What Is an Android Tablet?

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

If you're thinking about buying a new tablet, you have many choices, including the Apple iPad, Amazon Fire, and hundreds of Android tablets. If the number of available apps is important to you, consider an Android tablet that uses the Google Play Store. Here's everything you need to know before you invest in a new Android tablet.

Information in this article applies broadly to Android tablets made by different manufacturers (Google, Samsung, Lenovo, and others).

Android Tablet Cost and Other Considerations

There are many things to consider before you buy a tablet, including the processor, display size, camera, and amount of RAM it has. While high-end Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 can cost several hundred dollars, there are budget tablets under $100. Still, the actual specifications matter more than the price tag, so you should know what to look for.

Not All Tablets Have the Latest Android

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

The array of Android manufacturers means there's no standardization in the Android world. Thus, it's common to find new tablets that run an Android version that is one or two releases old.

In 2020, the latest version is Android 10. A device with an older version will work fine, but it won't have access to the latest apps and features.

Marshmallow, an older Android version
mammela / Pixabay

Not All Tablets Connect to Google Play

Because anyone can make an Android tablet, some manufacturers use the mobile operating system to build a different platform. This means they choose whether to include the Google Play Store, the official app store for the Android operating system.

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 use the Amazon Appstore. It's possible to install the Google Play Store on a Kindle Fire, but that requires advanced technical knowledge.

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, 4G, or 5G wireless data access. These tablets are often sold at a discount in exchange for a contract with a cellular service provider, just like 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 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 since it may be available at about the same price. If you don't need those features and are 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.

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, which means you'll wait longer for OS updates.

Also, when someone shows you how to do something on Android, it won't always work the same way for a modified version.

Android Accessories, Features, and Capabilities

Your tablet's manufacturer plays a role in the types of accessories and features it supports. For example, Samsung is one of the largest manufacturers of Android devices. When someone makes a case for Android devices, they usually consider Samsung first. Samsung also has a strong ecosystem around its products, with exclusive apps, integration with smart devices, and wearable tech such as Samsung smartwatches. A smaller 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 well with your LG TV. Look for a tablet that is compatible with your other devices.

If you want to install apps outside of the Google Play Store, make sure you can root your Android tablet. Rooting, also known as jailbreaking, provides access to all the settings on the device. While this is easy to do on most devices, some manufacturers make it impossible.