablet, but the Samsung tablet you're looking at doesn't integrate that well with your LG TV. Look for a tablet that is compatible with your other devices.

Think about features and capabilities. With everyone running Android, it takes stand-out features to grab people's attention, and the manufacturers know it. That's why there are usually a few things that a device will do really well. Find out what bells and whistles a tablet offers.

If you want more control over your device or want to customize it, rooting is probably important to you. Rooting, also known as jailbreaking, provides access to all the settings on the device. Can you root that tablet you're considering? What ROMs are available for it? Android ROMs are alternate versions of Android, with some containing different apps. If rooting is important to you, make sure it's possible on the device.

The features and ecosystem that surround your tablet are important; do your homework to make sure you enjoy your new tablet for a long time.