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What makes a Best Buy tablet?

5 features that separate the best from the rest

Apple iPad 2

Apple has set the bar for tablet computers very high. Do any others come near? Find out in our Best Buy tablet reviews

We’re all in favour of advances in technology and have embraced tablet computers, however there are still only a select few with a Which? Best Buy award. And what’s worse, we’ve tested two tablets that are best avoided having received the rare Don’t Buy accolade.

Which? members can read our full, lab-based tablet reviews to find out more about those particular models, but here’s a run down of pitfalls to look out for when buying a tablet.

1. Screen quality

The screen quality is of paramount importance when it comes to tablets. A decent screen can create a seamless interface between the device and its user. A poor screen causes frustration.

In our tests we examine the screen normal room lighting, and brightly lit conditions to see how it looks in different conditions. A decent screen will provide a good viewing angle, accurate colours and few annoying reflections. But it’s not just the look, the feel and responsiveness of the touchscreen is also key, yet so many tablets fail at this hurdle, making them an immediate disappointment.

Sensitivity, versatility and accuracy are the watchwords when we get our hands on tablets in the labs. And we knock points off the tablet’s test score if the on-screen keyboard is awkward or fiddly to use, or the screen is particularly prone to greasy fingerprints.

2. Battery life

You can buy a tablet with the most gorgeous and responsive, HD touchscreen in the world, but if the tablet’s battery dies after just a few hours you’ll wish you’d saved your money. Tablets sent to the Which? Test Lab are put through a set of rigorous real-world tests to see how long a fully-charged battery lasts when playing HD video or browsing the web. 

BlackBerry PlayBook

There simply aren’t as many apps available from the BlackBerry App World as there are from Apple’s app Store

The best tablets can manage well over eight hours on a single battery charge. Or, if time is short, their batteries can be partly recharged in just 30 minutes, to give up to around two and a half hours of running time. Contrast that with another tablet in our test, which took three hours to fully charge, and could only muster less than four hours of HD video playback. 

Even this lacklustre performance looks positively stellar when compared with the worst-performing tablet on test. Bottom of the tablet league is a model that struggles to last even 90 minutes, meaning that you’ll be pretty much tied to a power socket, making a mockery of the portable nature of tablets.

Find out more about how we test tablets

3. Design and build quality

Apple sets very high standards with both the original iPad and iPad 2. Slim yet strong; lightweight yet powerful. And while the big brands are trying hard to make their tablets ooze the same level of design and quality, not all of them are really able to cut the mustard.

Motorola’s Xoom, for example, weighs a pretty hefty 707g although that manifests itself in a reassuringly solid feel. On the other hand, one of the Which? Don’t Buy tablets – we won’t embarrass the manufacturer by naming it here – weighs in at a whopping 920g but has a nasty habit of flexing and creaking when you touch the plastic body. This is a real let-down when you’re expected to pay more than £400 for a tablet.

4. Tablet operating system

A lot of people will put the choice of operating system (OS) down to personal taste. Users of Android phones might opt for an Android tablet for the sake of familiarity. Others who want to use their tablet as an extension to their Windows PC may opt for a Windows 7 tablet, and all of this makes perfect sense.

However it’s vital the interface works for touch operation, which means large, easy to use icons and logical gestures to save time. Apple’s iOS is well-suited, as is Android 3.0, but many tablets use older version of Android not designed for tablets. Likewise, many complain that Windows works beautifully on a PC but isn’t quite cut out for touchscreens. So when all’s said and done, the choice of OS is largely based on personal taste, but some systems simply work better than others on tablets.

5. App store

Tablets are all about the apps. Interact with the app stores and you’ll get a lot more out of your device – be it productivity, entertainment, news or utility. Again the interface between the user, including the payment method for buying apps, needs to be straightforward. Unfortunately, there are a number of tablets that can’t even provide access to the app stores – some of which are Android-based devices. Too often you get access to the manufacturer’s App store in lieu of the Android Market, which simply isn’t as well-established and doesn’t offer the same broad choice.

Too much emphasis may be put on the number of apps that an app store offers – particularly when we’re talking in terms of hundreds of thousands – but it does give an idea as to what’s available. The more apps there are, then the more likely it is that you’ll find the app that suits your need.

Android is an open platform allowing anyone to develop apps for other users to download. This appeals to many users but not to those who prefer the more stringent control that Apple exercises.

See which tablets come out top in our lab tests in the Which? tablets review. 

Not sure about tablets? Our tablet buying guide will tell you when you should choose a tablet over a smartphone, netbook or laptop and how to find the best one for you.

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