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The Which? guide to buying the best tablet

What is a tablet?

Tablets are lightweight, touchscreen, internet-enabled computers. While often able to do many of the same things as a laptop, you use a tablet like a smartphone – typing directly onto the screen and swiping to navigate. Typically between 7 and 10-inch tablets are popular for watching films, TV and other media as well as getting on to the web quickly.

You can pick up a cheap tablet for between £130-150. However, for the highest spec premium tablets you can pay anything up to £800. In this guide we’ll show you what to look out for to make sure you buy the right tablet for you, and if you watch the video above, you'll see how we arrive at a Which? Best Buy.

What can I do on a tablet?

Tablets are ideal as a second screen. They start up almost instantly, so are perfect if you want to fire off an email or do a quick Google search. Tablets are also useful for video calling using apps such as Skype, reading ebooks and watching video content using popular apps such as BBC iPlayer. Typically weighing around 0.6kg, tablets are super portable and easy to slip into a handbag or rucksack.

What can't I do on a tablet?

Tablets are no replacement for a laptop or desktop computer. They’re great for instant access to the internet but slower processors mean they aren’t as capable at handling high-powered jobs such as complex photo or video editing.

Similarly, although they are good for tapping out the odd email the lack of keyboard on most models means they are not ideal for sustained periods of typing. The majority of tablets are not compatible with everyday computer software such as Microsoft Office – app versions are similar but will often be slimmed down with fewer functions. 

Which tablet is best for me?

Your main buying decision is which operating system you want to use. There are three tablet operating systems – Apple iOS, Google’s Android and two versions of Windows – RT and Windows 8. Apple iOS is used exclusively on iPads, whereas Windows and Android are used by several manufacturers.

Apple iPads

The Apple iPad is the most iconic tablet around – the market leader in terms of sales, it sets the standard for other brands to emulate. Apple has two main ranges – the full sized Apple iPad and the iPad mini.

Apple iPad – the pros:

  • Simple to use, intuitive operating system (iOS)
  • Stylish, sleek design
  • Best stocked app store

Apple iPads – the cons:

  • iPads tend to be more expensive than rival tablets
  • iOS is a closed system meaning that you can’t customise it

Android tablets

Google’s Android OS is an open platform, which means that other manufacturers can tweak the OS to better suit their needs. It’s used by various manufacturers including Sony, Samsung and Google.

Android tablets – pros:

  • Android devices tend to be cheaper than both Apple and Windows devices
  • The app store is well-stocked and easy to use
  • You can customise the OS – meaning you can make changes to the home screen

Android tablets – the cons:

  • Apple tablets just edge ahead of Android when it comes to ease of use
  • Most Android tablets lack the sleek design of the iPad

Windows tablets

There are two versions of Windows available for tablets – Windows RT which is designed specifically for mobile devices. And Windows 8 which is the full operating system found on laptops as well as some tablets.

Windows tablets - pros:

  • Designed with work in mind – Windows 8 tablets can run full computer software
  • Windows RT runs a light-weight app version of Microsoft Office.

Windows tablets – cons:

  • Fewer apps in the Microsoft app store when compared to Apple and Android
  • Some menus, such as the desktop menu, are hard to use because they have small buttons, not ideal for use with touchscreen
  • Windows tablets are often more expensive than Android rivals

Should I buy a 7 or 10-inch tablet?

Buy a 7-inch tablet, like the Google Nexus, if you want something super-portable. Smaller tablets fit easily into bags and are light enough to hold in one hand while crammed into a commuter train. They’re also a good option if you’re looking to spend less. Even the premium iPad mini is available from £269.

Buy a 10-inch tablet, like the Apple iPad, if you want a larger screen for playing games and videos. Larger tablets are also a better option if you’re  planning to do a lot of typing on your device as the extra inches mean the onscreen keyboard is less cramped.

Do I need mobile broadband on my tablet?

Tablets connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, however some also come with 3G connectivity giving you access to mobile broadband. 3G tablets are more expensive and require an on-going data plan just as you have with your mobile phone.

Wi-Fi connectivity is all you’ll need if you plan to use the tablet at home or in locations with free Wi-Fi,  while 3G is worth having if you want to take your tablet out and about. 

How much storage do I need?

Tablets come in a range of storage options from 8GB up to 128GB. You’re likely to need at least 16GB for apps, games, ebooks and video. If you intend to store lots of space-hungry games, opt for a larger capacity in the 32GB+ range.