What Is an Android Tablet?

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

Android Tablet

Amazon

If you're thinking about buying a new tablet, you have several choices. As you shop around, you'll find Apple tablets, some cheap tablets, and Android tablets. If you're looking to buy an Android tablet, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Not All Tablets Have the Latest Android

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 many phone manufacturers, Apple excluded, makes Android devices.

Marshmallow, an older Android version
 Pixabay

The variety of Android phone manufacturers means that 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 new tablet that's not supported.

Not All Tablets Connect to Google Play

Because anyone can make an Android tablet, some manufacturers, like Amazon, use it to build an entirely different platform. When they do that, they can choose to include the Google Play Store, or not.

Amazon Fire Tablet
 Amazon

Amazon's popular Fire devices, including the Fire tablets, are based on Android but don't have access to the Play Store. Instead, these devices are set up to use the Amazon app marketplace. It's possible to modify these devices to gain access to the Play Store, but that requires technical knowledge. Make sure the tablet you're looking at has access to the apps you want.

Some Tablets Require a Data Plan

Android tablets can be sold with 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, 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. Also, check to see how much data that buys. 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 coming out in the near future. If you like or need the new features offered by the next model, wait and pick that one up; 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 free to do it on tablets. Manufacturers say this sets their product apart, but there are disadvantages.

Samsung tablet with modified UI
 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 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 wait longer for OS updates since the update must 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
 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 have that much support around them.

At the same time, consider the other devices you own. 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 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.

If you 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, check if you can unlock the tablet's bootloader and root it.

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