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How to buy the best tablet

By Adam Marshall

Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface, Samsung Galaxy- or a completely different tablet? Whether you're after a cheap tablet or a large-screen one, this expert guide will help you pick out the ideal tablet for you.

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The best tablets will be snappy, with plenty of storage and a bright, crisp screen. They'll also be easy to use. They can range from £50 to over a £1000, but whatever your budget, there are key things to consider. 

The tablet has become almost ubiquitous since Apple popularised them with the iPad in 2010. While Apple's slab remains as popular as ever, there are now plenty of other options from other brands, and not all are created equal.

We take a look at some of the main things to consider when shopping around for a new tablet, and help find the best tablet for your own needs.

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Buying the best tablet for you

Before you set off to buy a tablet take a look at our interactive choosing tool below. This tool will help you decide between a small-screen or large-screen tablet by running through the pros and cons of both.

How much should I spend?

How much you want to spend on a tablet depends wholly on what you want to use it for. If you're simply after a device to browse the web, watch some iPlayer and keep up with Facebook, then you needn't break the bank, as there are plenty of cheaper tablets that will fill that need. We'd recommend around £150 - £200 for a good quality everyday tablet, but there are some exceptions. In our testing we've uncovered some models that run for a fraction of this and are worth considering, with the odd caveat.

For a tablet with a bit more oomph, useful for running more demanding apps at a decent pace, you should up your budget to £300 - £400. This is the sweet spot for tablets, and there are some fantastic examples of Best Buys in this price range from recognised brands, that will keep nearly everyone happy. 

However, if you're looking to do something a little more substantial, such as run demanding apps, gaming or image editing for example, or a potential laptop alternative you'll want a beefier machine with a faster processor and a decent amount of Ram. These come with a price tag attached, but should be able to cope with anything you throw at them. For these, you're looking at £600 upwards, depending on the processor, as well as the cost of a keyboard, if you're looking to ditch your laptop. While these tablets are the gold standard, very few users will take full advantage of the technology.

Which operating system should I choose?

Tablets are available with three different types of operating system.

iOS - iOS is Apple's operating system, and is only available on its tablets. If you've ever used an Apple iPhone, you'll be instantly at home with iOS, and its brightly coloured icons. Generally accepted as simple and easy to use, even the uninitiated should get to grips with it fairly quickly, thanks to its simple layout. It doesn't grant users any degree of background tinkers, like Android does, and is very much a closed shop, which could be a blessing or a curse, depending on your needs.

Android - Android is the most popular tablet operating system, and graces many a model in every price range. There are small differences between brands, but generally they all operate in the same way, with little difference from one tablet on Android to another. One of the benefits of Android is it is easy to customise and adapt to you own needs, with potentially unlimited options. This can be intimidating for some, but for those who like total control, it's seem as huge benefit.

Windows 10 - Windows 10 should be reassuringly familiar to anyone who has used a PC in the last twenty years. It's the same old Windows we're all used to, just on a tablet. This means that you can run your Windows apps and programs, provided that your tablet is powerful to handle them, and with the addition of a keyboard, using programs like Excel and Word is almost on a par with the laptop experience. While Windows 10 has clearly been designed with tablets in mind, it can prove a little fiddly to navigate by touch on some devices. 

How important is battery life?

Designed to be used on the go, the battery life of a tablet is something to check, especially if you're away from a plug socket for long periods of time. You may wish to use it by the pool on holiday, or on your daily work commute, in which case you'll really appreciate a long lasting battery.

The longest lasting tablets will give you around 10 hours battery life, which is more than enough for a day out and about. In our experience the worst will give you less than four, and you'll soon finding yourself routing around for the charger with these models.

It's important to not take the advertising at face value when it comes to battery life. We've found that manufacturers tend to overstate how long a tablet will last between charges, which is why we're careful to test it ourselves and let you know the real battery life.

Also bear in mind that tablet batteries will lose capacity over time, so you'll likely get less and less battery life from them over long periods of time, even more reason to pick one with plenty of stamina from the outset. 

When is the best time to buy a new tablet?

When looking to buy a new tablet, there are some periods where it's possible to grab yourself a bargain, if you time it right.

Retailers tend to put tablets on sale during Black Friday, traditionally an American phenomenon that has crossed the pond, where stores promote big sales. Tech goods tend to get heavily discounted at this time, but do shop around and check that the 'bargain' is really that.

Another key time to go shopping for a tablet is when a newer version is released. When the latest Apple tablet is announced for example, retailers tend to offer deep discounts on the older model to clear out stock. In some cases the changes can be minimal, and you can bag yourself a real deal if you're okay with not having the very latest model.


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