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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 exceptions, smaller and lighter than laptops, which is why they're so popular. They predominantly come in three screen sizes: 7-inch, around 8-inch or 10-inch. Each has its own strengths 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?

Each size is good for the basics like web browsing. It's when you think about other tasks, such as reading, videos and playing games, that 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

A 7-inch tablet compared to a 10-inch one

7-inch Tablets: Pros and Cons

In a nutshell:

  • Very portable and comfortable to hold 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 run Android. There 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-screened tablets, but still come with great displays, 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 3.

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 – writing lengthy emails, editing spreadsheets and suchlike. While you can get keyboard docks for some of them, the screen and keyboard size means that they’re not comfortable for writing over long periods of time.

8-inch(ish) Tablets: Pros and Cons

These have grown in popularity since the release of the 7.8-inch iPad mini a few years ago. There are now a number of good 8-inch Android tablets on the market, such as the Nvidia Shield Tablet or the 8.9-inch Nexus 9 and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (2014).

Some like the iPad mini and Nexus 9 opt for a squarer 4:3 aspect ratio for their screens, just like old CRT tellies used to have. We think this is a better shape for a tablet. It makes browsing the web and playing games a better experience, but you do end up getting bigger black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when you're watching movies when compared to narrower tablets.

8-inch tablets cover a good middle ground. They're better for browsing the web, reading ebooks and watching movies than a 7-inch tablet, yet they manage to retain much of their portability. The downside? They're a fair bit more expensive than some of the best 7-inch Android tablets on the market.

A few words of advice if you're thinking of buying an iPad mini: go for the iPad mini 2 32GB option rather than the iPad mini 3. The tablets are almost identical, but the iPad mini 2 is a lot cheaper.

10-inch Tablets: Pros and Cons

In a nutshell:

  • Large screen is good for TV, video and the visually impaired

  • Best for reading newspapers and magazines
  • Better for productivity, especially when paired with a keyboard

  • More expensive than smaller 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 on one with another person. Digital 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 make them a useful writing and productivity tool. Great examples of these are the Windows-running Asus Transformer Book T100 and the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Apple doesn't make a keyboard for the iPad Air 2, but there are many third-party 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 out 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 9 and iPad Air 2 are particularly strong and provide an excellent tablet experience with razor-sharp text. The Air 2 has a fantastic anti-reflective layer that makes it better than any other tablet to use outdoors on sunny days.

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

What is 'screen ratio' and what difference does it make?

Screen ratio simply refers to the 'shape' of the screen. For example, most modern TVs and laptops are 16:9 (aka widescreen), while old CRT TVs were 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 they're 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 (and recently some Android tablets) 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 a tablet with 3G/4G?

Most tablets come in two versions: one with Wi-Fi only and another with Wi-Fi and 4G and/or 3G. 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, just like you do with a mobile phone.

You’ll need a subscription, though, again in the same way as your phone. 4G used to be pricey, but you can now get it for £15 per 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's cheaper, though – around £7.50 for 1GB every 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 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'll 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 extra capacity 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 that option on iPads, so you're stuck with what you chose initially. 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 2

The 7-inch Tesco Hudl 2 is a great tablet that can cost as little as £65 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 Argos MyTablet. Steer well clear.

One exception, however, is the Tesco Hudl 2 tablet pictured above. It costs £129 as standard, but can be bought for as little as £65 with Tesco Clubcard vouchers, which is frankly ludicrous. It's a good tablet that's well worth considering if you're on a tight budget.

Shoddy tablet makers usually 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, it's likely not worth owning.

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

Next read: Best Tablets 2014

Master

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

Evan

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.

TacticalTimbo

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!

;http://www.engadget.com/2013/1...

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!

andyvan

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.

Evan

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.

HH

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:)

andyvan

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.

Evan

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.

nfedrichy

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.

MFlarida

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?

phred

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.

Erick

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 ?

Lee

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!

Donald

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!

andyvan

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/...

Byppy

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

andyvan

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.

ekffazr

March 24, 2014, 8:19 pm

kindle fire HDX fits your needs to a T

JOojoj

April 18, 2014, 4:34 am

I think the samsung galaxy tab pro 10.1 will be good for work,
but...
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.

Evan

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?

xy

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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