Friday, April 22, 2011

Tablet buyers must do their homework

So you've decided to look at buying a tablet computer for your next computer purchase. What kind do you buy?

That's the million-dollar question — what kind DO you buy?

The tablet industry has gone from zero to hero in two years — for a while it looked like netbooks might be the big trend. Netbooks are basically dumbed-down laptops that users can take anywhere with them. The promise never lived up to the hype with netbooks though, so they've pretty well died a natural death. You can still get some, but they're a niche product at best now.

Tablets are the hottest thing in the computer biz these days and a dizzying number of manufacturers either are already building them or are announcing their new tablet Gizmos & Gadgets is in imminent production. They offer users the ability to do just about everything you can on a desktop computer while you hold the device in your lap - once you have a tablet you'll wonder how you ever made do without one.

If you're looking at buying yourself a tablet the first thing you need to ask yourself is what you plan on using it for. Don't worry about operating systems, whether it's Apple, Windows-based or Android, all of that doesn't matter for a basic user.

There are some basic questions you need to ask yourself before you buy.

- What are you going to use the tablet for? Is it for games, social networking, movies and video, surfing, email, ebooks, video chats, or do you want to use it for business?

- How big a tablet do you want? Size does matter when you're reading a book for an hour or holding the device up to take part in a video chat - even a lightweight tablet can get pretty heavy. They come in several different sizes, from the 10.1" Samsung Galaxy 10 to the smaller 7" RIM PlayBook.

- Do you want it to be stand-alone? By that I mean do you want to be able to surf from anywhere? You would need to buy a separate data plan in order to be able to do that, so you'd have to buy a tablet that is capable of WiFi and 3G, for instance.

-What operating system do you want? I know, I said that doesn't matter, but if you already have an iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows or an Android smartphone, then you'll probably want a tablet that works with the same operating system for convenience sake. I think the best operating system is the one you're most familiar with if you already have something using that OS. If you don't have a smartphone then it really doesn't matter, so the best OS is the one that's easiest to use.

- How much money do you want to spend? Tablets cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around a thousand, depending on the bells -and whistles. Plus data plans add an additional monthly cost.

- Are games and third part apps a big deal and important in your decision? iTunes has more than 65,000 apps specifically designed to run on the iOS platform, Android, Windows and BlackBerry have a very limited, but growing, number of choices.

- Is Flash a big deal to you? Flash is made by Adobe Systems and is very common on pretty well every website you see today. Very simply, it allows video and audio to be used in a format that's small enough to load on someone's screen quickly. Sounds silly, but iPads don't come with Flash installed and you have to rely on thirdparty software to be able to see Flash enabled web pages. Most other tablets support Flash. Apple made the controversial decision not to support Flash in any of its products because it thinks Flash offers too many opportunities for security breaches and viruses. Apple supports HTML 5, which does much the same thing as Flash but is more robust. Problem with HTML 5 is that it's not generally as widely used as Flash, but that's gradually changing.

I've tested several Android-based tablets along with the iPad and my personal choice is the iPad. The iTunes App Store, with the thousands of apps available for the device, is very compelling for me - you can find an app for just about everything you can think of at an average price under $5. I prefer the touch interface on the iPad and really like the size and weight. I have used an iPhone for a few years and am totally used to that OS, so the iPad is, for me, a natural. I find Android difficult to use - probably mostly because I'm so used to the iOS from Apple.

It may not be for you though. I'd suggest you do your research before you buy. Decide exactly what you want from a tablet, how much you want to pay and then go to the stores and check out your options. Don't get yourself hung up on the OS - this isn't a Windows vs. Mac OS vs. Linux type of thing - this is what's the best fit for you because all the operating systems have their great and not so great aspects.

There, don't you feel better? I didn't think so. Remember, more than ever before, the purchase of a tablet is a very personal choice and there are a mind-numbing number of choices out there already or in the pipeline to be offered for sale soon. Do your homework first and you have a much better chance of making the decision that's the best for you.

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