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Christmas Tablet Buyers Guide

Struggling to make heads or tails of the tablet market or just simply looking for help to make your decision easier, check out Tom's guide to tablets


The popularity of tablets continues to increase, rapidly replacing the traditional PC or Laptop as the go-to device for internet browsing, checking the news and posting updates to Facebook. With the latest batch of tablets serious gaming is also starting to become a reality, while tablets excel with puzzle games such as Bejewelled and Angry Birds titles such as Infinity Blade give the current generation of games consoles a run for their money on graphical quality and immersion.

2013 has been a vintage year for tablet buyers so it is no surprise that it is expected 53.4% more tablets will be sold this year than last. Go back to just last Christmas and there was really only a couple of tablets worth buying in the Apple iPad and Google Nexus 7, the year before the iPad stood on its own as the only tablet to seriously consider. This Christmas however there are a multitude of tablets worth considering for any budget, ranging from around £50 budget tablets right up to £1000+ professional grade tablets, it can be a bit of a minefield if you do not know the lingo’ used but CCL are here to help.

By the end of this guide you should be able to narrow your choices down to which operating system is right for you, which screen size and type you should buy and what your budget should be depending on what you want to do with the tablet – you might be surprised how far your money goes in 2013!


Operating Systems

In this first page I will take a look at the pros and cons of the 3 main tablet operating systems.

The three main operating systems to consider are Apple’s iOS used on the iPads, Google’s Android used on a wide variety of tablets and Microsoft’s Windows and Windows RT operating systems which are no longer confined to just business.


Apple iOS

Apple started the current tablet boom, the original iPad revolutionised how people use and perceive tablets and in one fell swoop killed off Netbooks (who remembers them?) and limited the market for entry level laptops and relegated the desktop PC to specialised tasks in offices and for enthusiasts or gamers at home.
iOS is the operating system that the iPad uses and it is one of the easiest systems to use especially for first time users. Children will have no problem using it with its large well-spaced icons and easy to navigate menus. It has had a re-design in 2013 with iOS 7 and it now sports a clean and elegant look with useful upgrades to features such as multitasking and notifications.
iOS is easily accessible but that comes at a price, it does not have the breadth of features. Android lets you tweak and change settings a lot more than iOS does letting you get things exactly as you like. However this makes Android harder to use especially during the first few days and more complex than iOS.

With Apple revolutionising the tablet market this also has given them a head-start on gaining market share and the support of developers making the App Store one of the iPad’s biggest strengths. With getting on for half a million quality apps and magazines optimised specifically for the iPad their claims that there is an App for everything are very close to being true. Android and Windows are still a very long way behind in this area.

The cost of the Apple iPad’s can be eye watering when you consider that the storage on the iPads cannot be upgraded by adding a memory card at a later date, something that many Android and Windows tablets allow. The latest iPad Air and the new Retina iPad Mini are some of the most expensive tablets available for their size. If you like travelling with lots of photos, music and videos you will need to invest extra money in one of the larger capacity tablets or risk not having enough space.

• The Apple App store has the biggest range of tablet optimised apps
• Easy to use interface, very user friendly
• Great build quality and high specifications
• Apple Support is a step ahead of Google or Microsoft’s
• Available in 7.8” and 9.7” sizes
• Good battery life on all models

• High price even for the basic model
• Unable to add additional storage
• Not very customisable


Google Android


Anyone who used an Android tablet from just a year or two ago would not recognise it today, with an easier to user interface and far higher quality tablets available at every price point, although you still have to be careful as there are some dreadful Android tablets still available to buy.

Android tablets are usually priced much more competitively than Apple iPads or tablets based on Microsoft Windows. While this can often mean the hardware is of a lower quality if you hunt around there are some real gems available. It may also be worth considering one of the high end Android tablets that has been manufacturer refurbished; there is no better value for money way to buy a tablet this Christmas.

The customisation of Android is often mentioned as one of the key benefits and for good reason. You can dive into Android and play around with settings and tweaks for hour after hour, with customisation options available for the home screens and look and feel of the operating system that Apple’s iOS can only dream of. For example you can configure an Android tablet with widgets to check you emails or to show and respond to the latest activity on your Twitter feed. This can make Android harder to learn on all but the very best Android tablets.

The Google Play Store is the Android equivalent to Apple’s App Store and has improved greatly over the past couple of years, although most of the apps are only optimised for the use on a phone and not a tablet – a distinct disadvantage compared to the Apple App Store. This just means the apps do not always make the best use of larger screens, this means in practice than a 7” Android tablet are often better to use than a 10” one because the screen is closer in size to a mobile phone. The number of tablet optimised apps is increasing each day on the Google Play Store but it is a long way behind the Apple App Store in this key area. Quality control can be an issue on the Google Play Store as they allow anyone to freely post their apps up, this is great for innovation but sometimes some malicious apps can sneak through. Not a huge issue but something you need to be aware of.
Android is a fully open operating system, with manufacturers free to customise and create their own user experience, this often means that no two Android tablets are ever exactly alike. This can range from a different browser being installed, manufacturer apps and games being installed to more extreme modifications such as separate app stores to replace the Google Play Store, it is normally best to avoid Android tablets that do not support the Google Play Store as it will limit the amount of apps you will be able to find and install. The customisation available for manufacturers is both a good and a bad thing, it means there is a lot of choice but also that the user experience could be not as smooth and fluid as a standard Android install – it all depends on the individual tablet to what your experience will be.

One of the best features of Android that is missing from Apple’s iOS are “user profiles”. It may sound simple but they are enormously useful for a family using the Android tablet as it allows children to have their own special user accounts with certain apps and settings locked safely out of reach. It is not fool proof and but it does provide an excellent bit of functionality for a family. Be aware that this feature only appeared in Android 4.3 so earlier tablets will not have this functionality unless an update is available.

Android tablets start from under £50.00 new with refurbished models available from around £30.00, fantastic value for money but you can spend around £200.00 for one of the very best Android tablets.

• Usually great value for money
• Highly customisable
• Separate user accounts for all the family
• Huge range of tablets to choose from

• Apps are not always optimised for bigger screens
• Slightly harder to use, more technical options
• Battery life can vary widely between different models
• Some Android tablets can be very poor quality


Microsoft Windows


Microsoft’s Windows operating system is ubiquitous, found on almost all desktop and laptop computers. While Microsoft were one of the original pioneers of the business tablet dating back over 10 years ago they never managed to make an all-conquering device that Apple did with the release of the iPad. It is only really since the release of Windows 8 last year that Windows has had a genuinely usable offering that makes sense on tablets.

Windows 8.1 comes in two different versions on tablets, Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT. Windows 8 is your full fat, fully featured version of Windows 8.1 that you will find on millions of desktops and laptops around the world, but optimised for touch use on tablets. This means that all the programs you use on a normal PC will work on a Windows 8.1 tablet too, in addition to apps you can purchase through the Windows App Store.

Due to running the full desktop Windows 8.1 experience, Windows 8.1 tablets have to be very powerful, increasing both the cost, weight and often speed at which the battery drains when compared with the Apple iPad and high-end Google Android tablets. A Windows 8.1 tablet has the potential to replace your laptop with the use of a Bluetooth keyboard and they are often the best choice for use by business users due to the software available for them.

Windows RT however is a cut-down heavily optimised version of Windows 8.1 only found on tablets. You do not have the flexibility of a full Windows install, just the tablet optimised bits. You can't for example use all the programs you would on a Windows 8.1 tablet, you are limited to just those available from the Windows App Store, but because it uses less power it is lighter and the battery usually lasts longer. The Windows App Store is still new and has the least amount available out of all the stores, but with Microsoft's support and focus the amount of apps is growing daily.

One of the main selling points of Windows RT tablets is that you get Microsoft Office included for free with them, an essential piece of software for most people on both desktops and laptops. However the lack of general apps on Windows RT makes it a difficult recommendation for everybody at this point.

Microsoft's implementation of user profiles betters Google Android's however, letting you control as much or little as you want for each profile. It gives you the flexibility to fully manage a 5 year olds experience limiting access to just a few apps whereas for the teenager in your family you may just wish to have some internet restrictions to control their browsing.

Windows and Windows RT tablets are a very highly polished and powerful choice – however due to the limited apps on the Windows App Store are the weakest option for a home user. If you must have full Office access they are an ideal, but this does limit them more to home-workers and business users.

• Microsoft Office included for free on RT models
• Run Windows Apps (on non-RT models)
• Able to be a full laptop / desktop replacement

• Limited choice of models compared to Android
• Trade-off between weight and performance on non-RT models
• Very limited number of tablet optimised apps
• High cost of non-RT tablets limit them to business users or pro-sumers

On Page two, I will be looking further into the hardware that is in a tablet and what you should be looking out for.