Conversations around Tablet v/s Laptop v/s Smartphone always seem to take centre stage when it comes to buying a Tablet. So it is prudent to set the stage by indicating the true positioning of the Tablet – that of a content consumption device, as opposed to a computing device. This of course is a premise that shall only evolve with time. A Tablet makes web access, viewing and even editing of attachments a much easier task. Here's what you need to know before your set out buying one.
Design & Build:
Fig 1: Design of a regular Tablet
|While most Tablets look, well just like a Tablet! – Meaning in shape and dimensions there’s not much that can be said for looks. What’s available at different price brackets are not necessarily an indicator of how good or bad they are. As a matter of fact not all low budget tablets are made of low-grade plastic; some are quite durable and capable of withstanding heavy knocks. Of course the price does tend to go up a bit with higher grade materials. This will also up the weight of the device. That’s something to consider seeing as this would be a secondary device you’d be toting around. You’d want to choose a tablet that’s somewhere in the weight range of 350-600 grams for 7.0-inch and 10-inch options respectively.
Galaxy Tab 10.1 are equipped with a 10.1-inch display and weighs about 588 grams and is just 9.7mm in depth making at lighter than Apple's new iPad that comes in at 652 grams at the same depth.
Button placement is also a factor to consider since it’s vital you have speedy access to the volume keys, return / Home button or sub-menus for when required and with smart-devices, the better the placement, the easier it is for overall functionality. This also includes the placement of Docking / connectivity ports, the headphones jack and other options like AV out etc. Ergonomics is essential; the curves, contours, buttons, weight and overall design could not only help justify the price but will ensure comfort of use.
Fig 2: Display of Motorola Xoom Android Smart Tablet PC
|With regards to the display you're looking at two types. There's Resistive which is usually restricted to the lower budget devices and then there is Capacitive, that's better simply because it offers a far better response to touch and doesn't require a stylus, however it could increase the price a bit. We recommend that you go for a capacitive touch-screen; it doesn't require a stylus (except for those specifically designed for them like the HTC's Flyer's capacitive smart stylus) and is more responsive when it comes to gesture based UI support.
|With display size come resolution that's again variable. From a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels on devices like the iBall Slide it can go up to as high as 1536 x 2048 pixels on the new iPad. The latter is also termed 'Retina Display', just like the iPhone 4 only on a significantly larger screen. Lower budget tablets will keep the resolution to minimum to keep costing reasonable but even 480 x 800 pixels on a 7-inch device is adequate for all purposes including gaming and watching videos. Higher resolutions cost more in most cases, but the experience and colour rendering is obviously much more enhanced.
While tablets are not primarily designed for calls and text messages, a few like the Beetel Magiq are capable of voice calls via hands free and sending and receiving SMS'. It's not a feature you should consider to make or break your decision unless it becomes a tie breaker between two choices. Most Tablets are equipped with SIM card slots to support the use of 3G data connectivity while outside of a Wi-Fi area. If you need connectivity while travelling a 3G tablet (almost all) should be on top of your list. A few devices like the iBall slide, although lacking in SIM support offer 3G dongle via USB options. 3G enabled tablets will also work on 2G networks but expect a major drop in speed as compared to even your mobile handset.
Since all tablets are equipped with Wi-Fi you could also opt to tether your device with your handset by using your phone's 3G connection and converting your handset into a hotspot. This would negate the need for a tablet with 3G support and could also reduce your expenditure on the larger device. Do keep in mind that you would be draining the battery of two devices simultaneously but will reduce costing on your phone bill by having just one 3G connection instead of 2. Another connectivity option to consider is Bluetooth with A2DP or Stereo Bluetooth compliant. USB ports will also be a boon for those who carry around data on thumb drives. You could simply plug in your drive to watch videos, view slides, pictures, documents etc. For the purpose of sharing media or other files to larger displays, HDMI (Huawei MediaPad) or at least a 3.5mm AV out jack will be handy features to have.
When it comes to charging your tablet make sure that your tablet is equipped with standard features. In most cases a micro USB port (same on all Android and some other smartphones) is a great option to have. This will allow you to carry a single charger with you while travelling, allowing you to charge both your handset and tablet alternatively with one cable. The same goes for Apple devices like the iPhone and the iPad that use the same 30-pin connector. With quite a few of the lower budget devices you could have a DC pin connector (usually 12v). Try to opt for one that offers charging via USB as well - as it serves as a backup in case you forget your charging cable.
Next up is memory. Most tablets available today, even in the lower end of the spectrum are equipped with at least 2GB of internal storage which translates to about 1GB (give or take) for user data like apps, media etc. If your entire media library needs to travel with you then you'll have to suck it up and shell out the cash for devices like the iPad- 64GB or the Motorola Xoom-32GB in the larger size category. BlackBerry's Playbook is also available in a 64GB edition and other options could include the MediaPad and Reliance 3G Tab with 8GB and the Micromax FunBook in 4GB capacities. Naturally, all tablets barring the iPad feature microSD card slots that allow you to expand memory up to 32GB or 16GB.
It's what's under the hood that really counts. At the moment the market is chock full of tablets with 1GHz processors that are designed to run the latest Android OS i.e. ICS quite well. Device like the Sony Tablet S are equipped with 1GHz Dual-core processors and Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab 620 comes with 1.2GHz of Dual core processing power. For those looking at higher-end models, options with NVIDIA Tegra chips (Lenovo ThinkPad/IdeaPad K1) or separate GPUs will offer a better gaming and media experience. 1GHz is the new minimum it would seem.
If you're a vidiot, then you are going to need to make sure that your tablet is capable of rendering all possible formats. However, that being said, while it's great to have a device that plays it all, quick fixes via third party apps will ensure that all your media is good to go. And yes, this also applies to the iPad as well. Do make sure that your device is capable of HD video playback in case you're a 1080p type of person -although, this will be dependent on the device's processor.
Gaming experience will also vary depending on the processing power of the device. Low end games like Angry Birds and Cut the rope will work just fine on devices with 1GHz processors but higher end 3D games might struggle with frame rates and lag.
These days the camera is also a component that users tend to take into account before purchase. While some might find a high-resolution camera on a tablet an unnecessary option others would think it vital. If you're a Skyper, make sure that your device supports the app and is equipped with a front facing camera. Typically you'll find lower series devices with a VGA (640 x 480) camera that will serve the purpose. However devices like the Sony Tablet S feature a 5MP autofocus camera with 720p video recording at the rear and a 0.3 megapixel camera in front for video chatting. The iPad 2 features a 0.7MP camera (rear with 720p video recording) and a VGA camera up front for Apple's FaceTime video chat. BlackBerry's PlayBook is loaded up with a 5MP camera that can capture video in full HD i.e. 1080p. It's not the easiest thing capturing images with a tablet even if it is of the 7-inch variety so discounting a high-resolution camera should not be an issue.
The battery life of a tablet is rather subjective and depends largely on the kind of usage you intend for it. Those constantly connected to 3G or Wi-Fi can expect just about 8-10 hours of usage. Most 7-inch tablets equipped with 3000 to 4000 mAh batteries will offer you video playback of about 6-7 hours non-stop. That's not too bad. However some tablets like the iPad are able to deliver in the 8-9 hour stretch and that's why they'll cost you the big bucks.
Taking all the above options and features into account, you'll ultimately need to see what fits your budget. A bit of advice, decide on your budget first and then delve into the features and options available. Tablets range from as low as Rs. 3,000 to as high as Rs. 45,000 with plenty of choices in between.
The tablet industry is in full bloom right now and is only going to get bigger and better with the onslaught of speedier processors and low priced devices. Upcoming devices with Microsoft's Windows 8 should significantly change the game if Apple or Google don't do it first.