How to buy a tablet
As more tablets come to market, be prepared to be wowed by the power that some of these slates are capable of. You'll find plenty of models out there, including tablets with impressive dual-core processors or even quad-core chips. And many tablets can satisfy specific needs. The iPad (third-generation) shines bright, but it isn't the only star in the tablet universe. Many Android models, including the Android 4.1-based Google Nexus 7, have a lot of appeal given the balance of price and performance.
Be aware, however, that the lower-end models you may see advertised at rock-bottom prices come with lots of gotchas. And even the new value-priced range (those tablets costing $200 to $300) may make The following three key points are critical to keep in mind before you buy.
1. You Get What You Pay For
The supercheap tablets you see advertised around the Web carry those low prices for a reason. Typically they lack the processing power, memory, display quality, or responsiveness (or some combination thereof) to provide a satisfying experience. Not that tablets should be all about specs, but right now, if you're going to buy, do pay close attention to specs. Single-core models, or those with CPUs offering a clock rate less than 1GHz, are going to be slow performers. In addition, watch out for resistive touchscreens, which generally lag in responsiveness, and for low-resolution displays.
Look for models that, at the least, have Android 4.0 as the operating system. Steer clear of tablets running some version of Gingerbread (Android 2.3).
Some less expensive models may lack features like additional ports or expansion card slots. These options provide greater flexibility in how you can use your tablet.
2. Service Contracts Risk Your Ability to Upgrade
While it's possible to get a tablet via a service carrier without a contract, you'll pay more for that privilege. The unfortunate reality is that many tablets--especially those that have 3G or 4G LTE connectivity--are tied to contract obligations with mobile broadband service carriers. That means that if you buy a tablet today with a carrier contract, you won't be eligible for an upgrade anytime soon. Never mind the two-year wait for a contract to expire; in the tablet universe, the technology is evolving so rapidly that the market will shift again in six months, let alone one or two years. For example, tablets based on Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 and quad-core Tegra 3 chips came out in the same year.
Before signing up, get a sense that the unit you're buying has the features you want, and not just a stopgap until the next great thing comes along (though something is always around the corner). The amount you save up front may not offset what you'll pay down the road--and the freedom to change devices may be something it's not worth putting a price on.
The ideal connected tablet gives you the flexibility to pay for your connectivity without an annual contract.
3. Look at the Apps
Alternative app stores, such as GetJar and Amazon's Appstore, are an option for Android tablets. But your best bet remains the official Google Play store. As an added benefit, any tablet with Google Play will support other Google services, such as those for maps and email.
Apple's iPad has succeeded in large part due to the simplicity of accessing a deep array of apps. Apple is at 700,000 apps, over 225,000 of which are designed for iPad.
Google's Play store is catching up fast. Already, the Play store is at 600,000 apps. Unfortunately, Google won't say how many of those apps are optimized for tablet, though it is clear that Android is farther behind Apple.
By comparison, Amazon says its Appstore has over 30,000 apps, all of which the company says have been curated for use on the Kindle Fire.