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Three important things about buying a tablet in 2013

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 9:30AM Tuesday February 19, 2013
under DealPro Tips

Planning to buy a tablet this year? Whether it's your first one ever or your fifth, you face a dizzying array of brands, sizes, and options. Big screen or small? Apple or Amazon? Android or iOS--or perhaps even Windows?

Allow me to help you cut through the confusion and make an informed tablet choice. By focusing on three key areas, you'll be able pick exactly the right model for your needs--and your budget.

1. Screen size
When it comes to choosing a tablet, there's arguably nothing more important than the size of the screen. It dictates not only how you'll use it, but also how you'll carry it.

Tablets now come in all kinds of sizes, from the still-pocketable six-inch "phablet" (which is actually a phone/tablet hybrid) to the behemoth 13.3-inch Archos Family Pad.

Obviously a bigger screen is better for things like playing games, watching movies, viewing Web pages, and, especially, working. If you're planning to pair your tablet with a keyboard so you can do some word processing or the like, you'll definitely want a screen that's at least nine inches: the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, Nook HD+, iPad, Google Nexus 10, or Microsoft Surface RT. 

On the flipside, if you plan to read a lot of books, or want a tablet that's lighter and easier to tote, consider something in the 7-8-inch range: the iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or Nook HD.

My advice: Consider two tablets, one larger, one smaller. Different occasions merit different sizes!

2. Operating system
A tablet's operating system may seem like an afterthought, but it's actually quite important. It dictates how you'll interact with the tablet and, even more significantly, what apps you'll be able to run.

Everyone knows the iPad runs Apple's iOS. This is a great choice if you already have an iPhone, as the two devices are, functionally speaking, nearly identical. And you can run pretty much all the same apps.

Same goes for Android, which runs on lots of smartphones and most non-iPad tablets. However, while a model like the Google Nexus delivers a similar interface to what you get on an Android-powered smartphone, the Kindle Fire and Nook use a heavily customized version of Android--one that won't look familiar. What's more, those tablets put some limits on the apps you can run; the Nook in particular relies on a curated app store I don't particularly like. (Translation: It lacks a lot of great freebies.)

Meanwhile, if you recently purchased a new PC with Windows 8, there's something to be said for a Windows 8-powered tablet like Microsoft's Surface RT. It gives you an almost identical experience to what you get on your PC. Alas, the Windows app store continues to be a ghost town compared with most others.

My advice: Figure out what apps are most important to you, then choose the tablet OS that offers them.

3. Wireless capabilities
A tablet without Internet access is like a car without gas: You can't do much with it. All tablets have built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, meaning they can get online when connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot--typically found in your home, your office, your local Starbucks, and so on.

What you need to decide is if you also want 3G/4G capabilities, meaning a tablet that can connect to cellular networks, same as your smartphone. That will limit your choices quite a bit, as not many tablets offer this option (Kindles and Nooks don't; some Nexuses do; iPads are available with and without). You'll also have to pay a monthly fee for this Internet-anywhere service.

However, if you want 3G/4G but your tablet of choice doesn't have it, most smartphones offer a "tethering" option that lets your tablet take advantage of the phone's existing 3G/4G. This may cost extra, but with some models/carriers it's free.

My advice: Don't pay extra for a tablet with built-in 3G/4G. Instead, rely on widely available Wi-Fi hotspots and, when necessary, your phone or a mobile hotspot.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.

(Source: Savings.com)