A tablet strikes a smart balance between the portability of a smartphone with the power of a computer. Great for reading, gaming, streaming, and loaded with fun apps and educational tools, tablets are designed to keep up with your on-the-go lifestyle.
However, you don't need to spend an exorbitant amount of cash for a great tablet. Affordable, low-cost tablets offer solid performance and functionality without emptying your wallet.
Are you considering buying one? If so, there's a lot you should know before you jump in and buy. In this guide, I'll walk you through everything you need to know before you purchase the latest iPad or Galaxy Tab. We'll take a look at specs, functionality, and price, and discuss what kind of tablet might suit you the best.
Things to Consider When Buying a Tablet
Tablets have become increasingly popular in the recent years. It's been estimated that about 286 million tablets are forecasted to be bought and shipped in 2018, according to Statista. Combining the utility of a laptop with the ease and simplicity of a phone, tablets are extremely useful for reading, working, gaming, or just surfing the web--all on one large, beautiful display.
Here are some of the key considerations you should be aware of when looking for a tablet deal:
1. Which operating system do you want?
An operating system is a software your tablet and its applications will operate on. Some operating systems, like Android, are used with various brands while others, like Apple iOS, are exclusive to one brand. You should pick an operating system based on what you plan to do the most with your new tablet. Operating system options include:
- Apple iOS: All versions of the Apple iPad and Apple iPad Air run on the mobile Apple iOS operating system. In fact, the iPad was the first touchscreen tablet ever created back in 2010, according to Statista. It's known for providing hundreds of thousands of applications at your fingertips and more specifications than other tablet's operating systems. It is not as powerful as Windows tablets, however, because it is not a PC operating system. It does, on the other hand, have a processor that's better than a quad-core processor.
- Samsung or Google Android: The best part of the Android device mobile operating system is that it operates with different brands, including Samsung and Google (unlike Apple iOS). As a result, there is a larger selection of sizes, colors, internal storage, external MicroSD card storage with a MicroSD slot, and features available for you to consider. Android tablets also offer a more customizable experience than Apple and Windows and give you thousands of apps from their app stores. They do have less tablet compatible apps than iOS, however, with the Google Play Store.
- Windows: Windows is an extremely powerful operating system for Windows Tablets that works with an array of brands including Microsoft, Samsung, and Dell. It's the operating system that turns a tablet into a tablet PC computer. Windows has been running PCs forever and now gives certain tablets the power to support the same programs and usage as tablet PCs.
If you're looking to carry out a ton of heavy duty professional tasks on your tablet, Windows is perfect for you. If you're just looking to be social and take up some free time, however, Android devices or Apple iOS devices will do the trick. Windows has a lot fewer application options than iOS and Android.
2. How much memory do you need?
All tablets come with your choice of internal storage in gigabytes. The more storage you need, the more expensive the tablet will be. You should choose how much storage you want based on how much you plan to use your tablet and what you plan to use it for. For example, will you be buying a lot of music and apps? Will you be taking a lot of pictures?
These things can use up your storage quicker than expected. If you'll be using your tablet a lot, you may want to go with a high storage limit like 16 GB of RAM. If you don't need much storage, you can go with a lower number like 4 GB. They usually offer 4 GB, 8 GB, and 16 GB of RAM.
3. What are the display and battery life like?
The screen resolution of your tablet is the quality of your tablet's screen; it will determine how clear or grainy your viewing will be. This is important. Again, contemplate what you will be doing the most on your tablet to determine how important screen resolution is to you. If you plan on streaming movies and videos, you're going to want the best screen resolution available. You should look for a super AMOLED display or Retina display for the best viewing on a tablet.
The iPad Pro has the best screen resolution of all tablets on the tablet market with retina display at 2732 x 2048 for the 12.9-inch screen. On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 has a Super AMOLED display. Battery life is also important when buying a tablet. You don't want it to die if you need it on the go, right? Some tablets last 6 hours while others last up to 13.
4. Do you need to purchase a data plan?
In short: no. More times than not, tablet data plans are more expensive than what they're worth, and offer speeds significantly slower than your cell phone. Do you want to pay monthly for cellular network data on top of the price tag on your new tablet? However, some people (especially business travelers) might rely on the mobile computing advantage provided by a tablet.
A tablet data plan ensures that you have an Internet connection through your cell phone provider. If not, you can go with a tablet that only works with WiFi. If you're not sure which one you want, think about this.
Where will you be using your tablet the most? Are you buying it for traveling and work on the go or do you need it simply for streaming and surfing when you're lounging around at home? If you'll be using your tablet mainly in a place with WiFi, you probably don't need a cellular data plan.
Check out our guide on ways to reduce your mobile data usage if you're worried about using too much data.
Tablet Deals for Kids and Toddlers
One of the most overlooked benefits of a tablet is that it provided ample opportunity to familiarize children with technology and teach them how to properly use it. Flicking through apps or scrolling down web pages might be intuitive to us now, but a tablet offers the chance to teach children about computing earlier than they might otherwise be ready for--since a big old desktop could be too intimidating for most children (and some adults!).
When looking for a tablet suited for your child, take particular attention to the parental control features. After all, most tablets have an Internet connection and access to a data plan. According to InternetMatters, 62 percent of parents say inappropriate content if their biggest concern for their kids on the Internet.
Fortunately, kid's tablets have parental controls to make sure your child doesn't end up on the wrong website, app, or show. They will allow you to limit what your child does and for how long so you don't have to worry about their safety as much. Privacy settings will also allow you to turn off tracking so your child's location and information are not being tracked by companies, criminals, and more.
For tips and strategies for parents, check out our guide to Internet Safety for Kids. We also have the ultimate guide to Preventing Child Identity Theft which offers plenty of resources to ensure your child surfs the web safely and offers you tools in the case your child has his or her identity stolen.
Check out our buyer's guide to tablets for kids for more information.
Cheap Tablet Deals on a Budget
Cheap tablets are not as clear and versatile as more expensive tablets, as you could have probably guessed. If you're looking for something on the cheaper side, I would go with the Amazon Fire HD Tablet. It is smaller than most tablets but two inches bigger than the Nvidia tablet. It has almost the same price tag as popular WiFi-only tablets, except it isn't WiFi only.
The Amazon Fire will give you access to millions of TV shows, movies, applications, games, and more on a quad-core processor; it's a great option for home use.
For more information on tablets, including our reviews, analysis, and recommendations, check out our buyer's guides to tablets. For our list of tablet reviews, see below, or scroll back to the top!