How to Choose a Tablet Alternative to the iPad

Tablets are among the most exciting new developments in mobile technology, but with so many options available, where do you start? If you’re a dedicated member of the iCult, you probably already have your heart and mind set on the latest iPad model. However, if you are looking for something practical, fun and affordable, free from the “trend” factor, you can find plenty of great options on the market.

Here are a few key considerations:

Operating System

Android is the fastest growing mobile operating system (OS) and has already surpassed iOS on smartphones. With the introduction of the Amazon Kindle and other low-cost Android tablets, this OS may likely soon dominate the tablet space as well.

The latest version of Android is 4.x, codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich.” Previous versions included 2.2 (Froyo) and 2.3 (Gingerbread,) both designed primarily for smartphones, and version 3.x (Honeycomb) developed just for tablets. Ice Cream Sandwich brings together the best features of the Gingerbread and Honeycomb versions for a unified user experience that works equally well on a phone or a tablet.

Any version of Android 2.2. or above delivers a quality experience for mobile applications, social networking, web surfing and multimedia. Android Honeycomb is optimized for the larger tablet screen, and a variety of new apps have been developed to support this operating system. Ice CreamSandwichwill give you the latest and greatest Android experience and provides better support for higher-end tablets. However, if you are looking for a budget tablet, a Froyo tablet may suffice to fit your needs.

Windows also offers advanced security features, proxy  support, remote desktop protocol, and other technology benefits that are challenging or impossible to implement on a mobile operating system. You may also have more connectivity than you would with other tablets, such as full USB host ports, HDMI output and more.

The current version of Windows 7 is somewhat awkward on a tablet, though many manufacturers have included software enhancements to make the OS friendlier on a touch-screen. Windows 8, scheduled to launch in late 2012, will be entirely optimized for touch tablets.

Windows tablets generally are not designed to compete with consumer-targeted devices such as the iPad. Rather than a stripped-down, simplified user interface, you’ll find the full Windows operating system experience. A Windows tablet provides robust mobile computing that is unparalleled in the tablet market. If you are looking for a commercial grade productivity tool, a Windows based product delivers stability, security and compatibility that you won’t find on an entertainment oriented tablet.

There are other operating systems out there that occasionally pop up on obscure tablets, but for the most part, Windows and Android are the two most worth your consideration.

Content

A tablet is only as good as what you can do with it. Make sure the tablet you are considering can support the file types you will use most frequently. Although Apple is the leader when it comes to app stores, there are great alternatives available for other operating system.

Google Play (previously known as Android Market) is the gold standard for Android apps, featuring hundreds of thousands of apps. The downside is that the Play store is a very open market, which makes it more susceptible to malware or simply low quality apps. On the other hand, it also offers a much broader selection than more carefully curated app stores.

Amazon Appstore for Android is a more recent contender in the app marketplace, and it is quickly gaining popularity. The user interface and experience is in many ways more intuitive than Google’s, and it will be very familiar to those who shop frequently on Amazon. You get the same great features that you enjoy when shopping for books, music or goods, such as ratings, reviews and recommendations. Also, Amazon gives away one premium paid app for free each day. The Free App of the Day is a great way to build your collection.

Both Amazon and Google save your apps in the cloud, so you can sync your favorite apps across multiple devices including tablets and smartphones.

Other popular sites for Android apps include 1Mobile Market, GetJar and SlideMe Market.

Windows, being a desktop rather than a mobile OS, doesn’t have a dedicated “app store” in the same way than an iPad or Android tablet does. However, since you have full PC capability, you can download and install all your favorite Windows applications just as you would on a desktop computer. If your tablet has a USB port, you can also install applications from USB Flash drive or from a CD/DVD with an external drive.  There are plenty of great free and open source applications to enhance your computing experience.

Processor Speed

A higher processor speed will provide faster performance and better multimedia. A 600 MHz CPU will suffice for most everyday needs, while high-powered multimedia and robust business applications can require upwards 1.5 GHz. Most Android tablets use ARM based processor technology, and those with dual- or quad-core processors will deliver the fastest performance for multimedia and gaming. However, for simply e-reader, web surfing and checking e-mail, a single-core processor of under 1 GHz should suffice. Processor based on Intel’s x86 architecture are ideal for tablet users who want to run Windows applications. Windows 8 will support both ARM and x86 type processors.

Connectivity

Do you want to dock your tablet and use it on your desktop? Will you be connecting a keyboard, mouse or other peripherals? Do you require output to an external display? Tablets today offer a variety of connectivity options. Make sure the model you choose can accommodate your needs. Wi-Fi is a must for Internet connectivity, and many tablets also include Bluetooth support for using Bluetooth accessories such as a wireless keyboard – a highly recommended addition if you are going to be writing lots of e-mails on your tablet. Some tablets also include a SIM card slot, so you can take advantage of a data plan from your cell carrier when Wi-Fi is not available.

Screen Size and Resolution

Tablets come in a range of sizes, with the most common being 7” and 10”.  A 7” tablet will be lighter and more portable, while a 10” gives you more screen space for viewing and interacting, making it ideal for business applications. Assess your resolution needs realistically. Do you need support for 3D gaming and HD movies, or are you just browsing the web and reading e-books? Also consider whether the screen supports stylus input and multi-touch gestures.

Storage

Tablets may include both built-in and external storage. Be sure to choose a device that supports microSD cards. External storage makes it easy to store and access additional content by simply swapping out memory cards. Of course, you can also store data in the cloud with cloud storage services such as DropBox orAmazon Cloud Drive, so you don’t need to keep everything locally cached on your tablet’s internal memory.

In Conclusion

There are plenty of factors to consider when purchasing a tablet, and these are just a few of the more important ones. Assess your needs realistically to determine just how much power and how many features you really need. If you are going to be reading e-books and web sites most of the time, you probably don’t need to invest in the same high-powered machine that a hardcore gamer or movie enthusiast might need.

The tablet market is exploding and new models are coming out everyday. You can even find some models under a hundred dollars – though usually they come from no-name brands and are of dubious quality. A company’s reputation, warranty and customer support policies are also important things to consider. You don’t need the latest and greatest brand name tablet to get into the exciting world of mobile computer, but you may appreciate the peace of mind that comes with purchasing from a reliable company.

The bottom line is that tablets are no longer synonymous with iPad and you don’t need to lock yourself into the closed and tightly restricted Apple ecosystem to enjoy on-the-go connectivity, productivity and entertainment. Amazon Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are making names for themselves in the tablet space as more than merely e-readers, but even these devices offer limited versions of Android that don’t deliver a complete and genuine tablet experience. Don’t jump at the first good deal you find, and don’t purchase based on brand recognition alone – study the specs, read the reviews, find out how others are using their tablets, and then decide which is truly the best choice for your needs.



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