Tablet vs Notebook – No tablet has the full functionality of a notebook. While tablets shine for portability and easy access to email and web surfing, tablets are lacking in serious word processing capabilities and full support for all websites. You can regain some lost functionality by using Remote Desktop to run the office applications that you are used to. However, this requires an active Internet connection and can be a bit frustrating on the smaller screen of a tablet. We may see tablet versions of Microsoft Office in the near future but you may want to consider the ultrabook class of laptops to get nearly as much portability as a tablet without compromising on functionality.
Longevity – Mobile technologies have drastically evolved over the past 2-3 years. Though there are signs that this pace is slowing, you should expect a tablet purchased today to be lacking many desirable features when compared to new devices appearing over the next 12 months. In two years, your new device will probably seem sluggish. A 2-3 year upgrade cycle is very much the nature of this industry.
7” or 10” tablet? – This is tough question. As portable as a 10” tablet is, many technology journalists who spent a week or more “tolerating” a 7” tablet so that they may write a review of it, found their beloved 10” tablets to be a behemoth upon returning to them. Some of those tech journalists said that they decided to switch to the 7” tablets for their daily device. The 7” tablet form fits and often feels better in one hand as an eReader; the 7” form fits more reasonably in a purse or an overcoat pocket. However, the larger screen of the 10” tablet form may better match your vision or show more text of a complex document or web page. The 10” screen is quite nice for watching Netflix but the 7” does a darned good job and fits even better on the fold-down tray table of an airplane. Lots of retail stores have multiple tablets on display. My advice is to go play with a few and get a feel for the appropriateness of both sizes before purchasing.
Storage – Tablet models with only 8GB of storage are largely unworkable for business use. Those tablets with 16GB of storage can be useful so long as you will not have a large music or video collection onboard the device. If the device has a memory expansion card slot, 16GB is even more comfortable since you can easily add 32GB or more storage with inexpensive memory cards. However, few tablets have memory card expansion slots so you need to be comfortable with the amount of storage that the unit comes with. Most people with a blended entertainment and business use will be happier with tablets that have 32GB or more of built-in storage.
Which color? – While you may prefer the white iPad over the black, the black border provides better contrast for viewing the screen. The white one is generally considered to be a bit harsh on the eyes for long viewing sessions. Also consider this when purchasing a case or cover for a tablet. Since most cases hide the border of tablet’s screen, you want to pay attention to the color of the case where it meets the screen.
Wi-Fi + Cellular or Wi-Fi Only? – Wi-Fi is very pervasive these days. We have it throughout the School of Law, across campus buildings, at Starbucks, McDonalds, often at home, and increasingly at hotels. If this level of connectivity is all that you require, the cheaper, Wi-Fi only tablet model is likely all that you need. If you do require Internet access in your car, out in the field with clients, or in other remote places, you likely should pay the extra to have the cellular version of the tablet. Cellular data access will cost you but many carriers have month-to-month or even daily rates for data access when you do not require service all of the time.
Apple, Android, or Amazon Kindle Fire? – Each ecosystem has its advantages. Apple iPads have the most polish and user-friendliness but it is the most proprietary hardware. Android is a much more open, customizable system but is a bit more for the techie. The Kindle Fire sits in the middle in many ways. However, the Kindle Fire is skewed to the entertainment, social networking, and media consumption end of the spectrum and lags behind for serious business productivity uses. Which one you should get can be debated for hours. For more freedom, customization, and value, go with an Android. For more polish and consistency at a premium cost go Apple. Also note that the Google Nexus products run a pure form of Android and receive updates and new features faster than any of the modified versions of Android.
Protecting your investment. – No tablet device is easily repaired. Apple has their AppleCare add-on for $99 which now covers accidental damage for a $50 deductible. For many cellular enabled tablets, you might be able to get damage insurance for the tablet through your cellular provider but I question the value found in many of those plans. If you can’t/don’t insure it, you probably want to put it into a rugged case like those from Otterbox. Screen protector films are often worthwhile if you do not have a simple cover or folio case for your device.
Accessories – Nearly every tablet will work with a Bluetooth keyboard when you need a physical keyboard to type on. There are often folio carry cases available for each model with a built-in keyboard but separate wireless keyboards also work. The Android based tablets also typically support a Bluetooth mouse which makes Remote Desktop on the tablet much more useable. None of the iPads support connecting a wireless mouse making menu navigation in Remote Desktop somewhat tedious and slow; your finger or stylus is just not as precise as a mouse is. The ASUS Transformer Prime (TF700) has the ultimate accessory available; the ASUS keyboard dock quickly turns your tablet into a netbook like device with large keyboard, memory card slot, USB slot for hard drives, and a touchpad like most laptops have.
Gregory has created a spreadsheet with several tablet models and their specifications. This is not an exhaustive list of all popular models. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7” and 10” models) do not appear on this list because there are a number of slight variations between the models available from different cellular service providers. However, the Galaxy Tab 2 definitely gets an honorable mention.