Saturday, June 18, 2011

Understanding tablet PCs and learning how to pick one out

While I still consider it just a big iPod Touch, the iPad did introduce the tablet PC to the world. I had been familiar with the idea of a tablet for some time. They consisted of a laptop with a touchscreen and it could be rotated. Now, with advancements in touchscreen keyboards and an increase in demand for portable devices, tablet PCs are taking off. But what do they do and why should you want one?

What they can do depends on which tablet you select. They range from simple to more complex. The three main types of tablet PCs out there today are the iPad, Android devices, and Windows 7 devices. There's also the Blackberry Playbook, but I'm waiting to see what it offers uniquely to this space before I consider it as a real player. An iPad is still, essentially, a big iPod Touch. So if you just want that functionality in a larger form factor, there's your ticket. Android devices offer a bit more functionality as they have features like card readers, USB ports, and HDMI out. Windows 7 devices offer just about everything you can get from an Android device, but they run Windows 7. That means all the applications you already have for your Windows 7 PC will work on your tablet. For productivity people, that means that you'll be able to run all your programs (assuming the hardware meets the minimum requirements) and connect your cameras, printers, scanners, and other devices without any problems. For gamers, that means that your games on Steam will play on the tablet (again, assuming the hardware meets the minimum requirements). And it'll still check your Facebook and update your Twitter.

So why doesn't everyone buy a Windows 7 tablet then? They seem to do the most.

Well, that's fairly easy to answer. There are a few reasons. One is that most people don't know there are Windows 7 tablets out there. I had a Best Buy employee tell me that there is no such thing as Windows 7 tablets. There's the Acer Iconia W500, the ASUS Eee Slate EP121, the upcoming MSI WindPad 110W, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. The second reason is that they are a bit more expensive. Take the Acer Iconia line for example. A buyer can get the A500 (the Android version) for $500. The W500 (the Windows 7 version) costs $550. Why spend the extra $50 if there's no need for the Windows functionality? And Windows 7 tablets can get in the ballpark of $1000 if you're talking about something like the ASUS Eee Slate EP121. The final element is in the hardware. Since it's running a full Windows 7 install, it needs to be faster and bigger. The W500 is about half a pound more than the A500 and about a quarter of an inch thicker. And then since it's more powerful hardware, it can mean a shorter battery life. These are things not worth compromising if there's no need for Windows 7.

So it really comes down to what the buyer needs. If they're just looking for a big portable media player to watch videos on, read books, and do some light web browsing, the iPad is a perfectly fine option. If they're looking for flexibility, then Android is the way to go. If they want something that will do just about anything and everything, then a Windows tablet is the best thing to go with.

Once you've decided on your platform, then you need to pick a particular tablet. That is unless you picked the iPad. Then you should just get an iPad 2 and move on. Seriously. You can stop reading now. Go play some Angry Birds.

If you're looking at an Android tablet, you need to consider a few factors. How much storage do you need? Keep in mind that with many, you can also install an SD card of some sort and increase your storage. Are you going to watch a lot of video? You'll want to look for a screen with a high resolution. The hardware under the hood doesn't have to be taken into consideration too much as they all pretty much run an nVidia Tegra 2 or something very similar. Also make sure that the device is running the latest version of Android for tablets at the time of purchase, or that it can be upgraded. You'll also want to consider other features. For example, the ASUS Transformer can be turned into a laptop with the keyboard docking station. The upcoming ASUS Padfone will use a certain Android phone as the guts, but give you the large screen for when you want a tablet (consult our "Best from Computex" story). Consider all the options out there and find the solution best for you. You know what you need better than anyone else. Just know that research is your friend. We'll be sure to post anything new and interesting that we find as it's released or announced.

Android running on the Iconia A500

For the Windows 7 crowd, you have to think the most. You need to consider all the things Android buyers need to consider and then keep hardware needs in mind. What applications do you plan on running on it? If you're looking at just basic applications such as MS Office, a web browser, a few simple games, and a couple chat programs like Skype, then your best bet is something with an AMD Fusion heart. I would also recommend AMD Fusion if you plan on doing things like watching video. If you need a lot of raw processing power, you'll need something with a bit more kick. The ASUS Eee Pad EP121 has an Intel Core i5 which offers a bit more pep than the AMD setup. But then you're paying for that pep as the EP121 is about $400 more than the Iconia W500.

The upcoming MSI WindPad110W running Windows 7

And if you're hoping to play Battlefield 3 when it comes out, you just need to go buy a proper gaming PC with a 6 core CPU and the fastest Radeon you can put in it. There's currently no tablet that will meet your needs.

Now that you've selected your shiny new tablet, you need to deck it out. The first thing I recommend isn't a case, fancy earbuds, or anything like that. The first thing you need to consider is software. Your awesome hardware is nothing without epic software. So find yourself a good Twitter app, install Skype if that's something you're in to, find some games to entertain yourself, get your favorite book reader. All of this needs to be done considering your needs. Once you've got the sweet software, consider, once again, your needs. Are you a klutz? You'll want a case. Are you an audiophile? Get some Sennheisers if you don't already have a pair. Do you want a physical keyboard? Find a nice bluetooth keyboard. Plan on using that HDMI port? Get an HDMI cable. Only you can determine what you need. Again, research is your friend. And don't trust the guy working at the nearest electronics store. I've found them to be largely clueless. Ask around. Post your questions here. I'd be more than happy to help out.

So that's your quick and simple look at tablet PCs. They're really about you and what you need. I'm looking at getting a Windows 7 tablet myself. But that's because I want the benefits of a full Windows install. You may be best suited for an Android tablet. One thing's for sure, you're not an iPad person because I told those people to stop reading. Just know that you need to get what you need and not what I want, what the Best Buy employee tells you to get, or what's trendy right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment