What Is an Android Tablet?

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

Android Tablet
Image Copyright Amazon

Maybe you don't like Apple, maybe you've seen some cheap tablets, or maybe you have an Android phone and love it. For whatever reason, you're looking to buy an Android tablet. Before you do, however, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Not All Tablets Have the Latest Android

Marshmallow, an older Android version

Android is mostly open source, and anyone can download it and design a device around it. That's why there are so many devices running Android or variations of it, and why just about every phone manufacturer, Apple excluded, makes Android devices. Even though that's usually a great thing, it also means that there's no standardization in Android world. So, it's easy to find tablets running a version of Android one or two releases back. That's usually not a huge deal, but if you're timing isn't opportune, you can find yourself with a brand new tablet that's not supported anymore, and that's not a position you'd like to be in.

Not All Tablets Connect to Google Play

This one used to be a much bigger problem than it is now, but you can still run into issues. Because anyone can make an Android tablet, some manufacturers, like Amazon, use it to build an entirely different platform around it. When they do that, they can choose to include the Google Play Store, or not.

Amazon Fire Tablet

Amazon's popular Fire devices, including its Fire tablets, are based on Android, but they don't have access to the Play Store. Instead, they're set up to use Amazon's own app marketplace. It's certainly possible to modify these devices to gain access to the Play Store, but that requires some technical knowledge, and it's not for everyone.

In short, make sure the tablet you're looking at has access to the apps you want.

Some Tablets Require a Data Plan

Cellular Tower

Android tablets can be sold with Wi-Fi only ​or with 3G or 4G wireless data access. Often they're sold at a discount, in exchange for a contract with a cellular service provider, just like phones. Check the fine print when you check the price to see if you're committed to two years of payments on top of the price of the device. You should also check to see just how much data that buys you. Tablets can use more bandwidth than phones, so you'll need a plan that expands if you need it.

Is There a New Model Coming Soon?

No one wants to get their new tablet home, only to find out that a newer version is coming out in a week. That's bad for two major reasons. First, if you like or need the new features offered by the next model, it's probably a better idea to wait and pick that one up. It'll probably launch at roughly the same price.

On the flip side, if you don't need those features, and you're happy with the current model, you can wait for the price to drop, as it inevitably will, following the new release. That's a great way to get exactly what you want and save a nice chunk of cash.

Beware the Modified Android

Just as device makers are free to modify the Android user interface on phones, they're free to do it on tablets. Manufacturers say this is a wonderful thing that sets their product apart, but there are disadvantages.

Samsung tablet with modified UI

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

Gear, Accessories, and Features

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

Android tablet with case

Samsung is one of the largest, if not the largest, manufacturer of Android devices. When someone makes a case or accessory for Android, they usually consider Samsung first. They've also built a strong ecosystem around their products, with exclusive apps, integration with smart devices, and wearable tech. A smaller device manufacturer probably won't have that much support around them.

At the same time, you should consider the other devices you own. Maybe you want to control your smart TV from your tablet, but the Samsung tablet you were looking at doesn't integrate that well with your LG TV. It's small annoyances like that which can add up and make you fall out of love with a device.

Think about features and capabilities too. 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. It's just something else to look out for.

If your want more control over your device or want to customize it for a certain purpose, rooting is probably important to you. Can you root that tablet you're looking at? What ROMs are available for it? If rooting is important to you, always check if you can unlock the tablet's bootlloader and root it before buying one.

Consider the features and ecosystem around your tablet, to guarantee you enjoy using it for a long time.