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Tablet Shopping Guide: 8 Tips

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.
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.

That is, Apple exerts tight control over its OS and ecosystem, limiting what app developers can do and deliberately bypassing technologies that the company finds overhyped, such as NFC support. Apple's tight grasp has generally made iOS an enjoyable, refined experience in which things work like they're supposed to, and which users have found to be very intuitive. But the tactic has also made iOS aggravating to anyone who wants to step outside Apple's walled garden. In terms of user customizability and support for bleeding-edge technologies, both Android and Windows devices are more open, if also marked by rougher edges.

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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User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2013 | 10:19:07 AM
Re: Never Surface RT
This is very informative and it gives good insight about table shopping which is valuable at present.
User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2013 | 9:06:07 AM
The First Gentleman had it right
I do reviews for a big company online. After testing dozens of tablets it easy to see where people are misled by people pushing tablets. This wasn't a bad article. It didn't really push anything. The best kind. I really think Apple and Android are the same at this point. It really has to do with the echo system. This is where some people don't understand. There are Rolls Royces and there are Pintos. For the young people those are cars. From the very Rich to the very poor. Apple only come in one flavor. Size is the only difference. With Android Some tablets are Bad to Bone some are not. Some have big screens some have small screens. Top Android tablet should be compared to Apple not the other way. It isn't hard to beat a pinto if your driving a Rolls. Windows who..... Thats just made me think..They are not even in the game.... If they do anything with the product it will be two years before they can even reach the same level. The first guy had it right all the way around. Oh I have Every tablet worth having. From Ipad to the Google. 18 tablet so far. I really love the devices.


User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2013 | 4:40:03 AM
Never Surface RT
I recently have a chance to compare Galaxy Notes 10.1 2014 and the new Windows Surface RT. Honestly there are not playing on the same ligue. The Samsung way outperformed the Surface RT on every aspect ( except Office). For people who really need Office, Polaris and particularly  QuickOffice are good enough alternative. Regarding MS compatibility aspect, QuickOffice is the best, then King Soft which is also free. In one hand, you have more than 1 million applications and other other hand, you have only 140.000. Not to mention that the new Surface RT is still very laggy  with Tegra 4.
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2013 | 4:41:05 PM
some bargains
I would like to recommend to those constrain by a tight budget and still want to see what all the fuss is about the tablets, the $50-$100 price range ones.
You won't have the experience of an iPad, a Surface or (a high quality) Android, but for children, beginners; surf the web, emails, play games or watch some video are really good bargains.
Google Play is even available in some of them; which is a must have.
Some super store that I prefer not to mention has a couple of 7" for less than 70 bucks.
Not a bad deal if you ask me.
User Rank: Author
11/29/2013 | 9:17:25 AM
Tablet shopping surprises
The iPad retina display is the biggest example of "you must see it in person." I am using the original iPad mini (sans retina display) and loving it, but friends who have become accustomed to the retina can't go back. What else have people been suprised by in person while tablet shopping this weekend?
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