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Tablet Buyer’s Guide: all you need to know

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The beautiful screens, portability and simplicity of tablets mean they’re great to use and have become incredibly popular.

It wasn’t so long ago there was only one tablet you should consider buying, Apple’s iPad. But things have changed a lot in the last couple of years. There's now a multitude of tablets, ranging from £50 to upwards of £1,000, that are well worth considering.

Our plain english guide is here to help you make your choice as simple and pain-free as possible.

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 brand of tablets, but that doesn't mean they're the best for everyone.

2. What size tablet is best for you: 7-inch or 10-inch?
Size makes a big difference when buying a tablet. We'll run you through the pros and cons of both 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.

If you'd rather just find out which are the best tablets, you can head straight to our top tablets to buy for Christmas list. TrustedReviews tests hundreds of tablets every year so you don't have to and if we haven't tested it, it isn't worth buying.

Want to find the top Christmas tablets: Click here

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

iPad Air
iOS Tablet: Apple iPad Air
Key points:
  • 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 runs it. iOS is one of the easiest systems to use, even children get it, and if you’re new to computing then it’s one of the best to get started on. It’s had a total redesign recently with iOS 7 and it looks simple and pretty, but more importantly some useful features have been added such as easier access to multitasking and settings.

One of the biggest benefits of the iPad and iOS is the App Store. With almost half a million 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 second-to-none customer service. If you have any issues with your iPad just take it to the experts at any Apple Store, not only will they help you set it up, you can also attend free workshops to get the most out of it.

iOS is not quite as feature-packed as Android, though. It 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? Simple it’s the price. The iPad Air and new iPad mini are still some of the most expensive tablets on the market for their size and 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 Note 10.1
Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
Key points:

  • Often cheaper than other tablets – especially 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 is a huge array of Android tablets to choose from, some 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 on from your home screen. It sometimes means it's harder to learn, 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 not 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.

Because Android is open, 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 choice, but also some aren't as smooth and easy to use as standard 'vanilla' Android. Another potential problem is the lack of quality of control in the app store, which occasionally leads to some malicious apps sneaking through. It's a small problem, however, that a little common sense can avoid it.

One example of a brand that customises Android heavily is Amazon's Kindle tablets. Amazon goes so far as to make its own core apps and run its own app store, 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 no as flexible.

Our favourite feature of Android, 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 his 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

Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Key points:
  • Not that much choice compared to Android
  • Two versions: Windows RT (tablets apps only) and full Windows 8
  • Very limited number of quality tablet apps
  • Windows RT tablets come with Microsoft Office for free
Although Windows has been around for ages it’s only since Windows 8 appeared last year that it makes sense to use it on tablets. To confuse matters Microsoft has created two versions of Windows for tablets, Windows 8 and Windows RT. What’s the difference? Well Windows 8 is your full-fat windows – it’s exactly the same operating system you get on your home PC or laptop, but optimised for touch use on tablets. That means all the programs you use on a normal PC will work on a Windows 8 tablet, too. 

Because Windows 8 can do a lot the tablet needs to be very powerful. This means that Windows 8 tablets are more expensive, heavier and have less battery-life than their Android and iOS counterparts. Essentially Windows 8 tablets can replace a laptop and often come with keyboard attachments so they can be used just like one.

Windows RT, on the other hand, is a cut-down version of Windows 8. You can’t use all the apps you would on a Windows 8 tablet, but because it uses less power it’s lighter and the battery lasts longer. Unfortunately there are far fewer apps available for Windows RT than there are for the other operating systems, for example a Facebook app has only just been released. It’s taking a while to take off but Microsoft is supporting it so there’s sure to be more to come.

One of the biggest benefits of Windows RT is that you get Microsoft Office bundled free with it, but other than that it’s difficult to recommend as an operating system because of its lack of maturity and app support.

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 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's the weakest.

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

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