The tablet market is more crowded than ever. Use our eight tips to avoid buyers' remorse this holiday season.
3. Nothing beats hands-on experience.
Almost all tablets can handle surfing the Web, reading email, watching videos, and using social media. The two factors that most distinguish such similar devices UI and form factor, both of which are best judged through practical experience. It might be easier to shop online, but if you're considering buying a tablet sight-unseen, you might want to reconsider and head to a physical store.
When considering unconventional devices such as the Surface 2, hands-on experience is essential.
All of the major tablet OSes are usable once you're used to them -- but whether you'll enjoy using them is a much more subjective call. Some people are just going to like the look and feel of iOS or Android or the Windows 8.1 Start screen more than the look and feel of the others.
Form factor is also important. On paper, the Surface 2 and Lumia 2520 are in many ways identical, for example; they both run Windows RT 8.1; have similar display resolutions, weights and dimensions; and support third-party keyboards. But small changes can amount to a big difference. Do you prefer to hold your tablet? The smooth curves of the Lumia might feel better in your hand than the more industrial, relatively hard-edged Surface 2. Do you prefer to prop your tablet on a table? The Surface 2's kickstand might give it an edge.
4. How will your tablet fit into a larger ecosystem?
Tablets present self-contained appeal, but much of their value lies in the services and apps they let you access. In terms of apps, Android and iOS boast the deepest and widest catalogues, and Apple offers not only the largest number of tablet-optimized titles but also the simplest and most successful model for OS upgrades. Some Android OEMs, such as Samsung and Amazon, add additional apps of their own to further differentiate their devices.
But an ecosystem is more than just touch apps. Only Windows tablets can fully tap into the Office 365 cloud, for example, and though Microsoft's SkyDrive service is cross-platform, it's easier to use on Windows devices because it's baked directly into the file structure. Apple's iCloud, in contrast, can't be accessed on non-Apple devices, but if your household includes any Macs or an Apple TV, iCloud keeps you content up-to-date across the range.
5. Do you want polish or technology's bleeding edge?
More than a few reviewers have praised the iPad Air and iPad Mini with retina display as the best all-around tablets on the market. But depending on your view, the thing that makes Apple products so broadly appealing could also make iPads a non-starter.
This consideration includes not only which new technologies are implemented but also how well the implementation is executed. Apple burst onto the virtual assistant landscape with Siri, for example, but many feel the technology hasn't advanced as much as hoped. If you want a personal assistant that will predict your needs, Android's Google Now might be a better option -- if you're comfortable giving it free reign to monitor your e-mail, calendars and other personal data. Windows tablets don't yet feature this sort of personal assistant, but they feature Bing Smart Search, which is a differentiating technology in its own right, and one can only assume that the natural language capabilities in Microsoft's Xbox One will eventually find their way into Windows tablets that obey voice commands.
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