Things to Consider When Buying a Tablet

Picking out a new tablet computer? Here's what to consider before you buy

Tablets bridge the gap between laptop computers and smartphones in terms of size and functionality. Tablets are great for email, web browsing, and travel. Many people also use tablets as a portable gaming platform. These devices are a substitute for many laptop tasks when high-performance isn't required. This guide looks at the key specs and features you should consider before buying a tablet.

Tablet computers are offered for sale at a Tiger Direct store on April 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Size and Weight

Tablets are designed to be mobile. Accordingly, you should consider the size and weight of any potential purchase. In some cases, you will be holding the tablet for long stretches of time, so you don't want the device to be too heavy or cumbersome. The lighter, the better. Still, it shouldn't compromise on durability in the event the tablet is dropped.

The dimensions are also key measures, as the size determines how the device fits in your hands. For example, a top-heavy, wide tablet may be challenging to hold in portrait mode.

Display

Since the display is also the main interface on a tablet PC, it plays an important role in your buying decision. Factors to consider include size, resolution, viewing angle, brightness, and coating. The size determines how big the tablet is. However, when tied to resolution, it determines how easy or difficult it is to read text on the device.

The resolution matters if you watch Full HD (1080p) media on the device. A minimum of 720 lines (720p) is required in portrait orientation. Viewing angles are important when the device is viewed by more than one person or at odd angles.

Brightness is something to consider if the tablet will be outdoors frequently. The brighter the screen, the easier it is to see when there is a lot of glare. Coatings should be durable, so it won't show scratches and be easy to clean.

Software

The tablet market has more operating systems (OS) to choose from than the smartphone or laptop market. In addition to iOS and Android, there's Amazon Fire OS and Microsoft Windows.

Each OS has benefits and drawbacks. The key is to look at how it will be used to determine which OS best suits your needs.

  • If you want it to be like a traditional PC, Windows may be best. Still, this may have issues.
  • Media watching and gaming are probably best served by iOS, though iPads tend to be pricier.
  • If you want a more open platform with better multitasking, Android might be the best choice.

Beyond the OS, you should also consider the types and number of applications available for each platform.

Connectivity and Networking

As tablets are mobile devices, their ability to connect to the internet is critical. There are two types of connectivity found in tablets: Wi-Fi and cellular or wireless.

Wi-Fi is straightforward, as this is for access to local Wi-Fi networks. What matters here is which forms of Wi-Fi the tablet supports. Any tablet should support 802.11n. The best option is to support both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands.

Cellular is a bit more complicated. You must consider carriers, coverage, contract rates, and whether it is compatible with 3G, 4G, or 5G networks.

Bluetooth may be used for local peer-to-peer connections between tablets or for peripherals, such as a keyboard.

Battery Life

If you carry a tablet throughout the day, battery life is an important detail. This spec is hard to judge for tablets as different applications can draw different power loads.

There are two standard methods for measuring battery life. The first is through consistent web browsing, while the other is based on watching video. Video watching tends to draw more power. If you multitask heavily or play games, expect battery life to be shorter than advertised. Good running time should be at least eight hours of web browsing or video playback.

Processors

The processors used in tablets can vary. It has to do with how the processors in most tablets are designed and licensed. Most companies only list the clock speed and the number of cores. You often need to know more than this, as the chip architecture can have implications on the performance, battery life, and size of the tablet PC.

Storage Space

While you may not carry around as much data on a tablet as you would on a laptop, the amount of space on the tablet is a major feature to consider. All tablets use solid-state storage because of its low power draw, small size, and durability. The downside is the limited storage space.

Most tablets come with between 8 GB and 64 GB of space, which is small compared to a laptop. If you only browse the web, stream video, and read books, storage space isn't too critical. If, on the other hand, you store high definition movies or lots of games, consider getting a higher capacity model. This way, you won't have to shuffle data between your devices.

Tablets with flash memory slots can have their storage space expanded. Tablet storage can also be supplemented by cloud storage, but this is only accessible when the tablet is connected to the internet.