Tech Thursday: Guide for choosing a tablet: Christmas 2015 shopping guide
This is the third buying guide since the start of TechThursday.
In 2013, we had a look at how to choose an e-reader and the difference between e-readers and tablets
In 2014, we had a look at the latest e-readers and tablets
This year, we will focus on tablets. Not much new has happened in the world of e-readers, and our previous guides are still accurate. Some e-readers have had new versions but nothing that would require an upgrade.
In 2013, the one big difference between e-readers and tablets was price. E-readers were generally quite a bit cheaper. In 2014, that was less so and in 2015, there is no difference in price between tablets and e-readers as a whole.
Of course, you may also consider buying a phone which can do all the things a tablet can do but on a smaller screen. See our post on cheap phones but even cheap phones are more expensive than tablets.
Why buy a tablet
The tablet is the perfect device for learning, productivity and entertainment. For some people, it may even replace a computer.
What can a tablet do for you
Reading: It can serve as the perfect e-reader for books, magazines, news and even textbooks. It can also read out to you using text-to-speech.
Writing/editing: Computers are better than tablets for serious writing. But now that you can easily dictate into Google Docs or notes, a tablet will be a good choice for doing homework for many students.
Organisation: Since a tablet is always with you, it is much better at reminders, to dos and calendars.
Learning: Apart from books, there are many learning apps and also educational videos on YouTube, you can use to learn.
Communication: You can use your tablet to talk to people on Skype, social media or send email.
Entertainment: You can use a tablet for entertainment if you like games, films, TV, music and, of course, books.
Can a tablet replace a computer?
For some people, it can. But most people will need to use both (at least for now).
In what way is tablet better than a computer?
There are many advantages of tablet over a computer.
easy to use
touch makes it feel personal
turns on immediately
lasts almost a full day of use on a single battery charge
light enough to always carry in a purse, bag or pocket
When I want to do serious work, I will always use my computer and every student from secondary school up will need to use a computer. But when I travel for a meeting in London, I often just take my TESCO Hudl2 with me with a Bluetooth keyboard.
What to look for when buying a tablet
Tablets have become a commodity now. Almost any you can buy over £50 will be able to do most of the things you want. Here are a few things that differentiate between tablets.
The first thing you need to decide is screen size. Because our focus is on reading, I do not even consider 10 inch screens. Your options are:
7in screen: Great for portability and reading books, fine for everything else. Might even fit in a shirt pocket.
8in screen: Great for productivity and games. A bit less portable but still very light.
The biggest differentiator that will push up the prices is screen quality. I find even lower resolution screen perfectly usable for reading. But higher resolution is better and depending on your eyes.
Some tablets keep the cost low by keeping the on-board storage. On some models you can add more space with a micro SD Card.
4GB – only the lowest models, SD card is a must, not recommended
8GB – perfectly usable until you start loading in big games, music and films, then you’ll need an SD card
16GB – you can get by without an SD card but you will have to periodically delete things
Most tablet makers list their battery life as 8-10 hours. But this will vary depending on how you use it. Usually, it will be a lot less if you play a touch intensive game and more if you listen to music or read a book. It is worth reading the reviews to see how good individual tablets are in the real world.
In most cases, you can take a tablet with you to school or on a short trip without a charger. But you may run out of juice if you use it a lot. To extend battery life, lower the screen brightness.
Do not buy a tablet that lists its battery life as 6 hours or less. You will have to charge it several times a day.
Tablets also differ in their ability to keep charge when not being used. Here Apple is the undisputed champion but an unused tablet should last a few days.
In tablets you have three main options.
If you want a tablet under £200, your only options are Android or Windows. There are some very good windows tablets (I have and use the Dell Venue 8 Pro) but almost none of the apps that make tablets great for accessibility are available there yet.
So, your only choice for a cheap tablet is Android. The cheapest tablets are shipped with older versions of Android (because they are usually older models). You can upgrade some of them to later versions but rarely will they have the very latest.
Only buy a tablet which lists its version of Android as at least 4.2. Version 5 or 5.1 is the best but even the earlier versions are perfectly usable and will run any app you want.
Here are my top recommendations for tablets to consider buying this year in all categories. Prices and links valid as of 19 Nov 2015.
7-inch under £100
ASUS ZenPad Z170C" (PC World, £80)
This tablet is probably the best value. All the reviews have been very positive and it should last a while because it was released this year and has Android 5.0. I have not tested it personally but have no doubt about the reviews.
Lenovo IdeaTab A7 50 (Amazon, £75)
A great choice for an affordable and capable tablet which some of our partners used on a recent project. However, at a very similar price, the ZenPad is the more attractive alternative.
Acer Iconia B1(Amazon, £50)
If price is a concern, this tablet is a great value. We used them in schools on several projects and they are sufficient for most tasks. It has no back camera and only Android 4.4 – but this should not be a problem for most tasks.
Kindle Fire (Amazon, £50)
I do not recommend this tablet to most people. See my full review next week. But at the attractive price, it has solid hardware, let down by lack of suitable apps.
TESCO Hudl2 (£100, Tesco, eligible for Club card boost)
Despite rumours about the tablet being discontinued, it is still available and a clear recommendation in this category for price/spec ratio. Good performance with a premium screen. I use mine regularly for all of the above and am very happy with it. The battery life is decent but not the best. It has been upgraded to Android 5.1.
Lenovo A8-50 (£90, Amazon)
A decent tablet with a good battery life according to reviews. A definite contender if Hudl is not available – cheaper but a lower resolution screen.
Acer Iconia Tab 8 (£100, PC World)
Definitely usable tablet with nice design but reviews suggest that the Hudl2 or Lenovo A8-50 would be better options for the price.
iPad Mini 2 (£219, PC World, Apple)
The iPad Mini 2 has much to recommend it but price is not one of the things. It stands up well for a two-year old model with a great screen and very good battery life. It has no SD card slot so you will be stuck with 16GB at the lowest price. The iPad Mini 1 can probably still be found for sale for under £200.
You should also budget some money for accessories. Here some suggestions.
You should definitely invest in a cover. There are many cheap universal covers available for 7 and 8 inch tablets. There are three types of covers:
Neoprene sleeves can often be found in a pound shop and will protect the screen in a bag or on a desk.
Universal wallet cases which provide a cover for the tablet while in use. They can be very cheap but are a bit bulkier and use loops to attach to the screen.
Snap in cases have to be made specifically for the individual model but they are smaller and sturdier. I like this type the most and use them on all my tablets.
Apart from protection, the advantage of most cases is that you can also use it as a stand for the tablet.
If you want to use your tablet for more serious writing, it is worth investing in a Bluetooth keyboard.
I bought and use the TeckNet keyboard for £13 and it works very well with my TESCO Hudl2.
Some covers have integrated keyboards but they tend to be more bulky or expensive.
How to buy a tablet
The prices in the tablet space are changing constantly. Do compare your options before you buy one. The good news is that in the £50 - £100 range, there are now a number of very decent tablets and you don’t have to worry about buying something unusable.
Note: I only personally tested a few of my recommendations. Look for other reviews before you make your decision.
Next week we will have a full review of the £50 Amazon Kindle Fire.