Making Sense of Tablets
In the space between laptops and desktop computers, reside tablets. They offer just the right balance between weight, mobility, productivity, and flexibility. Such is the strength of the tablet concept that it inspired the latest generation of smartphones into foldable devices, transforming them into tablets on-the-fly.
In a few years, we will see if this recent innovation will supplant both tablets and smartphones. In the meantime, let’s figure out what you can get out of some of the best tablets in today’s market.
Choosing a Tablet
Although all the major brands have excellent tablet offerings, from Apple, Google, and Amazon to Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei, we can narrow down your tablet choice based on how you anticipate you will use it and the products with which you are most accustomed. There is a huge difference between using a tablet as a media consumption device or as a full-fledged office workhorse. Maybe you want to use it as an all-purpose
mobile platform, including tapping into the massive pool of more than hundreds of thousands of gaming apps on the Google Play and Apple App stores.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key requirements for choosing the right tablet. Before considering specs like performance, price, and size—you should think about your tablet’s ecosystem. Which operating system do you prefer?
1. Operating System
As is the case with laptops and desktop computers, the first thing to decide when selecting a tablet is to determine which operating system (OS) you prefer: Android, Amazon Fire, Windows, or Apple iOS?
OS determines quite a lot of things, from online stores, and app availability to device compatibility, including your smart TV. For instance, if you have a Samsung tablet and a Samsung smart TV, getting your tablet to cast its content on your massive 4k smart TV will be an exceedingly easy and hassle-free task.
This is what we mean by an ecosystem. However, that doesn’t mean there is a hard line between the operating systems. Let’s say you have a Windows 10 PC and an Android tablet. You regularly use Google Drive and Google Sheets in your web browser for official work on your PC. You might even use Microsoft’s OneDrive and MS Office at the same time.
Thankfully, you can download and install an app on Android tablets from the Google Play Store for each of those software packages. Once installed, you can seamlessly view and edit any document from each cloud drive, no matter if you made it on either device in Google Sheets, MS Word, or OneNote.
With that said, you should seek a widely-used OS when considering a tablet. In this case, either iPadOS or Android. Fire tablets offer an Android OS variant but tend to offer less apps. Meanwhile, you will gain access to legacy apps non-existent on other platforms if you choose a Windows 10-based tablet.
2. What’s The Best Screen Size and Resolution?
Given that tablets occupy the middle ground between laptops and smartphones, a 10” screen at minimum Full HD resolution (1920x1080p) should be sufficient for most applications. Generally, 7–8 inches would be considered on the small side, while between 9 and 11 inches would be considered large. Thankfully, no matter if a tablet has a larger screen size, a tablet’s weight is rather negligible (generally ~1lb at most).
Consider a tablet with either IPS or AMOLED technologies. Both offer excellent colour reproduction and excellent viewing angles, while the latter takes the cake with greater contrast, crispness, and excellent touch reaction time. Finger and scratch-resistant screen coating goes without saying—and most recent tablets have them by default.
3. Will My New Tablet Need a lot of Storage?
A big determinant in tablet pricing is its storage, just as is the case with smartphones. Luckily, this isn’t something that poses a significant problem if you’ve selected a variant with minimum integrated storage (ie 128 GB or even 64 GB). This is due to most tablets having micro SD card slots, which are relatively cheap. For example, if you later run out of space, you can buy a 256 GB micro SD card for about $75.
If your tablet doesn’t have an integrated micro SD slot, it’s easy enough to add this functionality with a USB OTG adapter. If you want a wireless solution to both expand your storage and enable video streaming, you could consider something like a SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick. Thanks to its in-built Wi-Fi, you can set it as a hotspot for all of your devices, including your tablet.
Cloud storage is arguably the easiest way to expand your iPad or tablet’s storage capabilities. Besides the precious gigabytes of free storage, cloud storage also serves as an affordable built-in backup for your important data. If anything happens to your gadget, the files you store in the cloud remain intact, ready for you to restore. Wondering which cloud solution is best for your iPad or tablet? Check out our take.
4. Battery Life
Battery life remains a major consideration when you’re buying a tablet, even as the sizes of those continue to grow. Recent flagships from Samsung and Apple feature large batteries, offering the promise of tablets that can go all day on a single charge. But which devices can really boast that they provide the best battery life on a single charge?
Depending on your usage, one charge will last ~8–12 hours. Intense usage will shorten this considerably, so make sure to get a portable battery solution, such as the excellent RAVPowerexternalpower bank.
The exception to the rule are tablets with e-ink screens designed for ebook-reading. Such screens generally use power only when a new page is loaded, which means we can measure their battery life by weeks instead of hours. If they interest you, check out Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon Kindle 2019, or Kobo Libra H20.
5. Wi-Fi Only or Cellular?
You should make a decision based on your use case. If you’ll use it indoors mostly where you have a solid internet connection, go for the wifi model. If you travel a lot and will take the tablet with you on the go, go for the 4G version.
6. Keyboards, Pencils and Peripherals
Outside of a SIM, a tablet’s micro USB port or Lightning connector can greatly expand your tablet’s functionality. Let’s say you are accustomed to using a full-sized mechanical keyboard for your work. No problem!
Simply get a USB OTG (on-the-go) cable/adapter like this one.
Basic, single USB-port OTGs can cost you just around $8, while this one, with four USB ports will cost you around $21. In turn, you will be able to expand your tablet with a USB mouse, microphone, headphones, or a full-sized keyboard.
Speaking of input devices, choosing a drawing tablet has become easier in recent years thanks to improvements in styluses and touch screens. After all, tablets are ideally suited for taking notes or detailed, art-grade drawings on-the-fly. As far as mobile keyboards go, the best solution to retain mobility would be to get a tablet cover with an integrated keyboard, which you can find under “tablet keyboard cases”.
Which Tablet Should You Buy?
With all those factors in mind, here is the current selection of tablets from overall best to cheapest:
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, S7, or any variants in-between (from ~CDN$ 800 to ~CDN$ 900)
Without exaggeration, when choosing the right Android tablet, we can confidently say that Samsung has mastered the craft of designing tablets. The S6 series is a wide-compatibility, super-mobile work/gaming powerhouse. The latest S7 makes playing games even more enjoyable with a 120Hz refresh screen for extra-smooth mobile gaming powered by top of the line GPU. In both S6 and S7, the included S Pen is a fantastic addition that entices you to dabble into the realm of digital art.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
There is a dearth of Windows-based tablets, but those that are available are all top-notch thanks to Microsoft’s efforts. From Microsoft Surface Pro 7, its latest iteration on the original Surface, to Surface Laptop 3—the king of tablets with a steep price tag and massive 15” screen size. On the other end of the spectrum, Surface Go 2 lacks the power and size of its bigger brother, but its 10.5” size is a perfect entry into the legacy world of Windows OS, effectively serving you as a secondary portable computer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with Surface Pen, which some say exceeds the performance of Samsung’s S Pen.
Apple iPad (2020)
If you are a fan of Apple’s aesthetic, attention to detail, and ecosystem, the iPad is a no-brainer. Mirroring Samsung’s S6 (Lite) and S7 in performance, features, and pricing, iPad comes at ~CDN$ 400, iPad Mini at ~CDN$ 500, while iPad Pro sits at ~CDN$ 1000 with an 11” screen.
Amazon Fire HD 8
If you want a budget tablet experience, sufficient for browsing, reading, movie-watching, and light office work, Fire HD 8 (its screen size) is as best as you can get. Needless to say, it is fully integrated into Amazon’s ecosystem of streaming, books, entertainment apps, and Alexa’s assistance/shopping. Thanks to its Wi-Fi capability, you can even use it to watch films by streaming them to the device. For such an affordable device, it’s hard to pass by as your first entry tablet.
Although we haven’t mentioned other brands, such as ASUS ZenPad 10 or Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab, you will find them similarly priced without bringing anything new or extra to the tablet table. When all things considered, our help choosing a tablet is constrained thanks to Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S7 series, which overshadow all other Android models. Apple offers up a couple of models widely known for their excellence, while Microsoft offers the greatest premium variety of tablets, with its top-of-the-line offering boasting unmatched computing performance and screen real estate.