Buying Guide: Tablets

The onslaught of the tablet is upon us. The market is gearing up for the various launches of these devices and the tech community has already embraced the technology with open arms. So if you’re thinking of investing in a tablet PC then here are a few tips you should keep in mind before purchase.

Form Factor
Since a tablet PC is considerably larger than your mobile phone, except for the Dell Streak which is manageable, keep in mind the weight factor. Screen sizes will differ obviously, ranging anywhere from between 5 and 10 inches give or take. Resolutions of these displays will also vary, but needless to say viewing should not be an issue. What you should keep in mind, especially with these larger displays is whether it’s scratch resistant. If not, which is unlikely, make it a point to get a screen guard. These will be out in a little while and shouldn’t be too expensive. From our sources; they could range between Rs. 250 to Rs. 600, depending on the quality.

They come in all sizes

Now although the generic tablet PC is not designed to more than a few millimeters in depth, select carefully as you’ll be the one carting it around with you everywhere. With regards to the other aspects of the design, make sure that the device comes with USB ports for tethering it to your handset if necessary or connecting a pen drive to it to access additional data.

Another aspect to keep in mind is memory. Make sure that the device you buy comes with sufficient internal memory for all your media and data, and it should also be able to support more if necessary via memory cards.

OS and upgrades
The initial battle between the operating systems of these devices will be waged internally between those using the Android platform. Apple of course has their own OS and BlackBerry’s PlayBook will also come bearing its own OS and customized UI. Since the table PC is essentially an extension of the mobile phone, the company’s UI will not be any different from their mobile phone’s version. This gives you the option of selecting one that you find the most comfortable to use. If you’ve been using Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 on their phones, switching to a larger version is not going to be an issue.

Standardized connectivity ports

Also make sure that the out-of-the-box OS is upgradeable to the next firmware version. The Dell Streak ships in India with Android 1.6 and the official OTA update to 2.1 will be out only in November. So if it’s the Android OS, just keep the future in mind.

In my opinion, a tablet PC is quiet like a large mobile phone. The OlivePad, for example, has all the functionality of a standard Android mobile handset including the ability to make and take calls. The same goes for the Dell Streak which is, of course, a lot easier to use in this circumstance as it’s significantly smaller and lighter; you won’t necessarily need to use the handsfree for calls. Other modes of connectivity, should the device not be a GSM enabled tablet, should at least include some mode of internet access. This could be by way of Wi-Fi (preferably with DLNA networking support) or 3G/EDGE/GPRS (via SIM). If it’s not built in, the option to tether it to a mobile should at least be available. This is necessary since the tablet PC could very well replace your laptop or netbook while traveling. Some of the upcoming devices will also feature VoIP calling via Skype or other apps.

GPS has become a prerequisite since it seems we get lost too often

GPS should also be part of the deal, because, let’s face it; most of the tablet’s that’ll make it out soon aren’t going to be too cheap. So make sure navigation software other than Google Maps (not that there’s anything wrong with Google Maps) is also included. Bluetooth will most likely be a part of a Tablet’s make up, but keep it in mind nevertheless. A2DP capability would also be a very handy option. 

Since all tablet PCs can easily double up into larger media players, keep in mind that whatever it is you look for in multimedia handset (check here for our Multimedia Handset Buying Guide), you should look for in this device. The audio player’s quality should be satisfactory and volume loud enough to be heard comfortably even in noisy locations (those are easy to find in this country, ask any commuter). If the device is capable of reading DivX and XviD coded video files, that’s a bonus. An FM radio would also make a handy addition.

It's a camera with a super large view-finder

Quite a few of the upcoming tablets are also going to be equipped with cameras. Resolutions will vary but 2MP should be the minimum. If you’re looking for one with a higher resolution then try and make sure there are sufficient settings and it’s an autofocus camera (preferably).

Misc. Functions
Built in apps should include a few business features like document (PDF) readers, a calendar that syncs with your Google or other accounts to keep you updated for all your appointments, anniversaries etc. Gaming is also a very different experience on a tablet device considering the large display. Preloaded games are great, but if none are available, access to online stores for games and apps should be available via the device itself. Syncing your contacts with social networks is also a handy feature to have amongst others.

Battery Life
This is of course the one of the most vital bits of hardware to consider before purchase. Seeing we haven’t been able to test too many of these devices as they’re only just making it to the shelves, it’s not easy to define a benchmark. But my estimate is that you should be able to use the device for a whole day (minimum) without a recharge. If it supports calls, 4 hours of talk time is what I would expect at the very least.

Finally, the last thing to keep in mind is accessories. For a device like this, keeping it safe and unscathed a case is quite necessary. Bundled handsfree kits might not always be the best choice, so you could opt for an A2DP compatible Bluetooth headset if the device supports it or simply get yourself a better wired kit. Other accessories like external keyboards and docks are also handy devices to have with a tablet.

Accessories Galore

If I’ve missed something, please feel free to share it with me and the other readers via the comments section below.

Published Date: Oct 29, 2010 04:25 pm | Updated Date: Oct 29, 2010 04:25 pm