Modern tablet computers are seven years old this year, and your device might be a few years old by now. Tablet users tend to upgrade these devices less frequently than they do their laptop or desktop computers, but you may be mulling a new purchase. What should you be looking for?
For most people, the iPad still reigns in the tablet world. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc. defined the tablet as a product category when the company launched the iPad in 2010, and it still dominates the space. The iPad accounts for 30% of worldwide tablet shipments, according to Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Research Inc., but the product space has flowered with offerings from other vendors.
Seoul-based Samsung Group sits in second place, with 15.8% of the market, followed by Shenzen, China-based Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. (whose Kindle Fire product is not available in Canada) and Beijing-based Lenovo Group Ltd., follow in that order.
In 2010, you could have any tablet you wanted, as long as it was 9.7 inches (24.6 centimetres) on the diagonal and had an Apple logo on the back. In 2017, tablets are available in various form factors (more about this below) and sport different features. To help you choose the device that's best for you, features to consider include:
- OPERATING SYSTEM
The first point you should look at is the operating system (OS) the tablet runs on. Apple may dominate the tablet market with its hardware, but Android, created by Google, a subsidiary of Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphabet Inc., rules the tablet OS market because it ships with many tablet vendors' devices.
Google just unveiled Version 8 of its software, nicknamed Oreo. It features improvements such as picture-in-picture support so users can view two apps at once, better battery-management technology and faster boot-up speeds.
Android eventually updates itself on all devices using its OS, but Google's Pixel tablet always gets the first rollouts.
Apple will update its iOS to version 11 shortly. This OS offers more features that tie it into other products in the same iOS ecosystem: the Apple Watch, the iPhone and the MacBook. For example, Apple's messaging app will sync across multiple iOS-based devices. Version 11 also features productivity improvements for the iPad, including support for a larger app dock, drag-and-drop support and a new app switcher.
Improvements on all these OSes have something in common: they support more productivity and make your tablet more like your laptop, enabling you to switch between apps more easily. This move reflects vendors' efforts to lure users into buying new devices.
Enhanced productivity is something that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. already has in its tablet OS, because it's the same OS that is used on full-fledged PC laptops and desktops.
Windows has a built-in tablet mode that Microsoft struggled to get right in Windows 8, but nailed well enough in Windows 10. Like both Apple and Google, Microsoft has its own tablet system in its Surface product line. The Surface Pro is Microsoft's flagship tablet product, while the Surface Book is a "convertible" that functions primarily as a laptop but converts easily into a tablet.
- FORM FACTOR AND STYLUS OPTIONS
Today, tablets have both grown and shrunk in size. At the small end of the size spectrum, the line has blurred between tablets and smartphones, with large form-factor "phablets" offering both cellphone and tablet capabilities. Tablet displays go as low as seven inches (18 cm), and are useful when you're on the go and want something easy and light. Still, these devices are unlikely to slip into your pocket easily.
At the larger end of the spectrum, Apple's iPad Pro is a behemoth, available in 10.5-inch (26.7 cm) or 12.9-inch (33.8 cm) versions that the company touts as a potential laptop replacement with its removable keyboard/cover. These sizes make the reading experience far more pleasurable, and the device also has something else going for it: a stylus.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said that he wouldn't ship a device with a stylus, but successor Tim Cook thought differently. The iPad Pro features the Apple Pencil, an attractive if costly add-on that allows you to write or draw on the screen and responds to varying pressure like a real pencil. This new tablet will integrate more closely with iOS 11, enabling you to write notes directly on the lock screen, for example.
Microsoft's Surface line features a stylus. Google's Pixel C tablet, announced in 2015 and arguably ready for an update, doesn't.
- DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY
As the tablet market becomes saturated, vendors are on the lookout for ways to entice users into an upgrade. One way to do this is to focus on the most visible and important aspect of the device: the screen. Apple's display uses LCD, a relatively old technology that's still the market standard. The company has built new features into its display technology, such as a faster refresh rate and a wider colour display. The iPad also features technology that senses the light in the room and adjusts the display's colour intensity accordingly.
Samsung has taken a leap of faith with its S tablet product line, using displays based on Active Matrix Organic LED (AMOLED). This display technology enables pixels - the individual dots on the screen - to display their own light rather than relying on a backlight in the unit. This tech enables individual pixels to be brighter than those on most LCD displays and also lets dark pixels be truly black because they're not affected by a backlight. This makes AMOLED excellent for watching video.
Display resolution (the number of pixels on the screen) will be an important factor in your choice of tablet. Lower-end tablets, typically running on the Android OS, still feature support for lower resolution, while higher-end devices bump up the pixel count. This resolution level becomes increasingly important when reading printed material on page-sized screens.
Finally, consider a convertible instead of a straight-out tablet. Although Apple has stuck to add-on keyboards that double as covers, Windows and Android vendors have produced laptop computers that flip around quickly into tablet mode. These units give you more processing power and, in some cases, higher-end graphics capability, effectively marrying conventional computing power with the convenience of a touch-and-swipe tablet experience.
Convertibles, also known as 2-in-1 devices, stretch in screen size from 11 inches (27.9 cm) to 15.6 inches (39.6 cm). Be aware that the latter will be considerably bulkier than a thin, dedicated tablet.
So, is it worth replacing that iPad you bought in 2013? A lot depends on how much time you spend working on your device. Better screen technology, faster processing power and more memory capacity mean you'll notice the difference when moving to a new device.
An investment now could make your tablet experience a lot more enjoyable - both in the office and at the lake.
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