How to buy a tablet

Tablets are everywhere today, and many more are on the way. We tell you what to consider, before you buy

As more tablets come to market, be prepared to be wowed by the power that some of these slates are capable of. You'll find plenty of models out there, including tablets with impressive dual-core processors or even quad-core chips. And many tablets can satisfy specific needs. The iPad 2 shines bright, but it isn't the only star in the tablet universe.

Be aware, however, that the lower-end models you may see advertised at rock-bottom prices come with lots of gotchas. The following three key points are critical to keep in mind before you buy.

1. You Get What You Pay For

The supercheap tablets you see advertised around the Web carry those low prices for a reason. Typically they lack the processing power, memory, display quality, or responsiveness (or some combination thereof) to provide a satisfying experience. Not that tablets should be all about specs, but right now, if you're going to buy, do pay close attention to specs. Single-core models, or those with CPUs offering a clock rate less than 1GHz, are going to be slow performers. In addition, watch out for resistive touchscreens, which generally lag in responsiveness, and for low-resolution displays.

The one bonus: None of these inexpensive models require a service contract with a carrier, so you'll have the option to ditch your first tablet with less pain than if you had signed a contract.

2. Service Contracts Risk Your Ability to Upgrade

While it's possible to get a tablet via a service carrier without a contract, you'll pay more for that privilege. The unfortunate reality is that many tablets--especially those that have 3G connectivity--are tied to contract obligations with mobile broadband service carriers. That means that if you buy a tablet today with a carrier contract, you won't be eligible for an upgrade anytime soon. Never mind the two-year wait for a contract to expire; in the tablet universe, the technology is evolving so rapidly that the market will shift again in six months, let alone one or two years. For example, tablets based on Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 and quad-core Tegra 3 chips came out in the same year.

Before signing up, get a sense that the unit you're buying is the one you want, and not just a stopgap until the next great thing comes along (though something is always around the corner). The amount you save up front may not offset what you'll pay down the road--and the freedom to change devices may be something it's not worth putting a price on.

3. For Android Tablets, Look for Google Services

Let me preface this by saying that a number of alternative app stores are around, such as GetJar and Amazon's Appstore. But the bottom line is, they're not the official Google Android Market. Having the Android Market on a device--along with other Google services such as those for maps and email--just makes using an Android tablet more fluid, and stronger on the whole. The "Google Experience" encourages a certain consistency and expectation of what you're going to get, so if you're bothering to plop down the bucks for a tablet now, consider that the more complete and well-rounded your experience, the more likely it is that you'll love your tablet. Think of what has made Apple's iPad so strong beyond the easy-to-use interface: It's the simplicity of accessing a deep array of apps.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?