Tablet buying guide
Tablets are perfect for mobile computing on the go. Whether you're considering an Apple iPad, Android or Windows tablet, we'll take you through all the important things you need to know to help you pick your best tablet computer.
Which kind of tablet do you want?
The first thing to consider before searching for a new tablet is to decide whether you're want a device with basic, medium or high performance.
Tablets vary in price from £49.99 to over £500. If you just want to use your tablet for basics like watching TV, reading or updating social media, you may not want to spend too much. But lower cost tablets come with limitations, not just in terms of what you can do, but also in terms of basic speed and functionality.
Basic performance – Browsing the web, writing emails, playing games, reading.
Medium performance – Multi-tasking, streaming media, smoother navigation.
High performance – Photo editing, design work, 3D gaming.
Choosing a tablet size
Choosing the right size is a compromise between portability and usability. A tablet that's extra light and easy to carry may not be the most comfortable to use if you're writing a long email. Typically smaller tablets are also less powerful, but a well-built model can offer a lot for its size.
6" – 7"
Low – medium performance
These are great for just slipping in your bag or pocket and using anytime, anyplace. They're great for apps and make for great e-readers but the small display can make some websites and digital publications harder to read. There's also little room for speakers, so headphones are more essential.
8" – 9"
The most popular option. These screens are more square-shaped and offer a better experience for web browsing, watching movies and playing games. It's also the smallest size suitable for doing more serious work, like word processing or spreadsheets.
10" and above
Medium – high performance
The larger screens make these more comfortable for work tasks, design, and digital publications. They have better in-built speakers, but are more straining to hold for long periods.
How your tablet works will depend very much on its operating system – what you actually see and interact with on screen. Which system is best largely depends on your own personal preferences as they each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Exclusive to iPad and iPhone, iOS is incredibly user friendly and easy to use. It offers incredibly simple and smooth performance, but is less customisable than Android and can restrict the way you use files and share data.
Apps are available via the App store. The selection is smaller than Android because Apple strictly checks all the apps available. This means you're less likely to download anything unsecure or malicious, but it does restrict the selection available.
Android was created by Google, but is available on devices made by manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony. It's customisable and user-friendly, though the experience will differ between brands. You have more control over how you use Android and how you manage files, but this can make it a little more complicated to use.
More apps are available for Android than any other platform. Google Play is the largest app store, but there are others to choose from. Having a larger app developing community does carry some risks, however, so it's important to check apps carefully to avoid unsecure content.
Amazon Fire tablets use a highly customised version of Android. This version is very easy to use but is less flexible and is tailored towards Amazon's own services.
Windows offers the closest thing to a desktop PC or laptop experience. All the Microsoft Office software is available to use and transferring files between other devices that use Windows is easy.
This makes Windows tablets an ideal choice for serious work, but also makes them oriented towards use with a keyboard and mouse. As a result, some apps are less suitable to use with just the touch screen. Apps are available via the Windows Store, where vetting ensures they are all safe to download but the selection is much smaller.
Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity
All tablets come with a wireless router installed. If you want to go online outside a Wi-Fi area, you'll need a tablet that is cellular compatible. This means it can use a phone signal like a smart phone. If you do choose a cellular tablet, you'll need a data plan from a phone provider.
Weighing up the specs
We've used our basic/medium/high performance groupings to help you navigate through the complicated spec categories to find the speed and performance you need.
What is a processor?
The processor is the computer's brain. The more powerful the brain, the more complex work you can do and the faster you can do it.
The benefits of a faster processor
A faster processor basically means reducing the risk of frustrating performance issues. While you may spend a lot of time on low demand tasks, if you need to multi-task, or do more complicated work, you could find your tablet slowing down.
The storage capacity for all your files. It's measured in gigabytes (GB). Tablets will have limited memory, as small devices can only fit so much in. Typically users will have to delete apps and files over time to make room for new ones.
You can add more memory, using an SD card or a memory stick if your tablet has an SD card slot or USB port available for them.
The benefit of more memory
Having more memory means spending less time dealing with space issues. At least 16GB is recommended, but you can go as high as 128GB.
What is RAM?
RAM is the space your tablet needs to work on the jobs its doing at any given moment. RAM is your device's short-term memory, which is also measured in gigabytes. No matter how powerful your device is, if it doesn't have enough working space, it will slow down.
The benefits of more RAM
A device with more RAM will enable you to smoothly multi-task. Similar to processing power, it might not be needed all the time but when more demanding jobs do come along, you could be faced with limitations.
Screen quality is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the higher the quality of the image.
Entry level tablets have a pixel count of around 1024 x 600, mid-range tablets have a resolution of around 1920 x 1080, and more high-end devices have 2048 x 1536 and above.
Apple has launched Retina display on its latest iPads, which promises pictures so sharp you can't detect the individual pixels. In turn, Android tablet makers have now included OLED screens, which create produce brighter, smoother images than the standard LCD screen.
More is always better when it comes to battery life. Typically it's the most expensive tablets that have the longest. Some low cost models may have long battery life, but that's a reflection of their lower processing performance.
Remember battery life is an estimate. High demand tasks will use up battery power faster than low demand tasks.
Other things to consider...
You need a tablet cover to protect your tablet screen. Without one, your tablet could become damaged very quickly if you travel anywhere with it.
Touch screen typing can get uncomfortable quickly. Keyboards are available separately and you can buy cases with one built in.
Ports & sockets
Tablets typically have very few ports for you to connect to other devices. Apple iPads, for example, typically only come with one port, which is unique to their devices. To connect it to another device with a USB port, you would need to buy a separate cable adaptor.
Check which ports are available on your device to see whether you have the ones you will need, or whether separate adaptors are required.
SD card and SD slot
SD cards are a simple way to add more memory. A small card can be placed inside an SD slot to access any files it contains. It makes it very easy to transfer files, as many devices have an SD slot. Not every tablet has an SD slot, however, so an adaptor could be required.
Delivery & payment
If you've settled on which type of tablet computer to buy, then you're ready to shop. Still not quite sure? Our Customer Services team will be happy to give you more information and advice, or why not check out our desktop and laptop buying guides
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We'll deliver your tablet for as little as £3.95.
Reserve your tablet online and collect and pay for it in-store.