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Tablet Buyer’s Guide: what size tablet should I buy?

What size tablet should I buy?

Tablets are, with one or two excpetions, smaller and ligher than laptops: that's why they're so popular. They predominantly come in two screen sizes, around 7-inch or 10-inch. Each has its own strength and weaknesses and fundamentally changes the way you use your tablet.

To help you choose, think about the following things:

1. How often will the tablet leave the house?
Will you use it mostly at home on the sofa or in bed, or do you plan to take it everywhere and use it when commuting?

2. What's the primary thing you want to do?
Both sizes are good for the basics like web browsing. It's when you think about other tasks, such as reading, videos and playing games, where the differences are more pronounced.

3. How much are you willing to spend?
The bigger the tablet, the more expensive it'll be. If you only have a little to spend you may have to go for a smaller, 7-inch tablet.

iPad Air and Nexus 7
The 7-inch Nexus 7 compared on top of the 9.7-inch iPad Air

7-inch Tablets: Pros and Cons

Key points:
  • Very portable and comfortable to hold with in one hand
  • Cheaper than 10-inch versions, some cost £100 or less
  • Best for reading books and commuting
  • Small screen makes browsing the internet a bit trickier
  • Not the best for digital magazines and newspapers
Most of the 7-inch tablets available are Android and Apple iPads. They are some smaller Windows tablets but they're relatively new and not all of them are on sale yet.

The advantages of 7-inch tablets are primarily their portability. They’re much lighter than bigger tablets, but still come with great quality screens, plenty of storage and fast processors. They’re also cheap – you can get a decent 7-inch tablet for around £120, but they do go up to £600 for a fully kitted out iPad mini 2

7-inch tablets are great for using on the go, whether on a commute or holidaying on a sunny beach. The high quality screens and long battery life mean they can even substitute as eBook readers. Because the screen is smaller you may find it a little difficult to navigate some websites, particularly if your eyesight isn’t 20/20. They’re also not the best for watching movies or TV programs, again because of the screen size but also because the speakers tend to be quite weak and tinny. Headphones solve that issue, though. 

Finally you’ll struggle to use a 7-inch tablet well for productivity. While you can get keyboard docks for some of them the screen and keyboard size means that they’re not comfortable for writing for long periods of time.

10-inch Tablets: Pros and Cons

Key points:
  • Large screen is good for TV, video and visually impaired
  • Best for reading newspapers and magazines
  • Better for producitivty, especially with a keyboard
  • More expensive than 7-inch tablets
  • Heavier and therefore less portable
10-inch tablets are a fair bit heavier and more difficult to handle than 7-inch ones, but are also more versatile in terms of productivity and enjoying TV, online videos, newspapers and magazines. 

The high resolution 10-inch screens are great for watching movies and the extra space means that better speakers can be included. You can happily watch programs with another person on one. Electronic magazines come to life on the bigger screen and you can view high resolution image galleries in all their glory and interact with articles in exciting new ways. 

Some 10-inch tablets also come with keyboard docks that makes them a useful writing and productivity tool. Great examples of these are the Android-running Asus Transformer and the Windows Microsoft Surface 2. Apple does not make a keyboard for the iPad, but there are many of other companies that do, which means you can make it work like a laptop, too.

Other things to consider

What screen resolution is best? Does it matter?
The screen resolution of the tablet makes a big difference to how clear it is and really affects your experience. Any 7-inch tablet with a 'Full HD' screen should be great, but some tablets are brighter and are less reflective than others, which means they’re better suited to using outside on sunny days. It's worth trying this our in the store by tilting the screen towards the overhead lights.

10-inch tablets can have much higher resolution displays. The screens of the Nexus 10 and iPad Air are particularly strong and provide an excellent tablet experience with razor sharp and readable text.

By contrast, similarly priced laptops tend to have much lower resolution displays that can look dull and grainy. 

What is 'screen ratio' and difference does it make?
Screen ration simply refers to the 'shape' of the screen. For example, most modern TVs and laptops are 16:9 (aka widescreen), while old CRT TVs are 4:3.

Most Android tablets favour a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio so they’re quite tall and thin. This means the black bars that appear when watching widescreen movies are minimised. On 7-inch tablets this ratio makes tablets feel more like books when held in portrait, so are more comfortable for reading. On 10-inch tablets, however, this can lead to them feeling too tall and unwieldy, while it's not the ideal shape for web pages, newspapers and magazines

iPads, on the other hand, have a 4:3 aspect ratio. The big black bars you may get when watching movies are offset by the benefit of a squarer screen while browsing the internet and using apps or playing games. It's a shape that works best for newspapers and magazines, too.

Is it worth buying tablet with 3G/4G?
Most tablets come in two versions, a Wi-Fi only and a Wi-Fi and 4G and/or 3G option. Wi-Fi only means that you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection to use the internet, whether at home or in a café. 

4G tablets allow you to insert a SIM card so that you can use a mobile network to have internet access wherever you can get a signal. 

You’ll need a subscription, though. 4G used to be pricey but you can now get it for £15.00 a month on EE for 2GB of data. That should be enough, unless you often use your tablet to stream TV or movies on the move. 

All 4G tablets can also use a 3G connection. 3G is an older technology and therefore slower than 4G. It is cheaper though, around £7.50 for 1GB for 30 days on Three or £10 on O2. 

One thing we do keep hearing from tablet owners is that they wish they’d bought one with mobile internet rather than a Wi-Fi only. If you commute you should really consider a 3G or 4G tablet with a connection.

How much storage do I need?
If you like to have a lot of music or movies on your tablet you will need a lot of storage. Storage is measured in gigabytes (GB). 32GB is ample for most users but some tablets come with the option of adding some storage via a microSD card. These are bought separately and are relatively cheap.

Only some Android and Windows tablets come with a microSD slot, you don't get the option on iPads, which means extra storage can be costly. If you get a tablet with only limited storage, say 8GB, check to make sure it accepts microSD cards. If it doesn't, don't buy it.

How much do I need to spend and how can I save money?

Tesco Hudl
The 7-inch Tesco Hudl is decent and can cost as little as £60 with vouchers

Finally, one of the biggest things that will define which tablet you should buy is your budget. Generally 7-inch tablets are much cheaper than 10-inch ones and iPads are more expensive than Android tablets. 

One thing you should be very wary of is 'bargains'. Beware the 7-inch tablet that sounds good on paper but costs only £80 or the 10-inch one that costs £150. These are almost always poorly made using cheap materials and provide a shockingly bad experience. A classic example of this is the new Argos MyTablet.

One exception, however, is
the Tesco Hudl tablet pictured above. It costs £119 as standard, but can be bought for as little as £60 with Tesco Clubcard vouchers. It's a decent little tablet that's well worth considering if you're on a tight budget. 

Shoddy tablet makers don’t want their product reviewed so make sure you check TrustedReviews' tablet reviews if you want to know about a tablet we’ve not recommended in our list of best tablets. If we haven’t reviewed it then it is likely not worth owning. 

Now it’s time to find out which tablets you should look to buy this Christmas.

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