Buying your First Tablet

Buying your first Tablet...

Having been through this difficult decision making process several times (PDA's, Smartphones, a 5 inch Tablet, a 10 inch Tablet... Each time I fell like I'm starting from scratch. LOL) I thought I'd share some quick tips to help people make there own decisions.

Step 1 Figure out what YOU want in a Tablet...

This is the most important step in buying any piece of electronics. Whether you've been wowed by a commercial, a review on a TV news show, or by watching someone actually use a device, the variety of new features and just the "it's new and cool" factor can be powerful motivation to buy a new device. The question is, realistically, what are YOU going to do with it?

A perfect example of a feature that sounds uber cool in theory but has unforseen downsides is Video Chat. It's been a part of sci-fi for years, and services like Skype and Apple's Facetime make it pretty simple (it's even managed to creep into popular culture with characters from 'Two and a Half Men' and 'Big Bang Theory' using Facetime on a regular basis instead of making visually boring regular phone calls). But even though many higher end smartphones and Tablets have the ability to perform this neat trick of technology, most people never use it. Apple's own data shows that while Facetime works as advertised, the number of Apple device owner who actually use the service is way lower then they predicted. Why, while factors like data usage can deter people from basically streaming live video of themselves to others, most people just don't want to be seen on camera. The point is, even though having the capability to video chat is cool, if you're probably never going to use it then having a device with a Front Facing HD camera really isn't a priority, now is it?

Have a realistic image in your mind of what you want your tablet to do for you. If you mainly just want to read ebooks, but would like to be able to make the odd Google search or watch a video on Netflix once in a while, then a Kindle Fire or Nook HD might be just what you need. If you plan to do some heavy net surfing, watch a lot of YouTube, or do some heavy gaming, a more robust device will probably do a better job and give you a happier user experience.

Step 2 Portability Versus Versatility...

The latest thing in tablets is the debate over 10 inch or 7 inch devices, which is better for you. I'm writing this article on a 10 inch tablet and I love it, I use it just about every day. From checking my email and web browsing to reading magazines and some gaming, this tablet has become a big part of my daily life, while I'm at home that is. I don't bother taking my Tablet with me to work (I'm sure my boss appreciates that) because there's no place to hide it. While I don't think most of my co-workers would try and swipe it, regularly leaving my Tablet in a locker might be tempting fate. A 7 inch Tablet is much easier to descreetly hide in a coat pocket and pop into a locker without anyone ever knowing you have it.

And how much does screen size matter? In video playback, it can be a big deal. Now, even smaller screened tablets have high resolution screens, like there bigger siblings, but watching a busy action movie on a small screen can be a bit anticlimactic. Most games that are tablet friendly will look good either way but if you're gonna spend hours immersed in a game, your eyes may thank you for getting a bigger screen. Standard ebooks will look great on a 7 inch screen, if you can read a paperback novel, you'll be just fine on a smaller device. Magazine content can be another story, on my 10 inch tablet I still end up zooming to read blurbs and write ups in Popular Science or Android Magazine so it's a toss up either way. When it comes to web browsing most sites aren't optimized for mobile viewing yet and the simplified mobile versions that are around are just disappointing to look at, so even on a smaller screened tablet, expect to do a fare amount of zooming and scrolling, but it's really not that big a deal.

I guess what I'm saying here, again, is it all depends on what you realistically expect to do with your new tablet. Will it be a comfy big screened home body, a high end power gamer, or a svelte little world traveler?

Step 3 Establish a Price Range...

Price is a issue I am acutely aware of. After all, this blog is called "Mobile and Broke". I don't mind paying for something I want, but I have to be pretty sure that it's the best option for me and my needs, and that the price is what I would consider reasonable.

One of my few remaining gripes about Apple is there pricing. Consider, if you will, the iPad Mini and the Google Nexus 7. While I will happily grant that Apple designs and sells excellent products, the Nexus 7 beats the iPad Mini in two important areas. Firstly, the Nexus has a higher native resolution screen (the iPad Mini's screen is still gorgeous and one of the best in it's size class, but the Nexus still wins this round). The second is that when you consider their specs, while the Nexus 7 has better hardware and a newer operating system and Google's Play Store is rapidly catching up to Apple's App Store in available apps and content, the iPad Mini's starting price is $150 more then the Nexus 7. Why? Because Apple will always charge a premium for it's products, always has, always will. Like BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus in the auto world, that's just part of their brand identity. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

I should also point out that, in total fairness, the Nexus series' amazingly reasonable prices are sort of a trick, but one that works in the consumer's favor. See Google wants us all to buy their products, so does Apple, it's what companies do, but Google is trying something very cleaver. Google is basically selling you a premium tablet, like the Nexus 7 and 10, at cost. Crazy you say, not really, because like Apple's App Store, Google owns the Play Store (formerly Android Market) which is the easiest, most secure method of getting apps and content for your Android device. So the equation is pretty simple, cheaper tablets now means more customers on the Play store later. Crazy? Like a fox, maybe.

When I decided to buy a tablet, I did a fare amount of research. At the time, one of the standout players that I really hadn't been aware of was Asus. What got my attention was consistant high ratings in magazine and blog reviews. But Asus' Transformer series of tablets have two distinct models, the TF300 and the pricier TF700, which to buy?

The TF700 series was ranked second only to the iPad by a number of reviewers and it has a lot of great features like a metal back case and a Gorilla Glass screen, but it is $100 more then it's baby brother, the TF300. The Asus TF300 was ranked 3rd in at least two reviews I read that included the 16Gb iPad. I decided that to save myself some cash (and the inevitable acid reflux that always follows spending too much of it) I'd live without the fancy features and buy the cheaper model. Was that a smart move? Well, 5 months later, I still think it was! While I still would have liked the shatter resistant screen, the slight differance in processing power really hasn't been missed as even fast paced, graphics heavy, racing games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted look great and the TF300 has worked almost flawlessly since day one.

Would I have still been happy with the more expensive model? Probably, but the lesson learned here is that I didn't need the top-of-the-line model to be happy, just a good, dependable, tablet that worked as advertised! And spending $300 still stings, but not nearly as much as spending $400...

Step 4: The most important part!

Bottom line here is, get what YOU want, just make sure that what you want will make you happy. If you want an iPad because all your friends have them and you don't want to be left out, then nothing but an iPad will ever make you happy. (I'm not trying to pick on Apple, I swear) But if you are looking for a tablet because you want it to make your life easier and more fun, then don't forget to consider your alternatives. The IPad is a fine choice for a tablet (there, I said it), but it definitely sits at the top of the price mountain. By that same token, beware tablets who's prices seem too good to be true, 'cause they are.

Around the Holidays, there were a ton of budget tablets being advertised from $45.99 to $99.99, and they flew off store shelves across the country. Most or then not worth the plastic in there casings. Sub-standard processors, minimal memory, cheap casings, and out-dated low res screens made these budget models cheap but as unsatisfying as gas station sushi. Many of then feature bare bones Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS) as a selling point but had hardware that could just barely run it, making the apps lag or crash and ruining the user experience. I'm amazed I haven't heard more horror stories on review site, but I guess you get what you pay for after all.

When shopping for tablets, it's a good thing to look for bargains, but be careful. Discounting any model that routinely sells for $150 or less right now and reading customer feed back on sites like Amazon will save lots of headaches and buyers remorse later on.


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