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Tablet Buyer’s Guide: all you need to know

evan kypreos


Tablet Buyer’s Guide: all you need to know

With their beautiful screens, portability and pure simplicity of use, tablets have become incredibly popular in a short space of time.

Just a few years ago you wouldn't want any other tablet than an Apple iPad, but things have changed a lot since then. There's now hundreds of tablets to choose from, ranging from £50 to upwards of £1000. That's a lot of choice, so we've put together this guide to help you make the right choice.

In it you'll find out:

1. Which tablet OS is best for you: Apple iOS, Google Android or Windows?

Each system has strengths and weaknesses. Apple iPads may be the most popular tablets, but that doesn't mean they're the best for everyone.

2. What size tablet is best for you: 7-inch, 8-inch or 10-inch?

Size makes a big difference when buying a tablet. We'll run you through the pros and cons of all the options.

3. How much you really need to spend and how you can save money

Knowing what you need will help you only spend as much as you need, and we have a few money-saving tips for you, too.

Finally, we'll run you through the common tablet jargon you need to know so you don't get bamboozled in store.

Want to find the top Christmas tablets? Head straight to our best tablets to buy right now. TrustedReviews tests hundreds of tablets every year so you don't have to and if we haven't tested it, it probably isn't worth buying.

iOS vs Android vs Windows: which is best for you?

There are three main types of tablet to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s look at them individually.

Apple iOS

iOS tablet: Apple iPad Air 2

In a nutshell:

  • Has considerably more tablet-optimised apps than others

  • User interface is easy to use but not very customisable

  • Tablets are pricey but very well made

  • iPads available with a 7.8-inch screen or a 9.7-inch one

Apple revolutionised the tablet with the original iPad, and iOS is the operating system that iPads run. iOS is one of the easiest systems to use – even children get it – and if you’re new to computing then it’s the best to get started on. It’s had a total redesign recently and iOS 8 looks simple, pretty and comes with some cool new features which make it easier to multitask.

One of the biggest benefits of the iPad and iOS is the App Store. With 750,000 quality apps and digital magazines optimised for the iPad, there really is an app for anything, from fitness to cooking and productivity to gaming. Android and Windows are still way behind in this area.

Another benefit of iOS is Apple’s support of it and its second-to-none customer service. If you have any issues with your iPad, just take it to the experts at any Apple Store and not only will they help you to set it up, but you can also attend free workshops to get the most out of it.

iOS isn't quite as feature-packed as Android, though. The latter lets you tweak and change settings a lot more than iOS does, but that also makes Android a little more complex and therefore harder to use.

So what’s the catch? It’s the price. The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 are still some of the most expensive tablets on the market for their size, and they don’t allow for external memory to be added like some Android and Windows tablets do. If you like travelling with lots of movies and music, you’ll need to pay a premium for the extra storage up front.

Google Android

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

In a nutshell:

  • Often cheaper than other tablets – especially the 7-inch models
  • Apps aren't always optimised for bigger screens
  • Very customisable you can make it look the way you want it to
  • User accounts allow for separate settings for each member of the family

Android has come on leaps and bounds since it first launched in 2008. Because it’s free for makers to use, there's a huge array of Android tablets to choose from. Some are excellent and some downright dreadful.

One of the biggest benefits of Android is its customisability. You can tinker with it to your heart’s content and set up your homepages just the way you want them. For example, you can have a widget to check your emails or a Twitter widget to see and respond to the latest tweets from your home screen. It sometimes means it's harder to find your way around, but that's not the case with the very best Android tablets.

The Google Play store is much better than it used to be, although most of the apps are designed for phones rather than tablets, which means they don't always make best use of larger screens. It also means 7-inch Android tablets are better to use than 10-inch ones, because the screen size is closer to a mobile phone.

Since Android is open-source, makers are free to customise it to create their own experience. This is a good and a bad thing: it means there's lots of variety, but also that some Android experiences aren't as smooth and easy to use as the standard 'vanilla' Android. Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest version of Android, has recently been released and it's a great improvement. It looks a lot more contemporary and has some great new features, but also comes with a few niggles that will take some time to sort out.

Another potential problem is the lack of quality of control in the Google Play app store, which occasionally leads to some malicious apps sneaking through. It's a small problem, however, that a little common sense can avoid.

One example of a brand that customises Android heavily is Amazon with its Kindle tablets. Amazon goes so far as to make its own core apps and run its own Amazon Appstore, which unfortunately isn't as well stocked as the Google Play store supported by most Android tablets. This is offset with excellent access to Amazon's services, but they're not as flexible.

Our favourite feature of Android, and something you don't get on iOS, is support for 'user profiles'. User profiles let you give your tablet to your kids, for example, but keep certain apps and settings locked safely away. It’s not fool-proof, but it does provide some level of security. Be aware, though, that this feature is only available on Android version 4.3 or later. Most tablets run earlier versions, but should get the upgrade at some point. If you want this feature, check which version of Android the tablet uses – our list will note what version is installed by default.

The other most impressive feature of Android tablets is their price. You can get high-spec 7-inch Android tablets for less than £200 – much cheaper than any iPad.

Microsoft Windows

Surface Pro 3

Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

In a nutshell:

  • Not that much choice compared to Android

  • Very limited number of quality tablet apps

Although Windows has been around for ages, it’s only since the touchscreen-optimised Windows 8 appeared last year that it made sense to use it on tablets.

Because Windows 8 has so much functionality, Windows tablets need to be very powerful. This means they tend to be more expensive, heavier and have less battery life than their Android and iOS counterparts, although improvements to their processors mean this is less of an issue now than it was in the past. Essentially Windows 8 tablets can replace a laptop and often come with keyboard attachments so they can be used just like one.

Microsoft goes one better than Android when it comes to user profiles, though. You can control as much or as little as you want for each profile. So for a 5-year-old you might want to set up 'Kid’s Corner' that makes the tablet child-friendly and shows only the apps you want, whereas for a teenager you might want to just ensure some Internet restrictions are in place.

Windows tablets are a good option if you must have full Office access, but of the three platforms it gives the poorest user experience.

Continue to Page 2 to help you decide what size to buy and how to save money


November 11, 2013, 8:58 pm

Fudu Banda , Microsoft or Apple only
Surface 2 is full hd, full of apps I need, price wise it's awesome starting from 269 with office preinstalled, torrent download is there , YouTube downloader, Xbox games , no need of internet security like android , podcasts and everything I need really


November 11, 2013, 10:57 pm

That price is for the original Surface RT from last year not the Surface 2 and certainly not the Surface Pro 2. The Surface RT is not Full-HD it is 1,366 x 768. It's a nice bit of kit for the price but apps are limited.


November 12, 2013, 1:11 pm

"Apple iPads may be the most popular brand of tablets..."

Even in developed markets, such as the UK and US, Android is now outselling Apple.

Okay, I bought an iPad Air at launch, but that doesn't mean I like to see misinformation spread!


Mhe She

November 12, 2013, 1:38 pm

Evan, the latest Bay Trail Windows tablets are as light as Ipad and Android tablets and are expected to last 8 to 10 hours. They are no longer more expensive. Lenovo Miix 2 and Dell Venue pro 8 are $ 300! Finally, Office is free even on full Windows 8 tablets upto 11 inch screens!


November 12, 2013, 1:42 pm

We haven't tested any of those yet, thought. We'll hold the parade until we've seen if they live up to their billing.


November 14, 2013, 10:34 am

Android is not a brand, it's an OS. The Apple iPad is still by far the most popular brand of tablet - it even says that in the link you posted.


November 26, 2013, 5:42 pm

What's the best kind of tablet to get for the family to use. Our kids are 10, 9, 7, and 2. Our 2 yr old uses the apps on our phones so we thought if we got a family tablet we'd get the kids off our phones:)


November 27, 2013, 9:55 am

I'd say a 7-inch tablet, probably an Android one Like the Tesco Hudl where you won't mind too much if it gets a few bumps and scrapes. It's a good size for children.

Hope that helps.

FirestoneX .

November 28, 2013, 12:38 pm

Back in my day we had Gameboys. No way am I going to let my kid get a tablet.


December 3, 2013, 4:37 pm

As Andy says the Tesco Hudl is good. The Kindle HDX 7 and 8.9 are also good if you're concerned about internet safety as they have an app called Playtime that restricts access to only those things you allow. It's only just launched so it's not in this guide but I'll be updating it shortly.


December 4, 2013, 8:17 pm

Nexus 10 is my best guess for you. It is well built so it can take the regular wear kids are going to put on it. It also has a multiple user account functionality so they can each have different accounts as well as you. I bought it months ago and it is awesome still.


December 21, 2013, 6:26 am

If I am going to use the tablet for work (will use mostly excel and word) and at home for Netflix and surfing the web, which one would you recommend?


January 16, 2014, 3:18 am

In the U.S. you can get 4G service for a tablet on a month to month basis-no contract.


January 31, 2014, 1:17 am

What tablet do you recommend for work (work, powerpoint, excel, etc) and for photography and editing (adobe lightroom, photoshop, and aftereffects). im not really concerned about budget as long as its under $1'500. Any recommendations ?


January 31, 2014, 2:05 am

Looking for excellent sound and largest screen to be used for streaming
movies, storing and playing music including streaming music. No gaming. No Windows 8.
Does a particular one or two come to mind for you? Thank you!


February 18, 2014, 2:45 am

I'm mainly looking for a larger-sized tablet for word-processing and accessing the internet. Possibly with a built-in or detachable keyboard. Any recommendations? Thank you!


February 18, 2014, 8:56 am

Worth considering a Surface 2, then. It has its weaknesses, but for word processing and so forth it's very good: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

Alternatively, if you'd prefer full Windows, consider the Asus Transformer Book T100: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...


March 7, 2014, 8:03 am

Looking for a 10in tablet for someone elderly to read newspapers and have a kindle app on any suggestions


March 7, 2014, 8:31 am

For pure simplicity you can't beat an iPad, especially for anyone who isn't experienced with tech. You probably don't need to buy one of the latest ones, though, and might be worth considering an iPad mini if you think something lighter would be preferable. The trade-off, of course, is that it's not so good for anyone who is short sighted.


March 24, 2014, 8:19 pm

kindle fire HDX fits your needs to a T


April 18, 2014, 4:34 am

I think the samsung galaxy tab pro 10.1 will be good for work,
If you are really serious about work and battery and streaming and huge size, I'd say go for the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. Or, if you are an apple person definitely go with the new Ipad air

Bella Batali

June 21, 2014, 1:13 am

im wresting with what size tablet to buy right now. i'd love to get a 10 inch so it can substitute as a pc on the go and hook a keyboard up to it however for lounging on the couc or reading in bed or even on the go i imagine a 7 inch is perfect as you can hold it in one hand. cant decide which way to go. almost thinking about being chepa and getting a kindle fire instead of a real tab but i dont think ill be happy with it not being able to do everything i want.


June 24, 2014, 1:09 pm

It is a tricky decision. 7-inch tablets are dead cheap at the moment and you can get a little keyboard case for some of the more popular models so don't think that you can't be productive on one. obviously a bigger screen is useful. Both the Kindle Fire HDX and HDX 8.9 are good tablets but they do have that heavy Amazon UI and own app store that is a bit annoying. It's not too bad but I prefer normal Android.

Juliet Castle Wilks

June 28, 2014, 3:59 pm

Hi I am looking to buy a tablet for one of my sons - one has the tesco hudl but it has issues with wifi connection when all other gadgets say, xbox, ipad, phones laptop etc work fine the hudl keeps disconnecting sooo I want to buy something else but not too expensive - my son wants it for skype and you tube primarily - which one would be best please in your opinion?


July 12, 2014, 3:16 am

What tablet or detachable laptop/tablet do you recommend for word processing and for viewing images downloaded from my SLR camera. I'd like to have convenience of adobe lightroom, and photoshop elements on it too. Budget....under $1,500 or thereabouts. Any recommendations ?

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