Tablet and iPad Buying Guide - Best Buy Canada

June 28, 2013

Tablet and iPad Buying Guide

From online shopping to multiplayer mobile gaming to letting you rock out to your tunes on the bus, a tablet has something to offer everyone. Best Buy has a wide selection of tablets and iPads from Apple, ASUS, Samsung and Microsoft to help keep your life mobile.

What is a Tablet?

Bigger than a smartphone, more portable than a laptop, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound – okay, maybe that last one isn’t something that a tablet can do – a tablet bridges the gap between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s a mobile device that lets you browse the Internet, access e-mail, download apps, play mobile games, video chat, watch HD movies, and so much more.

If you’re looking for a mobile device that can do nearly everything your smartphone and laptop can, minus the bulk and small screen, then you may just fall in love with a tablet or iPad. Read on to learn more about these multifunctional wonders.

Who’s Running the Show?

Like smartphones, tablets and iPads are controlled by a mobile operating system (OS). This software is pre-loaded into your tablet and controls how it runs programs and applications, like the web browser or a mobile game. There are three operating systems that currently dominate the market: Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows 8. Each one offers something different and playing around with tablets that run each OS is the best way to find the right fit for you.

Apple iOS

The Apple iOS is the same operating system that runs on the iPhone and iPod touch and is found the iPad, iPad with Retina display and iPad mini. A sleek, simple, and highly intuitive interface, the iOS offers over 300,000 apps, video game console-quality mobile gaming, iTunes integration, and multi-touch controls (using three fingers on the screen instead of two produces different responses).

If you want to take your music collection wherever you go, you may want to choose an iPad with a larger storage capacity. While these devices don’t have an external memory slot, you could also use iCloud, which lets you easily sync and share content between your iPad and other Apple devices. Staying in touch with other Apple devices is also a snap since you can use FaceTime to video chat and iMessage to send free messages; both technologies work whenever you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

Google Android OS

Android gives you the freedom to customize your tablet experience with over 600,000 apps and games from Google Play, custom themes and wallpapers, widgets, and so much more. Unlike the Apple iOS, Android is open-source software available on a wide variety of tablets from leading manufacturers like ASUS, Samsung, Lenovo and Sony. Most Android-powered tablets support Flash, so you can get more out of your entertainment and web pages. From the interface to the hardware, Google’s Android gives you the ability to create the tablet of your dreams.

For more information on Android, check out our information-packed Android Buying Guide.

Microsoft Windows OS

If you’ve ever used a PC, chances are you’ve met the Microsoft Windows OS. Microsoft’s mobile version of its hugely popular operating system gives users a very familiar and easy-to-use experience in two formats, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Found in both tablets and PCs, Windows 8 is a completely reimagined OS that is packed with fresh features. The customizable start screen is filled with Live Tiles that keep you up to date with people, apps, websites, photos and more, while the Windows Store brings you a world of apps, from games to social media to news. Plus, your Windows 8 tablet is compatible with your existing PC software, programs, music downloads and peripherals. With a Windows 8 tablet, you stay connected to all your other Windows 8 devices through your Microsoft account, making it easy to start a project on your PC and finish it on the go on your tablet.

Designed specifically for tablets and lightweight PCs, Windows RT offers many of the same features as Windows 8, including the customizable interface, Internet Explorer and built-in apps. In addition, it also comes preloaded with a special version of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), optimized for your tablet’s touchscreen. As a streamlined version of Windows 8, Windows RT can only run built-in apps or apps from the Windows Store, and does not let you install new desktop applications such as Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center.

The Basics

When shopping for a tablet, there are three things you should also look at: the processor, RAM, and storage capacity. Get the right mix of all three and you may just get the device of your dreams.

Processor

What do a tablet and the Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz have in common? They both require a brain. For a tablet, that brain is its mobile processor. Just like a laptop, tablet processors can have single, dual or quad cores. The higher the number of cores in a tablet, the better it can run multiple applications without slowing down your device. If you’re constantly multitasking and running resource-heavy apps like games and HD movies, consider a dual-core tablet with a processor speed faster than 1GHz.

RAM

RAM, or pre-installed system memory, gives your tablet temporary space to read and write data that your processor can access to help run applications smoothly and quickly. Typically, the more RAM you have, the better your tablet will run, but performance can vary depending on what operating system and processor your tablet is powered by.

Storage Capacity

A tablet with a high storage capacity will give you the ability to store more apps, movies, songs, and photos, so you can really maximize what you can do with your device. And if your tablet still doesn’t have enough room for all your entertainment, some models allow you to connect an external memory device, such as a USB stick or SD card, to share and save even more movies, music, photos, and files.

You can also use cloud storage to save your content. It’s an online storage solution that lets you upload your files, so you can easily access content on another device or through a website. A great backup solution, you can get cloud storage on your tablet as either a downloaded application like Dropbox or built into your device such as Apple’s iCloud for the iPad.

Features to Consider

Check out some features that will make your tablet or iPad the ultimate tool for work and play.

Screen Size

Tablets aren’t one size fits all. With screen sizes ranging from 5 to 12.1 inches, there’s a tablet to fit any purse, backpack and mobile lifestyle. Generally, the smaller the screen size, the lighter the tablet. So, if you always take your tablet on the go for reading, listening to music or snapping photos, a smaller, more lightweight tablet around 7 inches might be ideal. If you constantly use your tablet for watching HD movies and working, a larger screen size might suit you better.

Screen Resolution

Finding a tablet without a high definition screen resolution would be as challenging as trying to find a grain of salt on a sandy beach. Most tablets start at an 800 x 400 HD resolution and the higher your screen resolution, the crisper, clearer, and more lifelike your images will appear. For the Full HD experience, look for a tablet with 1920 x 1080p resolution.

Touchscreen

All tablets are made with touchscreens that provide you with an intuitive way to navigate and operate your device. Most tablets are equipped with a capacitive touchscreen, which detects the slightest touch of your fingers and responds immediately to whatever movement you make. For example, you just need to swipe your finger left or right to move through your tablet’s different home screens.

Some tablets have resistive touchscreens that are made from two layers of flexible material with a space between them. Pressing on the outer screen connects the two layers so your tablet will register your touch. A firmer hand is needed with these touchscreens, but they’re ideal in colder climates where you may be wearing gloves most of the time.

Battery Life

Have you ever thrown a party and after everyone has gone home, you have that one friend who still has the energy to dance or talk until the birds start chirping? Yeah, a solid tablet is that kind of friend. Made to keep up with your on-the-go lifestyle, a tablet usually has a battery life of 6 hours or more on a single charge, so you can get more done without slowing down to charge your device. Some tablets even boast a battery life of 10 hours or more, giving you the freedom to work and play on it all day without being chained to a power cord.

Cameras

Tablets usually come with an integrated camera that can take high resolution photos and videos. Some tablets even offer built-in flash to light up dimly lit moments. If you’re a fan of video calling or even just face-to-face meetings, then you’ll want to look for a front-facing camera, which easily facilitates this kind of interaction.

Water Resistance

The thought of spilling coffee on your tablet may scare you, but with a water-resistant tablet, you don’t have to worry. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a water-resistant tablet that can handle up to 30 minutes under one metre of water. It’s even resistant to water jets.

Stylus

A stylus is like a pen for your tablet. It can help boost productivity by making it easier and more precise to write, draw and tap on your tablet. Tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 come with a stylus, perfect for writing, note-taking and more.

Getting Connected

Tablets usually come with different ports to help you get connected to your other devices. Here are some of the most common:

  • A Universal Serial Bus (USB) or micro USB port lets you connect external hard drives, memory sticks, computers, and more to your tablet.
  • An HDMI or micro HDMI port lets you connect to an HD monitor or HDTV, so you can view, play, and share all your content on the big screen.
  • A memory card reader allows you to insert an SD or MicroSD card into your tablet, so you can upload pictures and video, or add extra storage space.
  • The Lightning connector is a port created by Apple for its mobile devices. Its primary use is for charging the device, but it can also be used to connect peripherals via accessory cables and adapters. The 4th generation iPad and the iPad mini are both outfitted with the Lightning connector, and it’s the only port found on these tablets.
  • The 30-pin connector is Apple’s predecessor to the Lightning connector. It has the same functionality as the Lightning connector and is found in 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation iPads

Tablets and iPads also offer a number of ways to not only get you connected online, but to your other devices as well.

Name Function Found in
Wi-Fi is a wireless chipset that allows you to access a wireless network at home or a café hotspot in Rio de Janeiro, so you can surf the web no matter where you are. Tablets and iPads
This is a wireless networking protocol that allows you to wirelessly connect peripherals (keyboard, speakers, printers) to your tablet for wireless data transfers and connectivity. Tablets and iPads
Wireless Display (WiDi) was developed by Intel and allows you to wirelessly send whatever is on your tablet display to your TV. A separate TV adapter needs to be purchased that will receive the wireless signal and pass it on to a video input in your TV. Tablets only
Developed for Apple devices, AirPlay lets you wirelessly stream videos, photos, music, apps, web pages, and more from your iPad to your HDTV and speakers via the Apple TV or AirPlay-enabled speakers over Wi-Fi. iPad only
DLNA-certified devices instantly recognize each other so you can easily send content through the network. Stream movies and pictures from your tablet to your HDTV, send documents to your printer, and so much more. Tablets only
Near Field Communication (NFC) lets you wirelessly share content with other NFC-enabled devices with just one touch. Tap your NFC-enabled tablet to your NFC-enabled smartphone, speakers or other device to instantly share music, photos, webpages and more. Tablets only

Like smartphones, tablets and iPads can also connect to a network offered by a service provider. Most tablets have either built-in 3G or 4G, which are mobile technologies that allow you to get online no matter where you are, so you can always access the Internet and your e-mail, download apps, and check your social networks. Often referred to as “data access,” you’ll usually need to sign a contract and pay a monthly fee for this round-the-clock service.

What Can I Do With a Tablet?

There is virtually no limit to what you can do with a tablet or where you can take it. These are just a few of the awesome things a tablet or iPad can offer.

Surf the Web

When you’re five minutes away from missing your mom’s surprise birthday party, but can’t remember the restaurant’s address for the life of you, your tablet’s web browser and built-in search engine will prove its worth. And when combined with the intuitive touchscreen, a tablet may just change the way you surf the web forever.

Download Apps

An app is a software application that lives on your home screen and lets you access information and entertainment without ever needing to go into your web browser. There are apps for almost anything – from an app that can organize your chores to one that can help you figure out a watermelon’s ripeness just by tapping on it.

Each OS offers a wide variety of apps to make your life easier and more fun, so go ahead and download to your heart’s content!

Connect to Social Media

Many social media networks have developed apps designed to maximize your tablet’s capabilities. For example, you can take a photo on your tablet and when you hit the share button, you may see an option to upload it directly to Facebook or Twitter. It’s just another way tablets make staying in touch a breeze.

Playing Mobile Games

The large screen size of a tablet makes it perfect for handheld gaming. The HD screen resolution also makes every explosion, achievement, and epic win stand out in razor sharp clarity.

Take your Music Everywhere

Imagine you’re on an 18-hour journey to Brisbane, Australia, you’re seated between two competitive snorers, and you have nothing to drown out the sound. While this terrifying seating situation may be unavoidable, you can at least rely on your music collection on your tablet to get you through. And if you get sick of your tunes by the end of the trip, you can easily download some new songs once you’re back on solid ground.

Watch HD Movies

Another great way to forget you’re on a long flight between two of the loudest snorers on earth? Watching a great HD movie (or five) on your sleek tablet. You even get great cinematic quality thanks to the HD resolution and stunning display.

Organize Your Life

Tired of organizing your social calendar and to-do lists on Post-it’s stuck in every corner of your home? Live life a little more efficiently – and awesomely – with a tablet packed with handy organization and productivity apps.

Stay Productive

You don’t have to be chained to a desk all day to get work done. From business presentations to class projects, tablets support apps and tools perfect for work, such as Microsoft Office and Apple’s iWork. You can even download textbooks to some tablets, perfect for studying on the go. And with a Bluetooth keyboard, typing up a long essay or project is just as easy as being on a computer.

Share and Stream

The mobile nature of a tablet means that it needs to be ready to connect and share with your devices in a split second. As mentioned in the Getting Connected section, there are lots of ways to wirelessly connect your devices to your tablet, so you can stream your content and say buh-bye to annoying wires.

Read Books and Magazines

Some tablets come with their own e-reader built in while others give you the freedom to download the e-reader app of your choice. Scoop up the latest thriller in seconds or peruse the morning paper with just a few taps on the screen. You can even bookmark pages and highlight interesting passages.

Video Chat

Keep in touch with friends, family, classmates and colleagues through video chat. Thanks to a tablet’s front-facing camera and built-in microphone, it’s easy to catch up with mom, have a meeting with an overseas client or practice for a French exam with a classmate. iPads come preinstalled with FaceTime, a video chat platform that works with other iOS devices. Android users can download third party video chat programs such as Skype.

Entertain the Kids

If you want to keep the kids busy while you’re cooking dinner or reading a book, a tablet is the perfect solution. Apple’s App Store, Google Play and the Windows Store are filled with a variety of apps just for kids, from educational games to books and stories to music and art.

Accessories

Tablet Case

A tablet is designed to go with you almost anywhere, so help keep it safe with a case or sleeve. A tablet sleeve keeps your precious cargo safely cushioned when you’re on to go but doesn’t protect your tablet when you’re using it. A tablet case covers the back and/or front of your tablet to safeguard it against everyday bumps, scratches and impact. Some tablet cases even convert to stands, perfect for propping up your tablet for watching videos and more.

Keyboard

The sight of a tablet without a physical keyboard may strike the same fear in you as jumping into a shark tank, but the onscreen QWERTY keyboard is actually made to be super intuitive and easy to type on. If you still hear the Jaws theme song every time you see a tablet, fear not. There are Bluetooth keyboards that you can wirelessly connect to your tablet or iPad to make the experience less traumatic.

Screen Protector

A tablet’s touchscreen is a magnet for fingerprints, smudges and scratches. But, with a screen protector, you can help keep the screen in pristine condition. A good screen protector will preserve your tablet’s touch capabilities while guarding it against everyday bumps, scratches and fingerprints.

Stand

If you’re watching a movie on your iPad or tablet, the last thing you’ll want to do is hold it up in front of you. That’s when a stand comes in handy. It props up your iPad on a table or other flat surface, leaving your hands free for popcorn and soda.

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