A Few Thoughts on Tablets

By | December 10, 2016

I’ve been through quite a few Android tablets since they first hit the market a few years back.  I started with the incredibly well built T-Mobile branded Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.  I actually still have this tablet and it still works.  This particular tablet was during Samsung’s early days in the Android smartphone and tablet market.  It is built like a tank, very solid construction despite it being plastic.  Holding this device and then holding a new Samsung tablet makes the newer Samsung tablets feel very flimsy and fragile.  Samsung’s choice of materials since they became popular has been one of the reasons I’ve shied away from them, that and their TouchWiz UI. which I’m not a fan at all.  Luckily there are quite a few other tablets on the market to choose from, but how to choose from the many other options?

For many people, the choice is simple, get an iPad or an iPad mini.  Being a “Linux guy”, I’m not wild about Apple’s products, they’re great for a lot of people, just not for me.  I don’t particularly like the way Apple does things and I’ve already got an investment in the Amazon and Google ecosystems.  With that, adding an Apple product into the mix isn’t something I’m willing to do.  The same holds true for Amazon Fire tablets.  With FreeTime, they’re great for my kids and my parents, but I need something that ties into the Google ecosystem for both personal and business use.  So that narrows things down to Android tablets from other manufacturers.  You would think that would make things easier, but in fact, it makes choosing a tablet extremely difficult due to the huge range of tablets from literally dozens of manufacturers.  If I wanted Apple or Amazon, it would be easy.  Their products are both top-notch and there are only a few models to choose from, almost all of which are high quality products.

With that being said, how does one go about choosing the “right” tablet for their use?  The first and arguably most important step in choosing a tablet is to ask the question: What will the tablet be used for?  If you’ve got a recent “flagship” smartphone, such as the OnePlus 3, then it will likely have a nicer screen, faster processor and more RAM than just about any tablet currently on the market.  So, why get a tablet at all?

In the past 6 years, my wife and I have gone through quite a few tablets:  The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (T-Mobile LTE), the Nexus 7, the Nexus 7 2013 (LTE), Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, the Nexus 10, the NVIDIA Shield (LTE), the Asus ZenPad S 8.0, various Amazon Fire tablets, and a Chuwi 10″ tablet.

If your answer is to primarily read books, then you don’t need a tablet, you need a Kindle Paperwhite.  They are far superior for reading than any general purpose tablet available.  They are just the right size and weight, and they don’t need to be charged regularly.  I can usually go two to three weeks between charges on my Paperwhite, reading between 15 and 25 minutes a day.  A tablet can be used to read with the Kindle or any of the other e-reader apps, and if you’re only going to do it occasionally, then a tablet is fine.  I have both a Paperwhite and several tablets, but if I’m going to read for more than 5 minutes, I’ll grab the Paperwhite every single time.

If you’re planning to watch movies or YouTube on it, then tablets are great options for media consumption — especially now that Netflix offers offline viewing.  Tablets generally have a much longer battery life than a phone, and the larger screen makes watching content a much more enjoyable experience.  If you’re planning on taking movies out with you offline, then one thing to watch for is whether or not it the storage can be expanded with a micro SD card or not.  None of the Google branded tablets can be.  The resolution and aspect ratio of the screen are also considerations.

If you’re planning on just using it for using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, then your phone is probably still a better choice.  Most android apps, including those for most social media sites really don’t take full advantage of the large screens on a tablet.  They’re just stretched out or larger versions of their phone apps, so there really is no benefit to having the larger screen of a tablet.

For doing light editing of movies and photos, tablets are much better.  The larger screens really help with showing the controls and details.  The down side to that is that many tablets have a very low screen resolution, so photos will not look very sharp.  If this is important for you, you’ll want to focus on screen resolution and quality.

If you plan on using it primarily for business, make sure that your tablet has available a detachable keyboard and strong battery life. Speed and screen resolution aren’t nearly as important when writing documents or putting together presentations.  You may also want to check capabilities for connecting external displays, either by micro HDMI, casting, or a USB type C connectable display adapter.

If gaming is your focus, there really is only once choice, and thats the Nvidia Shield tablet.  It has a nice 8 inch 1920×1200 screen, a Tegra processor and the most powerful GPU available in a tablet.  In addition, its got nice front facing speakers for good sound, especially from a mobile device.  I’ve owned one of these tablets since they first came out, and they’re really quite nice.  The down side to them is that they are a bit chunkier and heavier than competitors.  As a general purpose tablet, they’re quite nice, but the focus is really on gaming.  Its also a difficult tablet to beat at less than $200.  I haven’t used mine in awhile as the battery life is just mediocre and the 16:10 aspect ratio and heaviness of the tablet made it less desirable for me to use on a daily basis since I don’t really play games on it.

Over the next few days, I’ll be writing up some specific reviews on the latest tablets I’ve tried, this includes the Chuwi HiPro 10″, the Asus Zenpad 3S 10″ tablet and the Asus Zenpad S 8.  I’ll be comparing these tablets against each other and the Nvidia Shield.

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