Part two of NIC BOERMA’s definitive buyers’ guide concentrates on tablets.
Unlike mobile phones, tablets exist as pedigree devices, or at least they would if manufacturers would stop trying to prostitute them into money-spinners. When the iPad launched, everyone wondered what the point was. Slates had tanked hard in the past and touch PCs were the purview of the obscure.
Tablets have become consumption mechanisms. They are not for creating content like mobile phones, cameras or computers; they are for absorbing information and all the physical and cognitive implications that are part and parcel of this process. Tablets are for browsing silly websites in bed, watching videos, reading magazines, checking out Facebook or at a push reading through mail or taking minutes in a meeting. In essence a tablet is a mobile web browser, a window to the digital world.
Apple brought the tablet to the market. There were many shoddy attempts at making touch computing happen in the past, but Apple made the first iPad light – both physically and in terms of interface overhead. It was a pleasure to use and was jam packed with apps to extend its functionality. Steve Jobs never wanted an iPad Mini; tablets were to be as important a medium as the media it served.
If it’s the original experience you are after with all the trimmings of the iTunes store, the iPad is still the best selling tab for many reasons, some 375 000 of them downloadable. Retina display, fluid software and apps that are rigorously tested makes for the most polished experience available.
As with smartphones, Google’s Android platform offers a more liberated software experience. Originally there were separate versions of Android for phones and tablets, but atypically of open source there was so much fragmentation that the two were merged. Manufacturers still love to abuse Google’s open platform and try to make it proprietary, but thankfully Android translates exceptionally well to tablets; in some ways the bigger screen makes Android’s flexibility even better than mobile phones.
If you stick to the philosophy of consumption, Android is on par with Apple in many ways and even manages to do some things better, such as supporting Flash and allowing geographically restricted apps to be pushed through to the device. Throw in waterproof devices such as the Xperia Z and you can take your tablet to the kitchen, bathroom or beach.
Microsoft have the absolute lions’ share of the personal computer market hovering around 90%. In a bizarre move they retro engineered the next iteration of Windows to be touch based, a move that alienated traditional PC users and did little to disrupt the status quo. Windows 8 comes in two flavours, the regular OS that requires PC infrustructure such as Intel processors and another, RT, that runs on standard mobile hardware. RT does not support any existing Windows Software and has very little developer support, not to mention a complete lack of market interest. Steve Balmer was reportedly hoofed by the board of Microsoft for Windows RT, which resulted in a $900million write-off.
That said, regular Windows is perfect to basterdise a tablet into a laptop. If you don’t want an ultrabook and a separate tablet you will have to accept a bit of clunk and some extra girth and weight, not to mention a few extras like removable keyboards and docking stations. In exchange you will have a full PC with uncompromising functionality and a somewhat akward tablet. There is huge potential down this path but for now it comes with a rather steep learning curve.
It’s essential to have a clear, intended purpose for a tablet before making any buying decisions, but some rules are universal. The screen must be big, less than 9 inches, and it’s not a true tablet but a hybrid device with a different purpose. In addition to size and in lieu of a consumption impetus, the display must be crisp with the highest resolution possible. Don’t settle for more processing power, memory or accessories if the screen isn’t top-notch. Lastly, it’s essential to like a chosen tablet and using it, or it will become a frustrating experience and eventually a very pricey path to paperwight collecting.