Tablets buying guide

 

Why buy a tablet?

With so many small computers and laptops available, you might wonder why you’d want to buy a tablet instead? It’s a valid question. Although tablets are more powerful than ever, if you want to enjoy high end gaming or you work with graphics and high definition video then a high performance laptop or desktop will probably suit you better. However, the truth is, most computer users don’t need or use all of the power you can get from a dedicated PC or Mac, while a tablet can be used for almost anything else and can be more easily tailored to suit your needs.

Tablets are fantastic devices for content consumption, for example: watching movies, reading eBooks or browsing the internet. They normally feature a long battery life and are portable enough to take anywhere with you - whether that’s in bed or on the train. They’re also incredibly fast and easy to use.

To open an app, all you need to do is tap, and a few simple gestures will help you move between features and apps in seconds. They can be personalised to suit your needs and have a wealth of apps and games available to use in seconds. If you write a lot and are worried about using a touch screen, most tablets will also work with a Bluetooth keyboard, while some protective cases include a keyboard and stand all in one.

However, it can be difficult to sift through all of the different types available, with various different sizes, operating systems and peculiar dessert-related phrases being thrown around. This guide will help you cut through the jargon and get to the bottom of which tablet is right for you.

Choosing an operating system

The operating system is the first thing you should consider when looking at tablets. The operating system controls many of the tablet’s functions, and acts as an interface between the user and the microprocessor. The operating system will dictate which apps and games you can run and the way you interact with your device. There are typically three challengers for your affections in the tablet operating system arena: Apple, Google and Microsoft, with some different variations available to complicate things further.

Apple

Apple iOS
Found exclusively on Apple’s own iPads (as well as on their iPhone smartphones and iPod portable music players), iOS is incredibly easy to use. It features slick aesthetics, a simple interface and a massive range of apps and games available to download.

iOS comes with Apple’s App Store which contains thousands of apps that have been tested and approved by Apple to ensure they all meet a high standard. Because iPads are only available in two standard sizes with two standard resolutions, it can be much easier to design apps for, meaning that iOS is frequently considered the lead platform for app and game development. This can lead to apps and games being available on iPads before rival tablets. With iOS, you can access a wealth of music, movies, TV shows and eBooks through the iTunes store. iPads also come with FaceTime, Siri and iCloud installed, as well as a variety of other apps like Apple Maps, music, video and organisation apps.

FaceTime is a video and voice-calling app that sends your calls through the internet to other FaceTime users. FaceTime is available on Apple iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Mac computers, giving you the option to interact with other Apple users around the world, just for the price of your internet connection. You can also use the separate Messages app to send short text based messages to other Apple users.

Siri is a voice-activated personal assistant. You can ask Siri questions, and it’ll search the internet for anything from the latest football scores to the weather. You can have it find emails for you, call people on FaceTime, open and interact with apps, organise your calendar and more.

iCloud automatically backs up and syncs contacts, music, calendars, photos, apps and more from your device to the cloud with your Apple ID. This means you don’t have to connect your iPad to a computer any time you need to backup, instead, you can sync your account, with data available to download to other iOS devices as well as Mac computers running OS X Lion 10.7.2 or later. You’ll be able to store up to 5GB of data for free and can upgrade to up 50GB for a fee.

Take a look at iPads



Windows 8

Windows 8
Microsoft’s most recent computer operating system, Windows 8, has been designed to help bridge the gap between tablets and traditional computers. It introduced a new interface, with the main emphasise on touch screen browsing, making it ideal for use on tablets. You’ll find Windows 8 tablets developed by the likes of Asus, Acer and Samsung, with Microsoft also releasing their own powerful Surface Pro tablets. Many Windows 8 tablets are just as powerful as their laptop and some desktop equivalents because they contain impressive processors and a larger amount of RAM than you’ll typically see in other tablets.

The Start Screen is the first thing you’ll see when you boot up a Windows 8 computer, giving you immediate access to your apps through Live Tiles. Like widgets, these tiles are icons that can be set to update and display information in real time, so you don’t always have to enter a social networking app to see the latest news from your friends and family. Windows 8 also features the regular desktop seen in previous versions of Windows, and can be navigated by a mouse just as easily as by touch.

Windows 8 can run two different sorts of apps. The first kind are available to download through the Microsoft Store and are designed specifically for use with Microsoft’s new operating system. These are often optimised for touch screen controls and run from the Start Screen. You can also download apps from the internet to run through desktop screen. These apps work like programs from previous versions of Windows, though they are not necessarily designed for use with touch. It’ll also allow you to run Legacy apps- that is, programs that were previously compatible with Windows 7, Vista and XP, including the Microsoft Office package. Windows 8 tablets are ideal for those who want to be able to work and play with the most powerful tools.

Take a look at our Windows 8 tablets

Android

Google Android
Google’s Android operating system is featured on a massive amount of tablets from different manufacturers like Samsung, Asus, Sony and Lenovo, as well as Google’s own Nexus tablets. Android offers you a more customisable experience than with iOS, letting you choose how apps, games and information are displayed on your screen. Major system updates are named alphabetically after desserts, sweets and chocolates (I: Ice Cream Sandwich, J: Jelly Bean, K: Kit Kat and so on), with each iteration delivering new, more intuitive ways to interact with your system. Android tablets come with a variety of apps already installed on them, with manufacturers adding their own software too.

Google’s Play Store is the standard hub for downloading apps, games, movies and eBooks on Android tablets. The Play Store contains thousands of apps available to help you get the most out of your tablet, however, not all apps are compatible with all Android tablets because the range in specifications between devices is so wide.

Android tablets utilise widgets to give you live updates from various sources. These widgets sit on your home screens and can update you on anything from appointments and the weather to sports scores and the television schedule. These widgets save you the time of entering an app and often feature an attractive design to brighten up your home screen. Unlike with iOS devices, Android tablets store all of your apps and games in an ‘App drawer’ and let you choose which ones are visible on your home screens. The notification bar on an Android device can be swiped down to give you easy access to your settings, and to view any new emails or other updates from apps.

You can download various apps from the Google Play store to customise your experience. You can choose different home screens, icons and menus and even choose which apps you use to access your emails and other information. You can also set user profiles on Android tablets, so everyone in the family can enjoy their own experience and their own apps when they log in.

Variations on Android:
Manufacturers license Android from Google and are then free to customise it however they wish. Some, like Asus, do very little to change the overall experience, simply adding a few apps that they feel will be more beneficial to the user. Others, like Samsung, put on their own overlay and put more of a focus on their own apps, whilst still maintaining the basics of Android underneath. Some, like Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook take a more extensive approach, completely customising the interface to suit the needs of their own tablets, making the interface barely recognisable. Kindles take the most extreme approach here, applying their own, easy to use interface and removing access to typical Android apps, including the Play Store, in favour of their own equivalents.

Take a look at our Android tablets



Windows RT

Windows RT
Launched at the same time as Windows 8, Windows RT is a lightweight version of Microsoft’ primary operating system, specifically designed to run on portable computers, such as tablets and convertible laptops. On the face of it, Windows RT looks the same as Windows 8. If features the same Start Screen and Live Tiles interface, as well as a desktop, and was created with touch navigation in mind. You can download apps from the Microsoft Store, and it comes with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT pre-installed, complete with RT editions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. However, unlike Windows 8, Windows RT will be unable to run older programs, with new applications available from the Windows Store.

Take a look at our Windows RT tablets

What to look for

Screen
Tablets are measured by screen size, diagonally from corner to corner. Smaller, palm-sized tablets come in at 7 inches or under  and are great for web browsing, accessing social networks and reading eBooks. Tablets between 7.1 and 9-inches  give you more screen space without adding too much extra bulk, making them better for watching videos and playing games. Tablets sized between 9.1 and 11-inches  often come in around the 10-inch mark. These devices are much more useful if you plan on playing games, watching movies and working with documents.

Finally, larger tablets that measure over 11-inches  tend to be more powerful, and give you more space for multitasking, photo and video editing and entertainment. Sometimes these larger tablets come with a detachable keyboard and can double a convertible laptop, making them easier to use for document-based work.

You should also consider the screen resolution. Measured in pixels, the resolution helps to determine how sharp photos, videos and games are on your screen. Because there are many variations in screen sizes, we often use Pixels Per Inch (PPI) to measure screen resolution. PPI helps to give you a clear indication of how clear your screen is. A higher PPI means that more pixels are available, giving you more detail on the screen. If you intend to use your tablet for watching movies or editing photos, you should look for at least 200 pixels per inch.

Storage
The internal storage of your tablet is the amount of space that you’ll have to keep your own images, documents, videos and music. Storage capacity is calculated before the operating system or any apps are installed, so you can quite often end up with less than it first appears. The amount of space already taken up varies from tablet to tablet, but you’ll generally find that Windows 8 tablets require more extra space compared to Android and iOS equivalents.

It’s also worth checking to see if your tablet has a memory card slot. Many tablets include a card slot, which can allow you to add extra storage space. With this available, you’ll be able to double or even triple your storage capacity, with some devices accepting cards as large as 64GB. You can also subsidise your storage space by using internet-based cloud storage services like iCloud on an iPad.

Processor & RAM
The processor is the brain of the tablet, driving all of its functions. Processors come with a number of cores that they can dedicate to performing a task. Single-core processors are very basic, and only really useful for web-browsing, writing emails and accessing basic apps. Dual-core processors are much more widespread and will allow for smoother visuals and faster performance. Quad-core processors are needed to run more high-end apps, for tasks like photo & video editing and playing 3D games.

RAM (or Random Access Memory) is the amount of brain space dedicated to running processes. The more RAM available, the smoother apps will perform when there are a number open at once.

Two-in-ones and convertibles
Two-in-one, or convertible computers are a form of hybrid laptops. These machines come with a keyboard and can function as both a laptop and a tablet, depending on the user's needs. They're ideal if you want to balance the typing performance that comes from using a physical keyboard with the simplicity of a tablet.

Connectivity, Wi-Fi, Cellular, 3G & 4G
Internet access is essential if you intend to get the most out of your tablet. All tablets should generally come with at least built-in Wi-Fi which can be used to access the internet through your home wireless router, or through public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, hotels and many John Lewis shops. Cellular connections, which can include 3G and 4G, use the same signals that mobile phones use to connect to the internet. These services require you to put a SIM card into your device and either sign up to a contract or choose a ‘Pay As You Go’ model through a network provider.

Wi-Fi only devices are great if you’re just accessing the internet at home, or know of a public place where you’ll be able to connect. Cellular, 3G and 4G connections are essential if you need internet access on the go. These connections will be available wherever your network provider has coverage, making the range much wider. Cellular and 4G models will be able to sign up to 4G contracts, to give you the latest and fastest internet speeds, while older 3G technology can be much slower. While both Cellular and 4G connections will be able to connect to older 3G technology, a 3G contract will only be able to connect to 3G signals. It’s also worth speaking to your chosen provider before you sign up to ensure that your device and your area receives their coverage.

Most tablets will also come with Bluetooth, which will enable you to exchange files with other Bluetooth devices as well as stream music and videos from your tablet. Some may have NFC, which will allow you to wirelessly connect two NFC devices just by tapping them together.

Tablets also have a range of physical connections too. They should all come with a standard 3.5mm headphone port, as well as a port for connecting to a computer, plug and other devices by USB. Some will also feature a port that will allow you to connect to an external monitor, projector or HDTV via an HDMI or mini HDMI cable.

Battery Life
Most tablets should feature a minimum battery life of up to 7 hours. This value tends to be based on continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi with average settings for screen brightness and volume, You’ll find that if you’re browsing using a cellular connection, or watching high definition videos, the battery life can be substantially shorter. If you intend to use your tablet frequently throughout the day, we’d recommend a battery life approaching 9 or 10 hours. It’s worth remembering that battery life won’t go down so quickly when your tablet has been put to sleep, so you can get extra usage out of it by hitting the sleep button whenever it’s not in use.

Camera
All modern tablets will feature at least one camera in the front, any many include a second camera in the back. The front-facing camera will primarily be used as webcam for making video calls through apps like Skype or FaceTime, on an iOS device. The rear camera is great for taking snaps and short videos for sharing with friends on social media. The higher the megapixel count on these cameras, the more detail you’ll be able to capture in your photos and videos.

Accessories to consider

Bags & Cases:
The first accessory you’ll want for your next tablet is a case. Although most tablets are made to be tough, they are still prone to the occasional, scratch, bump or scrape, so an added layer of protection would be a worthy investment.  The bonus is that many tablet cases also double as a stand too, so you can enjoy gaming and movies without having to grip your device or invest in a dedicated stand. Some cases even feature a keyboard built into them, which is perfect for those who love to type on their tablet. To view all of our cases, please click here.

Additional Storage:
If you’d like to increase the amount of storage available on your tablet, you can purchase a microSD card for models with a memory card slot. For models without a memory card slot, consider a wireless storage drive that can be accessed
using Wi-Fi.

Cables & Adapters:
You may also want to consider our cables and adapters, that can be used to connect your tablet to a variety of different devices, from televisions and speakers to computers and even electric instruments.

To view all of our available tablet accessories, please click here

More help from John Lewis

If you need help setting up your tablet, we’ll be happy to help. We offer service to set up your tablet, configure the operating system and create any user accounts for just £20. This service is currently only available through your local shop, but you can still arrange for our help even if you bought your tablet online from us - you'll just need to produce your delivery note.

All of our tablets come with at least a 2 year guarantee as standard for your piece of mind. If you have any queries or problems with your tablet, call our JL technical support line on 0844 693 1799 (call charges will depend on your telephone provider - please check with your operator for exact charges), or email technical support@johnlewis.com from 8am to 9pm weekdays, 8am to 8pm Saturday and 10am to 6pm Sundays – calls are charged at a local call rate.

To help us handle your query promptly, please have your model number available. They also qualify for our 90 days' free software support helpline. More information on our guarantees and the helpline.

We also offer extended service plans that can be taken out at any time within 30 days of your original purchase. These service plans offer extra protection on top of our guarantee. More information on the John Lewis service plan.

Glossary

3G: the third generation of mobile telecommunications technology. A 3G connection will enable you to access the internet using signals provided by mobile phone networks. Requires a model made specifically for 3G use and an additional 3G SIM card.

4G, or 4G LTE: the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications technology. A 4G connection will enable you to access the internet at high speeds using signals provided by mobile phone networks. Requires a model made specifically for 4G use and an additional 4G SIM card.

Backup: keeping a copy of files and software on other devices, or stored on the cloud. Because tablets are not infallible, it’s good practice to safeguard your work.

Bluetooth: allows you to connect compatible devices wirelessly, such as keyboards, speakers and headsets.

Cellular: See 4G.

Central Processing Unit (CPU): also known as the microprocessor, the CPU is the brain of any computer or tablet, controlling all functions and actions. Its speed is measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz), respectively millions or billions of cycles per second. The faster the CPU, the quicker the machine.

Cloud or Cloud Storage: An internet connected storage solution provided by a company, or with personal cloud storage.

Convertible: A portable touch screen computer that can convert between laptop and tablet.

Email: see Internet/email

Flash storage: See internal storage

Gigabyte (GB): standard data measurement unit. One gigabyte contains 1,024 megabytes

Gigahertz: gigahertz (GHz) are used to express the speed of a central processing unit (CPU). 1 gigahertz equals 1000 megahertz (MHz). CPU speeds are increasing as technology improves; faster units have now reached speeds of over 2GHz.

Hard drive: See Internal Storage.

HDMI: a technology used for outputting audio and video to a high definition display. Requires an additional HDMI cable.

Internal Storage: the tablet's central storage system for holding documents, photos, videos, music and apps. The bigger the storage space, the more applications can be stored. Flash and Solid State Drive storage are faster and less prone to failing, but cost more too.

Internet/email: a network that enables tablets and computers to be connected together in a 'web'. With access to the internet you can access data from anywhere in the world for the price of a domestic phone call. The same technology facilitates email (electronic mail), typed messages that can be routed to any email address anywhere in the world almost instantaneously. Emails can also incorporate photos, audio recordings or video.

Keyboard: text input device that converts data into computer-readable format. Used in conjunction with a mouse.

Lightning port: An Apple-exclusive technology used to connect an iPad to a computer for data transfer.

MHL (Mobile High-definition video Link): a micro USB port with the ability to output audio and video through an an MHL adapter and an HDMI cable.

Megabyte (MB): 
standard data measurement unit. One megabyte contains 1,024 kilobytes.

Microprocessor: also known as the central processing unit (CPU), the microprocessor is the central 'brain' of the tablet, controlling all functions and actions. Its speed is measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz), respectively millions or billions of cycles per second. The faster the microprocessor, the quicker the machine.

Motherboard: site of all of the internal circuitry for the system. The motherboard is the main circuit board inside a tablet, to which all other internal components connect.

Mouse: a small, hand-operated device that provides users with an intuitive way of moving the cursor and selecting areas of text.

NFC: a technology for wirelessly connecting two compatible devices simply by tapping them together.

Operating System (OS): the software handling the tablet’s basic functions.

Ports: the physical connection points that allows external devices such as computers and speakers to be linked to the tablet.

Pixels Per Inch (PPI) or Pixel density: the numbers of pixels crammed into one square inch of screen space. The higher the PPI, the more detail the screen will be able to display.

Random Access Memory (RAM) also known as 'on-board' memory: temporary workspace where the tablet holds the data it is currently processing. The higher the amount of RAM, the more and larger the applications that can be run simultaneously. Measured in megabytes (MB).

Read-Only Memory (ROM): permanent memory storage for data that does not change.

Resolution: this is measured by the number of pixels - the tiny dots that make up the overall picture. The greater the pixel count, the higher the resolution and the sharper the display. The size of tablet screen and resolution you will need will depend on what you will use the tablet for.

SlimPort: a micro USB port with the ability to output audio and video through a SlimPort adapter and an HDMI cable.

Solid State Drive: See Internal Storage.

Tablet: Mobile computers that are designed to be navigated through a touch screen.

Terabyte (TB): standard data measurement unit. One terabyte contains 1,024 gigabytes.

Tower: A stand-alone desktop computer that requires an additional monitor and speakers for full functionality.

Ultrabook: lightweight, all-purpose mobile PC for travel, work and play. Powerful performance from Intel Core processors, wakes up in a flash and has battery life that lasts.

USB or micro USB port: an interface that allows you to connect a tablet to a variety of external devices, from computers to chargers.

Video (or graphics) card: the card that allows your computer to communicate with your monitor, the video card has its own dedicated memory and is directly responsible for calculating the colour, position and size of all object on the screen. 3D cards are often a pre-requisite for many of today's best-selling games. Some computers come with a video card already incorporated into the mother card.

Virtual memory: the part of a hard disc used to store data on a temporary basis and swap it in and out of RAM as required.

Wi-Fi: technology that allows for data to be exchanged wirelessly or connect to the internet. Requires an additional wireless router as well as an internet connection from a network provider, like John Lewis Broadband.