Tablet Computers

iPad is no longer the only strong performer

 
Buying a tablet computer used to be easy. It wasn’t long ago that the choice was limited to just the iPad and, well, the iPad!

But the last couple of years have seen a proliferation of new devices hit the shelves as other manufactures look to get in on the act.

Now, with everyone else scrambling for a piece of the pie, it feels like there’s a new tablet computer coming out every other week! While keeping track of every single device might be a little beyond us, we can give you the lowdown on the main contenders and what to look out for.

Operating system

The biggest consideration of all is the operating system you want to run. Apple’s iOS is still by far the most popular (found on the iPad and iPhone) and has the most applications going, though most new tablets these days run on the very capable Google-backed Android 3.0.

HP and Blackberry also have their own operating systems, though these come with fewer apps. Some tablet computers use the Windows 7 platform, though this operating system was never really designed for tablet use (it was just adapted), and so many users have complained about its performance. The up-and-coming Windows 8 system is expected to be very tablet-friendly, however, when it comes out.

Screen size

Screen size is obviously a big consideration for us all, though the choice actually comes down to a matter of personal preference. The iPad and iPad 2 both come with a 9.7 inch screen, which is slightly smaller than the 10.1 inch display that is standard with most (but not all) Android tablets (such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab).

There are smaller options though – such as the Dell Streak and the Blackberry Playbook, which both feature 7 inch displays, and there are even some lesser-known tablets with 5 inch screens, though at this stage there is very little difference between them and some of the bigger smartphones (see the Samsung Galaxy SII, which is almost a tablet computer!).

Processor

Pretty much all tablet computers use ARM processor technology, and many of the latest ones are dual-core, just like most PCs and laptops. The iPad uses the Apple A5 Chip, which is ever so slightly more powerful than the Nvidia Tegra 2 processor used by most Android tablets.

Applications

If you love apps, then the iPad is the winner hands down – the App Store now has more than 300,000 apps available, although of these an estimated 65,000 will only work on the original iPad. Android only actually has around two or three thousand apps compatible with the Android 3.0 platform, but even so most of what you need will be covered here, and of course there are more apps coming out every day.

Storage

Storage space depends on what you intend to do with your tablet computer. For those who like to have tons of music and images stored, get at least a 16 GB tablet. For those who don’t, a smaller model will be fine.

Thickness and weight

While the iPad 2 has been praised for its 8.8mm thickness and 601g weight, most other tablets can compete with this. The Samsung Galaxy Tab for instance, is now the thinnest on the market at just 8.6mm, weighing 595g.

Weighing even less is the Blackberry Playbook, at just 400g, though it does measure 9.7mm in thickness. Motorola’s Xoom is one of the heaviest of the lot, weighing 730g.

To be honest thought, weight and thickness are a minor concern, as let’s face it, all tablets are pretty small!

Add-ons

Other features you may or may not want include 3G connectivity for when you’re on the go (nice but not necessary for some as every tab is Wi-Fi enabled anyway). A camera may also be a concern – or it may not be. The iPad 2 actually has two cameras, front and back, allowing you to “Skype” and take photos, but then so do many new Android 3.0 tablets, such as the Motorola Xoom.

Price

As expected, the iPad 2 is one of the most expensive, starting at $500 in most stores, though this is dwarfed by the whopping $1,200 asking price for the Asus Eee Slate EP121 with its 12.1 inch display. Blackberry’s Playbook costs around $499, while the well-liked Fujitsu 0550 costs $729. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is actually one of the cheapest of the major brands, going for around $350 nowadays. Cheaper still is the Dell Streak 7 at just $199.

Where to buy

Buying online is the way to go. While the store might offer you the chance to look around and play with different tablets, you’ll save money when you visit the Amazon tablet store or Bestbuy’s tablet computer section.