Demystifying Tablets: Which is Right for You?
Feeling the itch to upgrade the technology we own is a common complaint. We've owned numerous desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones (then smart phones) and have replaced them periodically with newer, faster models. While we’re excited to see the market that has been born out of the initial iPad craze, the more practical and frugal among us dread the possible lackluster early-market purchase. Tablets are a new commodity that haven't had a lot of time to prove themselves. Everyone from the big dogs like Motorola and Blackberry down to the smaller names like Archos and Viewsonic are making them. How do you know if you need one, and which one should you buy?
Day to Day Usage
Just like any other technology purchase, before you are overwhelmed by a snazzy online product description or a persuasive salesman at your local big box electronic store, it’s a good idea to take into account what you’ll be doing on your tablet. Will you use a tablet every day? Will you be reading books or magazines on it, or will you be keeping up with specialty work applications? Is it just for business or pleasure?
The Casual User
The Nook Color is a cheap option for people that read a lot of e-books and want WiFi for browsing the web. Another inexpensive tablet that comes jam-packed with entertainment features is the Archos Arnova 8. Sure the 800 MHz processor is a little puny, and the 4GB on-board memory is a little lackluster, but it comes preloaded with Android 2.2, plays 720p video and can play music through built-in speakers. If you’re looking for the ability to read books, magazines and occasionally browse the web, a low-end tablet will probably work well for you. The less expensive tablets lack the processing capability of a laptop or high end device, so they’re not well suited to those that will be using them for graphic-heavy games or work that requires a lot of processing power.
The Super User
Do you see yourself playing videos, chatting and flinging spherical birds at obstacles, all at the same time? Or do you see yourself carrying a tablet in your backpack to check work email, or to check on specialized projects back at the office? If so, a more feature-laden tablet is probably more your speed. The default option for many is the iPad 2. It' the go-to tablet due to its energy efficient dual-core Atom A5 processor, super fast graphics and of course all the Apple apps we've come to know and love. Its predecessor, the iPad, set the bar for tablets and manufacturers are quickly trying to compete. Acer and HTC has announced intentions to market new tablets to compete with the iPad 2.
Another souped-up contender is the Motorola Xoom. It's going for around $569 and runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). It also packs a 1 GHz Nvidia dual-core processor, and a 10.1” screen, which makes it more powerful than your average netbook, while still maintaining about the same screen size. It also has built-in Bluetooth for all of your wireless devices, and Wi-Fi so you can stay connected at all times.
Is it the Right Time to Buy?
I've taken an obnoxious amount of time to scrutinize many of the tablets that are available -- playing with the demo models at the store and ruthlessly comparing their specs to one another -- yet still do not own one. What I've found is that while my work does not require a lot of processing power, I do require a nice physical keyboard for non-stop typing. Soft keyboards, even on the high-end iPad 2, are not suited for the amount of typing and accuracy my work requires. And while you could plug in a keyboard, I find that it defeats the purpose of having a nice, light tablet to carry around without a lot of excess. Finally, my frugal heart loves my old Wi-Fi Nook for reading (I love reading books in e-Ink) and I’ve not found a lot of tasks that I can’t perform on my laptop. In fact, I’ve resigned myself to carting around a laptop until the tablet comes along that can out-perform it. I have faith that such a tablet will exist in the near future, and I'm willing to wait. But I can see the appeal to the avid traveler, or the person that does not need a lot of screen real estate. They’re a great option for someone that wants a larger version of a smart phone at their fingertips. For those individuals, they’re hard to beat.