Understanding the Tablet Soup
I am amazed at how often I talk to people and they ask me if they should get a Tablet or an iPad. They then say they have also considered a Nook or maybe they will mention a Kindle and not realize that in each of these instances, based on the conversation they are talking about the same thing. Tablet PCs some in a variety of flavors and brands, Apple is just one of them. You see ALL iPads are tablets, not all tablets are iPads.
Lets begin by breaking down the tablet market into three main platforms, iPad, Android and Windows 8 RT. All of these are Tablets and truth be told at the end of the day all of them perform essential the same for 90% or better of typical users. The major difference between the three is in the platform. Windows and iPad are both run in what is known as a “walled garden”. This means the apps that you can use on your devices are limited to those that have been allowed by Microsoft or Apple to exist. Google has made Android more open, though it does still have it’s walled garden section, it also allows for easier methods of getting apps to the consumers. This is good and bad as the walled garden will in theory protect you from poorly designed apps or even malware more than an open approach.
When deciding if you want to buy a Tablet or not the first thing to consider is what do you expect from it. You have to realize that Tablets are basically larger cell phones. They exist to bridge the gap between the cell phone and the laptop and they work off basically the same technology of most smart phones. This means if you want them for e-readers, browsing the net, goofing on Facebook, tweeting, or playing basic games then they can get the job done. Using these as a full time PC or a replacement for a desktop unit can be a lesson in frustration. With this in mind lets look at each platform and what it will offer you.
The iPad is the most well know of the Tablets on the market. Apple would have you believe it is the first Tablet for consumers but this is not true. The first Tablets trace their linage back to the late 1980s and early 1990s and were Windows based. The problem was the hardware to make them really usable in the manner intended did not exist yet at a level that made them consumer friendly. Apple however should be credited with creating the current Tablet crazy.
The iPad comes in two models, the full size model and a Mini model. The Mini is designed to go against the other 7” tablets on the market, a size that I personally feel is the best choice for a Tablet. Larger devices do give more screen area but they cut into the main reason for having a tablet, the portability. The 7” models fit will for one handed holding and operation and come at a lower cost. The min sells for around $330, this is priced $130 above three of the very popular models from the Android platform.
The iPad is a solid device and has a mature market which means a great selection of apps. If you have bought into the Apple infra-structure, having an IPhone, IPod and laptop or full Apple computer then the iPad is the absolute best pick of the Tablets. One thing Apple does very well is integrate their devices together to give a near seamless experience with moving between your devices. If however you run a Windows machine and use an Android phone then the iPad, in my opinion is not a great choice due to the price.
The Windows 8 tablets are very new to the market and that means that it’s market place for apps is much smaller than Android or iPad. This is a pretty big factor against Microsoft’s tablet platform but do not count them out yet. Microsoft is a force of nature in the computing world and it will not take long for them to have a robust market of apps.
While the Surface gets all the attention right now Microsoft has allowed other companies to develop tablets and many have already brought products to the market. This separates the Windows solution from the iPad in a big way as all iPads are produced by Apple only. This means in the next year or so we should see more designs and hopefully some pricing competition to lower the cost. At this time the Windows RT Platform seems to be limited in Tablets to larger sizes and this means it is price at $600 and more just like the larger iPad.
The Windows 8 interface, to me, is much nicer than the other tablet interfaces with the Live Tiles giving you a lot of information at a quick glance but the higher cost and the smaller app market make this a tough buy.
When it comes to the Android platform the most recognized tablet is the Nexus 7. The Android platform is made by Google and they have worked hard to get this platform out with a lot of partners. This means that there are a lot of tablets that use this platform and they range in price in size across the entire spectrum. The Nexus 7 is a 7” tablet priced at $200 and that is why it is one of the most popular choices on the market. The 7” tablet fits well in a hand and the $200 price point is pretty easy to swallow, even in the current economy.
The Nexus is open and allows you to get pretty much any app you like from the Google store as well as some third party pass. The app store has a very large selection and then you add in the ability to use apps not found on the store, you get a broad app selection. In fact the open platform even allows some use of apps from Apple and Microsoft.
The Android market however can get a bit messy as there are two sub-divisions of the market. Both the Nook and Kindle tablets make use of the Android system but do so in a walled garden environment as we mentioned with Apple and Windows 8. Both Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon have stores to allow specific access for each of their devices. This is an advantage offered by the Nexus over these two tablets in the fact that if you want to make use of both stores and what they offer you can easily do that on the Nexus.
The Kindle Fire HD is a 7” tablet that uses the Android platform but is designed to work specifically with the Amazon store. While it lacks the wide open store setup of the Nexus, Amazon has worked hard to make sure you have a large selection of books, movies and music. With the interface specifically designed to work with the Amazon store this is really simple to use. They have also populated the store with a number of apps that have been Amazon approved.
Priced like the Nexus at $200 the Fire is a great choice, especially if multimedia is what you want your tablet for. It still does all the same basic functions but if you have bought into the Amazon structure then this tablet makes it easy to make use of it.
Barnes and Noble were not to be outdone and they brought the Nook HD. Just like the Kindle this tablet is limited to a store that is made by the company making it, in this case Barnes and Noble. While Barnes and Noble might not have the large multi-media selections in their store they are without a doubt the leader in e-reader options with the largest selection of books and magazines.
As with the other two Android platform tablets the Nook is a 7” tablet priced at $200. Having seen all three of these tablets I can tell you I was most impressed with the Nook when it came to display quality, it has the highest resolution screen of the three.
Were the Nexus is a tablet that can be a reader and the Kindle is a multi-media platform that can be a table, the Nook at it’s heart is an e-reader than can be a tablet. If you want your tablet for books and magazines the Nook is the best choice by far. Of course if you have already bought into the Nook system then it is a clear choice.
Now there are a ton of other options when it comes to tablets, the Android platform is full of choices but I feel these three listed are the best of those choices. The iPad is a great tablet but the extra money does not give any real benefit at the end of the day unless you are committed to the Apple ecosystem. The Windows 8 platform looks impressive and in a year or two could be a real contender but for this shopping season the lack of a 7” model and the high price to me makes it a none choice. The hard decision time comes when you reach the Nexus, Nook and Kindle.
The Nexus offers a clear advantage of the open architecture or does it? Having a million apps sounds nice, until you realize you will likely only use a few of those and have to weed through the ton of crap apps that make up those million apps. The Nook and Kindle both have a more limited choice but the limit is in an area that in my opinion matter s less. Both offer great web browsing and let you use Facebook or Twitter to your hearts content as well as the social gaming. They can get email, do Skype and play movies and music.
The Nook is a bit more sedate when it comes to features, not offering a camera for instance. However it does offer an easy to use family profile system so the family can share the tablet and not mess it up for each other. The rest of it’s features reflect this kind of real world use philosophy.
Is there one right answer as to which is best, NO. That however is good news because that means there is a tablet with the features and price point out there someplace that will fit your specific needs.
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