Top tips for buying a tablet

About The Author

CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon

Whether you're thinking about an iPad for the kids, a PlayBook for work or a Honeycomb tablet for a little bit of both,then chances are you are one of the millions of tech lovers in the market for a tablet computer this year.

Apple's iPad is the dominant player in 2011, but should you think a little harder about your tablet choice before you leap in to Apple's ecosystem? We break down the decisions we'd make in purchasing a new tablet this year.

Which OS?

This decision is probably the most important and it will likely dominate how you use your tablet once you've bought it. At the time of writing, the choice is really between three systems: Apple's iOS, Google's Android and the BlackBerry Tablet OS. You can also buy tablets running Windows 7, but we're yet to see an example of this that has really impressed us.

Your choice of OS will then inform the other important decisions you need to make when differentiating between the growing number of tablets on offer. Click through to the second page of this feature for a comparison of the major tablet platforms.

Size and weight

Screen size and weight are two very important factors for portable devices, and finding the right balance between a big screen and a weight you are willing to hold for long periods of time is essential. As you will see later in our OS comparison, only Android tablets really offer a choice of screen size, as the Apple and BlackBerry tablets only offer a one-size-fits-all solution.

Screen size is the main factor that determines the weight of a device, as a large portion of this heft comes from the glass used to cover the LCD panel. In the table below you can see how doubling the diagonal screen size of a tablet can triple the weight of the device overall.

Tablet Screen size Weight
Dell Streak 5-inch 220g
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch 380g
BlackBerry PlayBook 7-inch 425g
Apple iPad 2 10-inch 607g
Motorola Xoom 10-inch 730g


You'll also want to consider which connectivity options you'll need to make the most of your tablet computer. Will you need 3G for internet on the move? Will you use an HDMI port to deliver presentations to clients or share movies on a big screen TV? Are you a photographer who needs access to an SD card slot on the device to share your work with clients? Today's tablets often offer one or more of these solutions and it'll be up to you to buy the model with the slots and sockets to meet your needs and budget.

Connectivity checklist: does the tablet you're looking at have the following?

  • 3G or Wi-Fi only
  • HDMI, and does it come with a cable?
  • Micro or mini USB
  • Full-size USB host port
  • MicroSD memory expansion
  • SD card reader slot

Beyond these major considerations there is still plenty that separates the best tablets from the worst. The Lenovo ThinkPad, for example, comes with a capacitive stylus, while the HTC Flyer offers one as an optional extra. Samsung's tablets have an 8-megapixel camera, while the iPad 2 only has a 1-megapixel camera.

Maybe you're actually looking for a netbook? Checkout our tablet or netbook comparison here.

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kakillion posted a comment   
United States

I am an American getting ready to temporarily move to Australia. I'm thinking about buying a tablet with 3 or 4G capability but want to make sure it will be supported in Australia. Can anyone tell me the best 3/4G provider so I can see what tablets work on their service?


RogerH posted a reply   

Telstra has the biggest and best coverage by a long shot. 4G may still be limited to major cities.


gen_x posted a comment   

What a crock... the number of Apps for the iPad that are simply expanded versions of iPhone apps is enourmous. I very much doubt they have 60,000 "tablet-specific" apps... more like 60,000 "Apps that can be run on tablets by making it twice as large as it needs to be".


aslsw66 posted a comment   

I have an iPad (1st gen) and my wife also has an iPad (2nd gen). However, I don't want to enter the OS wars as I truly believe that it's whatever works best for you.

What I do want to do is extol the virtues of these small beasts. They can't replace a laptop, but for media consumption they are in fact better.

I'm now in Geneva, and my iPad was the perfect companion for the long flights. Forget about the inflight entertainment offerred by airlines, I watch, listen, read and play what I want, when I want. The same goes for long train journeys - who cares about 3 hours on a train when I can catch up on some movies and TV shows.

My wife is actually more active - she uses hers to take notes at uni.

In terms of form factor, I like the larger screen size of the iPad compared to some competitors - it's better for watching movies and browsing the web (eg. sites that aren't mobile-friendly). Yes, the trade-off is the weight and it's not the sort of device I carry everywhere (although if I get a small bag that could change).

So far, in terms of my use, the lack of flash and connectivity options hasn't really stopped me from enjoying the device.

If you can justify spending the money to add another gadget to the stable (mine was a present!) then I recommend a tablet - just find the one with the features for you.


Queely88 posted a comment   

hey mate,
i have the LG Optimus Black! I see you did the review for it on CNET you said an upside was the great battery life, i have to charge mine every night!! is there something i am doing wrong or how can i make it last longer (i don't even use it much but the battery still goes)


Joseph Hanlon posted a reply   

Hi there,

There are a few things all Android users can do to extend their battery life. Take a look at this article we put together 6-months ago.


CampbellS posted a comment   

Im going to wait for the Sony S1 to come out before I buy.
HP Tablet is now history as consumers wanted a ipadesq device rather than a tablet pc.

Remember developers ipadesq - NOT tablet PC's. They have been and gone.

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